Monday, April 30, 2012

Reads for Fun: Edmund Morris' "Theodore Rex"

I picked this one up at a used bookstore, unaware that it was Vol. 2 of a series; Theodore Rex (and no, don't say a word about that Whoopi Goldberg movie of the same title) only covers TR's presidential years. Still, those years were interesting enough. I knew TR was a colorful and eclectic figure, but Morris really fleshed out that impression in a detailed and enjoyable way. 

The youngest person ever made president (though not elected, as Kennedy was), Morris follows TR from just before his swearing in after the assassination of McKinley to just after he departs the White House leaving Taft in charge. In between we get a portrait of a man unable to sit still for long (something I relate to!) -- always moving, always wanting to push forward and be involved, and always looking out for what he perceived to be the greatest possible good. 

There are so many vignettes here I hadn't heard before -- TR's nearly fatal carriage accident shortly after McKinley's death; his deft arbitration of a labor dispute involving coal miners; his interactions with crises in Venezuela, with Germany and Japan; his strong conservation streak; his frequent self-challenges to his physical prowess (e.g., hunting, climbing, even tennis); his efforts with respect to public health, and his dealings to secure the Panama Canal. This latter involvement was one of the few things with which I had some familiarity already: Few may know today that the canal was almost dug through Nicaragua, which in itself could have made for an interesting counterfactual history in the Turtledove vein. 

The view of TR's family was of interest as well – lots of children (one by a prior marriage that apparently failed, though this vol. 2 doesn't explain much about it), and a healthy marriage with strong egalitarian overtones. I also noticed for the first time that TR bears a striking resemblance to Jamie from Mythbusters. Which raised another point of interest: TR was apparently camera-shy. There are very few good pictures of him in a good mood, because apparently once he saw a camera trained on him, he stiffened up. In line with this, some of the pictures in this book were clearly taken without TR's knowledge (giving either a side or even back view, or with him concentrating on something else). 

Perhaps most striking to modern readers will be TR's extended summer vacations, for months at a time -- which would today be a sign of a President in need of a new job, but in his time was simply normal politics, as the whole of Washington essentially shut down for the summer. (Yes, I can just imagine some modern "fundy atheist" calling him lazy because they lacked this context.) 
Eventually I'll have to find Vol. 1 of this set, and any more than come after it (if they have yet). For now it was a good read about someone who might well be rightly described, as others have said, as the most interesting man ever to be America's President.

Friday, April 27, 2012

April 2012 E-Block

All of the items this time are continuations of a prior series, so there won't be a lot to describe in detail.

The Paul Fan Club II: Part 2 --A series looking at another Paul-hater, Craig Winn, and his book Questioning Paul. 

Mythicism Out in the Wash, Redux -- A return engagement with material in Earl Doherty's Jesus Neither God Nor Man. 

Persevering in Madness -- A defense of our TULIP findings, Part 4 and last. 

Altered Stakes -- A discussion of claims that the Resurrection appearances were the effect of "altered states of consciousness".

Journey Through Orthodoxy -- Part 2 of a series looking at Eastern Orthodoxy. 

Avalos vs America, Part 2 -- Guest writer W. R. Miller tackles Hector Avalos' claims on American history. In Word format. 

Subscribe to the E-Block.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Diminishing Returns of Unbelief


This is the last item I'll post from the Feb 2009 E-Block, a guest piece by Jeff Stueber. Since I currently don't have contact with Jeff, I won't be approving comments on this entry.


***

 When I was educated in a Christian day school, the following passage was brought to my attention.
The fool says in his heart this is no God (Psalms 14: 1) [1]
I always took the truth of this passage for granted until many years later when I began to question my faith and embarked upon a mission to check its validity. I read Christian apologetics, of course, and the masters of unbelief and came to appreciate the numerous failures and biases of atheists and humanists. Rather than punch a hole in theistic belief, the suppositions of unbelievers have only become more nonfactual and illogical over time.

 The irreligious have always been with us. Before Darwin, anti-god and pre-Darwin ideas evolved as a counterpunch to Christianity. The ideas in On the Origin of Species were persuasive for that time and were rapidly adapted by those who were looking to dethrone God. Thomas Huxley, Darwin's bulldog, jumped on the bandwagon long before evolution had been rigorously tested and so did a number of other thinkers who wanted to use evolution for political ends.

In 1933, thirty-four humanists quickly embraced evolution to adopt the anti-god philosophy of secular humanism and these ideas were expanded upon in the second manifesto where we are told that because evolution is true and the idea of god is dead, now divorce, abortion, and socialism are "ok." The second manifesto informs us that "in the area of sexuality, we believe that intolerant attitudes, often cultivated by orthodox religions and puritanical cultures, unduly suppress sexual conduct." Humanists are not kidding about this and based on the sexual buffet they respect, one can be forgiven for assuming humanists are hedonists. The contrast between their opinions and those of conservatives is striking. While Christian theists stress the importance of restraining sexuality within the bounds of marriage, humanists stress that there are no limits to the variability of intimate relationships. Seculiarist Guenter Lewy says:
Critics from the ranks of the religious right have accused secular humanists of subscribing to all kinds of immorality that threaten the moral health of the country. In his book Listen, America! Jerry Falwell decries secular humanists' embrace of situation ethics, which, he says, means "freedom from any restraint." Such criticisms are often couched in somewhat shrill language, but an examination of the literature published by the secular humanist movement reveals that these denunciations are not very far off the mark. The authors of articles in The Humanist and Free Inquiry clearly speak only for themselves; there is no official secular humanist doctrine. Nevertheless, the frequency with which certain positions are voiced in these journals indicates that the editors do not consider these positions to be unacceptable. They reflect what Humanist Manifesto II called toleration of different lifestyles. [2]
On occasion you will find the secularist mouthing fears that the religious want to force their religious views on others and what they think is based only on what the Bible says. Ergo, they think, the imposition of Biblical moral standards is akin to the imposition of religion. Surprisingly the religious have often adopted arguments that have shown natural law (a study of what is ethically correct without recourse to religious explanation) acknowledges that religious ethical precepts are valid. Janet Smith, for instance, says in the animal kingdom animals can procreate randomly, but human children require years of love and attention to develop properly. This fact leads her to develop the rational principle that humans should not engage in sexual activities until they are ready to become parents. She even believes that contraception is not a rational or natural act because it has brought fuel to the sexual revolution and led to millions of babies aborted or born out of wedlock. This is because sexuality is divorced from what it is intended for, the creation of children. We take pills when we are sick, yet women take a pill when they are fertile and this is intellectually odd because fertility is not an abnormal sickly condition. Rather than engage in sexual activity, man and woman should wait until the danger of pregnancy is past in much the same way one does not eat if one does not want to gain weight.[3]

Not surprisingly, there are few arguments within humanist thought that stress our obligations to behave ourselves. Secular humanist thought says we have a sexual nature and desires that must be satisfied and people are unable to, and morally not required to, refuse to satisfy them. That means every desire! Of course premature sex leads to unwanted pregnancies and the arguments for abortion hinge on two main claims: the fetus is not a person and women have rights to do with their bodies as they please. The first claim is intellectually bankrupt and the second presupposes we have such rights when, in fact, no person truly has the right to do with whatever one wants with one's body. However, Smith argues that natural law supposes that we are obligated not to act until we are able to deal with the results of our actions. If abortionists were to make such a supposition well known, they might find business not quite as lucrative. Condom sales might suffer also.

