Monday, December 28, 2009

Samuel West, Calvinism, and the Big Tent

With Thanks to Jonathan Rowe For Editorial Suggestions.

Following up on my last post, I further examine Jeffry H. Morrison's paper entitled, "Political Theology in the Declaration of Independence."

Let's focus more on the sermon by Samuel West that Morrison discusses in his paper. In the passage reproduced below, Morrison adds brackets to West's sermon with "corresponding phrases" from the Declaration of Independence to illustrate how strikingly similar the wording of two documents is. Honestly reading West's sermon in this way shatters the myth that the Declaration of Independence's God words are exclusively Deistic/Enlightenment references. Here is West with Morrison's brackets:

"The great Creator ["their Creator"], having designed the human race for society, has made us dependent on one another for happiness ["the pursuit of Happiness"]. He has so constituted us that it becomes both our duty and interest to seek the public good; and that we may be the more firmly engaged to promote each other's welfare, the Deity has endowed us ["endowed by their Creator"] with tender and social affections . . . . The Deity has also invested us with moral powers and faculties, by which we are enabled to discern the difference between right and wrong, truth ["self-evident" truths] and falsehood, good and evil . . . . This proves that, in what is commonly called a state of nature, we are the subjects of the divine law ["Laws of Nature and of Nature's God"] and government; that the Deity is our supreme magistrate, who has written his law in our hearts [again, "self-evident" truths], and will reward or punish us according as we obey or disobey his commands ["the Supreme Judge of the World"]."

The Declaration of Independence was written shortly after this sermon. Would John Calvin, himself, have been comforable in the "big tent" of American Founding political theology that sought to depose tyrants like Calvin's disciples (Rutherford, et al.) did? More on that later...

The American Founding: A Big Tent of Diverse Interests

By King of Ireland with special thanks to Jonathan Rowe for editorial suggestions/changes that I adopted.

In my last series of posts, I attempted to start a dialogue around two questions I think better frame the "Christian Nation" debate in clearer context. The questions are:

1. Which Christian ideas, if any, helped bring us into the modern world?


2. Which Christian ideas, if any, derail us from progressing toward the modern world? 

Jack Goldstone's essay at "Cato Unbound", arguing "a community of free individuals sovereign over a limited state" created the engineering culture that launched the modern world, initially inspired the thought that produced this series of posts.

I argue the history of Christianity, properly understood, provided the fertile ground that launched modernity and as such those who invoke the authority of "science" and "rationality" should be less hostile, as many of them oft-seem, to what I term "rational Christianity," a theological system that helped bring about science, rationality and political liberty. Thomas Aquinas, Isaac Newton and many American Founders stand as the best representatives of the "rational Christian" tradition that I defend.

I see America's Declaration of Independence -- a document that posits the universal natural ends of government -- as typifying "rational Christianity." Indeed it was written by "rational Christians" Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and Ben Franklin and supported by "rational Christians" like Sam Adams. But wait, didn't John Adams -- a unitarian -- practice a different religion than that of his cousin Samuel, a Calvinistic Trinitarian? The kind of rational Christianity for which I argue transcends such sectarian differences. Issues of salvation/heresy such as whether Jesus is the second person in the Trinity matter not to the political-theological tradition of "rational Christianity" that I (after America's Founders) endorse.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Calvin, Ponnet, and Deposing Tyrants

Jon Rowe stated the following in his last post about Romans 13:

"Another authentic expression of orthodox Trinitarian political theology is that Romans 13 gives guidelines for rulers, but ultimately demands submission to government no matter WHO is in power, even if pagan tyrants. This was Calvin's position. Arguably this was St. Paul's position when he told believers to submit to the pagan psychopath Nero. Thus revolt -- whether to Clinton, Obama, Reagan, GW or GHW Bush, Stalin or Hitler -- is forbidden. But godly rulers, once in power, are free to enact biblically influenced laws, for instance the burning of heretics at the stake. "

This seems to state that Calvin taught that to revolt against a tyrant was forbidden with NO exceptions.  If that is in fact what Jon is stating here he is completely mistaken.  The following is Calvin's own words:

"I speak only of private men. For when popular magistrates have been appointed to curb the tyranny of kings, (as the Ephori, who were opposed to kings among the Spartans, or Tribunes of the people to consuls among the Romans, or Demarchs to the senate among the Athenians; and, perhaps, there is something similar to this in the power exercised in each kingdom by the three orders, when they hold their primary diets.) So far am I from forbidding these officially to check the undue license of kings, that if they connive at kings when they tyrannise and insult over the humbler of the people, I affirm that their dissimulation is not free from nefarious perfidy, because they fraudulently betray the liberty of the people, while knowing that, by the ordinance of God, they are its appointed guardians."(bold is mine)

John Adams and Romans 13

In a series of posts I have attempted to ignite a discussion about whether Christian ideas helped shape America and bring us into the modern world with the following questions:

Which Christian ideas, if any, helped bring us into the modern world?


