Thursday, October 31, 2013

Rodda: "In the Interest of Historical Accuracy and Honesty, I Must Correct Myself"

Chris Rodda writing at the Huffington Post. A taste:
What is relevant about the members of that 1781 Congress who attended that church service, however, is that many of them were the very same men who, in 1778, wrote the oath signed by the officers of the Revolutionary Army -- an oath that not only didn't include the words "So help me God," but also left a blank space for each officer to fill in for themselves whether they were choosing to "swear" or "affirm."

West Coast Straussians, Harry Jaffa, Bad Originalism, and Teleocratic Fantasies

By Peter Haworth. Here is part 1; here is part 2.

From part 2:
If the sphere of religion was NOT viewed by the Framers to be within the legal jurisdiction of the Constitution’s Federal Government and if the Framers clearly understood religion to be the proper institution for inculcating virtues, then it follows that the Framers probably would not identify Jaffa’s identified virtues to be part of an explicit purpose of the Constitution’s positive law.

This conclusion is even further corroborated by the lack of evidence from the Philadelphia Convention that advancing virtue was implied by the “Blessings of Liberty” in the Preamble (or that it was otherwise a purpose in the Constitution). Again, the delegated-powers structure of the Constitution helps explain why this was the case. As mentioned previously, advocates of the Constitution (like Hamilton in Federalist 84) understood (at least in their public statements) the limited nature of the Federal Government’s powers. This entailed recognition that the States would retain the police powers involved in regulating morals. Since, then, advancing virtue was not seen as a Federal-level concern, the Framers naturally did not focus on this in their deliberations about the character and content of the Federal Government that they were creating in the Convention. Thus, even if the Framers did see some role for government in advancing virtue (e.g., even if they did not believe that religion alone was sufficient for inculcating the virtues), they would have viewed this as a function that properly belongs to the States, not the Federal Government.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Shain on Jaffa

Originally published in 2007, it was just recently re-published here.
According to Jaffa, then, the poorly defined natural-law doctrines embodied in the Declaration are fully incorporated in the positive law of the United States Constitution. It is, therefore, to the Declaration, and its condensed natural-law holdings, that Supreme Court Justices should turn for guidance in properly interpreting the constitutionality of positive law.29

Missing from this part of Jaffa’s account, though, are two things: facts and common sense. Simply put, Jaffa’s claimed connection between these documents is offered wholly without evidence. As Lino Graglia reminds us “the Constitution makes no mention of the Declaration of Independence, and Jaffa has not produced a single statement by anyone at the constitutional convention or during the rati-fication debates indicating that it was intended to incorporate the Declaration.”30 Of great interest here is the ex-change between Justice Scalia and Jaffa. Jaffa writes that “in response to a question of the relationship of the Constitution to the Declaration of Independence— and to ‘the laws of nature and of nature’s God’—Scalia responded as follows: ‘Well unfortunately, or to my mind fortunately, the Supreme Court of the United States, no federal court to my knowledge, in 220 years has ever decided a case on the basis of the Declaration of Independence. It is not part of our law.’ … [As Jaffa then explained] Scalia is simply mistaken when he says that the Declaration of Independence is ‘not part of our law.’”31 ...

Friday, October 18, 2013

Jefferson and the Real Meaning of the "Wall of Separation"

Today's Americans might be surprised that government buildings were used for religious services during the construction of Washington DC, but not even Thomas Jefferson envisioned America as a secular, "naked" public square, where religion is to be kept as a private, not a public, matter. 

As we see in the punchline of historian Thomas S. Kidd's new essay, Evangelical Christians, Deists and America’s Founding, the Founding principle was not "freedom" from religion, but accommodation of all religions--two very different things:

Did Jefferson envision a secular public sphere, as his liberal admirers might imagine today? Clues to Jefferson’s intentions came the weekend that [Baptist Rev. John] Leland delivered the mammoth cheese, a weekend, as it turns out, that was one of the most significant in America’s history with regard to church-state relations. For this was when Jefferson sent his famous “wall of separation” letter to the Baptist Association of Danbury, Connecticut, an evangelical group of Baptists who, like Leland, admired Jefferson. In his letter, Jefferson reminded them of their common commitment to the principles enshrined in the First Amendment, which built a “wall of separation” between church and state.
The evangelical New Englanders did not interpret “wall of separation” to mean rigid secularism, and indeed, neither did Jefferson. That Sunday, Jefferson attended a church service in the House of Representatives chambers, with John Leland giving the sermon. Whatever “wall of separation” meant to Jefferson, it could include holding church services in government buildings, a practice which Jefferson routinely allowed as president. This does not mean that Jefferson was personally devout, but that Jefferson was generously appreciative of the significance of faith in American public life.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Thomas Kidd: Evangelical Christians, Deists and America’s founding

