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Reading The Constitution In Context: A Critique of Rick Santorum

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The perpetually frothy-brained Rick Santorum recently decided to attack Ron Paul's understanding of the Constitution of the United States.

Quoting:

"Ron Paul has a libertarian view of the Constitution. I do not. The Constitution has to be read in the context of another founding document, and that's the Declaration of Independence... So we were founded as a country that had God-given rights that the government had to respect. And with those rights come responsibilities, right? God did not just give us rights."

End Quote. (Emphasis mine)

Strangely enough, in this quote Santorum gets something correct; the italicized section of his quote is absolutely true. The Constitution of the United States does indeed have to be read in the context of the Declaration of Independence.

Santorum, unfortunately, fails to take his own advice.

Santorum's argument is that with God-given rights come responsibilities. However, let's look at the Declaration of Independence; where are these responsibilities mentioned?

The words "responsibility" and "responsibilities" are in fact absent from the text of the Declaration. As for the words "right" and "rights," you'll find them mentioned ten times in total, and also capitalized ("Right" and "Rights").

Santorum's emphasis on responsibilities seems to not have been shared by the Founders.

Now let's look at the subject of "God." Santorum places heaps of emphasis on the idea of Rights coming from God, but "God" as Santorum uses the term seems to be absent from the Declaration of Independence.

Santorum is a Roman Catholic and obviously a pretty hardcore one. As such I will assume that Santorum's understanding of God is the official Roman Catholic doctrinal understanding; an omni-potent/benevolent/scient/present creator-deity that created substance from nothing via sheer force of will, answering to the names "Jehovah" or "Yahweh," worshipped by the Jews, composed of a single divine essential self that also subsists in three divine persons (Father, Son and Holy Spirit), etcetera.

There is scarce evidence that the God invoked in the Declaration is intended to be Santorum's God.

There are three references to the Divine in the Declaration of Independence.

Reference 1: "When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation."

Reference 2: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights,"

Reference 3: "And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor."

Each of these references and invocations are vague, and none of them make specifically Catholic or even Christian references to God.

Let's start with the easiest reference; Reference 3. If "divine Providence" counts as an invocation of the Christian God, this would mean Adolf Hitler (who was raised Catholic, like Santorum) invoked the Christian God regularly. I believe this is a conclusion that Rick Santorum would want to avoid., although he could shrug it off by saying that Reference 3 needs to be read in the context of Reference 1 and Reference 2 (this is a fair point), or simply say that Hitler wasn't making sincere references to the Christian God (which may or may not be true but is simply impossible to prove or disprove). Note that this argument was not Reductio ad Hitlerum but rather Reductio ad Absurdum ("absurd" from Santorum's perspective).

Reference 1 is the most complicated reference, incorporating two concepts; "the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God." This is the first, and most detailed reference to the concept of God in the Declaration. And out of all references, this might in fact be the one where Santorum has the best case; "the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God" are a clear invocation of the Natural Law tradition, which is a very important part of Catholic philosophy.

But Natural Law is not exclusively Catholic, and not all the Founders would've seen Natural Law as Christian in the first place (a trio of the Founders were Catholic but the majority were Protestants, and the majority of Protestants reject Natural Law (Samuel Adams was a Calvinist, and Calvinism rejects Natural Law)). Natural Law was introduced into Roman Catholicism by the Scholastics, most prominently St. Thomas Aquinas. Aquinas relied on the arguments of the philosopher Aristotle, and Aristotle was no Christian.

Finally, Natural Law (essentially the idea that moral truths can be discovered by the study of the world we experience) was also an idea which heavily influenced the secular Enlightenment (by "secular" I mean that Enlightenment philosophers made their arguments on the basis of nonreligious reasoning, even though they typically held to various religious beliefs). Continental Rationalists like Spinoza invoked "God or Nature" simply to refer to "existence" as such. But the Empiricist Deist tradition, which rose to prominence during the Enlightenment and was heavily influential on Jefferson (as well as other Founders such as Madison and Paine), is quite clear in its endorsement of natural law.

Deism believed in a non-intervening creator-God (this is compatible with Reference 2, thus meaning Reference 2 is by no means an endorsement of Christianity) that designed the universe according to specific laws and patterns which could be discovered by analyzing the universe. Deism believed human reason to be the correct way of reaching truth, and rejected faith and revelation as sources of knowledge.

It should also be noted that many of the Founders were Freemasons, and Freemasonry is an explicitly Deistic worldview.

