Beckwith on D’Souza, Religious Dickering & “Mere Christianity”

There’s a long story which I don’t feel like recounting. The following passage of Dr. Beckwith’s interests me:

There is a sense in which D’Souza is right. Yes, Christians from a variety of traditions can agree on much, and often work together in advancing the common good in a variety of causes both inside and outside their respective communities. And he is indeed correct that Christians, as well as other theists, should make a winsome and intelligent case against the philosophical materialism on which the most pernicious affects of secularism rely. D’Souza has made important contributions to advancing such a case, and even has been wisely circumspect in distancing himself, though respectfully, from those Christians who believe that intelligent design should play an integral role in the project of the Christian philosophy of nature. (My own pilgrimage on this matter may be found on the BioLogos website).

But there is a sense in which D’Souza is wrong. Although it is certainly true that the Apostle’s Creed and Lewis’ Mere Christianity reflect the barest one may believe in order to count as a “Christian,” it does not follow that they are the basis by which one may define what counts as a “mere squabble.” After all, if, let’s say, a Unitarian were to tell D’Souza that he considers himself a Christian but cannot accept either the Creed or Lewis’s “mere Christianity,” D’Souza would say that the Unitarian is not a Christian based on the Creed/Lewis standard D’Souza embraces. But what if the Unitarian were to respond, “A lot of times, Christians spend a lot of time in intramural type debates and squabbles. Are you a Trinitarian or Unitarian; if you are a Unitarian, what type are: are you a humanist or theist; what position do you take on the resurrection of Christ?” Why is D’Souza’s “mere Christianity” not just another position in a different squabble, at least according to the Unitarian?

The “Creed/Lewis” standard is something that evangelicals, Roman Catholics, Anglicans (like Lewis!) and capital O “Orthodox” agree forms a lowest common denominator of “mere Christianity.” Anything that falls outside of that LCD (Jehovah’s Witnessism, Mormonism, theological unitarianism) is not “Christian.” There is a big gulf between that standard and “anything that calls itself Christian is Christian.”

The American Founding, in a political theological sense, may be “Christian” according to the later, but not the former. Jefferson, J. Adams and Franklin clearly rejected this kind of “mere Christianity” (most folks don’t know Adams rejected “mere Christianity” more clearly than Franklin did) and Washington, Madison, G. Morris, and many others are not provably “mere Christians.”

I found the President [James Madison] more free and open than I expected, starting subjects of conversation and making remarks that sometimes savored of humor and levity. He sometimes laughed, and I was glad to hear it ; but his face was always grave. He talked of religious sects and parties, and was curious to know how the cause of liberal Christianity stood with us, and if the Athanasian creed was well received by our Episcopalians. He pretty distinctly intimated to me his own regard for the Unitarian doctrines.— TICKNOR, GEORGE, 1815, Letter to his Father, Jan. 21 ; Life, Letters and Journals, vol. I, p. 30.

———————————-

That Washington was a professing Christian is evident from his regular attendance in our church; but, Sir, I cannot consider any man as a real Christian who uniformly disregards an ordinance so solemnly enjoined by the divine Author of our holy religion, and considered as a channel of divine grace. This, Sir, is all that I think it proper to state on paper. In a conversation, more latitude being allowed, more light might, perhaps, be thrown upon it. I trust, however, Sir, you will not introduce my name in print.

I am, Sir,
Yrs.
James Abercrombie

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55 Responses to Beckwith on D’Souza, Religious Dickering & “Mere Christianity”

  1. OFT says:

    To say that James Madison was a unitarian or anything other than Orthodox based on someone else’s words is a non sequitur. What we have from Madison is Orthodoxy, which includes his attack on judges in his Memorial and Remonstrance, rather than specifically attacking Orthodox Christian doctrines. JM’s Orthodox writings give us a chain from a teenager in his common place book, to several years after he left college, to 1788. The only indication from JM departing Orthodoxy is from 1812 and beyond; hardly representative of the people:

    “[B]ut I find them [book reviews] loose in their principles[,] encourage[r]s of free inquiry even such as destroys the most essential Truths, Enemies to serious religion…”

    –To William Bradford, Dec. 1, 1773. The Papers of James Madison, Vol. I. 16 Mar 1751 – 16 Dec. 1779. Edited by William T. Hutchinson and William M. E. Rachal. 1962, by the University of Chicago Press.

    *[Editors Note from William T. Hutchinson and William M. E. Rachal] Students’ notes taken between 1772 and 1775 on Witherspoon’s “Moral Philosophy, Rhetoric and Eloquence” lectures, now preserved in the Princeton University Library, include warnings against reading ephemeral works dangerous to sound religion and morality. The editor also writes other letters from JM to Bradford continued until 1788, but are lost.

    Witherspoon had a profound effect on Madison until much later in his life.

    “At the same time his ingenious and plausible defence of parliamentary authority carries in it such defects and misrepresentations, as confirm me in political orthodoxy—after the same manner as the specious arguments of Infidels have established the faith of inquiring Christians.”

    -To William Bradford Jr., July 1, 1774.

    This is a direct attack on infidelity upon Orthodox Christians.

