Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Religion Dispatches: "What Do We Mean By 'Judeo-Christian'?"

I can't remember whether I caught this from 2011 here. The article is valuable because it traces the history of that term. A taste:
The first recorded uses of the term “Judeo-Christian” were in England in the 1820s, though it was used quite differently than it is in today’s political rhetoric. The term was first coined by protestant missionaries who used it to refer to those Jews who had “seen the Christian light” and chosen baptism, though it took more than a century for “Judeo-Christian” to enter the general lexicon.

The term was actually popularized by liberals in the 1930s at the newly-founded National Conference of Christians and Jews who, concerned about the rise of American nativism and xenophobia during the Depression, sought to foster a more open and inclusive sense of American religious identity. Prominent protestant clergy who were members of the NCCJ’s National Council eschewed efforts to convert Jews—a somewhat radical stance that, along with a determination to change entrenched attitudes towards non-Protestants, alienated many conservative Christian groups.

Liberal Jews, meanwhile, led by the leaders of the Reform movement, welcomed the effort while most Orthodox Jews rejected the term and all it implied. To more traditional Jews “Judeo-Christian” seemed to suggest a new hybrid, one that threatened to erase important distinctions between religions as the classical Jewish tradition had warned against.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

John Adams on his Experiences with British Unitarians

Here. A taste:
During the three years, that I resided in England, I was Somewhat acquainted, with Lindsay, Disnay, Farmer4 Price, Priestley, Kippis, Jebb, Vaughans, Bridgen, Brand Hollis &c &c &c. even Dr Towers was not personally unknown to me, A Belsham was once introduced to me, probably the Author of Lindsays Memoirs. I had much conversation with him. Whether he is a Brother of Belsham the Historian, I know not, Lindsay was a Singular Character, unless Jebb was his parrallel, Unitarianism and Biblical Criticism were the great Characteristicks of them all. All were learned, Scientific, and moral, Lindsay was an heroic Christian5 Philosopher. All, professed Friendship for America, and these were almost all, who pretended to any Such Thing.
Every single one of those names is worth researching.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Trinities: "podcast episode 63 – Thomas Belsham and other scholars on John 8:58"

Check it out here. A taste:
In this episode we hear some thoughts on John 8 from F.F. Bruce, Dr. James F. McGrath, and Thomas Belsham (pictured here). Only Belsham agrees with Dr. Smith, but all make helpful points, and Belsham quotes several early modern scholars on various sides of the issue, including the great Nathaniel Lardner, who, like Belsham, reads John 8 as Dr. Smith does.
I blogged about Belsham previously here

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Merry Christmas from the Moon

We wish a Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah to all those here gathered---may we smile today, give thanks, inspire and be inspired in the coming year as were these three great men those 40-odd years ago...

It was on Christmas Eve 1968 that the astronauts of Apollo 8, Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and Bill Anders, became the first of mankind to see an earthrise from the orbit of the moon, and looking back on us, they spoke these words:

Anders: "We are now approaching lunar sunrise. And, for all the people back on earth, the crew of Apollo 8 have a message that we would like to send to you...

"In the beginning, God created the Heaven and the Earth. And the Earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light; and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good; and God divided the light from the darkness."

Lovell: "And God called the light Day, and the darkness He called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day. And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters. And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament; and it was so. And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day."

Borman: "And God said, Let the waters under the Heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear; and it was so. And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters He called Seas: and God saw that it was good."

And from the crew of Apollo 8, we close with good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas, and God bless all of you, all of you on the good earth."

It is good. God bless us, every one.

FEE: "Charles James Fox, Valiant Voice for Liberty"

Check it out here. A taste:
A Formidable Foe

George III viewed Fox as perhaps his most dangerous adversary, saying he had “cast off every principle of common honour and honesty . . . as contemptible as he is odious . . . aversion to all restraints.” Literary lion Samuel Johnson wondered “whether the nation should be ruled by the sceptre of George III or the tongue of Fox.”