Not surprisingly also, these people have difficulty with pure evil, for what is evil but one exercising his or her total right to do as one pleases with little regard to another's existence? Christians have always acknowledged that in each person lies the tendency to do evil and only a strong moral compass prevents such behavior. I recognize that tendency in myself as well and have, at times, slipped into ill behavior toward others. Unbelievers do not acknowledge this tendency and there is no reason they would. Their philosophical livelihood depends on them not acknowledging the validity of any Christian tenet.
Paul Kurtz began his introduction to the second humanist manifesto by stating that events since the first manifesto make it seem far too optimistic. The second manifesto does nothing but reiterate the same humanist hope that mankind can be moral without dependence on God. Clearly the depth of depravity humans fell into in World War II and other wars is not a surprise to Christians. To humanists, the path Darwin put us on and the hope in an evolutionist future should have prevented such a catastrophe. The truly odd feature of such chaos is that evolution was at the heart of it. (But that is a subject for another time.)
This assumption has gradually been melded into a political philosophy of liberalism. David Barash has been an outspoken advocate of this belief and, rather that locate the failures of social institutions in human sin, he locates it in the institutions themselves.
Just as liberals have long held that war could be prevented by certain actions . . . they have been unimpressed with the claim that failing such activities, human beings will naturally slide into war, like a rock acted upon by gravity. Thus, liberals have not bought the argument that war is caused by human sinfulness. They also hold little with innate nastiness, depravity, and free-floating evil. Instead, liberals tend to emphasize the excessive power of political states, psychological "state of mind" theories as well as the role of misunderstandings, and the undue influence of a military/economic/political elite. For many liberals, wars are often analogous to automobile accidents: Most people do not willingly drive their cars into one another. Rather, if they come to grief it is because they were driving too fast, or because of faulty brakes, poor road conditions, insufficient attentiveness, or bad judgment (by oneself or an oncoming driver.) [4]
Readers will notice what is missing in this montage. While it is true that accidents happen because of poor automobile or road conditions, there are those who drive without a license, drive too fast, drive through a construction zone, or drive overly aggressively in a fashion now known as "road rage." In short, it is people clearly exercising free choice to drive in ways they should not that gets them into trouble. People are certainly capable of not fighting others also, but history has shown examples of nation states fighting others for whatever political gains they want and it would be foolish to explain the prevalence of these wars as "misunderstandings." Clearly people have the free choice to engage in poor behavior, and choose to do so, rather than behave as they should and it is Barash's near-sightedness that keeps him from seeing this.
This is an example of the liberal humanist outlook on life. If mankind is sinful by nature, there is limited change to society. However, if mankind's errors are the result of poorly crafted social institutions, then man can change these institutions to eliminate errors.

Barash notes that "liberals have difficulty with evil, notably the evil of monsters of either political extreme, whether of the far right like Hitler or the far left like Stalin . . . they are surprised, troubled and honestly hurt by welfare cheats, greed, or street thugs."[5] Rather than admit this inability to understand evil is a defect of liberalism, Barash claims this inability arises from an optimistic liberal mind set (maybe naïve) and does not miss an opportunity to stick it to conservatives in admitting they understand evil more because they have a little nastiness in them. Later Barash bookends this comment with the admission that the rise of fascism after World War I caught liberals by surprise. Here again, he doesn't suspect there is something wrong with liberalism. Rather, he simply takes a return swipe against conservatives for too much of a "we vs. they" political philosophy.

This attitude has results outside the college text book. Alison Hornstein, a student at Yale, says after 9/11 many students held candlelight vigils, but by September 12 the shock began to fade. Fellow students of Hornstein's did not revel in the wrongs of such an attack but instead spoke of the differences between our culture and that of the perpetrators which might have caused them to do such a dreadful act. Such reactions, she says, make it apparent that her generation "is uncomfortable assessing, or even asking, whether a moral wrong has taken place." Hornstein partly blames multiculturalism for this disability. [6]
This also explains some of the liberal disgust at efforts to fight America's enemies. If liberalism is true, then the desire to destroy others originates in poor social conditions that create these fights, not in the desires of people to fight. Hence, we are morally bound to change their conditions rather than punish them for actions they would not normally choose. If liberalism is false, then people are by nature capable of depths of depravity and it is a strong moral compass, human law, or divine law that prevents them acting on these tendencies. Ultimately the existence of evil undermines liberal faith in the perfectibility of humans and reminds them that we are by nature sinful and maybe the Bible is right about the human condition.

Humanists think they can dispose of our moral knowledge as well and for the difficulties of naturalistic ethics one can observe Michael Shermer's The Science of Good and Evil. [7] Shermer advises us to adopt "methodological naturalism" which, he says, assumes all effects have natural causes subject to scientific analysis. This supposition believes "the moral sense in humans and moral principles in human cultures are the result of laws of nature, forces of culture, and contingencies in history." Evolution, he says, created moral sentiments and concomitant behaviors over hundreds of thousands of years, so that today even though we agree that humans created morality and ethics it was our ancestors who created them and we simply inherited them. In that sense human ethics are dependent merely on social approval of them and once a society disapproves of them. the legitimacy of the judgment fades. This creates the familiar problem of naturalistic ethics: they are situational and do not rest on any absolutism. Shermer has an answer to this problem although in answering it he does not address it. Moral sentiments and behaviors exist "beyond us, as products of an impersonal force called evolution." This melds into an option he calls the "transcendent empiricist" that avoids supernaturalism and also avoids the relativism of culturally determined ethics. Shermer tries to have his cake and eat it too: he can have the ethical absolutes which, ironically, are determined by evolution and explainable by them, yet still malleable by culture.
Here there are a myriad of contradictions. How exactly does an impersonal force produce something so personal? This is the hallmark of ethics; it affects people who make personal decisions. Presumably therefore an impersonal force like erosion could produce a map of Texas or a tornado in a junkyard could produce a Buick. Yet these things never happen and neither do apes learn human language or ethics and so there appears to be no evidence that evolution can produce a moral code. Shermer only assumes its generation is possible.
Neither does Shermer take his own words seriously when he discusses possible ethical theories we could adopt. He first surveys what he calls the "god principle" that attempts to derive moral principles from Biblical mandates. Of course he finds such methodology causes believers embarrassment because of the odd precepts it might engender (that women cannot wear male clothes, for instance). If we take Shermer's ideas seriously, these Hebrew codes came about through Darwinian evolution which has produced a transcendent morality which, surprisingly, is not transcendent enough to escape criticism. Clearly the only evolutionist justification for an ethical system is whether it allows its adherents to survive, which the Hebrew system obviously does. In damning the Hebrew code, Shermer is making a metaphysical judgment or, perhaps, even a religious judgment, not a scientific one. Most ethical judgments involve metaphysics; that's the problem to people like Shermer because they want to base their ethics in evolutionary biology alone.

Why not accept that we intrinsically "know" that specific moral claims are true? For one thing, such a claim would upset the apple cart of modern ethics obviously taught at some college campuses and expressed in some modern philosophies (multiculturalism, for instance). People don't like the idea that one particular belief is true to the exclusion of others and so don't like the idea that one specific set of moral "oughts" is valid.

The problem with this view is that it makes it impossible to perceive absolute truth. It also makes it difficult to defend one's view or even defend one's country. If you think that your beliefs are merely shades of gray, then no one clearly knows where the validity of your truth begins and ends. Moslem terrorists have no problem forcing their views on others, but we might have difficulty defending our own views.

One can't make a value judgment or, for that matter, act on ethical principles without the free will to do so and Shermer tackles this difficult issue as well. To his credit he admits to the difficulty squaring determinism with free will and does not accept compatibilist ways of dealing with this dilemma. Yet, he falters in the end when suggesting that the number of causes and the complexity of all the interactions that produce everything we do is so enormous that we cannot understand or fathom them and this, therefore, is the seat of the soul.
In other words, the enormity of this complexity leads us to feel as if we are acting freely as uncaused causers, even though we are actually causally determined. Since no set of causes we select as the determiners of human action can be complete, the feeling of freedom arises out of this ignorance of causes.
According to this argument, we feel free to act when in reality we are not and Shermer makes the comparison between a computer and us. No computer can ever resurrect all information about all human actions of everyone who has ever lived and hence it is not free to act. Suffice it to say that a computer is causally determined only by the programming inherent in it, but humans are not and this is obvious in the fact Shermer would never or could never make a compelling case that he was pre-determined by genetics, environment, or heredity to write this book exactly as it appears. Even if a computer would have all the knowledge of every action every human has made throughout the history of the world, does Shermer really believe it would have free will? Wouldn't it still be nothing more than a computation machine, but with an enormous amount of data? Even Daniel Dennett's last ditch effort doesn't work when he proposes that free will can be deduced from determinism in the fact evolution has given us a large cortex that allows us to weigh the consequences of many actions at once. However, the "self" that weighs the consequences is merely a metaphor for how our brains monitor what is going on inside it.