Which Christian ideas, if any, helped try to derail us from progressing toward the modern world? 

With that idea in mind, I re-produced an argument by Gary Amos from his book "Defending the Declaration" where he outlines his case that the Declaration of Independence was based on the "Doctrine of Interposition" in this post Gary Amos, the Declaration, and "Christian" Ideas?.  I followed that up with another post named John Calvin and Jim Babka on the "Doctrine of Interposition".  In the comments section of the second post, Tom Van Dyke seemed to have some doubts that theological arguments around Romans 13 were that relevant to the conversation back then with this comment, 

"I'd like to see some evidence that Calvin and "interposition" were discussed much. I do believe there was a strong undercurrent that revolt would have to be legally, ethically, and indeed theologically justified [with Romans 13 the Sword of Damocles, and we see it discussed often enough in that era].

However, it seems to me the level of strict Calvinist observance and depth of Biblical authority required for revolt, Othniel or what have you, can easily be an academic issue inflated into something much more than it was.

I realize that King is having a go at Dr. Frazer's thesis, but for the bigger picture, I'd like to see some quotes from the Founding era that gave much of a damn." 

Monday, December 14, 2009

John Calvin and Jim Babka on the "Doctrine of Interposition"

In my last series of posts I have been trying to shift the frame of discussion from focusing on which people of the founding era were or were not Christian to which ideas of the founding era were or were not Christian.  I have also tried to narrow down the topic to how the ideas of the founding era helped or hindered our progression toward the modern world. I attempted to accomplish this within the frame of discussion of a series of essays at "Cato Unbound" on that topic.  In addition, I have pushed to make this relevant to the present by examining this in the light of how studying these "Second Wave" ideas can help position us as a nation to catch the Alvin Toffler's "Third Wave".  The two questions I have posed are:

Which Christian ideas, if any, helped bring us into the modern world?


Which Christian ideas, if any, helped try to derail us from progressing toward the modern world?

Dr. Kalivas Responds

The following is a detailed response from Dr. Kalivas to the assertions of myself, Tom Van Dyke, and Dr. Gregg Frazer that when the Constitution was ratified that it "left religion to the states":

"My understanding of Article VI is there does not have to be a conflict for Article VI to be “invoked.” The relevant clause of the Article is quite specific:

“This Constitution, and the laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof; and all treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land; and the judges in every state shall be bound thereby, anything in the Constitution or laws of any State to the contrary notwithstanding.”

Friday, December 11, 2009

Gary Amos, the Declaration, and "Christian" Ideas?

In my last few posts have spent some time trying to shift the discussion away from asking what key figures of the founding were or were not Christian to asking if the ideas that shaped the founding were or were not Christian.  I chose to do this in the context of a series of essays at "Cato Unbound" that addressed the question of which factors led to the emergence of the modern world produced by the what Alvin Toffler would call the "Second Wave".    

In that spirit, I attempted to narrow down the topic a bit by asking two questions that I hoped would be a baseline for the beginning of a Socratic dialogue about what ideas shaped the founding era, the origins of those ideas, their impact on bringing about the modern world, and how we can apply this information in our efforts to catch the "Third Wave".  In the spirit of putting first things first, I would like to focus on the first question:

"Which Christian ideas, if any, helped bring us into the modern world?

In his essay "How an Engineering Culture Launched Modernity" at Cato Jack Goldstone provided a quote from Joseph Priestley that he felt captured the spirit of the the founding age:

"Nature, including both its materials and its laws, will be more at our command; men will make their situation in this world abundantly more easy and comfortable, they will prolong their existence in it and grow daily more happy. . . the end will be glorious and paradisiacal beyond that our imaginations can now conceive."

Goldstone then added the following analysis: 

"This was a radical departure from the belief of almost all civilizations (including that of the classical and medieval West) that humanity’s golden age lay in the past. Instead the new engineering culture proclaimed that an earthly paradise lay in man’s future, and that it would be brought about by mankind’s own progress in developing and applying new scientific knowledge rather than by divine redemption."