    Even Madison’s best friend until the writing of the Constitution, assured JM the importance of Orthodoxy:

    “I went yesterday to hear our classmate McCorkle predicate: & I assure you his sermon was very orthodox: The point he chiefly Laboured to prove was “that the Laws of God were superior in wisdom to the Laws of men”; & I think his arguments on this part were in a gr[e]at measure unanswerable; the rest had a great deal of chronology but very little instruction in it.”

    -To James Madison, Oct 17, 1774.

    It appears Bradford is assuring JM that their friend, McCorkle remained Orthodox.

    As the other Colonial Virginians, JM rejected the Enlightenment for Biblical Principles, including Original Sin:

    “Little did I ever expect to hear that Jeremiah’s Doctrine that “the heart of man is deceitful above all things & desperately wicked”[Jer 17:9] was exemplified in the celebrated Dr Franklin, & if the suspicions against him be well founded it certainly is remarkably exemplified. Indeed it appears to me that the bare suspicion of his guilt amounts very nearly to a proof of its reality.”

    -To William Bradford, June 19th, 1775.

  2. Jon Rowe says:

    OFT,

    The only thing that is a “non-sequitur” is the stuff that you’ve produced as it does not support your conclusions on Madison.

    While there is uncertainty, the best evidence is that he became a unitarian during all of the time in which he was politically active. See Bishop Meade’s quote about him and his affiliation with those of “infidel principles.”

  3. OFT says:

    Then please post some of his quotes affirming heterodoxy? I’m sure many would like to see them.

  4. OFT says:

    I’ve never claimed JM did not end up a unitarian, but his words support the Orthodox side. There just isn’t any words from JM that he was a unitarian.

    Madison quoted John Calvin as late Feb. 1788:

    “It may be a reflection on human nature, that such devices should be necessary to control the abuses of government. But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary.”

    JM is referring to Original Sin and its contamination on human nature.

    As Author, David W. Hall explains, Madison sounds not unlike John Calvin:

    “If we were all like angels, blameless and freely able to exercise perfect control, we would not need rules or regulations. Why, then, do we have so many laws and statutes? Because of man’s wickedness, for he is constantly overflowing with evil; this is why a remedy is required.”

    -Sermons on Galatians (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1996), 313.
    Emphasis Added.

    These words cannot be swept under the rug.

    I’ve never claimed JM ended up a unitarian, but his words support the Orthodox side.

  5. Jon Rowe says:

    Let the record also reflect that Madison, as President, referred to God as “The Great Spirit” to the unconverted Natives, just like Washington and Jefferson before him. That’s a public political-theological expression of unitarianism or at least most or all religions worship the same God syncretism.

  6. James Hanley says:

    OTF,

    Madison’s claim that men are no angels could be a reference to original sin, or it could just be his reflections on his observation of humanity. You are claiming something that cannot be demonstrated, and that frankly is a claim I’ve never heard before. You may not be the first person to ever treat Federalist 51 as a religious treatise, but if not, it’s certainly so rare that I’ve never heard it done before.

    And even if your interpretation happens to be correct, it says nothing about unitarianism vs. trinitarianism per se. While the Unitarian Universalist Church today rejects that doctrine, it wasn’t necessarily so back then. There was then little to no Unitarian orthodoxy beyond disdain for the idea of the Trinity.

    So your argument just doesn’t remotely begin to take you where you want it to go.

  7. OFT says:

    He wrote that in 1812. A far cry from 1788. From his letters in 1775, he was Orthodox while forming the Virginia Bill of Rights in 1776.

    And JM quoting John Calvin in 1788 expositing the Constitution, is evidence of his Calvinism, not just a mere influence of John Calvin. Every school he attended was Calvinist.

    After listening to TJ for 25 years, no wonder what happened to him.

  8. OFT says:

    James,

    The context for both quotes is the same. JM learning Original Sin at Princeton shines through in the classic Old Testament statement on the depravity of man’s heart”

    “Little did I ever expect to hear that Jeremiah’s Doctrine that “the heart of man is deceitful above all things & desperately wicked”[Jer 17:9] was exemplified in the celebrated Dr Franklin, & if the suspicions against him be well founded it certainly is remarkably exemplified. Indeed it appears to me that the bare suspicion of his guilt amounts very nearly to a proof of its reality.”

    -To William Bradford, June 19th, 1775.

    That is Original Sin, and by implication the perversion of human nature.

    He’s using this in Federalist 51 to show the safeguards needed, because we aren’t angels, just as Calvin did.

  9. James Hanley says:

    OFT,

    Well, you just completely ignored my point that you can’t prove Federalist 51 is based on original sin. And you didn’t try to demonstrate the point, you just reiterated it as though it was proven.

    That approach to argumentation makes it impossible to respect you or take you seriously. I have no doubt you’re quite sincere, and quite well read in a particular set of texts, but I also have no doubt that you desperately lack any significant analytical ability, or capacity to consider things objectively rather than through your pre-conceived assumptions that it all must be biblical and Christian-based.

  10. Jon Rowe says:

    Madison’s comments on human nature in the Federalists also reflect, not Calvinism (total depravity) but some other kind of belief in imperfect human nature. Madison speaks of a “degree of depravity” not “total.”