Read about it here. A taste:
As I show in my book God of Liberty: A Religious History of the American Revolution, the relationship between John Leland and Thomas Jefferson offers a more accurate picture than does the polarized choice of either a wholly devout or wholly secular American Founding. There was real spiritual diversity among Americans in 1776; not as much as one sees today, to be sure, but there was a significant range of beliefs. Indeed, one would be hard pressed to find more sharply different faiths than those of Leland and Jefferson. Leland was an evangelical preacher of incredible endurance and commitment, who traveled America’s byways telling thousands of listeners to put their faith in Jesus, the Son of God. Jefferson, by contrast, tried to keep his skepticism private, but in his retirement it became abundantly clear that Jefferson saw Jesus not as the Messiah, but only as a great moral teacher. For Jefferson, Jesus was not divine, and he did not rise from the dead. Jefferson even produced an edition of the Christian Gospels to this effect, with the miracles and resurrection of Christ literally snipped out with scissors.

THROCKMORTON: David Barton: There Are About A Dozen Colleges That Are Right

Check it out here. A taste:
What I get out Barton’s statement is that if you question Barton’s claims, then you are not right biblically, not pro-America, pro-Constitution, or right on American history. Reminds me of his claim that those who question him are just repeating our pagan training.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Why We Must Sue Native Americans This Columbus Day

521 years ago, Cristóbal Colón stepped off his ship and onto the shore of San Salvador (Bahamas). This first step, which was arguably the most influential "first step" in world history (rivaled only by Neil Armstrong's first step on the moon), inaugurated a new era of European settlement and discovery in what became known as the "New World." It also sparked a debate that has, for good and for bad, continued with us for over half a millennia.

The paradox that is Christopher Columbus is one of the most polarizing and puzzling in all the annals of human history.  He is loved and hated by millions across the world who hail him as both a brave explorer and a cruel tyrant.  Speaking for myself, I have, over the years, had my own struggles when trying to reconcile Columbus with my own interpretation of what is right and wrong (you can read a couple of older posts here and here).  But regardless of how we may feel about Columbus, the truth of the matter is that none of us will ever truly be able to know or understand the man who has become synonymous with controversy.

Over the past five centuries, Christopher Columbus has been accused of a plethora of crimes ranging from theft to genocide.  Columbus' prowess as a navigator was matched only by his ineptitude as a governor.  And make no mistake; Columbus' inability to effectively lead is a catalyst for much of the controversy that surrounds his legacy today.

But there is a far deeper and uglier controversy that has gone overlooked these past five centuries. It's a controversy that has evolved to become a corporate conspiracy involving billions of dollars in revenue, at the cost of millions who have died horrible deaths.  It is a conspiracy that ushered in centuries of slavery and addiction and despite our best efforts, has no apparent end in sight.

In his journal entry of October 15, 1492, Columbus wrote:
We met a man in a canoe going from Santa Maria to Fernandina; he had with him a piece of bread whice the natives make, as big as one's fist, a calabash of water . . . and some dried leaves which are in high value among them, for a quantity of it was brought to me at San Salvador (my emphasis).
A few days later a landing party Columbus had sent ashore returned to report that the natives "drank the smoke" of those curious dried leaves. This was astonishing to the Europeans who had never seen anything like smoking before. For a long time they were puzzled and disgusted by this strange habit. But soon they, too, would be drinking smoke from those leaves, and spreading the plant and the habit of smoking it all over the known world.

Yes, it was the innocent Native Americans (whom Columbus later pillaged and subjugated to the yoke of slavery), who first introduced tobacco to the European world, inaugurating an era of chemical dependency and lung cancer.  For future generations of European settlers, it was tobacco that became the dominant cash crop that sustained these communities, many of which employed imported Black slaves to plant and care for this new found addiction.

