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.