  11. OFT says:

    James,

    You wrote: “Madison’s claim that men are no angels could be a reference to original sin, or it could just be his reflections on his observation of humanity… And even if your interpretation happens to be correct”

    Madison affirming Jeremiah 17:9 tells us JM’s observation on humanity is that it’s defective because of Original Sin. Maybe I am wrong by linking the two, but given what JM wrote in 1775, and quoting John Calvin in 1788, is it not a logical chain of reasoning?

    Since I’ve posted the actual words of JM, where are the “pre-conceived assumptions that it all must be biblical and Christian-based.”?

  12. James Hanley says:

    OFT,

    It’s not an impossibility (and I didn’t say it was), but it’s not at all conclusive. Do you really think that linking together two similar sounding ideas 13 years apart in time proves that the one necessarily derives from the other? At best you’ve created a reasonable hypothesis, but all reasonable hypotheses are merely tentative states of “could be” until more evidence is given. And you’ve given no evidence that ties the two together.

    That’s why you’re not really a reliable interpreter. The hypothesis fits your pre-existing beliefs, so you jump to the conclusion that “could be” really means “certainly is.”

    And you should take into account Jon’s last comment. Madison clearly believed self-governance was possible. He thought there needed to be checks to ambition, but that the checks didn’t need to be wholly constraining. Also, if you read Federalist 10, he believed that the system would help bring the better sort, more trustworthy and less ignoble, people into power. Neither self-governance with merely mild checks to ambition nor the idea of trustworthy people fits comfortably with a believe in total depravity.

    Also, as I noted above, even if your argument is right, it doesn’t disprove Madison’s unitarianism. So you have two logical hurdles to overcome. You’re staring over and past the hurdles imagining that you’ve actually jumped over them.

  13. James stated:

    “You are claiming something that cannot be demonstrated, and that frankly is a claim I’ve never heard before. You may not be the first person to ever treat Federalist 51 as a religious treatise, but if not, it’s certainly so rare that I’ve never heard it done before.”

    A lot of people make this connection. Mark David Hall does in his essays that were previewed at AC. While one cannot say for sure if this view came from some belief in original sin I think it does show that he believed in man’s fallen nature. Two different concepts. Locked believed in the latter and denied the former. If one believes Genesis is an Allegory, as I do, then original sin is dubious at best. I like what Locke wrote about it in his commentary on Romans.

    The key here is that he obviously did not believe in the Enlightenment and Rationalist view of the perfectability of man. In fact most founders had a skeptical view of human nature. That is why I find it hard to believe that people think they were Enlightenment figures.

  14. As Jon and you both point out this was certainly not the Calvinist total depravity either. They did not seem to believe that man could be perfected but I think they did believe that enough of the nature of God remained in man to allow him to progress. Tough balance to wrap one’s mind around.

    But surely they were no French Rationalists.

  15. James Hanley says:

    King,

    Certainly not French rationalists. But there’s a gray area between man being imperfect and being fallen. I don’t think we can say just where Madison was in that. For example, from a purely materialistic method that sees man as an evolved animal, I see mankind as imperfect on many measures. Obviously Madison didn’t have that particular approach, but it does demonstrate that imperfect need not equal fallen.

    As to being enlightenment figures, absolutely! They did believe in reason as the, or at least a, source of knowledge, as opposed to inspiration. Not all enlightenment thinkers believed in the perfectability of man. Be careful of taking one idea from a broad movement and assigning it a necessary characteristic, such that it is defining of who is within and without that movement, or assumes that all in the movement were unanimous in their ideas.

  16. James Hanley says:

    I might have to back off of the “not total depravity” argument. While I don’t think Madison’s argument was based on that idea, I may have misrepresented the idea. As I understand it, total depravity didn’t mean “depraved in every way whatsoever,” but “totally without ability to achieve spiritual redemption through one’s own actions.” The total was, so to speak, about breadth, rather than depth. On that understanding, perhaps total depravity still would allow for self-government, as it doesn’t really assume people are incapable of behaving well, just incapable of spiritual saving themselves.

  17. OFT says:

    James wrote: “Neither self-governance with merely mild checks to ambition nor the idea of trustworthy people fits comfortably with a believe in total depravity.”

    I believe Total Depravity fits with trustworthy people and mild checks on ambition, along with John Calvin himself, and by possible justification of James Madison:

    “Total depravity does not mean, however, that people are as evil as possible. Rather, it means that even the good which a person may intend is faulty in its premise, false in its motive, and weak in its implementation; and there is no mere refinement of natural capacities that can correct this condition. Thus, even acts of generosity and altruism are in fact egoist acts in disguise. All good, consequently, is derived from God alone, and in no way through man.”

    – “Total Depravity, part 1”. Reformed Perspectives. [Quotes Calvin in Institutes] http://thirdmill.org/newfiles/ra_mclaughlin/TH.McLaughlin.Total_Depravity.1.html. Retrieved 2008-07-14. “[Any person] can do outwardly good works, but these works come from a heart that hates God, and therefore fail to meet God’s righteous standards.”.