At this point we should suggest something has seriously gone wrong with evolutionist ethics and science. If humanist explanations breed these difficulties and logical contradictions, certainly others should crop up as well.

One does not have to search far for these. Jonathan Sarfati has assembled evidence that life is put together by some type of agent or being that has a great deal of knowledge of all our sciences. [8] For instance, U.S. Naval Academy scientists have found that the bumps on a flipper give the swimmer better lift and we can copy this design in our creation of airplanes and ship rudders. The stretchy skin of a bat's wing interacts with air in a different manner than firmer wings of birds and insects and this design is useful for designing small aircraft used in reconnaissance. Sponges use the equivalent of the fiber optics we use now and one researcher commented that we are in the Stone Age compared to nature. If you read Sarfati, you get the impression that some creative being knowledgeable of various scientific disciplines was in charge of creating these biological forms.

Evolutionists are often open and honest at admitting that life appears designed. For instance, Steven Pinker admits that "an eye is too well engineered to have arisen by chance" and "no wart or tumor or product of a big mutation could be lucky enough to have a lens, an iris, a retina, tear ducts, and so on, all perfectly arranged to form an image." Dawkins has been as forthcoming at times also. [9] Their immediate supposition should be, then, to assume that life is designed until science gives us very good reasons to assume it is not, and these they attempt to find with reckless abandon. Both Christopher Hitchens and Dawkins have been successful fighting with their chins exposed at the expense of consistency and this usually involves the supposition that intelligent design is not a valid scientific concept despite their ability to find imperfect design when they survey bodily organs like the eye. They are not unlike the brother who insists his sister is ugly, but then asserts ideas about beauty are superfluous. So we are told to assume evolution is true unless proven otherwise - which are we told is impossible to do.

Is the evidence for evolution that good? Ashby Camp critiqued 29 arguments for evolution from Douglas Theobald for the "true origins" web site and found each wanting. For example, on the claim that "If universal common ancestry is true, then all organisms will have one or more traits in common," Camp shows that there is no reason to suppose that life could not arise more than once with very different features of each descended lineage. Furthermore, similarities could be understood under an intelligent design perspective with a creator using similar features more than once. On the claim that if common ancestry is true, then phylogenies constructed from comparisons of organisms will match the branching evolutionist tree, Camp remarks that often evolutionist phylogenetic trees drawn in a study of morphology don't match those that can be drawn from a study of genetics, so much so that there is no congruity between the two. Hence it cannot be shown animals do match what is drawn on standard branching evolutionist diagrams. On the claim that vestigial structures provide support for common ancestry, Camp notes that "even Neo-Darwinism does not demand vestigial structures; it simply accommodates them [and] they can exist or not exist with equal ease under the theory and can appear with any frequency." Camp likewise demolishes the other alleged proofs by showing that many are not predictions of the evolutionist theory. This makes one wonder if the supposed evidence by which Dawkins and company are so confident is only smoke. [10]

This refusal to give way to competing evidence is a hallmark of humanism - and a sure sign of dogma. This tendency expresses itself in ruminations over religion. Over seventy years ago, humanists told us the time was ripe for religion's overthrow. Today when religion has as much a hold on our minds and it is burgeoning an Islamic revolution, humanists talk as if the religious impulse is merely a side effect of some other biological urge, a mere remnant that has not disappeared (like, maybe, pimples one has not outgrown). Jim Corbett, like other humanists, asserts that eventually we will find our way out of this religious malaise using our knowledge of science.
Better than anyone else on the planet, humanists can appreciate the fact that evolution is a slow process. But it is also a relentless process. And we are in the midst of that evolutionary process that started 40,000 years ago as a belief in animism, then evolved to paganism about 10,000 years ago. Another evolutionary step was taken about 6,000 years ago to monotheism, and now we exist in the age of science; the evolutionary steps will come much quicker until such time that the society generally accepts the philosophy of humanism with all of its mature, beautiful, and deep understanding of our world. [11]
This follows a standard line of thought: it is only mankind's stubbornness that prevents people from embracing atheistic Darwinism. After thousands of years people have not embraced this line of thought. Is it really logical to continue to assert that the embrace of humanism is possible? Here we see humanists cannot learn from the past. They would be as successful as arguing that it is immaturity that leads people to continue to want to marry and one day we will outgrow this desire. It is quite possible some feminists have said as much.
What if science, however, shows us that religion is a natural part of humans and will never die out? History has shown us this much. Clearly humanist arguments would change, of course, and Corbett's words would not mean much. It would also mean that perhaps mankind is created to desire a deity and it is only the inability of it to find the correct one that often leads to so many ills. This also suggests there is a correct deity that is the object of the search.
Humanists have, instead, often said they really are not interested in a world without religion. What they want is a new religion founded on evolution with its side effect the hope that we can solve our problems without relying on God's advice.

Modern unbelief has been haunted by the specter of evil, especially more so now than before because of the danger of terrorism. In a sense, humanist belief is "out of date." It would rather live in a world where the only threat to humans was school prayer. However, the world is much larger and dangerous now and so is our understanding of it. We've gathered new data about how biological "machines" operate, but evolution has hindered our understanding of them by restraining their actions to a paradigm of shoddy workmanship. Humanist ethics has provoked an idea that people are unable to right their own ship of personal conduct and, rather than expect them to fix their behavior, we ought to medicate it. This results in disastrous social policy and we continue to pay the price for this. Politicians have seen it is in their best interest to please the whiners in life if they need their votes rather than exert moral leadership at the expense of votes. What has been a promising liberal humanist prospect has so far produced contradiction, has produced mediocrity when courage is needed, and has produced poor scientific reasoning when clarity is needed. The returns promised have not been kept and the prospect of them being kept looks bleaker every day.

Notes
[1] The NIV Study Bible by Zondervan Publishing
[2] Guenter Lewy, Why America Needs Religion: Secular Modernity and Its Discontents, (Grand Rapids: MI, William Eerdmans, 1996), p. 31-32
[3] Edward McLean ed., Common Truths: New Perspectives on Natural Law, (Delaware, ISI Books, 2000). See chap. 9
[4] David Barash, The L Word: An Unapologetic, Thoroughly Biased, Long Overdue Explication and Celebration of Liberalism, (New York, William Morrow and Co., 1992), p. 182
[5] Ibid, p. 17, 185-186
[6] Alison Hornstein, "The Question That We Should be Asking," Newsweek (December 17, 2001)
[7] Michael Shermer, The Science of Good & Evil, (New York, Henry Holt & Co. , 2004)
[8] Jonathan Sarfati, By Design: Evidence for Nature's Intelligent Designer - the God of the Bible, (2008, Creation Book Ministries)
[9] Steven Pinker, The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature, (New York, Viking, 2002), p. 51
[10] http://www.trueorigin.org/theobald1b.asp
[11] Jim Corbett, "Humanists Take Heart: We're Still Evolving," The Humanist (May/ June 2008), p. 28

Monday, April 23, 2012

The Ehrman-Carrier-Murdock Cockfight

Yep, this was earth-shaking enough to put off that last E-Block item. It has to do with how Bart Ehrman is being thrown under the bus by the rest of the atheist crowd for his work in Did Jesus Exist? The subject is a phallic-nosed statue with the head of a chicken, originally featured by Acharya S, which Ehrman declared in DJE didn't exist. Unfortunately, he either didn't explain himself enough in DJE, or didn't go as far as he should have with the details, and that's just the sort of thing mythicists will jump on in order to enable their persecution complexes. Now he's getting both barrels from the unlikely duo of Richard Carrier and Acharya S at the same time. And um...he seems to be winning.

By the way, as an extra irony,this past weekend I got an unusual opportunity to use one of Ehrman's articles -- from 1983 -- against a fundy atheist.


Link.

Friday, April 20, 2012

On Generational Curses


I really need to finish posting February 2009 E-Block material, so unless something earth-shaking happens, I'll spend the next two entries finishing that off. Here's an item on generational curses I did at the request of my pastor. I have edited out a dead link and a reference from it.


