According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. – anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. – anon
Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument. There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul
The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah
If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer
God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – anon
Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson

Saturday, June 2, 2012

The Religious Beliefs of America's Founding Fathers & the Need for Christian Theism in Ruling Government

A good book about the religious beliefs of the “founding fathers”

by Roger Olson
May 25, 2012

A person promoting revisionist history here recently declared that no honest person can deny that the U.S.’s founding fathers were Christians. I don’t know anyone who denies they (at least most of them) were formally Christians in the sense of being baptized members of nominally Christian churches. The issue is their real beliefs.

Yesterday I visited the largest Half Price Bookstore in the world–a veritable Costco (if that’s the right analogy) of books. It would take someone many hours to peruse every shelf. Even the “Religion” section is amazingly large.

I saw many copies of this book and bought one for my own library: David L. Holmes, The Faiths of the Founding Fathers (Oxford, 2006). Holmes is Walter G. Mason Professor of Religious Studies at the College of William and Mary–the alma mater of some of the founding fathers.

(In case you wonder if I read it over night. Well, the fact is that I read it IN Half Price Bookstore months ago and intended to buy it. Just before going to the cashier to purchase it, after reading it, I laid it down outside the restroom. When I came out it was gone! I then could not find any other copies. I figured there would be another copy or copies next time I visited the store and I was right. This time many copies were on an end cap display.)

Here is a gem from the book that rings true with everything I have read and studied (of a scholarly nature) about the founding fathers:

“Deism influenced, in one way or another, most of the political leaders who designed the new American government. Since the founding fathers did not hold identical views on religion, they should not be lumped together. But if census takers trained in Christian theology had set up broad categories in 1790 labeled ‘Atheism,’ ‘Deism and Unitarianism,’ ‘Orthodox Protestantism,’ ‘Orthodox Roman Catholicism,’ and ‘Other,’ and if they had interviewed Franklin, Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe, they would undoubtedly have placed every one of these six founding fathers in some way under the category of ‘Deism and Unitarianism’.” (pp. 50-51)

Holmes doesn’t just assert it; he gives plenty of evidence to support it.

Holmes’ chapter 12 is “A Layperson’s Guide to Distinguishing a Deist from an Orthodox Christian.” Very helpful.

Chapter 13 is “Three Orthodox Christians.” They are: Samuel Adams (after whom the popular beer is named!), Elias Boudinot and John Jay.

Anyone tempted to buy into the current flood of revisionism about the religious beliefs and practices of the founding fathers (I say “current” because, again, nothing under the sun is new) ought to read this book. Together with similar ones (e.g., Frank Lambert’s that I recommended the other day) it absolutely blows away (as in a wind, not an explosion) the whole idea that most of the founding fathers of the American Republic were orthodox Christians.

One noted revisionist has publicly stated (on Christian TV) that Thomas Jefferson created his truncated New Testament (“The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth” otherwise known as “Jefferson’s Bible”) as a tool for evangelizing the Native Americans. That is so bogus it boggles the mind. Jefferson explained his reasons for creating it in letters to friends including to John Adams. He explained that he did not agree with much that the apostles wrote and even with much that Jesus taught. But he admired some of Jesus’ teachings and actions.

My response to the commenter here is that no truly educated person can honestly claim that the majority of the founding fathers were orthodox Christians.

If you live near a Half Price Bookstore, get over there and buy Holmes’ book. Or, just order it from your local bookstore or on line. It’s not dry as dust scholarly stuff. It is written for lay people, not scholars.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

And now…on the other hand…

by Roger Olson
May 27, 2012

For a few days we’ve been discussing the faiths of the founding fathers. I’m still on that subject, but today’s post will probably upset the “other side”–those who have been with me so far.

Even though the leading founding fathers (Washington, Franklin, Jefferson, Adams, Madison) were not orthodox Christians, they were theists. I believe (based on much reading and studying of their writings including their private letters) that they all believed that belief in God (sorry for all the “believes”) is necessary for a functioning social order.

They (and all the founders of the American republic [I don't put Paine in that camp as he was not directly involved in writing, debating or voting for any of the founding documents]) believed that ethics, including politics, depends on transcendence. They would have been horrified and shocked at the depth of modern secularism. And I think they would have rejected the very idea of total separation between state and religion.