    Here is a good analogy:

    ” Although not all the liquid is poison, all the liquid is poisoned. In the same way, while not all of human nature is depraved, all human nature is totally affected by depravity.”
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Total_depravity#cite_note-4

    Theologically, the evidence supports Madison’s views on depravity the same as Calvin’s, just as that of Hamilton and Washington. Calling it a “degree of depravity” in the Federalist, changes not the doctrine. Total Depravity means “corruption” and “degradation.” Our nature cannot get half-corrupted. It’s corrupted or it’s not.

    In lieu of JM quoting Jeremiah 17:9, JM changed the word in the Federalist, not the historical meaning of Total Depravity.

    Lastly, I more or less agree with Jon about Madison’s unitarianism. His quotes in 1788 are not copasetic with what he wrote in 1812. Thus, JM may be another example of a Founding Father changing his views. JM’s views in 1812 are not representative of the people of 1787.

  18. OFT says:

    KOI,

    How can nature be fallen without Original Sin? In light of JM quoting Jeremiah 17:9, where else could anyone get fallen nature?

    Maybe I’m wrong. I’ve never read anything on that alternative view.

  19. “How can nature be fallen without Original Sin?”

    I have to put some more thought into what Locke says here OFT I am really not sure what I think. All I know is if I am right and Genesis is an allegory then that opens up a can of worms.

  20. James stated:

    “Certainly not French rationalists. But there’s a gray area between man being imperfect and being fallen. I don’t think we can say just where Madison was in that. ”

    I agree. Hard to say where he was or really even put into words the complicated concept.

    “As to being enlightenment figures, absolutely! They did believe in reason as the, or at least a, source of knowledge, as opposed to inspiration”

    I see no evidence of this except for maybe Jefferson. I think much of the time when the exalted reason it was intuitive reason or what Aquinas called general revelation that did not contradict scripture. I think there is a lot here to hash out before we get to the bottom of it. They have been going at it at AC on this issue for two years and I am just started to grasp some of the more complicated arguments.

    I will say I am glad to have been able to continue our discussion of these things in this forum as opposed to Ed’s blog. It is much easier to have a reasonable discussion here. This is a great blog.

  21. James Hanley says:

    “How can nature be fallen without Original Sin?”

    Perhaps it can’t, but it’s not necessary that we be fallen by nature or that there be original sin. In my theological upbringing we didn’t believe in original sin–that is, the idea that we are born sinful. We believed that humans are born sinless, but all eventually sin because we are weak.

    I don’t know if that’s what Madison believed, but I could write Federalist 51 with exactly the words he did, based on that viewpoint.

  22. James,

    I do not totally understand the whole total depravity idea and I have had numerous hours long conversations about it with Calvinists I know. So I cannot really comment.

  23. James Hanley says:

    If a person sees “intuitive reason” as originating in the brain, or through observation of nature, rather than as a revelation from God, then it’s enlightenment thought.

    Frankly, I’ve never heard anyone before claim that Madison wasn’t an enlightenment figure. Anyone who argued so eloquently for religious freedom, anyone who so strongly rejected divine right of kings and sought temporal checks on government as a philosophical matter (as opposed to purely a self-interest matter, ala Magna Charta), is clearly an enlightenment person.

  24. “We believed that humans are born sinless, but all eventually sin because we are weak.’

    I would say that is where I am at. I know that Locke was there as well. The other founders I am not sure. From a justice perspective it seems unjust to impute the sin of someone else to you. Like I said, if Genesis is an allegory then this is a much broader concept than most allow for.

  25. I might add that I do not think “nature” is fallen per se because of what James stated above.

  26. James Hanley says:

    King,

    The Constitution explicitly forbids corruption of blood, because it is seen as unjust. Yet God, the epitome of justice, presumably mandates corruption of blood (if one accepts the original sin doctrine). That’s one of the reasons I find it a disturbing doctrine. It seems to in fact make God very un-just.

  27. “Frankly, I’ve never heard anyone before claim that Madison wasn’t an enlightenment figure. Anyone who argued so eloquently for religious freedom, anyone who so strongly rejected divine right of kings and sought temporal checks on government as a philosophical matter (as opposed to purely a self-interest matter, ala Magna Charta), is clearly an enlightenment person”

    It was a philosophical matter for many long before the Enlightenment. Look at many of the schoolmen and canonists. I know they have little impact that we know of on America but look at Vitriola, Las Casas, and other late scholastics of the 16th Century.

    I am not sure what we are calling Enlightenment but the French Revolution was not a bastion for religious freedom. I do not want to paint in broad strokes here like you said but I think many of us have a wrong perception where a lot of these ideas came from originally.

    Look up the government of Aragon. Very much a Constitutional republic with a sense of rights as early as late 1100’s or early 1200’s.

  28. OFT says:

    James wrote: “Perhaps it can’t, but it’s not necessary that we be fallen by nature or that there be original sin. In my theological upbringing we didn’t believe in original sin–that is, the idea that we are born sinful. We believed that humans are born sinless, but all eventually sin because we are weak.”