***

 I became broadly familiar with the idea of "generational curses" a long time ago when I was a new Christian and had as yet no idea what doctrines were kosher and which were, well, reflective of creative exegesis. Generational curses didn't make a lot of sense to me to begin with, so I never gave them much credence, but a pastoral reader has asked me about these, so I thought it a good subject to look into now. 

I will let a website supporting the notion give the description: "Generational curses are judgments that are passed on to individuals because of sins perpetuated in a family in a number of generations... . They bring judgment or bondage during an individual's life, reducing the quality of life, until that individual addresses the sin issues that put the curses into place." More specifically, my inquirer referred to persons coming to him saying a relative had become ill because of an unrebuked curse, or that a family member's sin had caused them to be afflicted by evil spirits. 

Various websites promising advice for "deliverance" from generational curses may offer extensive lists of sins in one's household that may provoke a generational curse. These are recommended to be named and thereafter repented of, sincerely, in order for the curse to be lifted. 

Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, performing consumer testing on the advice these sites offer isn't easy; epistemically, they are another "burning in the bosom" product,the results of which are conveniently nondisprovable. The victim of the curse who does everything they are told to do, but still suffers, will undoubtedly be told that they missed some sin, or that their repentance was not sincere enough, or perhaps even that they did not say "May I?" before repenting. 

All of this may be more simply disposed of by asking if there is even a sound Biblical basis for this idea of generational curses. I expected, even before searching, supporters to cite such passages as these:
Exodus 34:6-7 And He [the Lord] passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, 'The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet He does not leave the guilty unpunished; He punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation.'
And indeed, this, along with parallel statements in Leviticus and Deuteronomy, were at the heart of every case for generational curses (GC). Beyond that? Well, the Biblical case thereafter became virtually nil. A couple of other verses were used by one particular commentator, but let's deal with these "third and fourth generation" statements before we step out into the wild and woolly side of generational exegesis.

We should begin by acknowledging a certain point fairly. GC advocates have been replied to with the point that the salvation offered by Jesus should mean that that there is no more need for generational curses. It has been properly replied that generational curses may simply be a form of spiritual discipline, of the same sort a believer might undergo for their own sin. So the critical question becomes whether the key OT passages are being interpreted correctly.
Some commentators, including GC advocates, read these verses much as I did in an article on a slightly different subject some years back. Some think of these curses in terms of natural results: That is, a case of descendants carrying on the sins of their parents in their own life, and being punished accordingly.
I am not sure how a GC advocate can read this sort of meaning into these texts, however. Exodus 34:6-7 and the parallels speak of a specific act of God, not a natural result of behavior that is passed on. In the end, this reading does not do justice to the text, which is why I abandoned it. (It also erases peculiar claims by some GC advocates that Satan is the one responsible for the curses and that it is Satan that needs to be rebuked!)

A more nuanced, contextualized version of this answer, the one which I ended up with, interprets these passages in light of the knowledge that ancient people lived in extended families of up to 4 generations, and so these passages imply complicity in sin by more than one member of the family. This is a sound, contextual answer rooted in the collectivist social world of the Old Testament, and would defeat any notion that punishment is spread to relative innocents.
I would also add, from the same article linked above, the point that Ezekiel and Jeremiah end up rebuking a point of view that essentially mirrors that of GC advocates. Israelites in captivity had assumed a "generational curse" was on them. Ezekiel and Jeremiah replied that they had their own sins to pay for. This point, too, would defeat the GC position that relative innocents pay for the sins of others.

In searching for more on this subject, I found these additional salient points made by those answering GC advocates.

The point is not to number generations, but to send a message about God's wrath versus His kindness. Following the curse on three and four generations, it is also said that God shows mercy to "thousands" of generations that keep his commandments. Thus the passages are not describing a literal practice, but making a point of comparison.

Indeed, logically, if we do take such passages with exceptional literalism, as GC advocates do, we are left with a conundrum: Surely all of us have in our ancestry some disobedient person deserving of a curse, but it is even more likely we have someone deserving of blessing. Given the statistical odds, no one on this basis ought to have a curse on them.

The reports of the Bible itself in history do not support a GC interpretation. It is not hard to find examples of evil people in the Bible whose children were not cursed, and good people in the Bible whose children ended up in hot water.

With that, what is left for the GC advocates in Scripture? One, amazingly, appealed to John 9, in which Jesus was asked whether the blind man sinned or his parents did, as reflective of a belief in GC. It is true that John 9:2 relates to discussions in Judaism over whether an infant could sin in the womb or whether a mother's sin might affect the unborn child. But this has to do with a direct effect from one person to another, in a specific relationship that is unusually close (an enwombed child), and cannot be taken over into the realm of those already born. In addition, since Jesus does not endorse the idea that the mother's sin harmed the unborn child, it cannot be used to validate such a belief.

The same advocate also cited Proverbs 26:2, "A curse, causeless, shall not come." Of course, there is nothing here about curses over generations, or that transfer from one person to another; and as I have written many times, it is not wise to generalize proverbial statements into particular teachings.

Such is the case for generational curses - thin as indeed it is. Little more needs to be said, other than that there is an implicit danger in this teaching of wasting time seeking solutions for non-problems, and in creating a world in which one's own personal responsibility is waylaid by ideas that perhaps one's aunt or uncle are to blame for one's own sufferings. I think the message of Ezekiel and Jeremiah, as summarized in my earlier article, contrasts to that of GC well: Let us look to our own sins, our own experiences, and our own need to repent, rather than blaming others for our own misfortunes.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Book Snap: Rick Warren's "Purpose Driven Church"

Whoops! I was reminded by Nick Peters that what I posted earlier today was already posted earlier, so instead let's have this 2009 E-Block review of Rick Warren's book.

***

Despite the similarity in titles, The Purpose-Driven Church (PDC) is not a version of The Purpose-Driven Life (PDL) for entire congregations. Indeed, it is not even for the same reading audience. PDL was intended for everyone; but PDC is written especially for pastors and church leaders, as a way to tell them how to run a church successfully.

Admittedly, I had two sources of trepidation upon starting PDC. The first was my prior reading of PDL, which I had found to be somewhat shallow and inconsequential. The second is that my prior church had professed to follow the PDC model, and ended up in a mess. I am thankful to say that PDC is not quite as shallow as PDL -- indeed, in many places is quite useful -- and that much of the mess at my prior church was not due to following PDC models (or else was due to misapplication). Still and all, PDC left me with certain reservations that were rooted in the same problems I found in PDL -- mostly having to do with Warren's unfortunate tendencies to decontextualize the Bible, especially for the sake of being "seeker-sensitive" (not always to an unfortunate extent, but sometimes so).

Much of PDC is certainly good advice for pastors and/or local church bodies. Warren has certainly correctly identified some important elements of having at least the potential for a healthy church: A pastor with a long tenure [31]; emphasis on responsibilities as a believer, not just benefits [56]; tailoring services to different kinds of audiences (seekers, believers, etc.), using multiple services, if possible; avoiding jargon (and thankfully, adding that you can offer that kind of thing in places like discipleship training, with which I agree to a goodly extent); be welcoming to visitors, and do nothing to make them feel uncomfortable; place signs around so that people know where the restrooms and such are; have an information booth outside; teach messages that are practical as well as doctrinal; get some good lighting and keep your facilities clean and neat; look for and use talented people in your congregation, and give them the trust and the power to start ministries on their own.

The programming method advocated in PDC was also just fine; much of the content related to that reminded me of The Simple Church (and I would also have the same reservations): Make sure you have a clear statement of purpose; get rid of anything that does not fulfill that purpose; be willing to delegate responsibility, and bring people through a clear process of growth and discipleship. It was also nice to see that Warren clearly stated that truth was not open to compromise [53], but I would never have thought that Warren ever intentionally watered down the Bible's message. It's also nice to see that Saddleback, Warren's church, dismissed a speaker who had been set to preach multiple services, after only one service, when it became apparent that he was teaching false doctrine. [301-2] (Though it does raise the question: Why didn't Warren's people look into this "well-known Christian speaker" and find this out to begin with?)