And, as we are all aware, tobacco has remained to this day, evolving to become a multi-billion dollar a year industry.  Thanks to the Native Americans, more than 5 million Europeans die every year due to tobacco use.  Tobacco-related illnesses cost the American economy, on average, $193 billion a year ($97 billion in lost productivity plus $96 billion in health care expenditures). Yes, thanks to these first Native Americans, who clearly bamboozled an innocent and naive Christopher Columbus, we today must suffer from the physical, financial and psychological impact caused by their poisonous product!

It is for this reason that I call for an unprecedented class action lawsuit against all Native American people.  If they would have only kept those dried leaves to themselves instead of sharing them with our guiltless ancestors, we today would not have to suffer from the bondage that is tobacco addiction! Clearly the fault rests with them and compensation for this atrocity is more than overdue.

Let's Keep It Real Now

Ok, hopefully my tongue-in-cheek commentary won't be taken literally by too many people.  I'm not advocating that we sue Native Americans, nor do I blame them for the millions of cases of tobacco addiction that have plagued humanity over the centuries.  But I do hope that this ridiculous argument will help to highlight some of the nuances of the history of "first contact" between Columbus and the native people of the "New World."

It is both easy and convenient for us to place all of the blame for the atrocities committed against Native Americans at the feet of Christopher Columbus.  After all, he's a PERFECT scapegoat. Like any significant figure from history, Christopher Columbus was a complicated character.  He exudes characteristics that are both admirable and appalling.  As stated earlier, Columbus' prowess as a navigator is only matched by his ineptitude as a governor.  He is both fire and ice; saint and sinner; hero and villain.  The hero who "discovered" a new world and ushered in an era of exploration and colonization was eventually destined to die as a poor and destitute scoundrel whose legacy was never fully understood by his contemporaries or by subsequent generations of scholars who both revere and rebuke his accomplishments.  
Much of the problem with understanding Columbus' true nature and legacy has to do with the historical sin of "presentism."  To project modern day standards of morality and conduct onto those of the past is akin to contaminating a crime scene.  Our desire to play Monday Morning Quarterback with Columbus' legacy actually does more to distort true history than anything.  In the same way that each individual is to blame for his/her own tobacco addiction, we must judge Columbus by the standards of his time and according to the world as he saw it.

Columbus was a religious fanatic.  He believed that the end times were just around the corner and that it was his job (and the job of all other good Christians) to vehemently defend the Kingdom of God.  His quest for a new route to the "Indies," which he effectively sold to Queen Isabella, was also motivated by his desire to finance a new crusade to recapture Jerusalem from the infidel Muslims (who had just been kicked out of Spain a year earlier).  Columbus was also a man who happened to be in the right place at the right time.  The pious Spanish crown was eager to take advantage of his zeal, and a newly-invented Gutenberg press was more than ready to spread his story far and wide.

Columbus represents the end of Medieval thinking rather than the dawn of early Enlightenment thinking.  His mystical world must be understood through the lens of his quest to do God's will more than anything else.  And make no mistake, Columbus believed he was on a mission from God.  As he stated in a letter to Queen Isabella:
With a hand that could be felt...the Lord opened my mind to the fact that it would be possible to sail from here to the Indies, and he opened my will to desire to accomplish the project. This was the fire that burned within me when I came to visit Your Highnesses...Who can doubt that this fire was not merely mine, but also the Holy Spirit who encouraged me with a radiance of marvelous illumination from his sacred Scriptures.
During his 3rd and 4th voyages, Columbus composed his "Book of Prophesies" which he believed proved his role as "Christ-bearer."  Many historians dismiss these writings as proof of Columbus' insanity but such a dismissal is irresponsible.  These writings help us to better understand the man v. the cultural myth. As Historian De Mar Jensen points out:
The Book of Prophecies was not the ranting of a sick mind. It was the work of a religious man who was not afraid to put his ideas into action and his own life into jeopardy. Columbus knew the scriptures as well as he knew the sea, and he saw a connection between the two. The central theme of his book was that God had sketched in the Bible His plan for the salvation of all mankind and that he, Columbus, was playing a role assigned to him in that plan.
In the book’s first section, Columbus presents a collection of sixty-five psalms that deal with his two major themes: the salvation of the world and the rebuilding of Zion. He calls special attention to several verses in the writings of Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Zephaniah that speak of the Gentiles as a people chosen to inherit the Holy Temple, their conversion in the last days, and the gathering to Zion. The inheritance of the Gentiles is further cited from St. Augustine, whose quoting of Ps. 22:27 is paraphrased by Columbus as “All the ends of the earth and all the islands shall be converted to the Lord.” After quoting Matt. 24:14, Columbus comments that the gospel has been preached to three parts of the earth (Asia, Africa, and Europe) and now must be preached to the fourth part. The second section of the Book of Prophecies concerns prophecies already fulfilled. The theme is the ancient greatness of Jerusalem and its subsequent fall.
In the next section, Columbus deals with prophecies of the present and near future, emphasizing the theme of salvation for all nations. Isaiah is cited frequently. Columbus then furnishes several texts from the New Testament: Matthew 2:1–2; 8:11 [Matt. 2:1–2; Matt. 8:11]; Luke 1:48; and notably John 10:16, “And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd.”
The final section of the book deals with prophecies of the last days, which Columbus introduces by calling attention to Jeremiah 25 [Jer. 25], where the prophet predicts the restoration of Jerusalem prior to the Final Judgment. Finally, he quotes twenty-six scriptures that refer to the islands of the sea and their part in the last days.
With this construct in mind, I believe we can better understand why Columbus was the way he was and why both his successes and failures carried with them so much weight.  Whenever you invoke the name of God and hold yourself up as one of His chosen servants, you carry with it serious and long-lasting repercussions.  It also help us to see that painting Columbus with wide (and modern day) brush strokes is about as idiotic as blaming Native Americans for tobacco addiction.  