    JM could have believed that; I believe Locke did. However, an individual sinning would not corrupt human nature. JM wrote human nature was corrupted. The only way that could happen is through the fall. This is why I tied-in JM quoting Jeremiah 17:9.

  29. “The Constitution explicitly forbids corruption of blood, because it is seen as unjust. Yet God, the epitome of justice, presumably mandates corruption of blood (if one accepts the original sin doctrine). That’s one of the reasons I find it a disturbing doctrine. It seems to in fact make God very un-just.”

    I agree. I can send you a link to what Locke said about it in his commentary on Romans. Pretty compelling stuff. It changed my mind. A lot of this doctrines were voted in or mandated by Papal Bull based on poltical expediency not true conviction. They seem to have passed into Protestantism uncritically for the most part.

    I think some of the more intellectual fathers did not have a problem with the Bible as much as with the uncritical nature as to which some just took doctrine that seemed to defy reason. Like the Sun standing still. If you look at the Historiography of the time very little that was written was literal. Myth played a great role in the relating of history. The events were not so much important as the lessons to be learned from it.

    I liken to the movie Unbreakable with Bruce Willis and Samuel L Jackson. He says that comic book superheros are great men exaggerated to make a point. Much like Oral history.

    Anyway that is my two cents.

  30. OFT says:

    Your definitely getting into the theological and away from James Madison, yet, you probably are aware what the Scriptural text says. The entire basis of Biblical salvation is based on imputation of Christ’s righteousness, so no one could take credit for saving themselves, especially me.

  31. “If a person sees “intuitive reason” as originating in the brain, or through observation of nature, rather than as a revelation from God, then it’s enlightenment thought”

    When you say revelation of God do you mean that God wrote on man’s heart at creation? If so then that is my understanding as well. It is my contention that when they were saying that special revelation found in the Bible was subject to reason they were saying that what some interpret as revelation from the Bible is subject to God given intuitive reason. It was an interpretation thing more than anything else IMO. But I am open to evidence to the contrary.

    I have read a lot of Frazer’s and am unconvinced. He thinks someone is a theistic rationalist if they think Genesis is an allegory. That is not throwing the Bible out it is throwing out a dogmatic interpretation that really makes little sense of one thinks about it.

  32. “Your definitely getting into the theological and away from James Madison, ”

    All to understand Madison. Not to get into sotierology.

  33. James Hanley says:

    King,

    I think the crux of enlightenment thought is to reject or at least downplay revelation in favor of reason and observation (empiricism).

    I don’t think it really matters whether revelation is written on men’s heart at the beginning or whether God occasionally reaches down and puts an idea in a man’s head. For understanding the concept of the enlightenment, I think the key is that enlightenment thinkers rejected or downplayed the idea that the ideas came from God at all (other than indirectly, through observation the work of God in nature). Even if they are factually wrong, and what they take for a brilliant moment of reason is in fact a sudden revelation given by God, their belief about that moment of knowledge is what characterizes them.

    Within that, there’s all sorts of room for different specific beliefs, and widely varying beliefs about how much role God plays in human affairs.

    And I didn’t mean to imply that the idea of rights suddenly sprang full-grown in the enlightenment. Of course they had antecedents–all ideas stem from other, earlier, ideas. But the founding fathers’ political writings at the time of the Revolution do not reference the Bible, or inspiration, or much of anything religious at all, except in the vaguest of terms. Jefferson, for example, wrote of “the creator,” which isn’t explicitly Christian or biblical, and he wrote that these truths are “self-evident,” not that they had been revealed by God, or found in the Bible, etc.

    And indeed the course of Christianity in the U.S. affected political thought. Particularly, the covenants the religious colonies had, and the idea of a covenant with God, helped create the idea of a firm, fixed, and written constitution–an idea that made no sense to anyone in England, with it’s unwritten constitution. But at the time of the Revolution in the U.S., the prominent men, the elite class, had received an education that was as enlightenment in its outlook as it was still based in the basic ideas of Christianity. But politically they really did draw from Locke and Montesquieu (and perhaps Harington), neither of whom based their ideas primarily in revelation.

    I think it’s important to emphasize that the enlightenment wasn’t at all about rejection of God, but about a growing agreement that God gave us brains for a purpose, that he expected us to use them, that he had given us reasoning abilities so that we could engage in reason, and that his authorship of nature was nearly equal, or in fact equal, to his authorship of the Bible, and that we could learn from observation of it. While the enlightenment quickly led to heterodox religious ideas, it was a rare early enlightenment man who simply didn’t believe in God. Of course it set the stage for a growing doubt about God, and eventually a growth in true atheism, as opposed to just heterodoxy, but that came later.

  34. “he wrote that these truths are “self-evident,” not that they had been revealed by God, or found in the Bible, etc. ”

    This use of self evident goes all the way back to Canon Law. It means, self evident because God inscribed it in our intuitive reason. Hooker used it in the same sense.

    As far as down playing revelation I am not seeing it from the founders. Almost all seemed to believe in some sort of revelation(intuitive reason) that did not contradict the Bible in anyway.

    Like I said, they have been hashing through this at AC for long before I even started commenting there. I went back a few times and read all the posts about it and am just starting to understand the concepts. But that is my take.