He then went on to say what was perhaps the chief catalyst in the acceptance and spread of this new engineering culture:
"What I believe is most critical to insist upon is the degree to which Europe itself had to repudiate central elements of its own history and culture — the absolute authority of hereditary rulers, the prohibition of diverse religious beliefs in any one society, the elevation of the rights and needs of political and social status elites above those of ordinary inhabitants — in order to develop and implement the idea of society as a community of free individuals sovereign over a limited state. Yet this was necessary if the marriage of engineering culture and entrepreneurship was to survive and flourish, and produce the economic and technological miracles of the last two centuries.

Religion Left to the States?

A good discussion broke out in the comments section under my last post American Creation: Time to Move Forward? that I should have brought up to the main page a while back but I got busy.  A commenter named David Kalivas is debating Tom Van Dyke about whether religion was left to the states in the Constitution prior to the 14th Amendment.  Below is part of the dialogue:

David stated:

"This was not a Christian document, it was a statement declaring the dissolution of a social contract with the British Crown. Referring to the DOI as a religious document is not reading it, nor focusing on the men who wrote it. Certainly, given the war had begun, there were other urgencies in mind and the major concern of the Continental Congress was to agree on dissolution and have a declaration that articulated their case against England and then get to the details of funding and waging the war. It is also interesting to note when time came for a Federal Constitution that created the legal framework for the new country,there were no references to divine providence or any such deity."

Time to Move Forward?

Jimmieraybob left the following comment to my last post:

"So, if it were me framing the question, I would ask what ideas influenced the founding and/or the emergence of the “modern” world and what were the unique Jewish and Christian and other influences that shaped these ideas. Otherwise, as you say, the question is loaded and I think unfairly, given the well-documented emphasis of Greco-Roman influences on the leading…uh, most influential…um, most prolific founding thinkers/writers….oh heck, the key founders. :)"

I think this is exactly what I was looking for when I suggested that we focus less on sharing answers and more on asking the right questions. I urge this because I feel that the two people that get the most air time on this blog are not asking the right questions.  They would be David Barton and Gregg Frazer.  Their focus seems to be on figuring out who was and who was not a "Christian" at the Founding.  I think that is much less relevant than figuring out what political ideas were or were not Christian, or as JRB put it, uniquely Christian at the Founding.

I think it is time to steer away from the personal beliefs of the Founders and toward the political theology and philosophy that was at the heart of the Founding.  The reason was stated in my last post about catching the Third Wave: 

So let's chime in about whether JRB's question will or will not raise the level of discussion beyond arguing over quotes about the personal beliefs of the "Key Founders".  Is it a fair question that could eventually lead us to the truth about American Creation?  If we stay were Frazer and Barton want to keep the discussion, I am afraid that many "Cultural Warriors" will continue to read one book about "liars" and hear Frazer's thesis quoted to support this, and we will all be so distracted by poisonous rhetoric on both sides that we will miss the Next Wave.

Is it time to move forward?  

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Socrates, Alvin Toffler, and Attempting to Catch the Wave

To follow up on Jon Rowe's lastest post on the ongoing debate between many of us, including Dr. Gregg Frazer, I would like to add that most of what we have been discussing is the meaning of words.  This is classic "Socratic Dialogue".  The problem I see is that everyone is talking at each other trying to give their answer and be heard.  I see it all day in my classroom.  When everyone is talking all at once no one hears anything.

So here is a suggestion in the spirit of the "Socratic Method":

Let's attempt ask the right questions in a pursuit to raise the level of discussion.  In other words, if we are asking the wrong questions(I think we are) then lets spend our time trying to formulate the right ones.  In that vain I think Jon has done an excellent job of taking this discussion toward where it needs to go when he brought in "Cato Unbound's" series on how we came into the Modern World.

Why?  I have been teaching about the 3 great waves of change in history based on a book by Alvin Toffler called "The Third Wave".  He says that wave one was hunter to agriculture.  Wave two was farms to factories. Wave three is factories to information.  I have been telling my kids that we need to study wave two(Industrial Revolution) and apply it to wave 3 to understand where we need to go as a society.  This will require bringing in the new without throwing proven principles from the old.