I for one am grateful for the legacy and contributions of Cristóbal Colón, for they remind us that the line between success and failure, hero and villain is thinner than we think.  Columbus Day serves to remind me that judgement really is in the eye of the beholder.  It is easy (and perhaps in some instances appropriate) to cast stones at Columbus for his mistakes, but in the end, it was he who had the foresight to cross a frontier that all others saw as too daunting.  Such is the case with heroes.  Heroes receive all the praise and acclaim when they make the last second shot, but also reap all the blame when they miss; a reality that Columbus understood all too well.

The legacy of Christopher Columbus will probably always be shrouded in controversy and mystery. In no way is my humble little blog post going to fix that.  But I do hope it helps to illustrate that the true history of Columbus is found in the nuances of history as opposed to the grandiose claims of heroism and villainy.  To throw out blanket claims of genocide, racism and brutality is akin to blaming Native Americans for all tobacco addiction.  It's our luxury to analyze the man with 500+ years of history at our disposal, but in the end, it was Columbus who had the vision to venture out into the undiscovered country. As Columbus himself stated:
You cannot discover a new world unless you first have the courage to lose sight of the shore. 

Sunday, October 13, 2013

CHARLES C. HAYNES: Dispelling the myth of a ‘Christian nation’

I'm not sure we at American Creation caught this back in August. A taste:
But in spite of this anxiety, drafters of the Constitution took the radical step of founding the first nation in history with no established religion.

Hart Reviews Fea

Darryl Hart reviewed John Fea's book "Was America Founded as a Christian Nation: A Historical Introduction." John Fea informed us here. A taste from Hart's review:
The last part of Fea’s book addresses the beliefs of the founders themselves. He features George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and Benjamin Franklin, but includes a chapter on three “orthodox founders,” John Witherspoon, John Jay, and Samuel Adams. This is a subject where Christian nationalism has often turned the founders into devout and orthodox believers, partly at least to justify a reading of America as a Christian nation. Fea is not so sentimental, however. On Washington, he concludes that Christians may laudably celebrate his leadership, courage, civility, and morality, but not his Christianity. Washington’s “religious life was just too ambiguous” (190). Adams “should be commended ... for his attempts to live a life in accordance with the moral teachings of the Bible,” but was finally a Unitarian who denied the deity of Christ (210). Jefferson, likewise, was a great statesman who strived to live a moral life but “failed virtually every test of Christian orthodoxy” (215). Although a successful businessman and patriot, Franklin “rejected most Christian doctrines in favor of a religion of virtue” (227). Meanwhile, in the case of the orthodox Christian founders, Fea concludes that “Christianity was present at the time of the founding” but “merged with other ideas that were compatible with, but not necessarily influenced by, Christianity” (242). The best that can be said of Christianity’s influence on the American founding was that “all the founders believed ... that religion was necessary in order to sustain an ordered and virtuous republic” (246).

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Thomas Jefferson's Qur'an

A new book by historian Denise Spellberg explores the possible influence that the Qur'an had on shaping the mind of one of America's most important Founding Fathers (fellow blogger Jon Rowe has referenced it in a couple posts below).