  35. ‘I think it’s important to emphasize that the enlightenment wasn’t at all about rejection of God, but about a growing agreement that God gave us brains for a purpose, that he expected us to use them, that he had given us reasoning abilities so that we could engage in reason, and that his authorship of nature was nearly equal, or in fact equal, to his authorship of the Bible, and that we could learn from observation of it.”

    I agree 100 percent both in fact and premise. Trouble is that many deny much of what you wrote hear and want to throw God out like the French did. I think it is a small minority but dangerous. Just as dangerous as the nuts on the fringe of the religous right that want to impose the Law of Moses or some dogmatic religious society that resembles the worst Islam has to offer.

  36. I know you and Tom but heads sometimes but you should visit AC more often I think you would add to the discussion.

  37. James Hanley says:

    As far as down playing revelation I am not seeing it from the founders.

    I think it’s noticeable by its absence. They don’t bother to critique it; it’s as though it’s not even particularly relevant to them.

    many deny much of what you wrote hear and want to throw God out like the French did

    Well, I don’t think historians of the enlightenment deny what I said. After all, that’s where I learned it. Although they may indeed themselves want to throw God out, today. The French Revolution was a bizarre event in many ways. Wanting to eliminate God was, I think, just another manifestation of their desire to start all things from scratch. They didn’t just elevate reason over revelation, but elevated it also over experience. That’s where the not-so-enlightenment Burke really jumped off their train. I think he could handle, if not approve, of downplaying revelation, but not of downplaying experience (i.e., tradition).

    Re: AC. I read it frequently, just don’t comment often. But that’s not because I’m avoiding TvD. You may notice I don’t normally comment on these types of posts even here at PL TOBW(nr). To me it’s merely an intellectual exercise. No matter how divinely inspired the Founding was, I’d reject treating the U.S. as a Christian country today in anything more than a merely sociological sense (and even in that, obviously declining).

  38. Heidegger says:

    Can we start with the premise that to be a Christian, one MUST believe in the incarnation—that Christ was God Incarnate. I don’t know how this discussion can proceed without establishing, at the very least, what constitutes being a Christian. If belief in the Incarnation is not at the very heart of Christianity, then Christianity would not exist. I really doubt these massive, gorgeous cathedrals, works of art, music, literature would exist, either—to expend such enormous, super human effort in order to worship some clever guy in the 1st century who had a way with words just doesn’t cut it. And the Unitarians in the 1800s steadfastly believed in the Resurrection which actually was the most important even that gave them their faith. In a speech by William Ellery Channing:

    “To give our views of God in one word, we believe in his Parental character. We ascribe to him, not only the name, but the dispositions and principles of a father. We believe that he has a father’s concern for his creatures, a father’s desire for their improvement, a father’s equity in proportioning his commands to their powers, a father’s joy in their progress, a father’s readiness to receive the penitent, and father’s justice for the incorrigible.”

    Another: “In common with other Christians, they confess that He [Jesus] is the Christ, the Son of the Living God; and in one word, they believe all that the writers of the New Testament, particularly the four Evangelists, have stated concerning him.

    And then this, from a Unitarian pamphlet in the 1800s about why one attends a Unitarian Church–how can this be leapfrogged over as though it doesn’t exist?

    “Because the Unitarians reject all human creeds and articles of faith, and strictly adhere to the great Protestant principle, “the Bible — the Bible only;” admitting no standard of Christian truth, nor any rule of Christian practice, but the words of the Lord Jesus and his Apostles. . . .
    Because at the Unitarian Church I hear Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified, preached as the Christ, the son of the living God. . . .
    Because Unitarians teach the doctrine of “the true grace of God.” — His unmerited, unpurchased favor to mankind, — that salvation and eternal life are his free gifts through Jesus Christ; which is clearly the doctrine of Scripture . . . .
    Because there the crucified Jesus is exalted, as having attained his high dignity and glory, and His appointment to be the Saviour and Judge of the world. . . .
    Because there the necessity of personal righteousness is insisted on, and the spirit of Christ and conformity to His example, made essential to genuine Christianity.”

  39. James Hanley says:

    Heidegger,

    Why can’t a Christian believe that Jesus was just a special messenger from God? After all, there are Wesleyan churches, but they don’t believe Wesley was God incarnate, although they’ve taken his name. And Calvinists don’t believe Calvin was God.

    Now from my own theological background I’d agree that the divinity of Christ is the minimum. But from a more objective perspective, I’m not sure we can in any way prove that.

  40. Heidegger says:

    Dr. Jim, (is it alright t0 address you like that?)–do you really believe Christianity would exist for 2000 years if the divinity of Christ was not central to its beliefs? What would be the point? Didn’t know Wesley or Calvin rose anyone from the dead–kidding, but you get my point. Taking the name of a church doesn’t usually qualify being the incarnation. Naturally, I agree with your other statement that the divinity of Christ is the minimum.

    Haven’t forgotten your “torture” assignment. Think it will be a fruitless endeavor, but fun nonetheless. Your hyper-logical approach to all these topics, subject, issues is something I very much enjoy reading. It helps knuckleheads like me at least attempt to be rational–obviously, a work in progress.