Dressed in a blue frock-coat and a yellow waistcoat—colors later adopted by the Whig party as well as the Whig journal Edinburgh Review—Fox championed liberal reform during the 1780s. For example, he advocated complete religious toleration. This meant expanding the Toleration Act (1689), which required that to legally serve as a clergyman a religious Dissenter must acknowledge the divinity of Christ—a measure specifically aimed at Unitarians. Fox also favored abolishing religious tests to exclude Dissenters from political office.

Although Fox seemed to embrace the Church of England, he opposed using coercion to support it. As he declared in 1787: “It was an irreverent and impious opinion to maintain, that the church must depend for support as an engine or ally of the state, and not on the evidence of its doctrines, to be found by searching the scriptures, and the moral effects which it produced on the minds of those whom it was the duty to instruct.”

Fox supported the campaign of fellow Member William Wilberforce to abolish the slave trade. Fox opposed proposals that it be continued under government regulation. According to one summary of the debate in Parliament, May 1789: “he knew of no such thing as a regulation of robbery or a restriction of murder. There was no medium; the legislature must either abolish the trade or avow their own criminality.” But for the moment, proposals to abolish the slave trade went nowhere.

Merry Unitarian Christmas

It's a tradition of mine to wish you such. For someone else making the same point, see here.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Balkin: "New Developments in Originalist Theory"

From Jack Balkin here. A taste:
In fact, I was by no means the first to spot the likely consequences for original meaning originalism.  Mark Greenberg and Harry Litman made this argument in 1998; a year later Randy Barnett made a similar move, as did Kim Roosevelt in 2006; and of course, Ronald Dworkin's notion of semantic originalism made the point even earlier still.  The major problem for Steve is that going back to something like "original decisions originalism" is just going to dredge up the same problems as earlier versions of originalism that have since been abandoned.

I believe that there is no going back at this point. Originalism and living constitutionalism are now one nation, indivisible (with liberty and justice for all, we hope!)--and originalism, like humanity itself, is condemned to be free.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The Greatest Christmas Present America Ever Received

The Gift of the Thing Not Done
"General George Washington Resigns his Commission" by John Trumbull. Courtesy US Capitol
“General George Washington Resigns his Commission” by John Trumbull. Courtesy US Capitol
On this day in 1783, George Washington resigned as Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army following the American victory in the Revolution. Speaking to Congress, assembled at Annapolis, Washington said:
“Having now finished the work assigned to me, I retire from the great theatre of action; and bidding an affectionate farewell to this august body, under whose orders I have so long acted, I here offer my commission, and take any leave of all the employments of public life.”
This is quite possibly the most significant resignation in history. 
This was a path so well-trodden in history as to almost be expected: Following a great national uprising, the people, whether in the form of assemblies or otherwise, prove unable to manage affairs of state, and a great man, often the leader of the rebellion, feels compelled to step in. The classic example for Washington and his peers, who were raised as Brits, would have been Cromwell’s dissolution of the chronically incompetent Long Parliament. But Washington also knew that the pious soldier had been corrupted, like so many before him, by the power he had seized.
The Confederation Congress did not improve after Washington’s resignation; in fact, an entirely new system was called for to replace it. But by refusing to do the short-term, expedient thing and take supreme power, Washington gave the fledgeling nation space to develop institutions that went beyond one man. It was perhaps the greatest Christmas gift this nation has ever received.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Christmas Cheer with the Founders

My favorite Yuletide Founding factoid is George Washington's contract with his gardener:

"In consideration of these things being well and truly performed on the part of said Philip Bater, the said George Washington doth agree to allow him. . . four dollars at Christmas with which he may be drunk 4 days and 4 nights, two dollars at Easter to effect the same purpose; two dollars also at Whitsuntide, to be drunk two days, a Dram in the morning and a drink of Grog at Dinner or at Noon."

As pointed out elsewhere here at American Creation, Christmas wasn't that big a religious holiday back in the day. But it was twice as important as Easter or Whitsuntide [Pentecost] for getting good and loaded: Four days drunk and four whole dollars to do it with! Now, that's a verrrrrrry Merry Christmas, and Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night. [Or four of them!]