With that said, I think this is what the founders did with America.  They studied other eras and applied what was tried and true to some of the new ideas that progress made then deal with.  It was absolutely not throwing out the old and starting something completely new.  That was the French Revolution.  Why does this matter to us now?  This is because the same battle is going on right now.  It seems that are three main groups:

1. Those who are set in their ways and do not want to embrace change because they favor their traditions
2. Those who want to throw out all tradition and start over
3. Those who want to glean the principles that have worked and use them in the new context

If history really does repeat itself then we are on the right track at this blog when we study this period.  It was pivotal.  Chooses were made that shaped the world for hundreds of years.  Some of them good and some of the bad.  There were ideas behind these choices.

In this vain, I proposed two questions that I think will bring this discussion into a much clearer focus:

Which Christian ideas, if any, helped bring us into the modern world?


Which Christian ideas, if any, helped try to derail us from progressing toward the modern world? 

I am not saying that I have the right questions and it is surely debatable whether these questions will take us down the right road to find the truth about American Creation.  But I do think it is possibly a good starting point that all can participate in.  It possibly sets ups all different flavors of "Cultural Warriors" for an interesting debate.  It also begins to move us toward a discussion of "Jihad vs. Mc World" and "The Clash of Civilizations".  

The "Third Wave" is here and we are going to make decisions as a society now that affect the next few hundred years of history.  We better get it right!  This blog is a step in that direction.  Lets spread the joy and invite our friends as we continue to raise the discussion.

Monday, November 30, 2009

The Origins of "Christian Ideas" that Helped Bring Us into the Modern World

In an attempt to begin answering one of the questions I brought up in my last post I copied and pasted this short excerpt from the notes of John Adams.  The question I asked in my last post was this:

Which Christian ideas, if any, helped bring us into the modern world?

I think John Adams points us in the right direction with the following:

Defence of the Constitutions of Government
of the United States of America 

(Source, Charles F. Adams, ed., The Works of John Adams [1851] Vol. 6, p. 3-4)

There have been three periods in the history of England, in which the principles of government have been anxiously studied, and very valuable productions published, which, at this day, if they are not wholly forgotten in their native country, are perhaps more frequently read abroad than at home.

The first of these periods was that of the Reformation, as early as the writings of Machiavel himself, who is called the great restorer of the true politics.  The "Shorte Treatise of Politick Power, and of the True Obedience which Subjects owe to Kyngs and other Civile Governors, with an Exhortation to all True Natural Englishemen, compyled by John Poynet, D. D.," was printed in 1556, and contains all the essential principles of liberty, which were afterwards dilated on by Sidney and Locke. This writer is clearly for a mixed government, in three equiponderant branches, as appears by these words:

"In some countreyes they were content to be governed and have the laws executed by one king or judge; in some places by many of the best sorte; in some places by the people of the lowest sorte; and in some places also by the king, nobilitie, and the people, all together. And these diverse kyndes of states, or policies, had their distincte names; as where one ruled, a monarchie; where many of the best, aristocratie; and where the multitude, democratie ; and where all together, that is a king, the nobilitie, and commons, a mixte state; and which men by long continuance have judged to be the best sort of all.  For where that mixte state was exercised, there did the commonwealths longest continue."
The second period was the Interregnum, and indeed the whole interval between 1640 and 1660. In the course of those twenty years, not only Ponnet and others were reprinted, but HarringtonMilton, the Vindiciae contra Tyrannos, and a multitude of others, came upon the stage.The third period was the Revolution in 1688, which produced SidneyLocke, Hoadley, Trenchard, Gordon, Plato Redivivus, who is also clear for three equipollent branches in the mixture, and others without number. The discourses of Sidney were indeed written before, but the same causes produced his writings as did the Revolution.
Americans should make collections of all these speculations, to be preserved as the most precious relics of antiquity, both for curiosity and use.

This seems to be part of the thread of political theology that heavily influenced the founding.  I also think it is interesting that one the three periods he references is the Revolution of 1688 that Brad Hart posted on the other day.  I think the name of the book was, "The First Modern Revolution".   Maybe Christian political theology did help usher us into the modern world.  That is the thesis of Gary Amos in his book, "Defending the Declaration: How the Bible and Christianity influenced the writing of the Declaration of Independence".  

He gives some compelling evidence that the founders laid out the same legal case for independence that many cited here by Adams had used before.  Maybe our founding was not as "revolutionary" as some would give it credit for.  Could it have been tied to a long tradition of ideas that could be traced back to pre-Aquinas Christianity?  We shall see.  