  41. Gentleman this has been an enlightening and encouraging discussion. Thanks to all involved.

  42. James Hanley says:

    Heidegger,

    Unless you’re in my class, there’s no need to address me as Dr. I’m not that vain. And unless you’re family, don’t you dare address me as Jim. Please.

    Buddhism has existed for around 7,000 years, Hinduism for about 5,000, and Islam for about 1,500 years. I assume you don’t accept the divinity of their religious figures. So you’d have to admit that divinity isn’t necessary for the long-term continuation of a religion.

  43. Heidegger says:

    Abgemacht Herr Hanley!–Understood, Mr. Hanley.

    I think Buddhism has been around for 2500 years and actually do accept (I’m a Christian pantheist) the divinity of their religious figures, Buddhist and Hindu–well, not Islam which I believe has been a scourge and cancer on the human race since its inception, but we don’t need to get into that again. My point is that something very, very extraordinary happened, that these religious figures made such a profound effect on their followers that I just believe they were manifestations of God. God wisely realized that his message needed a “multi cultural” dimension in order to be understood by other cultures—hey, why should Christians get all the benefits and rewards of believing in God? By the way, what do you think would happen if somehow, someway, it was scientifically proven that that there is no life after death? Nothing exists beyond this life. Can you imagine anything more devastating? I mean, this is the whole ball of wax–no second chances–in the end, it really doesn’t matter if you’re Hitler or Gandhi. It would effectively spell the end of all religions. Not a pleasant thought.

  44. James Hanley says:

    Heidegger,

    You’re right about Buddhism. For some reason I thought I saw that Buddha was born in 5,000 BC (when what it actually said was the 5th century BC–a century, 100 years or 1,000, is that such a big difference?).

    But, a pantheistic Christian? Lucky for you there’s probably not really a hell. The church I grew up in would certainly be eager to assign you there.

  45. Heidegger says:

    HA!! “But, a pantheistic Christian? Lucky for you there’s probably not really a hell. The church I grew up in would certainly be eager to assign you there.” That was funny. Can one be a pantheistic Christian? It’s the only thing that allows me to make any sense out our Big Bang universe. You know, there is a general assumption that belief in God automatically means there is a hereafter. Maybe that’s not the case at all. I’m really not at all sure I want to be “me” for eternity–God lord, I think one life is more than enough–no doubt you’ll concur with that!

    Considering God was probably doing quite alright on his own, what ever made him think he needed company? Can God possibly get bored? Imagine the lawsuits he’d be facing if only we knew his address….

  46. tom van dyke says:

    “Total depravity does not mean, however, that people are as evil as possible. Rather, it means that even the good which a person may intend is faulty in its premise, false in its motive, and weak in its implementation; and there is no mere refinement of natural capacities that can correct this condition. Thus, even acts of generosity and altruism are in fact egoist acts in disguise. All good, consequently, is derived from God alone, and in no way through man.”—John Calvin

    I was unfamiliar with this quote. I know little of Protestantism, even after studying it for several years now. I have no idea of the Calvinist mind. It’s a worldview, and you just can’t get it by reading. And I think many Calvinists are unaware of John Calvin’s mind.

    “Total depravity” seems to have taken on a life of its own. Daniel Dreisbach is well-accredited historian, but I thought trying to peg Total Depravity to the Founding and the Constitution via Madison and the Federalist Papers is a bridge way too far.

    Hume said reason is subject to our passions, and John Adams wrote a similar distrust of “reason.” Hey, if you can’t lie to yourself, who can you lie to?

    We call it “rationalizing.” Man does this. By the time the kid denies breaking the lamp, he believes he didn’t. All Calvin is saying here is that when we do good, it’s a result of our respond to the goodness of the Higher Power.

    “General revelation,” per Aquinas or Paul in Romans 2 says the same thing. Wanting to “do the right thing” is an innate impulse in man, sez they. Does he know what “the right thing” is, without reason or the Gospel? Surely not. The animal has neither reason as we know it, certainly no Gospel. “Natural” vs. “right reason” is key here.

    A fine discussion, gentlemen, likely better without my disruptive presence. I extend K of I’s invitation to AC to James. Gloves on. That’s how gentlemen do it these days. Although James states he finds this more an academic exercise or a curiosity than a matter of interest or importance. I understand—progress demands we move on.

  47. tom van dyke says:

    Ooops. Fell into OFT’s quotehole again. I should know better by now, but I only skim his work. I withdraw the remark, unless it’s Calvinistically acceptable, which I doubt, since there are already at least 1000 Calvinist sects and more tomorrow.

    The quote was not Calvin’s but

    – “Total Depravity, part 1″. Reformed Perspectives. [Quotes Calvin in Institutes] http://thirdmill.org/newfiles/ra_mclaughlin/TH.McLaughlin.Total_Depravity.1.html. Retrieved 2008-07-14.

    Appy polly loggy.

  48. Tom,

    I do not think you are disruptive. You and James are smart guys and should be able to get along. Both of you can be a pain in the ass just like I can but so are most skeptics. It is the skeptics that usually keep bad things from happening to the naive.