And don't miss GWash's eggnog recipe, which'll clean out half your liquor cabinet, courtesy of our erstwhile blogbrother Mark DeForrest:

"Here is George Washington's very own recipe for eggnog.  Be warned, it is heavy on the spirits in keeping with the tastes and customs of the day, and he doesn't specify how many eggs to use.  [One reader suggests 12.] Of course, this means you can adjust the eggs to your own taste and still claim complete colonial authenticity to your recreation of Washington's recipe:
One quart cream, one quart milk, one dozen tablespoons sugar, one pint brandy, 1/2 pint rye whiskey, 1/2 pint Jamaica rum, 1/4 pint sherry—mix liquor first, then separate yolks and whites of eggs, add sugar to beaten yolks, mix well. Add milk and cream, slowly beating. Beat whites of eggs until stiff and fold slowly into mixture. Let set in cool place for several days. Taste frequently.
Love that last bit of advice from the Father of Our Country!"

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Throckmorton on the David Barton Lawsuit Settlement

Here. A taste:
It is a shame that the Texas candidates focused on those obscure speeches when there were so many other issues on which to focus.

More curious is that Barton has used the judgment to go after others. I certainly understand why he went after Bob Barr and I defended Barton against Barr’s claims of antiSemitism.

Barton critics Rob Boston and Chris Rodda are mentioned. However, his evangelical critics (e.g., John Fea, John Wilsey, me) are not mentioned. The WND article falters by not clearly spelling out that the criticism of Barton’s historical writing has been found flawed by evangelicals as well as those outside the church. If Barton is going to sue all of his critics, then he will be in court more than out of court.

It might be telling who he sues and who he doesn’t.

At risk of a suit, I stand by my book, Getting Jefferson Right, and am glad to defend my work and assessment of Barton’s historical problems. If anything, I might consider an action in his direction, after years of misrepresentations of me and my motives by Barton.

David Barton Wins Apology, $$ From Political Attackers

The left wing's favorite whipping boy, "Christian historian" David Barton, finally turned the tables on his opponents.  According to the website World News Daily, "two left-leaning candidates for the Texas State Board of Education, Rebecca Bell-Metereau and Judy Jennings, charged in a 2010 campaign video that Barton, a consultant to the Board, was 'known for speaking at white-supremacist rallies.'"

After nearly three years of pre-trial wrangling, including a trip to the Texas Supreme Court, where Bell-Metereau and Jennings failed in their bid to have the suit dismissed, the two settled with Barton just before the case was to go to trial in July 2014.

They agreed to give Barton $1 million and issued a contrite apology repudiating their 2010 claim that Barton is “known for speaking at white-supremacist rallies”:

“We understand that this statement suggested that David Barton is a white supremacist, and that the two organizations he is affiliated with, WallBuilder Presentations, Inc. and WallBuilders L.L.C., were associated with or supportive of white supremacists. After learning more about Mr. Barton, we realize this statement was false. We separately and jointly apologize to Mr. Barton for damage to him individually and to his two organizations as a result of that statement.”

Barton told WND he was “very gratified” by the win and has given the monetary award away.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

WND: "David Barton wins million-dollar defamation suit"

Check it out here. A taste:
Chris Rodda, author of “Liars For Jesus: The Religious Right’s Alternate Version of American History,” invited Barton to sue her, too, after he went after Bell-Metereau, Jennings, and Smith.
“I’m feeling a bit left out here,” Rodda told her readers in September 2011. “I’ve worked very hard to spread the word that Barton is a liar. … What else do I have to do to get him to sue ME?”

Rodda responded to news about Barton’s legal success with a lively statement for WND, proclaiming she found it “unfathomably ironic and completely outrageous” that “David Barton, a man who has made a career of lying about others,” has won a defamation lawsuit.