But with the praise said, we now come to the most serious underlying problem with the concepts of PDC, which can be expressed by example to start. Warren advises churches large enough to offer mutiple services to tailor each one for different groups as much as possible. Seeker services should be one way; services for believers, another. The problem here is not so much with the directive itself, which is overall sound. The problem is one I have found in Warren before, and that is, as mentioned, decontextualization. Warren does not seem to be aware (or may be aware, but does not understand the relevance of) the fact that, as has bearing on this case, the idea of a "seeker service" comes of the particular nature of the modern world. And this is a problem scattered throughout PDC. (It is the same problem also found in PDL, but was more prominent there.) Warren regularly decontextualizes the Biblical text so that it reads as though it were Made in America:

  • Warren believes that when Jesus healed people, it was because he had an "emphasis on felt needs and hurts." [108] No, not really: The emphasis was on bringing honor to God by performing such deeds; here as in many places, Warren reads the text in terms of individual experience rather than the "big picture" which the collectivist society of the New Testament world would have understood. Sometimes, Warren reads modern, Western emotionalism into a text, and uses this as a basis for a specific value in the PDC program.

    (Admittedly, some of my reservations have to do with my own type of personality. Warren lists the three greatest fears of Americans as being surrounded by strangers, having to speak in public, and being asked a personal question in public. [260] I have no fear of any one of these and little understanding of why anyone else would. I don't care if a pastor wears a tie or not, and I don't gauge a church based on how many hugs or handshakes I get. I don't listen to the music and would rather there not be any, to be perfectly honest! But in other cases, like the ones above, Warren is badly decontextualizing.)

  • Warren makes use of a poor translation of John 12:49 ("The Father who sent me commanded me what to say and how to say it") to justify a simple model of preaching to unbelievers. While I would not discourage such preaching, the verse simply does not support such a view. At the same time, he speaks derisively of books on preaching that "pay more attention to Aristotle's methods and Greek rhetoric than how Jesus taught." Is Warren not aware that Paul used the methods of Greek rhetoric in his letters?
  • Warren says of Acts 2 [241-2] that "God's presence was so evident" on Pentecost "that it attracted the attention of unbelievers throughout the entire city" and the 3000 were converted "[b]ecause they felt God's presence, and they understood the message." God's presence was not what attracted people's attention; it was a miracle of hearing foreign languages, which was in fact mistaken for drunkenness, not "God's presence." Conversion was not effected on this basis, either; the message was one of historical fact: Of the Resurrection, fulfillment of prophecy, and the evidence of miracles. In light of this, Warren's comment that few are converted "on purely intellectual grounds" is precisely another case of him reading Acts 2 through a modern lens.

By now the reader may ask, "Well, does this make any difference? Does this mean his programs will fail?" Probably not....as long as Warren insulates them from critical pressures which may expose inconsistencies in the paradigm. And therein does lie a potential apologetics problem. Warren has uncomfortably instituted an insulation against criticism that sounds too much like Joel Osteen: "If lives are being changed by the power of Jesus Christ -- then I like the way you are doing it!" To tell us to "never criticize what God is blessing" [62] would be fine with plenty of discernment attached -- much more than Warren is currently advocating. Yes, he would probably acknowledge that the Mormon church has to be excluded as a caveat. He might also raise questions about someone like Osteen when they teach about prosperity (per above). But how much more careful would he be? The fact that Warren appeals to changed lives and personal testimony as "hard for skeptics to argue with" [247] (he doesn't know very many skeptics, apparently) and when he says things like, "Music can bypass intellectual barriers and take the message straight to the heart" [279] it makes me cringe internally. I can only hope that Warren's normal method of dealing with intellectual barriers is to provide answers to them first. (The fact that Lee Strobel was once on staff at Saddleback thankfully does suggest this.)

There is one other major reservation, one with a certain irony in this as well. Warren rightfully bemoans the fact that in a survey, nearly 90 percent of church members thought that the church existed to "take care of my family's and my needs." [82] Yet from the other side of PDC, he applauds a church that went so far as to provide a course in potty training [221] simply because this was described as "the number one felt need" in that community. Aside from pondering the wonder of a community in which such a thing is the "number one felt need," we have to ask about the obvious contradiction here -- and whether in the long term, doing things like this for people who evidently won't help themselves is a good idea. (There are literally over a thousand books on toilet training listed in the OCLC database.)

It is certainly well to have a lot of hugs and handshakes under the rationale that "[o]ur world is filled with lonely people who are starving for the affirmation of a loving touch." [214] It is certainly fair to make your service times accessible to more people by starting at a different time. It is quite too much, however, to cater to the unique deficiencies of a society when that society ought to know better. How ironic that Warren refers to the American "idolatry of individualism" [338] and then offers some programs that pander to that very individualism to an extreme. Is this not enabling the sickness rather than helping people out of it? (In the words of Abraham Lincoln, "You cannot help men permanently by doing for them what they could and should do for themselves.")

It is not enough to argue, as Warren does, that "God chooses to reveal himself to man according to our needs!" [295] "Needs" cannot be broadly defined to include every possible deficiency in behavior, and Biblical examples used by Warren do not say as much. (E.g., he vaguely says, "to those who needed comfort, God revealed himself as Jehovah Shalom [I am your peace]" but I am quite sure God didn't reveal himself as "Jehovah Toiletrainus" to parents too out of sorts to do the job themselves.) In PDC, needs versus wants are not well distinguished -- and the church won't serve effectively if it is waiting tables that it shouldn't.

But let me not be too bleak: PDC is, as a whole, an excellent resource for church management, if used with caution, which of course it will not always be. I experienced this firsthand, as at one point my former church had initially refused to announce my apologetics class in the service, on the grounds that they were getting away from making special announcements. It turns out that this is a distorted version of Warren's advice [274] to avoid making announcements of use to the believers in the church in a service you designate for seekers, and/or have to do with only one segment of the church (e.g., youth). Pastors who use PDC critically will find it beneficial, and lay readers can learn a lot from it too -- even from that which it gets wrong.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Is Your RSS Working?

A reader tells me they did not get RSS feed notices for the Forge or Ticker for some time now. Please advise in a comment if you have (or have not) had problems of this nature. I'll delete this post once I have a good sample of answers.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Book Snap: David Watson's "Honor Among Christians"

I picked this one up thinking that it would be a more in-depth case for an explanation of Mark 10:18, and the "messianic secret," I have used before. It turns out that Watson is keen on a different explanation: That the Messianic secret was Jesus' way of redefining honor, in a way that anticipated the reversal of honor that would be associated with the crucifixion and Resurrection.

The oddity of this, though, is that while Watson also describes the explanation of Malina and Rohrbaugh I use, he neither affirms of denies it. And perhaps he didn't need to: The two explanations are far from mutually exclusive. So I'll take this as an extra layer of explanation for the so-called messianic secret rather than a new explanation.

I also took from here the thought that Jesus was perhaps intent on suppressing anything that would highlight his ascribed (or as I say, inherent) honor as a divine person, but not, per se, anything that enhanced his acquired honor (honor for performance -- which he could hardly suppress anyway, while still doing good works in public). But that is a thesis I have not worked out in detail as yet.


Other than that -- Watson's volume is rich with information and commentary on honor and shame; not a great deal was new to me, but there are enough treasures in one place here that this one could do extra duty as a modest introduction to key Biblical social concepts. You'll even find the familiar exposition on crucifixion as a shameful death in here, as well as some good material on patronage. Consider it a good specialty volume to add if you have the cash.

Friday, April 13, 2012

When Skeptics Ignore the Founders

Today we have a followup from a post by W. R. Miller last week.

****

There are those who seek to undermine America's Christian heritage. When it is pointed out to them that the majority of the Founders had a Protestant Christian belief system, the skeptics argue that the most important Founders were deists, therefore, we had no Christian founding.

One points out, "Obviously, Jefferson, Franklin, Paine and Adams each had more influence on our history than all of these others (who were signers of the Declaration of Independence). Most people have never even heard of these others."