Sure, they believed in and strongly advocated freedom of religion. And I have no doubt they would have extended that to atheists. On the other hand, I think if you had asked them if they thought an atheist would make a good president, Supreme Court justice, congressman, they would have said no (assuming they understood by “atheism” not deism but outright denial of the existence of God or anything like God).

I agree with them that a well functioning social order depends on a shared moral vision and that a shared moral vision depends on belief in something or someone transcendent to nature. The reason is what I have said here before many time–you cannot get an “ought” from an “is.”

I always find it amusing and bewildering when atheists argue that nature itself produces prescriptive altruism. It certainly does not. It may very well be that altruism is built into our genetic code [the evolutionary idea of eusociality. - res]. If it is, that does not say anything about whether a person OUGHT to be altruistic. All you can say to someone who chooses not to be altruistic is: “You’re going against your own genetic inheritance.” Their correct answer would be “So what?”

Arguing that we OUGHT to be kind, compassionate, cooperative, caring for the common good, etc., etc. on the basis that MOST people have a gene that inclines toward that is like arguing that people ought to be heterosexual because MOST people’s genes incline them that way. Most atheists I know who use the “altruistic gene” argument would not go there.

The plain fact is that, to date, no atheist (or other person) has demonstrated here or anywhere that you can derive an OUGHT from an IS. All they do is come here (and elsewhere) and bluff and bluster about recent scientific research that supposedly proves organisms are naturally altruistic. EVEN if that is true (which I don’t think has been proven) it doesn’t say ANYTHING about what OUGHT to be the case in human behavior. It may say something about what is normal, but it doesn’t say anything about what is right.

Back to my subject here. I fear that any social order that attempts to be entirely secular is doomed to fail as a functioning social order. It has no grounding for its shared value system. There is nothing and no one to appeal to above the law (as determined by legislatures and courts). As certain postmodern philosophers have rightly pointed out (I’m thinking of Caputo, for one), law and justice are not the same. At best “law” can only approximate justice.

But, of course, that is only the case IF there really is some being who embodies justice. Otherwise, justice is just an impossible ideal subject to shifting perceptions of it.

Kantians of all kinds will, of course, object and argue that there is some kind of absolute moral imperative independent of transcendence. Even Kant, however, found it necessary, at the end of the day, to posit life after death with rewards and punishments to make his rational, categorical imperative “work.” Even he knew that "virtue is not its own reward."

So what should America’s shared value system and transcendent grounding for it be? I would argue it should be (and was implicitly until fairly recently, beginning with the Warren Court in the 1960s) Christian theism. That is not the same as “orthodox Christianity.” It is simply belief in a personal God who is the source of absolutes of right and wrong.

So why didn’t the framers of the U.S. Constitution see fit to mention God? I believe in two explanations. First, they did not anticipate the rise of atheism and secularism. Those seemed beyond comprehension to them (except as individual beliefs of a few skeptics). Second, they did not know how to bring God into the picture while moving toward separation of church and state. Any mention of God would, they feared, raise the specter of favoring a particular organized religion or denomination. I believe that, had they foreseen the rise of public atheism and secularism, they would have put God in the Constitution.

Now, how does what I’ve said here relate to separation of church and state? I am a strong believer in separation of church and state as anyone who knows me or has read this blog faithfully knows. I absolutely reject any government favoritism toward any particular organized religion and any special influence of any organized religion on government. I also reject any religious tests for public office OTHER than belief in God. (We already have that in an unofficial way as public officials are asked to put their hands on a Bible and solemnly swear “so help me God.”)

AA and the Boy Scouts are right–belief in God (even as just a “Higher Power”) is necessary for adherence to absolutes of right and wrong. Without God (or something very much like God) moral relativism is inevitable. Modern secularists are living off the left overs of Judaism and Christianity. Consistent ones know very well that moral anarchy is inevitable, that might makes right (sans God).

I expect a barrage of objections. Just keep them civil and give your reasons in a calm, respectful manner as you would if you were in my living room or office.

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