Rodda, who is research director at the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, suggested her employer, an opponent of what it says it religious intimidation by evangelicals in the military, may soon take Barton to court: “For some time now, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) has been considering filing a defamation lawsuit against Mr. Barton for all of the blatant and deliberate lies he has told on his radio show and elsewhere about MRFF and its founder and president, Mikey Weinstein. Now seems like a quite appropriate time for MRFF to proceed with that.”

Friday, December 19, 2014

Barclay: Spirit Trumps Revelation

One thing that irked folks about Gregg Frazer's thesis on the political theology of the "key Founders" (which he termed "theistic rationalism" but for which others have competing terms) is it overstates the Enlightenment's reliance on "reason" as the be all and end all of "truth."

The phrase that most bothers is "reason trumps revelation" -- what Dr. Frazer's thesis claims America was founded on by virtue of its political theology. As it were, America's key Founders, unlike the strict deists, may have believed, in principle, in God revealing to man. But all such revelations were subject to the metaphorical if not literal razor (in Jefferson's case) of "reason"  to decide which revelations were true. Thus, the "Bible" as a canon, was "fit" to be "edited" according to this standard.

Well, a few, if not key but profoundly "notable" Founders held to a different sort of radical tendency, one given to us by the Quakers: a radicalism of the spirit.

Examine, if you will, An Apology for the True Christian Divinity by Robert Barclay first published in 1678. This work does not, as per the Enlightenment spirit of the age, set up man's individual reason to "test" the Bible for truth and error (with reason, of course, being the final arbiter). Rather it sets up the individual believer's sense of "Spirit" within him or her as the final arbiter of truth.

From Barclay's THE THIRD PROPOSITION, Concerning the Scriptures:
Nevertheless, because [the Scriptures] are only a declaration of the fountain, and not the fountain itself, therefore they are not to be esteemed the principal ground of all Truth and knowledge, nor yet the adequate primary rule of faith and manners. Yet because they give a true and faithful testimony of the first foundation, they are and may be esteemed a secondary rule, subordinate to the Spirit, from which they have all their excellency and certainty: for as by the inward testimony of the Spirit we do alone truly know them, so they testify, that the Spirit is that Guide by which the saints are led into all Truth; therefore, according to the Scriptures, the Spirit is the first and principal leader.a Seeing then that we do therefore receive and believe the Scriptures because they proceeded from the Spirit, for the very same reason is the Spirit more originally and principally the rule, according to that received maxim in the schools, Propter quod unumquodque est tale, illud ipsum est magis tale: That for which a thing is such, that thing itself is more such.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Why Quakers Don't Take Communion

That's the title of the embedded video below.

One thing the Founding Fathers didn't like about Quakers was their reluctance to take up arms against the British.

Other than that the Quakers represented a sort of "reductio ad absurdum" of Protestantism -- a "Protestantism on steroids" as my friend Mark David Hall has termed it -- that America's Founders really dug.

The Quakers didn't take communion because they didn't believe in sacraments. Hell, they didn't believe in ministers. The notion of priesthood of the believer was taken to its ultimate logical conclusion by having no minister or "pastor" preaching or dictating to the flock.

Though one distinctive thing on the Quakers to keep in mind regarding their place in the Enlightenment: Their honoring of and placing the "Spirit" as central to their faith made them more mystical and less "rationalistic" in the ideal.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Sandefur At The Constitution Center

After roughly 10 years of interacting online with my blogfather Timothy Sandefur I finally got to meet him in person yesterday when he spoke at The Constitution Center. The video is here. If you watch it carefully enough, you can see me in the front row.

Mr. Sandefur’s book, The Conscience of the Constitution: The Declaration of Independence and the Right to Liberty, was the subject of the discussion.

This was a wonderful debate about first principles, the notion of what has been termed "liberal democracy." Small d "democracy" means majority rules. Small l "liberal" means certain rights that are antecedent to majority rule.

Majority rules? Sometimes yes; sometimes no. How do we best protect liberty rights, when the majority might wish, via the democratic process, to put limits on such?