Roughly eleven years before penning the words to the Declaration of Independence, the always curious Thomas Jefferson purchased a copy of the Holy Qur'an and began at least a casual study of the Muslim religion (Jefferson's Qur'an still survives in the Library of Congress).  Jefferson's curiosity about the Muslim religion was originally inspired by one of his heroes, John Locke, who also maintained an interest in studying what was a very mysterious and misunderstood faith for most Europeans of the 18th century.

Spellberg's book does not necessarily suggest that Islam's doctrine helped to establish the American republic, but it does suggest that Islam served as a litmus test of sorts in determining religious freedom in the infant nation.  Spellberg writes:
Amid the interdenominational Christian violence in Europe, some Christians, beginning in the sixteenth century, chose Muslims as the test case for the demarcation of the theoretical boundaries of their toleration for all believers. Because of these European precedents, Muslims also became a part of American debates about religion and the limits of citizenship. As they set about creating a new government in the United States, the American Founders, Protestants all, frequently referred to the adherents of Islam as they contemplated the proper scope of religious freedom and individual rights among the nation’s present and potential inhabitants. The founding generation debated whether the United States should be exclusively Protestant or a religiously plural polity. And if the latter, whether political equality—the full rights of citizenship, including access to the highest office—should extend to non-Protestants. The mention, then, of Muslims as potential citizens of the United States forced the Protestant majority to imagine the parameters of their new society beyond toleration. It obliged them to interrogate the nature of religious freedom: the issue of a “religious test” in the Constitution, like the ones that would exist at the state level into the nineteenth century; the question of “an establishment of religion,” potentially of Protestant Christianity; and the meaning and extent of a separation of religion from government.
In my opinion, this is an appropriate estimation of how Islam influenced the founding of America. Anything more than this would be a gross overestimation of Islam's nominal impact on a founding that was largely secular in nature.  

This isn't to say that other historians haven't tried (and failed in my opinion) to connect America's founding doctrines with the Muslim faith.  I've written in the past about a few such attempts that fortunately have not gained any traction in the historical community.  All religions have, at one time or another, tried to connect their faith to the founding of the United States, and Islam is no exception.

As far as Jefferson was concerned, his study of the Qur'an and Islam was not an endeavor to glean pearls of wisdom to help establish a new nation, but rather was a quest to gain understanding. Jefferson never read the Qur'an in order to learn how to create a republic; he was reading it to learn how to defend a republic.  If Islam could become a tolerated and appreciated faith in America, then the religious test of the republic would be a resounding success.  Again from Spellberg:
What the supporters of Muslim rights were proposing was extraordinary even at a purely theoretical level in the eighteenth century. American citizenship—which had embraced only free, white, male Protestants—was in effect to be abstracted from religion. Race and gender would continue as barriers, but not so faith. Legislation in Virginia would be just the beginning, the First Amendment far from the end of the story; in fact, Jefferson, Washington, and James Madison would work toward this ideal of separation throughout their entire political lives, ultimately leaving it to others to carry on and finish the job.
Should be an interesting read.  Only $11 on Kindle!!!

Sunday, October 6, 2013

The Prodigal Son Returns

"A Land Choice Above All Other Lands"
The Mormon Perspective of American Exceptionalism
by Returning Champion Brad Hart

First off, I need to apologize for my very lengthy absence from the blogging scene.  Life can sometimes you, thus making blogging (and many other activities you once enjoyed) go by the wayside.  I am, however, committed to making a comeback tour, so I expect you all to keep me on the straight and narrow from here on out.


Over the years, one of my favorite topics in all of history has been the ongoing debate over America's founding heritage. Was America founded as a "Christian" nation? And if so, what does that mean? Whose brand of Christianity is the American Christianity? Where does its influence start and end in relation to government? And what exactly is the American "nation?" These are just a few of the many questions that I have had over the course of my studies on the matter, all of which have led me to the conclusion that America's "Christian nation" debate is mostly a debate over semantics. After all, the term "Christian nation" would mean something very different depending on who we are talking to, and how they define "Christianity." A congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses, for instance, would present a very different perspective on the matter than would a congregation of American Evangelicals. Heck, even American Evangelicals would differ on this question depending on where and when in America they live(d).