So, according to the skeptics, the most famous Founders were the ones that had the most influence in our nation's founding. This argument rests on a logical fallacy known as non sequitur. A non sequitur is "An inference or a conclusion not logically following from the premises; a response, remark, etc., that does not logically follow from what has gone before."[1]

These skeptics fail to realize all the signers of the Declaration of Independence were important. The Continental Congressmen didn't sit around, twiddling their thumbs or playing tiddlywinks, waiting for Jefferson and his team[2] to draft the Declaration. The representatives were all active participants. As a body, they all signed the Declaration and, as a body, influenced the birth of our nation. Otherwise, how would they be the Founding Fathers?

Several American history scholars examined some of the lesser-known Founders in The Forgotten Founders on Religion and Public Life.[3] In the first chapter,[4] Daniel L. Dreisbach detailed the many reasons why some were more famous than others. One factor was that some outlived the others. "With the exception of Franklin, who died in 1790, all the famous founders went on to distinguished careers in national politics under the U.S. Constitution, whereas some important forgotten founders, such as William Livingston (1723-1790), George Mason (1725-1792), John Hancock (1737-1793), Richard Henry Lee (1732-1794), and John Witherspoon (1723-1794), died before they could take a prominent role in the new national government." Some lost visibility because, Dreisbach suggests, of "unappealing personal traits, quirks, or eccentricities," like George Mason and others. "Finally," Dreisbach points out, "there seems to be an inclination among modern scholars to dismiss, discount, or ignore the views of pious founders whose ideas and actions were shaped by deeply held religious convictions. … Founders steeped in the rationalist traditions of the Enlightenment are more familiar and accessible, and their exploits are advanced in modern scholarship. John Witherspoon’s faith based perspectives may have scared off more than one secular scholar; moreover, his clerical collar may have symbolically entangled church and state too excessively for modern sensibilities. The profiles of Samuel Adams, Roger Sherman, Oliver Ellsworth, John Jay, Elias Boudinot, and Isaac Backus, among others, may have been similarly diminished by modern scholars on account of their profoundly religious identities and perspectives."

The skeptic asks, "Who stands out in American history more: Jefferson and Franklin or....John Morton, George Ross, James Smith, James Wilson, and George Taylor? Thomas Paine[5] and John Adams....or William Ellery, Lewis Morris, Philip Livingston, Francis Lewis, and William Floyd?"

As stated above, the "Forgotten Founders" were no less important to the American cause. Let's look at the ones mentioned by the skeptic.

Historian William Stevens Perry detailed John Morton's pivotal vote, without which the Declaration would not have passed:

We are told that Mr. Morton experienced the most intense anxiety of mind when it became his duty to give the casting vote of the Pennsylvania deputation. This vote would either confirm or destroy the unanimity of the action of the thirteen colonies in the matter of independence. His was the vote "upon which hung the important decision whether the great state of Pennsylvania should, or should not, be included in the league which bound the sister colonies together." Everything depended on the vote of this patriotic Churchman. The attitude of Pennsylvania had been that of opposition to a declaration of independence till further efforts for conciliation had been made--and had failed. The influence of Franklin (Churchman)[6] was of no avail in this juncture. Wilson (Churchman), a man of unusual ability, worthy of the highest position in the judiciary of the new nation for which Washington intended him, could not carry the state for freedom. But it was the Churchman and patriot, John Morton, who turned the scale, while the sense of the responsibility he had assumed is said by Waln, the biographer of the 'Signers' (vi. 128-220), "to have accelerated, if it did not cause, his dissolution."[7] "Tell them," said he on his death bed (April, 1777), addressing those of his friends who could not forgive or forget his vote for freedom—"tell them that they will live to see the hour when they shall acknowledge it to have been the most glorious service that I ever rendered to my country" (Waln, vi, 222).[8] It was, indeed, "a glorious service" rendered to the sacred cause of liberty by this devoted Churchman. But for him we might not have won our freedom.[9]

Historian Charles A. Goodrich also reported on Morton's contribution, as well as the involvement of George Taylor:

Fortunately for the cause of American liberty, the change in public sentiment above alluded to, continued to spread, and on taking the great question of a declaration of independence, an approving vote by all the colonies was secured in its favor. The approbation of Pennsylvania, however, was only obtained by the casting vote of Mr. Morton, as has already been mentioned in our biographical notice of that gentleman. On the, 20th of July, the Pennsylvania convention proceeded to a new choice of Representatives. Mr. Morton, Dr. Franklin, Mr. Morris, and Mr. Wilson, who had voted in favor of the declaration of independence, were re-elected. Those who had opposed it were at this time dropped, and the following Gentlemen were appointed in their place, viz.: Mr. Taylor, Mr. Ross, Mr. Clymer, Dr. Rush, and Mr. Smith. These latter Gentlemen were consequently not present on the fourth of July, when the declaration was passed and proclaimed, but they had the honor of affixing their signatures to the engrossed copy, on the second of August following, at which time the members generally signed it.

James Smith's value to our nation was documented thusly:

In the month of July, a convention was assembled in Philadelphia, for the purpose of forming a new constitution for Pennsylvania. Of this body, Colonel Smith was elected a member, and he appeared to take his seat on the 15th day of the month. On the 20th be was elected by the convention a member of congress, in which body he took his seat, after the adjournment of the convention. Colonel Smith continued a member of congress for several years, in which capacity he was active and efficient. He always entertained strong anticipation of success during the revolutionary struggle, and by his cheerfulness powerfully contributed to dispel the despondency which he often saw around him. On withdrawing from congress, in November, 1778, he resumed his professional pursuits, which he continued until the year, 1800, when he withdrew from the bar, having been in the practice of his profession for about sixty years.

He was for many years a professor of religion, and very regular in his attendance on public worship.[10]

Driesbach reported on the importance and fate of Declaration signer, Constitution signer and Supreme Court justice James Wilson:

There is the tragic case of James Wilson, who died in ignominy in 1798 at age 56, fleeing from creditors for failed land speculation. He was buried in an obscure country graveyard in Edenton, North Carolina.[11] Today, Wilson is virtually unknown to the American public, but he was among the most trenchant and influential minds at the Constitutional Convention (making more speeches than any other delegate, save Gouverneur Morris), and he stamped an indelible mark on American legal theory through his influential law lectures and tenure on the U.S. Supreme Court.[12]

George Ross was hardly a bystander in our country's founding, as Perry noted:

George Ross was Vice-President of the Pennsylvania Convention of July 15, 1776, and prepared and proposed the "Declaration of Rights" which dissolved Proprietary Government of the Province and declared the commonwealth free and independent agreeably to the Declaration.[13]

According to Goodrich,

Mr. Ross continued to represent the state of Pennsylvania in the national legislature, until January, 1777, when, on account of indisposition, he was obliged to retire. During his congressional career, his conduct met the warmest approbation of his constituents. He was a statesman of enlarged views, and under the influence of a general patriotism, he cheerfully sacrificed his private interests for the public good. The high sense entertained by the inhabitants of the county of Lancaster, of big zeal for the good of his country, and of his constituents in particular, was expressed in the following resolution: "Resolved, that the sum of one hundred and fifty, pounds, out of the county stock, be forthwith transmitted to George Ross, one of the members of assembly for this county, and one of the delegates for this colony in the continental congress; and that he be requested to accept the same, as a testimony from this county, of their sense of his attendance on the public business, to his great private loss, and of their approbation of his conduct. Resolved, that if it be more agreeable, Mr. Ross purchase with part of the said money, a genteel piece of plate, ornamented as he thinks proper, to remain with him, as a testimony of the esteem this county has for him, by reason of his patriotic conduct, in the great struggle of American liberty." Such a testimony of respect and affection, on the part of his constituents, must have been not a little gratifying to the feelings of Mr. Ross. He felt it his duty, however, to decline accepting the present, offering as an apology for so doing, that he considered it as the duty of every man, and especially of every representative of the people, to contribute, by every means within his power, to the welfare of 'his country, without expecting pecuniary rewards.