So, whilst a Natural Law understanding of God may indeed occupy a place in Roman Catholic thought (at least post-Scholasticism), it also is consistent with the Elightenment/Deistic and Masonic traditions to which the Founders belonged, and is in fact inconsistent with the majority of different kinds of Christianity.

The Natural Law tradition itself was not founded by Christianity or a Christian (Jesus said nothing at all about the subject, and you'll have a tough time finding any praises of human intellect in the Gospels), but rather by Aristotle, who wasn't even a monotheist.

In short, Reference 1 is by no means a conclusive endorsement of Santorum's view of God as the foundation of the United States; it is compatible with several other viewpoints held by multiple Founding Fathers, and is even theologically incompatible with the nominal theologies held by several other Founders. Christianity has no monopoly on the concept of Natural Law.

But that is merely an analysis of what is present in the Declaration of Independence. What is absent is just as important. As I just explained, there is not a single specifically Christian reference to God in the entire Declaration.

This is strange considering that the Founding Fathers were almost all nominally Christian (although many were influenced by Deism to varying degrees). They knew the Christian characterization/s of God and yet refrained from using them. Why?

A possible explanation is that multiple different kinds of Christianity exist, and many of them have different pictures of God. Perhaps the vague theology was merely an attempt to avoid conflict amongst the Founders, but if that is so then clearly the Founders did not believe a specific understanding of God was a matter with significant political-philosophical importance (which in turn would be consistent with the No Religious Test Clause in the Constitution).

But even leaving aside the massive theological disagreements between the Founders (John Adams, the 2nd POTUS, was a Unitarian and thus rejected the Holy Trinity as well as the concept of Original Sin (which would mean Rick Santorum's Church would've burned him at the stake were he to have been born a few centuries earlier)), they could've all at least agreed on Jesus, right?

After all, the existence and prominence of Jesus is kind of the thing that all Christians agree on, right?

So why isn't even Jesus referenced in the Declaration? There's nothing about Christ in this supposedly "Christian" document!!

So, if one were to actually read the Constitution in the context of the Declaration, what would one need to keep in mind?

1) The Declaration was written by a group of powerful minds with very strong disagreements on theological issues. A few were explicit Deists. Three were Roman Catholic. Most were Protestant. Generally speaking, most were various kinds of Christian that were influenced by Deism to varying degrees. They disagreed on issues which to this day are the very core of Christian theology; Trinitarianism, Original Sin, and even the Divinity of Christ were not matters upon which there was a consensus. By most Christian's standards, many of the Founding Fathers would be considered heretics.

2) They managed to produce a consensus document completely consistent with the Enlightenment/Deistic/Classical Liberal worldview, endorsing unalienable individual rights based upon human nature, government by consent of the government, and the right to overthrow governments which violate the rights of individuals.

3) All references to God contained within the Declaration are not specifically Christian; they are compatible with the Natural Law tradition of Roman Catholic thought but are in-fact incompatible with several of the theologies held to by some of the Founding Fathers. The references within the Declaration refer equally to a Deistic, Naturalistic conception of God which was developed during the Enlightenment.

4) There is not a single reference to Jesus of Nazareth. The central figure of Christianity is absent from a document signed by people that were almost all nominally Christian.

5) For all the discussion of "Rights" in the document (ten mentions), there are zero mentions of "responsibilities" to God.

In short, I am led to the conclusion that Santorum clearly has either no understanding of, or is deliberately distorting, the Declaration of Independence. He neglects the philosophical and intellectual context within which it was written, seizes upon one or two vaguely-Deistic mentions of a "God" and claims it to be an endorsement of his specific idea of God and imputes "responsibilites to God" where not even the slightest indication of this is given in the text of the Declaration.

Then again, one would expect Santorum to have zero understanding of the Declaration of Independence; this is after all the man that said that the Pursuit of Happiness is harming America (see:

).

In making this case, I do not want to give off the opinion that Ron Paul is perfect in his interpretation of the Constitution. For one, Paul rejects the Incorporation Doctrine (which is based on the Fourteenth Amendment) because he believes the Bill of Rights applies only to the Federal Government. But issues of Constitutional law design in a Federal system are matters where good faith disagreement can occur amongst libertarians and the libertarian-influenced (although I admit I disagree with Paul in this instance).

But the point remains that if one were to truly read the Constitution in the context of the Declaration of Independence, one would not be able to come to the moralistic theocratic conclusions Rick Santorum does. One would see nothing about "responsibilities," let alone responsibilities to God, let alone the specific responsibilities that Santorum believes people have, let alone the specific kind of God that Santorum believes in.