  49. “Total depravity” seems to have taken on a life of its own. Daniel Dreisbach is well-accredited historian, but I thought trying to peg Total Depravity to the Founding and the Constitution via Madison and the Federalist Papers is a bridge way too far.”

    A bridge way too far. Dr. Hall seems to think this too. I have to disagree though I respect much of what both write.

  50. OFT says:

    “Total depravity” seems to have taken on a life of its own. Daniel Dreisbach is well-accredited historian, but I thought trying to peg Total Depravity to the Founding and the Constitution via Madison and the Federalist Papers is a bridge way too far.”

    After pondering over Madison; can’t remember how Locke got thrown in, but Locke believed man could be sinless; which presents more theological problems than he can handle, however, JM wrote, through Jeremiah 17:9, man’s being, and nature was corrupt at the start, something completely different than an individual having the ability to sin. Beyond that, through JM’s subjective intentions, there may be a connection in Total Depravity, and the Federalist.

    The debates have many illusions to restraining man’s power due to our sinful ways. My beliefs are less copasetic with John Calvin, yet, maybe someone can elaborate on why the bridge is too far?

  51. James Hanley says:

    JM wrote, through Jeremiah 17:9, man’s being, and nature was corrupt at the start

    Where does he say this? Above you quote him saying,

    “Little did I ever expect to hear that Jeremiah’s Doctrine that “the heart of man is deceitful above all things & desperately wicked”[Jer 17:9] was exemplified in the celebrated Dr Franklin, & if the suspicions against him be well founded it certainly is remarkably exemplified. Indeed it appears to me that the bare suspicion of his guilt amounts very nearly to a proof of its reality.”

    That doesn’t prove that Madison agreed with Jer. 17:9. It’s primarily a comment on the application of the idea to Franklin.

    I think you have a remarkable ability to take things out of context and make wild leaps of logic to see in them a meaning wholly out of place, but remarkably consistent with what you already presume to be true.

  52. OFT says:

    It doesn’t prove that he doesn’t agree with it either. I never said I could prove anything. Another strawman argument.

    His application of Jeremiah 17:9 to Ben Franklin is evidence that he adhered to it. The evidence is further supported by JM’s rejection of free will in favor of pre-destination. Total depravity and pre-destination are accomplished by imputation and God’s sovereignty, the same way Original Sin is passed along.

    Even Christianity can’t be perfectly proved.

  53. James Hanley says:

    I never said I could prove anything. … His application of Jeremiah 17:9 to Ben Franklin is evidence that he adhered to it.

    Hmm, slightly contradictory. But anyway, it’s not at all clear that he’s applying it to Franklin. It appears that he’s commenting on other people applying it to Franklin. Can you expand the quote to give us more context, some more of what comes before and what comes after that snippet?

  54. OFT,

    Where do you get that Locke believed man could be sinless from? He did not believe in original sin but he did believe that all men would sin. I read this for myself in his commentary on Romans 5.

  55. OFT says:

    I’m looking into it right now. Logically. Theoretically, Locke’s premise must be that man is born sinless, thus immortal. He goes on and talks about how children are forced to sin by parents, all to try and cover his rear, by distorting scripture, especially Romans 5:12, “By one man sin entered into the world….and death by sin.” If someone is born sinless, Adam’s sin has nothing to do. Below is some good insight into what Locke tried to do by accomodating the Scriptures to his own view, moral freedom and state of nature.

    “In the Two Treatises, Locke states: “Men being, as has been said, by Nature, all free, equal and independent, no one can be put out of this Estate, and subjected to the Political Power of another, without his own Consent” (II, § 95, 1-4). In this statement, Locke appeals to 17 Locke views man’s state at birth as one of unblemished perfection. The only result of the fall was the introduction of mortality, not an inherited sinful state (Reasonableness, § 2). This idea is reiterated in many of his other works, which suggests that it is a central element of Locke’s thought. In the Essay Concerning Human Understanding, Locke argues that individuals are born tabula rasa (Book II, Ch.1, §2). This belief that individuals are born, literally, with a clean slate is used to dispute the doctrine of innate ideas. However, it is also compatible with Locke’s view of man as having no innate sin. In the Second Treatise, Locke states that Adam was created perfectly—both body and mind (II, § 56, 1-2). Since Locke assumes Adam’s sin brought about only mortality, one can reasonably infer that the mind and reason remains perfect, though undeveloped, in children…Aquinas suggested that reason, though not perfect, would not contradict revelation (Summa Contra Gentiles: God, Book I, Chapter 7). Aquinas thought that reason and revelation should teach the same truth. William M. Spellman (1988, 223) argues that Locke is close to this Thomistic view: the first sin may have diminished man’s natural inclination to do right; however, it did not remove man’s ability to know on the basis of reason. See also Snyder (1986, 212-213). In contrast, Frederick Vaughan (1982, 86-88) argues that Locke’s apparent Thomism in the Reasonableness is retracted in the Essays, where Locke seems to disassociate himself from any appeal to revelation.”
    http://www.allacademic.com//meta/p_mla_apa_research_citation/2/6/5/8/6/pages265862/p265862-21.php

    KOI, I’ll post the rest in a minute.

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