The attendance of Mr. Ross in Congress, did not prevent him from meeting with the provincial legislature. Of this latter body, he was an active, energetic, and influential member. In the summer of 1776, it was found by the general assembly, that the circumstances of the state required the adoption of some decisive measures, especially in respect to putting the city of Philadelphia, and the province, in a state of defense. A committee was accordingly appointed, of which Mr. Ross was one, to report what measures were expedient. In a few days that committee did report, recommending to the people to associate for the protection of their lives, and liberty, and property, and urging upon the several counties of the province the importance of collecting stores of ammunition and arms. A resolution was also offered, providing for the payment of all such associations as should be called out to repel any attacks made by the British troops. To carry these plans into effect, a general committee of public safety was appointed, and clothed with the necessary authority. To this committee Mr. Ross was attached, and was one of its most active and efficient members. He also belonged to another important committee, viz. that of grievances.

On the dissolution of the proprietary government in Pennsylvania, a general convention was assembled, in which Mr. Ross represented the county of Lancaster. Here, again, he was called to the discharge of most important duties, being appointed to assist in preparing a declaration of rights on behalf of the state, for forming rules of order for the convention, and for defining and settling what should be considered high treason and misprision of treason against the state, and the punishment which should be inflicted for those offenses.[14]

For William Ellery, Lewis Morris, Philip Livingston, Francis Lewis, and William Floyd, interested researchers can visit the online resource, "America's Christian Heritage: Signers of the Declaration," which provides primary documentary coverage of all the Signers and their biographies.[15]

For those involved in crafting the First Amendment to the Constitution, Dreisbach shines the spotlight on Samuel Livermore and Fisher Ames.

At critical junctures in the First Congress’s deliberations on the amendment, language was proposed by Samuel Livermore of New Hampshire and Fisher Ames of Massachusetts that arguably shaped the final text of the First Amendment. Legislative histories often gloss over these crucial contributions and insights of the now all but forgotten Livermore and Ames, suggesting instead that the First Amendment flowed fully formed from the pen of the famous James Madison. Lost in these incomplete histories are the possible concerns and intentions behind Livermore’s and Ames’s revisions that almost certainly influenced congressional colleagues, thus leaving their mark on the First Amendment.[16]

Besides the Signers, other "unfamous" Americans played vital roles. They, too, were Founders.[17]

The contribution of James Otis of Massachusetts was recognized by President John Adams:

Adams: "I wish I could transcribe the whole of this pamphlet, because it is a document of importance in the early history of the Revolution, which ought never to be forgotten. It shows, in a strong light, the heaves and throes of the burning mountain, three years, at least, before the explosion of the volcano in Massachusetts or Virginia. ... If the orators on the 4th of July really wish to investigate the principles and feelings which produced the Revolution, they ought to study this pamphlet, and Dr. Mayhew's sermon on passive obedience and non-resistance, and all the documents of those days."[18]

John Appleton, 4th United States Assistant Secretary of State: "In 1761, James Otis asserted the inalienable rights of man as fully and decisively as they were afterwards asserted by Thomas Jefferson. It was in his celebrated argument against writs of assistance, which President Adams characterized as breathing the breath of life into the nation. 'Otis,' says he, 'was a flame of fire. Every man, of an immense, crowded audience, appeared to go away, as I did, ready to take arms against Writs of Assistance. Then, and there, was the first act of opposition to the arbitrary claims of Great Britain. Then, and there, the child, Independence, was born. In fifteen years he grew up to manhood, and declared himself free.'"[19]

John Adams named three men, other than Jefferson, that have faded into relative obscurity, but were no less important to achieving our Independence. From Hampton Carson's The Supreme Court of the United States: Its History:

With these statements of the Church's controlling and determining influence in bringing about the Declaration of Independence, we may the better understand the assertion of the Puritan, John Adams, "that had it not been for such men as Richard Henry Lee, Thomas Jefferson, Samuel Chase, and Thomas Johnson, there would never have been any Revolution." [20]

Mercy Otis Warren calls attention to Josiah Quincy II, as well as John Dickinson and James Otis:

The characters of Dickenson [sic, John Dickinson] and Otis are well known, but the early death of Mr. Quincy prevented his name from being conspicuous in the history of American worthies. He was a gentleman of abilities and principles which qualified him to be eminently useful, in the great contest to obtain and support the freedom of his country. He had exerted his eloquence and splendid talents for his purpose, until the premature hand of death deprived society of a man, whose genius so well qualified him for the investigation of the claims, and the defence of the rights of mankind. He died on his return from a voyage to Europe, a short time before war was actually commenced between Great Britain and the colonies.[21]

With these examples, we see the importance of these gentlemen who were willing to risk their lives, the fortunes, their sacred honor so that they, and we, could enjoy liberty.

Were some deists? Yes, a handful. But all ascribed to the general principles of Christianity, as stated by John Adams.[22]

"The general principles on which the fathers achieved independence, were the only principles in which that beautiful assembly of young men could unite, and these principles only could be intended by them in their address, or by me in my answer. And what were these general principles? I answer, the general principles of Christianity, in which all those sects were united, and the general principles of English and American liberty, in which all those young men united, and which had united all parties in America, in majorities sufficient to assert and maintain her independence. Now I will avow, that I then believed and now believe that those general principles of Christianity are as eternal and immutable as the existence and attributes of God; and that those principles of liberty are as unalterable as human nature and our terrestrial, mundane system. I could, therefore safely say, consistently with all my then and present information, that I believed they would never make discoveries in contradiction to these general principles."[23]

John Adams credits Christianity, not Deism.

Adams' son, John Quincy Adams, grew up to become the sixth President. He gave credit where it was due, and it wasn't Deism:

"From the day of the Declaration, the people of the North American union, and of its constituent states, were associated bodies of civilized men and Christians, in a state of nature, but not of anarchy. They were bound by the laws of God, which they all, and by the laws of the Gospel, which they nearly all acknowledged as the rules of their conduct. They were bound by the principles which they themselves had proclaimed in the declaration."[24]

John Quincy Adams credits Christianity, not Deism.

In an Independence Day Oration, attorney H. P. Laird[25] of Greensburg, Pennsylvania, made this acknowledgement:

The other feature is the prominence unhesitatingly given to the recognition of Divine Providence in the affairs of the nation, on the part of the fathers of our country, and the specific acknowledgment of the Christian religion given by the State Provincial Conference held in 1776, looking to the election of members of a convention, who should be representatives of the people chosen by themselves, to lay the foundation of a government based on the authority of the people only.

Language like the following, though it may sound strange in some ears, has the true ring in it:

One of the resolutions adopted by the conference declares, that "no person elected to serve as a member of the convention shall take his seat, or give his vote, until he shall have made and signed the following declaration: I, --, do profess faith in God the Father, and in Jesus Christ His eternal Son, the true God, and in the Holy Spirit, one God blessed for evermore; and do acknowledge the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testament to be given by Divine inspiration."[26] The members of the convention were elected on the 8th of July and met in this city on the 15th of July. Each and every one of them, before taking his seat, did publicly take and subscribe the profession of faith. In this number were such illustrious names as Benjamin Franklin, George Clymer, David Rittenhouse, Gabriel Hiester, and others; the names of the last two plainly indicating their German origin. Verily, in view of facts like these, it cannot be denied, that our Commonwealth at least, if not the whole nation, was indeed founded on the principles of the Christian religion. It is to be hoped, also, that it may ever prove itself true to such a noble foundation.[27]

Laird credits Christianity, not Deism.

In his 1835 study of America, French statesman Alexis de Toqueville observed,

"It must never be forgotten that religion gave birth to Anglo-American society. In the United States, religion is therefore mingled with all the habits of the nation and all the feelings of patriotism, whence it derives a peculiar force. To this reason another of no less power may be added: in America, religion has, as it were, laid down its own limits. Religious institutions have remained wholly distinct from political institutions, so that former laws have been easily changed whilst former belief has remained unshaken. Christianity has therefore retained a strong hold on the public mind in America; and I would more particularly remark, that its sway is not only that of a philosophical doctrine which has been adopted upon inquiry, but of a religion which is believed without discussion. In the United States, Christian sects are infinitely diversified and perpetually modified; but Christianity itself is all established and irresistible fact, which no one undertakes either to attack or to defend. The Americans, having admitted the principal doctrines of the Christian religion without inquiry, are obliged to accept in like manner a great number of moral truths originating in it and connected with it. Hence the activity of individual analysis is restrained within narrow limits, and many of the most important of human opinions are removed from its influence."[28]

De Toqueville credits Christianity, not Deism.