Santorum's position is a pile of quote-mining and ignorance of philosophical and intellectual context, topped with a generous dollop of frothy logic.

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Andrew:

Really well written examination of our founding documents.

It is truly sad for my country when, and this is not meant as a dig, but as a significant contrast, a young intelligent Australian goth libertarian understands, and can explain our founding documents, more clearly and more intelligently than the despicable marxist who occupies the White House as our President, Commander in Chief and the chief Executive Officer of the United States of America...

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Andrew:

Really well written examination of our founding documents.

It is truly sad for my country when, and this is not meant as a dig, but as a significant contrast, a young intelligent Australian goth libertarian understands, and can explain our founding documents, more clearly and more intelligently than the despicable marxist who occupies the White House as our President, Commander in Chief and the chief Executive Officer of the United States of America...

Thank you.

That said, I'm more worried about Santorum's understanding than Obama's. I'm tempted to think that Obama knows what the documents mean but doesn't care.

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Andrew,

I am unaware of anyone important on the conservative side referencing the Declaration of Independence and Constitution as "Christian documents." Do you have a quote for your allegation?

I have heard them call the USA a Christian nation because that was the mainstream religion and morality at the time the country was founded, and it has continued to be that way.

From what I understand of the Founding Father times, there was a lot of rivalry between the different religions. Some states even had an official state religion in their constitution. So the founders worded the founding documents in a broad-tent manner.

If you are going to go the "founders were deists and not Christians" route, I believe you should also look to people who make a strong case for the contrary. (Incidentally, I believe most of the disputed founders were both deists and Christians, but that's another matter.)

The best person I know to get the Christian view is David Barton. He has one of the finest collections of original historical American documents in the world and he knows them well. He sometimes stretches a point because he is committed to an evangelical Christian worldview, but I have seen way too many of his correctly documented arguments hooted and mocked--or nitpicked to death over nonessentials--without any real rebuttal to trust the ones who do the mocking. Or they criticize his methods of inference, but use the same methods to advance their own agenda when explaining their own arguments. I learned a long time ago to not trust this kind of person's conclusions. Barton's site is Wall Builders if you want to talk a look.

Many people hate him, but I believe it is a grave mistake to ignore and dismiss him like his detractors do. To put it bluntly, he often makes a better rational case than they do because of the quality of his sources. (I've looked at both his stuff and that of his detractors.) I think it's ironic when an evangelical Christian can do that.

In other words, I know where Barton is coming from. I don't agree with many of his premises, but I do agree with correct sourcing and looking at different interpretations, so it's easy for me to discount his excesses and only keep his good stuff. But when I look at his detractors and the general low quality and exaggerated emotionality of their critiques (not all, but most in what I have examined and some of it is downright snarky), I often wonder, "What are they hiding?"

Here is a good case to think about, a case that involves one of Barton's core premises. Do you believe that freedom of religion meant to the Founding Fathers that people should be able to freely practice witchcraft and Satanism as organized religions? I, sitting here in the 21st century, am against prohibiting any religions expression that does not violate individual rights, including anti-Christian religions, but I have a great deal of difficulty believing that witchcraft and Satanism were what the Founding Fathers had in mind. That is an indication of their Christian thinking.

Why claim they were Satan-tolerant if they were not?

I see nothing to be gained rationally by distorting what the Founding Fathers actually were as given in their own words and the customs of the day. Way too many people present arguments (on all sides) that cherry-pick stuff (original-source and otherwise) that agrees with their agenda and ignore or rationalize (usually poorly) the stuff that does not support them.

I can give examples, but this is all around us so much, all you have to do is look.

Michael

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Here is a good case to think about, a case that involves one of Barton's core premises. Do you believe that freedom of religion meant to the Founding Fathers that people should be able to freely practice witchcraft and Satanism as organized religions? I, sitting here in the 21st century, am against prohibiting any religions expression that does not violate individual rights, including anti-Christian religions, but I have a great deal of difficulty believe that witchcraft and Satanism were what the Founding Fathers had in mind. That is an indication of their Christian thinking.

Why claim they were Satan-tolerant if they were not?

I see nothing to be gained rationally by distorting what the Founding Fathers actually were as given in their own words and the customs of the day. Way too many people present arguments (on all sides) that cherry-pick stuff (original-source and otherwise) that agrees with their agenda and ignore or rationalize (usually poorly) the stuff that does not support them.

I can give examples, but this is all around us so much, all you have to do is look.

Michael

I've read the Wallbuilders site. I'm not going to attack their full case right now (will later). But I'll deal with your specific allegation first because it is a smaller question:

"Do you believe that freedom of religion meant to the Founding Fathers that people should be able to freely practice witchcraft and Satanism as organized religions?"