More to come... 

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Latest American Creation Post

The following is the second part of my last post but also is in response to Jon Rowe's great post about some of my thoughts about Christianity:When I first started commenting on Ed Brayton's blog people blasted me hard because some of what I was saying sounded like Conservative Christianity. Once they realized I was different it stopped. Why do so many like Ed Brayton and Jon Rowe rail against the Christian Right? 

They feel that many of the backwards people that are associated with it are trying to derail progress toward the next step in creating a modern world. I think they now see that some of us "Christians" are with them. I think what many of them fail to see is that there were many "Rational Christians" at the time of the Founding that fought the good fight for progress in their day. Those that fail to see this want to label the American Revolution as a "secular" event. I think they do this at their, and possibly our, own peril.

For the record, I do think it is important to understand what a "Christian" is, or was, to see the impact Christianity had, or did not have, on bringing us into the modern world. But I think the real questions that will put this "Christian Nation" debate into its proper frame are:

Which Christian ideas, if any, helped bring us into the modern world?


Which Christian ideas, if any, helped try to derail us from progressing toward the modern world?

I think that these ideas can be broken down into two general different views of God. One is the "Augustine view" and the other I like to call the "Locke view".

I think the Augustinian influenced Christian ideas are based on a view of God as not being concerned with the material world, sees man as totally depraved, and arbitrarily decides who goes to heaven and hell. Those whose ideas are shaped by that view will usually tell people that God really wants us humans to very little here because "His Kingdom is not of this world." I think the the Locke influenced Christian ideas are based on a view of God as being concerned with the material world and emphasizing the value of man, even though we are tainted by sin, because man is made in His image. Those whose ideas are shaped by this view of God usually tell people that God cares about the here and now just as much as heaven or hell because, "Jesus asked the Father to bring heaven to earth."

It was the same thing when Neo-Confucians took over China from the Buddhists. It had become a "Dark Age" because so many of the Buddhists became convinced that the material world was evil and the key to life was to escape it. The Neo-Confucians(I read most of this is a HS textbook so this is a broad but I think true statement) said that this world did matter and the key to happiness is to participate in it. This shift in thinking gradually led to a "golden age" in China that was written about by Marco Polo.

I think we see the same shift of thought that leads to a "golden age" in Western Civilization during the Enlightenment. If one looks at the Scientific Revolution and Enlightenment I think the biggest thing that changed was hope that man could create a better world and be "happy". For some it was a secular world. For others this meant God's "Millenial Kingdom" coming to earth. Marx spoke of a Utopia. Modern "New Agers" are looking for a "New Age". Hitler was trying to take man to our next evolution. I think we also see the effects of this shift in thought much earlier in both the French and American Revolution. Jefferson wrote about this strange idea of the "pursuit of happiness" that found no place in the world of the "Divine Right of Kings" where all that mattered was obeying him to "please" God.

With that said, I think the Enlighenment was a Christian influenced movement if we are going to say Locke started it. I think it produced the two Revolutions mentioned above. One was a secular and perhaps atheist Revolution. The other was Christian in my view. One threw out Locke's theology(See my post from July on Locke) from what I have read. The other seems to me to have kept it.

Whether if we American's kept Locke's political theology is true or not is going to be my thesis as I pursue my master's degree. That is, if the Declaration of Independence was a Christian interposition based on a thread of theology that went from the Scholastics to Hooker(I think it was Hooker)during the English Civil War to Locke and then to the Founders. To do this I will have to research if the Founders were educated in this political theology, understood it, and applied it to the DOI.

I think Gary Amos makes a good case that the ideas behind the Declaration were part of the thread of Christianity I am talking about. What I think he is missing is if the Founders were educated in this political theology. We know that Madison was educated along these lines but he did not really have that much to do with writing the DOI. I guess I am going to find out about the rest as I study this.

In response to the whole discussion about what I like to call "salvation theology", I am not to sure what this has to do with the political theology used to found the nation. I think David Barton got us all of on the wrong track as far as a frame for this discussion. I understand that Jon wants to make sure that Barton does not distort the History to win his modern political battle. I think Jon does a good job at that. But I also think it is time for the frame of this discussion to shift away from Barton and his "lies" and toward the road TVD has been trying to take it for a while. I am convinced it is the right road. I think the central figure is John Locke and his political theology.