It's not always easy to draw the line. Sandefur's theory seeks to validate the primacy of liberty against the democrats of both the Left and the Right.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

PBS NEWSHOUR: "Dec. 14, 1799: The excruciating final hours of President George Washington"

By Dr. Howard Markel. Check it out here. A taste:
And even more intriguing is a long letter about Washington’s last illness, written by Col. Tobias [sic] as the events unfolded.
The president's chief aide Col. Tobias Lear wrote a 12-page account of Washington's demise. Photo from the Clements Library at the University of MichiganThe president’s chief aide Col. Tobias Lear wrote a 12-page account of Washington’s demise. Photo from the Clements Library at the University of Michigan
This 12-page letter is a treasured document at the William Clements Library at the University of Michigan. Another handwritten copy of these notes repose in the University of Virginia Library.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

David Parker Conducts a Case Study in American Myth-making

The Fall-2014 issue of Common Place, the online journal of the American Antiquarian Society, has posted an interesting piece with the title, In Griswold We Trust, by Kennesaw State University History Professor David Parker.  

Here is how the article starts off:
On April 30, 1789, George Washington was inaugurated as the nation's first president. According to the traditional story, he added "so help me God" to the words of the oath prescribed by the Constitution. However, that "traditional story" goes back only to 1854, when Rufus Griswold included it in a book titled The Republican Court. Griswold's story caught on, and by the 1860s, "so help me God" had appeared in dozens of other biographies of Washington and was well on its way to becoming the accepted account. Until the last decade or so, Washington's "so help me God" was as true as anything else in our history.
 This essay is not another tirade in what sometimes threatens to become a tedious debate over "Did he say it?" Rather, it simply describes how a story first told sixty-five years after the fact became entrenched in America's public memory; it uses "so help me God" as a case study of American myth-making.
Continue reading here.

A 2/15/2016 follow-up article can be seen here.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

American Founders on Capital Punishment

By the time of the Founding, the cruelty of England's "bloody code" had been largely dispensed with [burning, beheading, and drawing and quartering remained legal in Britain until the 1800s], "cruel and unusual" punishments banned by the Eighth Amendment. For some Founders, a moral or religious opposition; others saw it as unnecessary as a question of utility, justice or prudence. The arguments back then are familiar to us today.

From a very interesting article over at The Daily Caller from death penalty skeptic Marc Hyden:

Portrait of Cesare Beccaria The 18th century Italian philosopher Cesare Beccaria heavily influenced the views of many of America’s founders, according to John Bessler, author of The Birth of American Law. Beccaria’s philosophy helped mold our nation’s criminal justice system as it shifted away from Britain’s “bloody code.” 

Beccaria, like many early American leaders, opposed capital punishment because he believed that the death penalty was neither useful nor necessary. He concluded that it served no deterrent and wasn’t imperative considering that alternative punishments could be implemented to replace the death penalty.

Any punishment that isn’t absolutely necessary is a form of tyranny, according to Beccaria. George Washington was likely well-versed in Beccaria’s philosophies as well.[According to Bessler,"In 1769, George Washington bought a copy of Beccaria's book, "On Crimes and Punishments," first published in Italian 250 years ago and translated into English in 1767"---TVD.]

And, as a general, Washington even pleaded with congress to limit capital crimes on multiple occasions. 

Even though Washington begrudgingly signed death warrants in his day, he said, “We should not introduce Capital executions too frequently.”  He was known for pardoning the guilty and granting clemency as a general and even into his presidency. 

Some probative quotes, drawn also from John Bessler's oft-quoted National Law Journal essay:
“I should not regret a fair and full trial of the entire abolition of capital punishments by any State willing to make it.”—James Madison

Portrait of William Bradford, 1872"The name of Beccaria has become ­familiar in Pennsylvania, his authority has become great, and his principles have spread among all classes of persons and impressed themselves deeply in the hearts of our citizens."—William Bradford, Madison friend and attorney general of Philladelphia, author of An Inquiry How Far the Punishment of Death is Necessary in Pennsylvania [1793]

“It is better 100 guilty Persons should escape than that one innocent person should suffer.”—Benjamin Franklin