And when it comes to Christian Nationalism, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) makes for a unique case study to say the least.  Since its inception, the Mormon Faith has held the American founding in higher esteem than arguably any other religion on the planet. It's very origins (in the heartland of the "burned-over District" of New York and at the peak of the Second Great Awakening) essentially demanded that Mormonism wed itself with the idea American providentialism.

One need not find a greater illustration of Mormonism's deep allegiance with American providentialism than the Book of Mormon.  As Mormonism's holiest book of Scripture, the Book of Mormon (in a nutshell) is essentially a story of God bringing a select group of people (Israelites) to a select land (America) in order to establish a select faith (the true gospel of Jesus Christ).  In so doing, the narrative of The Book of Mormon is saturated with references to America being a "choice land" that God himself esteemed "above all other lands."  A few examples:
And inasmuch as ye shall keel my commandments, ye shall prosper, and shall be led to a land of promise; yea, even a land which I have prepared for you; a land which is choice above all other lands. (1 Nephi 2:20) my emphasis.
Notwithstanding our afflictions, we have obtained a land of promise, a land which is choice above all other lands; a land which the Lord God hath covenanted with me should be a land for the inheritance of my seed...and also all those who should be led out of other countries by the hand of the Lord. (2 Nephi 1:5) my emphasis.
And never could be a people more blessed that were they, and more prospered by the hand of the Lord. And they were in a land that was choice above all lands, for the Lord had spoken it. (Ether 10:28) my emphasis.
Unlike the Hebrews of the Bible, the "Promised Land" of Mormonism is not so much Jerusalem or Israel but America.  Of course, that isn't to say that Mormons don't revere the Holy Land (the contrary is actually the case.  Mormons have a deep love for Jerusalem, as evidenced by their commitment to the BYU Jerusalem Center). But there can be no doubt that America holds the pole position when it comes to being a "choice land...above all lands."  From a few former Mormon Presidents:
"The Constitution of the United States is a glorious standard; it is founded in the wisdom of God. It is a heavenly banner; it is to all those who are privileged with the sweets of liberty, like the cooling shades and refreshing waters of a great rock in a thirsty and weary land. It is like a great tree under whose branches men from every clime can be shielded from the burning rays of the sun." -Joseph Smith 
"I want to say to every man, the Constitution of the United States, as formed by our fathers, was dictated, was revealed, was put into their hearts by the Almighty, who sits enthroned in the midst of the heavens; although unknown to them, it was dictated by the revelations of Jesus Christ, and I tell you in the name of Jesus Christ, it is as good as I could ask for." -Brigham Young 
"Those who laid the foundations of this American government and signed the Declaration of Independence were the best spirits the God of Heaven could find on the face of the earth.  They were choice and noble spirits before God." -Wilford Woodruff 
And from The Doctrine and Covenants (another canonized book of scripture of the Mormon faith):
Therefore, it is not right that any man should be in bondage one to another. And for this purpose have I [God] established the Constitution of this land, by the hands of wise men whom I raised up unto this very purpose, and redeemed the land by the shedding of blood (Section 101:79-80).
And if this isn't enough proof of Mormonism's deep roots in American providentialism, let us return to the Book of Mormon. In the First Book of Nephi (Chapter 13), we read of a remarkable vision that Nephi (one of the first BoM prophets) experiences. Nephi, who allegedly lived in 600 B.C., is shown by an angel the discovery of the New World, the migration of the European nations to the "promised land," and the establishment of the United States:

12. And I looked and beheld a man among the Gentiles, who was separated from the seed of my brethren by the many waters; and I beheld the Spirit of God, that it came down and wrought upon the man; and he went forth upon the many waters, even unto the seed of my brethren, who were in the promised land.

13 And it came to pass that I beheld the Spirit of God, that it wrought upon other Gentiles; and they went forth out of captivity, upon the many waters.

14 And it came to pass that I beheld many multitudes of the Gentiles upon the land of promise; and I beheld the wrath of God, that it was upon the seed of my brethren; and they were scattered before the Gentiles and were smitten.

15 And I beheld the Spirit of the Lord, that it was upon the Gentiles, and they did prosper and obtain the land for their inheritance; and I beheld that they were white, and exceedingly fair and beautiful, like unto my people before they were slain.

16 And it came to pass that I, Nephi, beheld that the Gentiles who had gone forth out of captivity did humble themselves before the Lord; and the power of the Lord was with them.

17 And I beheld that their mother Gentiles were gathered together upon the waters, and upon the land also, to battle against them.

