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.