“The Supreme Being alone possesses a power to take away human life, and that we rebel against his laws whenever we undertake to execute death in any way whatever upon any of his creatures.”—Dr. Benjamin Rush

"Beccaria and other writers on crimes and punishments had satisfied the reasonable world of the unrightfulness and inefficacy of the punishment of crimes by death."—Thomas Jefferson

“I shall ask for the abolition of the Penalty of Death until I have the infallibility of human judgment demonstrated to me.”—Lafayette

Unfortunately, even as one of the original authors of the French Revolution, the Marquis de Lafayette's sentiments didn't hold when it came to another "bloody code," what they came to call The National Razor--the guillotine--but that's another story.  In between lies our American Founding and our Eighth Amendment, which enjoyed neither the cruelty of cousin England nor the ritualized murder of the First Republic.

See also American Creation founder Brad Hart on this subject here.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Throckmorton: "The David Barton Cover Up: More on Gregg Frazer’s Critique of David Barton’s America’s Godly Heritage"

Check it out here. A taste:
This is a case where Barton cites the study improperly, and then fails to cite all of the relevant sections of the study. Barton’s main argument is that the founders used the Bible as a foundation for our form of government. However, Lutz and Hyneman demonstrate that the Federalist defenders of the Constitution did not refer to the Bible once in their writings.  On page 194 of the study, Lutz charts the analysis of the citations in the Federalist and Antifederalist papers.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Brayton: "Gregg Frazer Eviscerates David Barton"

Check it out here. A taste:
And while I [Ed Brayton] have my disagreements with [Gregg Frazer] on the scope and nature of the religion clauses of the First Amendment, I agree with him in his assessment of the utter dishonesty of David Barton. Warren Throckmorton has, with Frazer’s permission, published a long review of Barton’s America’s Deadly [sic?] Heritage.

Let us begin with monumental unsupported assumptions presented as fact. The video begins with the claim that 52 of the 55 delegates at the Constitutional Convention were “orthodox, evangelical Christians.” Barton does not supply any source or basis for this astounding claim, but I strongly suspect that the source is M.E. Bradford’s A Worthy Company. It is, to my knowledge, the only “study” that attempts such a determination and that produces 52 as a result. The extent of Bradford’s evidence is simply a list of the denominational affiliations of the 55 delegates. Mere affiliation with a denomination is, of course, no evidence whatever of “orthodox, evangelical” Christianity. This is particularly true since, in order to get to 52, one must include the two Roman Catholics. If mere denominational affiliation is proof of orthodox Christianity, one must also wonder why Barton is concerned today, since 86% of today’s Congress is affiliated with Protestant or Catholic denominations (compared with just 75% of the national population). Today’s Congress is apparently more “Christian” than the American public.

A second monumental assumption is the claim that George Washington’s “miraculous” delivery in battle demonstrates God’s special hand on him. The original source for this story is Mason Locke (Parson) Weems’s embarrassing hagiography of Washington. To present one of Weems’s stories as fact reflects very poorly on Barton’s historiography. But even if one were to take this story as fact, one cannot assume without revelation that an event such as this indicates a special relationship with God. Hitler “miraculously” survived an attempt on his life, too – and claimed that God had spared him to finish his “ordained” work…

Monday, December 1, 2014

Throckmorton: "The Great Confrontation of 2012: David Barton and the Evangelical Historians"

Check it out here. A taste:
After Jay Richards read my book with Michael Coulter, Getting Jefferson Right: Fact Checking Claims about Our Third Presidenthe asked ten Christian historians to read both The Jefferson Lies, and then our book. Richards wanted to get expert opinions on the facts in each book. He also asked Gregg Frazer to review Barton’s DVD, America’s Godly Heritage (which is still for sale on Barton’s website).

With Frazer’s permission, the complete review of America’s Godly Heritage is now available here.
More to come on this topic later. Note: If Mr. Barton feels he is being treated unfairly or otherwise not given a voice, I will post his stuff to the front page of American Creation without my commentary or editing. Though others will be free to chime in.