18 And I beheld that the power of God was with them, and also that the wrath of God was upon all those that were gathered together against them to battle.

19 And I, Nephi, beheld that the Gentiles that had gone out of captivity were delivered by the power of God out of the hands of all other nations (1 Nephi 13:12-19).
The Book of Mormon goes on to relate how these chosen people, once established on the chosen land, went on to establish a government that, on the surface, appears to resemble the one established by America's founders.  This connection, however, is superficial and does not take into account many of the nuanced references made in the story itself.  As Mormon Historian and acclaimed Joseph Smith Biographer, Richard Bushman states:
The Book of Mormon can be read as a nationalistic text.  The book gives the United States a deep past, reaching back centuries beyond any known history of the continent to 600 BCE and through the Jaredites even further back to the Tower of Babel, millenia before Christ.  Embedding America in the Bible necessarily hallowed the nation, but The Book of Mormon also created a subversive competitor to the standard national history. 
But the American story does not control the narrative.  The Book of Mormon allots just nine verses to the deliverance of the Gentiles, and the rest of the book concentrates on the deliverance of Israel.  The impending American republic is barely visible...Book of Mormon governments are monarchies and judgeships, Old Testament governments, not democratic legislatures and elected presidents (Rough Stone Rolling, Chapter 4).
Regardless of how the Book of Mormon narrative is interpreted by both skeptics and believers, what is clear is that Mormons of virtually every generation have adopted the aforementioned references (and many others like them) as evidence for America being the supreme stage in God's human drama (***I have even written in the past about one generation of Mormons who went so far as to "convert" America's founders to Mormonism via the doctrine of vicarious baptism***).

And today's generation of Mormons is no different.  Current Latter-day Saint leadership has made the doctrine of American providentialism and religious freedom a top priority.  Here is a short clip from Mormon Apostle L. Tom Perry:

And a video on religious freedom released just last month by the church:

So how do Mormons feel when it comes to the question of America being established as a Christian Nation?  Heck, there is no more Christian nation in the world!  Even the Garden of Eden was in America.  As a result, how could there be a more Christian nation than the good ol' U.S. of A.

Born out of America, with doctrinal roots in America (both modern and believed to be ancient), there can be NO DOUBT that Mormons make the strongest claim for American Providentialism. Nobody else even comes close.


Saturday, October 5, 2013

Our Founding Fathers included Islam

That's the title to this article in Salon by DENISE SPELLBERG that is an excerpt from her book. A taste:
Amid the interdenominational Christian violence in Europe, some Christians, beginning in the sixteenth century, chose Muslims as the test case for the demarcation of the theoretical boundaries of their toleration for all believers. Because of these European precedents, Muslims also became a part of American debates about religion and the limits of citizenship. As they set about creating a new government in the United States, the American Founders, Protestants all, frequently referred to the adherents of Islam as they contemplated the proper scope of religious freedom and individual rights among the nation’s present and potential inhabitants. The founding generation debated whether the United States should be exclusively Protestant or a religiously plural polity. And if the latter, whether political equality—the full rights of citizenship, including access to the highest office—should extend to non-Protestants. The mention, then, of Muslims as potential citizens of the United States forced the Protestant majority to imagine the parameters of their new society beyond toleration. It obliged them to interrogate the nature of religious freedom: the issue of a “religious test” in the Constitution, like the ones that would exist at the state level into the nineteenth century; the question of “an establishment of religion,” potentially of Protestant Christianity; and the meaning and extent of a separation of religion from government.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

John Locke on the Bible and the Limits of Reason

From The Reasonableness of Christianity,
as Delivered in the Scriptures

by John Locke

Guest Blogger

[This passage has been coming back @ me lately.  Even though "natural lawyers" such as Suárez and Grotius argued that even if there is no God, the "natural law" would still have force, Locke realized the limits of reason and thereby of philosophy itself.*  Without the power and authority of a "law-giver," men are lax, and lack sufficient moral imagination.  

And it's always good to have an excuse to take a peek into the "Reasonableness" and Locke's writings in general.  Outside of the Bible itself, there's little that held as much philosophical authority in America in the Founding era.  Paragraph breaks are added for readability.---TVD]

Next to the knowledge of one God; maker of all things; “a clear knowledge of their duty was wanting to mankind.” This part of knowledge, though cultivated with some care by some of the heathen philosophers, yet got little footing among the people.