For those who are interested in a theological discussion more about salvation, I wrote a blog post Titled "The Myth of Genesis One" on my blog at about the creation story in Genesis being a allegory that those interested can read it if they want to. Since Jon brought it up, I will say here that if I am right about Genesis then all bets are off about dogmatic views of original sin and evolution. Arguments for eternal damnation start to weaken as well. Nonetheless, as Tom has stated many times, this is a History blog. The only reason to bring the theology up is how it relates to the History. But, as I have stated too, History only matters if it can relate to the issues we all struggle through in the here and now.

So, yes I am trying revive Locke's theological case for Libertarian thought. This is because I do believe in a Millenial Reign of Christ. I am not sure what it will look like but I think "liberal democracy" will have a whole lot to do with it. The problem is that what our government is spreading in the name of "liberal democracy" is nothing more than old European statism and it is slowly taking us on our way back to the "serfdom" we were in before the birth of the Modern World that Cato Unbound has been analyzing the origins of and was the subject of the original post by Jon in this exchange. (See Jon's post on Kuzinski's essay below for the link to join the discussion) (Also see Hayek's book titled "The Road to Serfdom")

This return to "serfdom" was exactly the thing that the Revolutionaries in France and America fought to keep from happening. One group threw out the baby with the bathwater and rejected God in the process. That movement fizzled out and ended with the Congress of Vienna. Oh and lest we forget, the European Statism that was re-established at the Congress of Vienna was based on the Augustinian authoritarian view of God that lead to the doctrine of the "Divine Right of Kings". Those jerks were counting on one thing to keep their collectivist civilization alive:

That all the "serfs" would listen to the Gregg Frazer(I am not saying he supports the Divine Right of Kings because I know he does not I just want people to know why I debate his so hard on this issue) like dogmatic views of Romans 13 and fear burning in hell so much that we would all sit and take it. Not me! How about you?

But, Braytonites, as we fight back lets not throw the baby out with the bathwater and blame God for fools that use his name to enslave people. Lets also keep in mind the two questions I posed to try and re-frame this debate. I challege all the "Cultural Warriors" to come up with answers for these questions:

1. Which Christian Ideas, if any, helped bring us into the modern world?

2. Which Christian Ideas, if any, tried to derail us from progressing toward a modern world?

If the level of discussion is going to be raised where I think it needs to go it is going to take more than reading one book and calling David Barton a "liar" to do this. Dr. Frazer feel free to jump into this if you want as well and help us define what are and are not "Christian Ideas". More to come.....

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

My Latest From American Creation

In the spirit of practicing what I preach I decided to bring the discussion that broke out in the comments section of Jon Rowe's excellent post on "Testing" the Christian Nation thesis to the main page. I am not sure where it originated, but a great discussion about the merits of original intent as a method of interpreting the Constitution came up. As I went to the section on the Constitutional Convention to read some old posts I came across one by Tom Van Dyke from September 6th on Madison, Jefferson, and their views on how to interpret the Constitution. The following quotes are reproduced from his post word for word:

“The true theory of our Constitution is surely the wisest and best, that the States are independent as to everything within themselves, and united as to everything respecting foreign affairs...”

“On every question of construction [of the Constitution] let us carry ourselves back to the time when the Constitution was adopted, recollect the spirit manifested in the debates, and instead of trying what meaning may be squeezed out of the text, or intended against it, conform to the probable one in which it was passed.”


"It is to be the assent and ratification of the several States, derived from the supreme authority in each State -- the authority of the people themselves. The act, therefore, establishing the Constitution will not be a national but a federal act."

"As a guide in expounding and applying the provisions of the Constitution, the debates and incidental decisions of the Convention can have no authoritative character. However desirable it be that they should be preserved as a gratification to the laudable curiosity felt by every people to trace the origin and progress of their political Institutions, & as a source perhaps of some lights on the Science of Govt. the legitimate meaning of the Instrument must be derived from the text itself; or if a key is to be sought elsewhere, it must be not in the opinions or intentions of the Body which planned & proposed the Constitution, but in the sense attached to it by the people in their respective State Conventions where it recd. all the authority which it possesses."


So here is my challenge to all the contributers, commenters, and "cultural warriors" alike:

History means nothing if it does not relate to our current lives and the issues of our day. It is about dead men and events that cannot be changed. The value of studying it is in realizing that the issues we debate today have been debated before. Sometimes it is the same product with a different brand name but nonetheless the same or very similar issue. With that said, how about some posts and comments about how the founders would have, and did, debate the very same issues that we moderns do today?