Many more examples can be found in our nation's historical records, if people are willing to examine them.[29]

It should be a no-brainer to accept that a nation occupied mostly by Christians, and/or by those who support Christian values, would be a Christian nation.[30]

When confronted with evidence favoring Christian heritage, what do historical revisionists do?

They ignore it.

* * *

Suggested reading:

Daniel L. Dreisbach, Mark David Hall, and Jeffry H. Morrison, editors. Foreword by Mark A. Noll. The Forgotten Founders on Religion and Public Life. University of Notre Dame Press; 1st Edition edition, October 29, 2009, 352 pp. Website: http://undpress.nd.edu/book/P01338

Gary Amos; Richard Gardiner; William A. Dembski. Never Before in History : America's Inspired Birth. Richardson, Tex.: Foundation for Thought and Ethics, January 1, 2011, ix, 213 pp. Website: http://www.neverbeforeinhistory.com/



[1] non sequitur, n.
Third edition, December 2003; online version March 2012. ; accessed 09 April 2012. An entry for this word was first included in New English Dictionary, 1907.

[2] The Committee included Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Roger Sherman, and Robert R. Livingston.

[3] Daniel L. Dreisbach, Mark David Hall, and Jeffry H. Morrison, editors. Foreword by Mark A. Noll. The Forgotten Founders on Religion and Public Life. University of Notre Dame Press; 1st Edition edition, October 29, 2009, 352 pp. Website: http://undpress.nd.edu/book/P01338. Daniel Dreisbach is Professor of Justice, Law and Society in the School of Public Affairs at American University. Mark David Hall is the Herbert Hoover Distinguished Professor of Political Science at George Fox University. Jeffry H. Morrison is associate professor of government at Regent University. Contributors: Daniel L. Dreisbach, Edith B. Gelles, Gary Scott Smith, William R. Casto, Gregg L. Frazer, Thomas E. Buckley, S.J., Jonathan Den Hartog, David J. Voelker, Kevin R. Hardwick, Robert H. Abzug, Mark David Hall, Rosemarie Zagarri.

[4] Chapter One: "Famous Founders and Forgotten Founders; What's the Difference, and Does the Difference Matter?" pp. 1-25. An abbreviated version was published earlier as "Founders Famous and Forgotten," in The Intercollegiate Review, Fall 2007, pp. 3-12. Posted online at http://www.mmisi.org/ir/42_02/dreisbach.pdf

[5] See the online "Paine Relief" repository at http://www.classicapologetics.com/special/painerelief.html for documentation of his religious and political seditions.

[7] Robert Waln, Jr., editor. Biography of the Signers to the Declaration of Independence. Philadelphia: R.W. Pomeroy, 1820-1827. 9 vol.: ill.; 24 cm. Volume 6. 1824.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Perry, William Stevens, 1832-1898. The Faith of The Signers of the Declaration of Independence. Tarrytown, N.Y., William Abbatt, 1926. 54 pp. "John Morton," pp. 38-39.

[10] Charles A. Goodrich. Lives of the Signers to the Declaration of Independence. New York: William Reed & Co., 1856. Pages 291-296.

[11] See David W. Maxey, “The Translation of James Wilson,” Supreme Court Historical Society 1990 Yearbook (1990), pp. 29-43.

[12] Daniel L. Dreisbach, "Founders Famous and Forgotten," The Intercollegiate Review, Fall 2007, pp. 3-12. Posted online at http://www.mmisi.org/ir/42_02/dreisbach.pdf

[13] Perry, William Stevens, 1832-1898. The Faith of The Signers of the Declaration of Independence. Tarrytown, N.Y., William Abbatt, 1926. 54 pp. "John Morton," pp. 38-39.

[14] Charles A. Goodrich. Lives of the Signers to the Declaration of Independence. New York: William Reed & Co., 1856. pp. 309-312.

[16] Dreisbach, ibid.

[17] R. B. Bernstein, The Founding Fathers Reconsidered, New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009; Dreisbach, The Forgotten Founders on Religion and Public Life, 2009.

[18] From The Works of John Adams, second president of the United States: with a life of the author, notes and illustrations. Volume 10. Boston, 1850-1856, p. 300.

[20] Quoted on p. 162 of The Supreme Court of the United States: Its History: and Its Centennial Celebration, February 4th, 1890; prepared under the direction of the Judiciary Centennial Committee, by Hampton L. Carson. Philadelphia. 1891. Lee and Chase were Signers; Thomas was a delegate to the First and Second Continental Congresses, governor of Maryland, and early Supreme Court Justice.

[21] History of the Rise, Progress, and Termination of the American Revolution. Interspersed with biographical, political and moral observations. Boston: Printed by Manning and Loring, For E. Larkin, No. 47, Cornhill, 1805. 3 volumes. 21 cm. Volume 1 of 3, Volume 2 of 3, Volume 3 of 3. Text-searchable here.

[22] For details, see the works catalogued at America's Christian Heritage: U.S. Presidents, at http://www.classicapologetics.com/special/pres.html and America's Christian Heritage: Signers of the U.S. Declaration of Independence, at http://www.classicapologetics.com/special/foundind.html.

[23] John Adams. The Works of John Adams, Second President of the United States: with a life of the author, notes and illustrations. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1856. 528 pp. Volume 10 of 10. Letter to Jefferson, 28 June, 1813. Also in The Writings of Thomas Jefferson Washington D. C.: The Thomas Jefferson Memorial Association, 1904, Vol. XIII, pp. 292-294.

[25] Harrison Perry Laird (1814-1897), President of the Westmoreland Bar Association, 1886-1897.

[26] The Register of Pennsylvania, Volume 4, 1829, p. 163, http://books.google.com/books?id=Lg4QAQAAMAAJ&pg=PA163

[27] "F." Christianity The Basis Of Our Republic. Messenger (1876-1887), v. 45, n. 32, Philadelphia: August 9, 1876, p. 4.

[28] De Tocqueville, [De la démocratie en Amérique -- English] Democracy in America. Cambridge: Sever and Francis, 1862. 2 vols.; 23 cm. Translated by Henry Reeve. Edited, with notes, the translation revised and in great part rewritten, and the additions made to the recent Paris editions now first translated, by Francis Bowen, Alford Professor of Moral Philosophy in Harvard University.Volume 2 of 2. pp. 5-6.

[29] For example, the primary documentation found at www.classicapologetics.com, which was extensively used for this essay.

[30] I presented this argument earlier, "Forsaking America's Heritage," at http://tektonticker.blogspot.com/2012/04/forsaking-americas-heritage.html, posted April 4, 2012, but for some reason, it went through the skeptic's head like water through a sieve. He didn't acknowledge it; he ignored it. The article also exposes historian John Fea's ignorance of the rebuttals to John Wesley, and Wesley's acceptance of God's aid to the American revolutionaries. Other examples of willful ignorance include Hector Avalos, ignoring the legal precedents cited in the 1892 Supreme Court case, Church of the Holy Trinity v. United States, http://www.desmoinesregister.com/article/20120131/OPINION01/301310019/Guest-columnist-U-S-always-nation-religious-pluralism, January 30, 2012. The article has since been archived; and Newsweek managing editor Jon Meacham's libel of Ezra Stiles Ely in The Washington Post, July 3, 2005, posted online at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/07/02/AR2005070200065.html, in which Meacham ignored Ely's acceptance of church-state separation in The Duty of Christian Freemen to Elect Christian Rulers: A Discourse delivered on the Fourth of July, 1827, in the Seventh Presbyterian Church. Philadelphia, 1828 and Church and State. Jamestown Journal, November 16, 1831, p. 1. Originated in The Philadelphian, September 7, 1831.