All men, indeed, under pain of displeasing the gods, were to frequent the temples: every one went to their sacrifices and services: but the priests made it not their business to teach them virtue. If they were diligent in their observations and ceremonies; punctual in their feasts and solemnities, and the tricks of religion; the holy tribe assured them the gods were pleased, and they looked no farther. Few went to the schools of the philosophers to be instructed in their duties, and to know what was good and evil in their actions. The priests sold the better pennyworths, and therefore had all the custom. Lustrations and processions were much easier than a clean conscience, and a steady course of virtue; and an expiatory sacrifice that atoned for the want of it, was much more convenient than a strict and holy life.

No wonder then, that religion was everywhere distinguished from, and preferred to virtue; and that it was dangerous heresy and profaneness to think the contrary. So much virtue as was necessary to hold societies together, and to contribute to the quiet of governments, the civil laws of commonwealths taught, and forced upon men that lived under magistrates.

But these laws being for the most part made by such, who had no other aims but their own power, reached no farther than those things that would serve to tie men together in subjection; or at most were directly to conduce to the prosperity and temporal happiness of any people.

But natural religion, in its full extent, was no-where, that I know, taken care of, by the force of natural reason*. It should seem, by the little that has hitherto been done in it, that it is too hard a task for unassisted reason to establish morality in all its parts, upon its true foundation, with a clear and convincing light. And it is at least a surer and shorter way, to the apprehensions of the vulgar, and mass of mankind, that one manifestly sent from God, and coming with visible authority from him, should, as a king and law-maker, tell them their duties; and require their obedience; than leave it to the long and sometimes intricate deductions of reason, to be made out to them. Such trains of reasoning the greatest part of mankind have neither leisure to weigh; nor, for want of education and use, skill to judge of.

We see how unsuccessful in this the attempts of philosophers were before our Saviour’s time. How short their several systems came of the perfection of a true and complete morality, is very visible.

And if, since that, the christian philosophers have much out-done them: yet we may observe, that the first knowledge of the truths they have added, is owing to revelation: though as soon as they are heard and considered, they are found to be agreeable to reason; and such as can by no means be contradicted. Every one may observe a great many truths, which he receives at first from others, and readily assents to, as consonant to reason, which he would have found it hard, and perhaps beyond his strength, to have discovered himself. Native and original truth is not so easily wrought out of the mine, as we, who have it delivered already dug and fashioned into our hands, are apt to imagine.

And how often at fifty or threescore years old are thinking men told what they wonder how they could miss thinking of? Which yet their own contemplations did not, and possibly never would have helped them to.

Experience shows, that the knowledge of morality, by mere natural light, (how agreeable soever it be to it,) makes but a slow progress, and little advance in the world. And the reason of it is not hard to be found in men’s necessities, passions, vices, and mistaken interests; which turn their thoughts another way: and the designing leaders, as well as following herd, find it not to their purpose to employ much of their meditations this way.

Or whatever else was the cause, it is plain, in fact, that human reason unassisted failed men in its great and proper business of morality. It never from unquestionable principles, by clear deductions, made out an entire body of the “law of nature.”

And he that shall collect all the moral rules of the philosophers, and compare them with those contained in the New Testament, will find them to come short of the morality delivered by our Saviour, and taught by his apostles; a college made up, for the most part, of ignorant, but inspired fishermen.

Full text here.

*See also Kretzmann, N., on Aquinas' Summa contra gentiles on the limits of unassisted reason and natural theology, p. 39 in the text and p. 51 in the PDF.

Washington's 1789 Thanksgiving Proclamation to be auctioned

President George Washington’s proclamation establishing a Day of Thanksgiving in the United States will be auctioned at Christie’s in New York City on November 14. The sale price is predicted to reach $8-12 million. Dated October 3, 1789, the proclamation reads:

By the President of the United States of America. a Proclamation.

Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor--and whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me “to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.”

Courtesy AP/Christie's
Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be—That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks—for his kind care and protection of the People of this Country previous to their becoming a Nation—for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his Providence which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war—for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed—for the peaceable and rational manner, in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted—for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed; and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and in general for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us—

And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions--to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually—to render our national government a blessing to all the people, by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed—to protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations (especially such as have shown kindness onto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord—To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and us--and generally to grant unto all Mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best.

Given under my hand at the City of New-York the third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789.

Go: Washington

Click here to read the philosophical and legislative background of the proclamation.