I think the Culture Wars debate that we see on Ed Brayton's blog should come over to here. But I think the modern tendency to spout off our modern opinions should be backed up with some historical facts that I see lacking in this national debate we call the "Culture Wars". That is the problem with the "New Media" of the "Information Age": Everyone has a strong opinion but few can back it up with facts. I think this is what Tom was trying to say in his most recent post.

No disrespect to Ed, who I consider a friend because he took some time to educate me on many of these issues when others wanted to mock me to suit their biased agenda, but I think the frame of discussion we have established on this blog is more proper, civil, and productive toward solving some of problems related to these issues because we do put it into a historical context thanks to another man I now consider a friend: Jon Rowe. If I am right then our discussions at American Creation need start reaching a wider audience. That could get messy but I think we can handle it.

So to start it off I challenge the crowd here, and at Dispatches(Jon can you email this to Ed), that says that "original intent" does not matter to take on Jefferson and Madison. Maybe Barton is right about more than most want to give him credit for? I think we need to talk about Federalism(like Madison and Jefferson did above) and the intent of possibly "most" Americans at that time when we ask if this was intended or purposed to be a Christian Nation. I would also argue that we eventually need to go further back than the Constitution and study where the ideas for the Declaration came from and if they were "Christian" or not?

These are the two topics in this discussion that most strict secularists seem to want to ignore. Most of the biased Historians that write on this topic certainly ignore it. The floor is open to argue with Jefferson and Madison for all who care to take them on; Lemon Test or not.

Fair warning to any in the "Dispatches" crowd that wants to step up to the plate:

I am setting you up. I would hope that you come up to bat with a better thesis than the "liars" motif.

Fair Warning to Barton:

I am setting you up. I think you may find that the original intent had nothing to with your modern political agenda. In fact, I am out to prove that it was much more libertarian in nature than you let on and is being undermined by your modern political agenda.

My Sincere thanks to Tom Van Dyke, Jon Rowe, and Ed Brayton:

My internet friends that have taught me more about this topic I am about to begin to pursue at a graduate level than anyone else. You guys changed my outlook on life more than you will ever know with our discussions.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Myth of Genesis One?

Last week I wrote about light and darkness and Genesis 1 and would like to continue on that theme in this post. After watching "Mission Impossible II" and "Unbreakable" in the last few months, this theme has been on my mind. In both movies, there is reference to ancient Greek and comic book myths that explore both tragedy and hope along with good and evil as represented in the contrast between light and darkness. These movies seem to hint at the hypotheses that good cannot be understood without evil and that the oral and written traditions of the ancient world seem able to teach us about both.

The main difference I have seen between cultures that emphasize oral rather than writtentraditions is that oral history seems to exaggerate to prove a point. This is essentially what the Samuel L. Jackson character says about comic books in "Unbreakable". He states that the super-heros are an exaggerated form truth handed down to teach us something. More specifically, of truly gifted people that fate, karma, or god has put on earth for some noble reason. His mission in life is to find the hero so he can learn about himself as the villain. Somewhere along life he became convinced that the weakness that caused him to break bones at the drop of the hat was a sign that someone else was out there with superhuman strength;
the super-hero.

He spent his life trying to create one disaster after another to find Mr. "Unbreakable"; thus finding purpose in his life. He thought his purpose was to be the evil in the world that would make clear the good. This is no different than the first few chapters of Genesis in my mind. It seems to me that perhaps centuries of church scholars have been wrong about Genesis in that they miss the purpose of the book. In my opinion, the purpose is either to provide a precise written history of creation, the origins of man, and the fall or it was to put into written form the oral traditions of the East about creation, the origins of man, and the fall. If it is the former, then much of the commentary on this book misses the original intent: To use exaggerated language to prove a point.

Perhaps it is much like the Renaissance art forms of Idealism and Realism. As the following quote seems to indicate, the more idealized(less literal) art gets the more the sublime is emphasized:

"The closer artists came to the High Renaissance art the more classical, monumental, and ideal figures became. Famous paintings in the High Renaissance had grandeur, idealism, and soft rendering of details. Some artists too became interested in the immediacy of the moment or how things looked in an instant of time. This led to an interest in the sublime, man fighting against man, good against evil to the death, and the action of the moment with all its expressions."

Sublime means the quality of greatness and would seem to point to perhaps the purpose of Genesis was not to record history but was a story much like a Greek myth designed to paint a snap shot of a moment to prove a point: That God is great. This line of my reasoning began in a post-modern type church meeting where one of the leaders of the meeting got up and stated: "Face it friends Genesis and Adam and Eve are myths." Not myth in the modern sense of lies but myth in the sense of oral tradition with the purpose of making a point. I rejected this at the time but a while later began reading the blog of a man named Henry Neufeld who is a friend of a man named Ed Brayton who blogs at Dispatches on The Culture Wars at He had studied the history of it and had come to the same conclusion. I was more open but still rejected this idea.

Then, when I had thrown out all the assumptions embedded in the form of Christianity I had been taught and began to think for myself, I watched these two movies and it finally clicked:
The whole point of the first few chapters of Genesis seeks to contrast the darkness from the light! This line of inquiry has led me to go back and read Thomas Aquinas and I started with his writings on the existence of God.

Guess what? People asked the same primary question back then: If God is everywhere and God is good how does evil exist? Maybe it is just like the comic books. Maybe evil has to exist to show the good. Maybe the villain has to has to show himself for the hero to be seen? I realize these presuppositions in this last paragraph that need to be explored but more on that next time....

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Thank You Dr. Frazer

I decided to do one final post in my response to Dr. Gregg Frazer to thank him and release him from this discussion. As I read over his response to some posts I made last Summer, I realized that we were starting to become redundant and covering ground that has already been fairly well covered. The idea of a blog like this is to promote debate that helps frame a topic for others to read about and comment on. I think that has occurred and most people who have read our exchanges know clearly where each of us stands on Romans 13 and submission to authority. I think this is important to a history blog in that our two positions more or less represent the two positions that have been argued about in Christendom for thousands of years including the time of the American Revolution.

I was going to respond in detail to Dr. Frazer but said about all I wanted to say in the comments section of Jon's post. I maintain the story of Othniel in Judges 3 clearly shows that submission is not absolute. Why would God give his Spirit to someone to rebel against a King that God had directly sent to have authority over Israel if rebellion is always wrong? I have heard Frazer's counter argument and do not buy it.

I think he takes a verse like Romans 13 that is difficult to interpret and should only be used to support other verses at best and makes it the key verse in his argument. Any argument someone makes from the full context of the Bible is refuted with him stating that Romans 13 says clearly what he thinks the text says and that is the end all. That fact is that there are other ways to interpret that verse using the text. Mayhew and Locke do this effectively I feel. I think Locke's interpretation is the most reasonable one I have heard. If anyone missed it I posted on it in August.

Anyway, I think my final comment on Jon's post sums up well my thoughts on this whole exchange and Frazer's bias:

"Frazer stated:

"If the God Who tells us to be subject withdraws that authority and changes that message, then our responsibility changes."


Submission to authority is not absolute.

Gregg, you cannot say for sure that Othniel had that revelation or Washington did not. You are right when you say that Hitler claimed this too. The North and the South both stated that God was on their side in the Civil War. England and the Colonies both said God was with them in the Revolutionary War.

My entire point to you is that SOMEONE WHO IS EMPHATICALLY SURE THAT GOD IS ON THEIR SIDE IS WRONG in each of these cases. This should humble us and cause us to be willing to re-evaluate our positions all the time. I would say this is especially true for those like you that come to the debate table with a laundry list of assumptions based on deep biases. I stipulate to none of your Calvinist assumptions and to be taken serious by non-believers you must stop assuming that you PHD gives you that right.

That is how it comes off even if it is not your intention. Tom is essentially neutral in this discussion between me and you and he keeps pointing this out to you as well. You assume that your position on Romans 13 is the correct one and that taints your historical look. In other words, you have a dog in that fight and cannot be totally objective."

With that thought I end this exchange, thank Dr. Frazer for all his time, retract my statement that he was hiding in a cave afraid to respond(some manipulation to get him to come back because I think he adds a lot when he comments on this blog), and allow him the final Calvinist word that I think sums up the biased assumptions that Frazer comes with to the debate table when discussing what the Bible and Romans 13 say about submission to authority:(he is quoting me here and then saying he does not agree)

"You say 'Just because something happens does not mean God intended it to be that way.' Here’s where we just fundamentally disagree."

I really do thank you Dr. Frazer and do respect the fact that you took the time to respond to my thoughts. You are now released from this discussion unless you wish to continue though I do not think it would be productive personally.