I believe that the principle as the Founding Fathers understood it would logically lead to the free practice of witchcraft and Satanism. But I do accept that the Founding Fathers would not have been able to predict this consequence.

When someone affirms a specific principle, they implicitly affirm all the logical consequences of this principle, even if they do not see the logical implications of it.

Now, let's look at the Founding Fathers; the Bill of Rights specifically uses the word "religion."

The Founding Fathers were all raised Christian and almost all of them were nominal Christians. They were also exposed to Deism, and knew that religion =/= Christianity. They even knew about the significant differences between various Christian sects. Doesn't it make some intuitive sense that if they specifically wanted "religion" to mean "Christianity" they'd have been a bit more specific? They could've stated "worship of Jehovah" or "worship of the one God" or "practice of monotheism" or even "belief in God" or anything along those lines.

But they didn't. They used "religion" specifically.

Second, "witchcraft" in the horror-movie sense of the term does not exist and it never did. There were allegations of it in Salem and there was fear of it in Europe (many of even the Christian Founding Fathers denied the possibility of miracles, logically this would deny Witchcraft as well). "Witchcraft" as a religion refers these days to Wicca, which is a completely different thing to the horror stories conjured up by the Catholic Church.

"Satanism" as well was a moral panic over a nonexistent religion and/or heavy metal music. There's LaVeyan Satanism, sure, but whilst I disagree with it, it is HARDLY the kind of thing people panicked over during the 80's.

"Satanism" and "Witchcraft" as organized religions simply did not exist back during the Founding Fathers' days. They probably didn't imagine anything like these two religions even existing.

But that does not mean that the principles of the Bill of Rights do not cover LaVeyan Satanism or Wicca. The principles of the Bill of Rights stretch beyond the imaginations of the Founders. They probably couldn't predict the Internet either, but that doesn't mean the government can control speech on the Internet.

The principle affirmed by the Founders covers LaVeyan Satanism and Wicca (i.e. "satanism and witchcraft as organized religions"), even if they couldn't grasp the potential consequences of the principle.

And speaking of Wallbuilders, would David Barton genuinely consider ALL of the Founding Fathers Christian? Barton is an Evangelical. According to Evangelicals, Catholics and Quakers and Unitarians are not Christians. Episcopalians (the most common denomination amongst the Founding Fathers) may not count either. At least one, Thomas Paine, was a Deist who rejected Christianity explicitly. Barton is pulling a bait-and-switch; he uses an extremely broad definition of Christian to claim that all the Founders were Christian, but then he switches to the typical narrow, Evangelical definition of Christian when he starts alleging that the Founders supported "Christian values" (by which he means his understanding of correct Christian values).

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If you are going to go the "founders were deists and not Christians" route, I believe you should also look to people who make a strong case for the contrary. (Incidentally, I believe most of the disputed founders were both deists and Christians, but that's another matter.) The best person I know to get the Christian view is David Barton. He has one of the finest collections of original historical American documents in the world and he knows them well. He sometimes stretches a point because he is committed to an evangelical Christian worldview, but I have seen way too many of his correctly documented arguments hooted and mocked--or nitpicked to death over nonessentials--without any real rebuttal to trust the ones who do the mocking. Or they criticize his methods of inference, but use the same methods to advance their own agenda when explaining their own arguments. I learned a long time ago to not trust this kind of person's conclusions. Barton's site is Wall Builders if you want to talk a look. Many people hate him, but I believe it is a grave mistake to ignore and dismiss him like his detractors do. To put it bluntly, he often makes a better rational case than they do because of the quality of his sources. (I've looked at both his stuff and that of his detractors.) I think it's ironic when an evangelical Christian can do that. In other words, I know where Barton is coming from. I don't agree with many of his premises, but I do agree with correct sourcing and looking at different interpretations, so it's easy for me to discount his excesses and only keep his good stuff. But when I look at his detractors and the general low quality and exaggerated emotionality of their critiques (not all, but most in what I have examined and some of it is downright snarky),

I started reading the literature on Church and State in America in my early high school years, around 50 years ago, beginning with the classic 3-volume work by Anson Phelps Stokes, Church and States in the United States. I have read not only many secondary sources on both sides, but a huge amount of primary material as well. Barton is not to be trusted. He is defending a political cause, and he sometimes distorts the historical record in the course of defending that cause. The fact that Barton collects original historical documents means zip. Anyone can access those documents, and many more, on the Internet.

The simple truth is that the historical record is frequently ambiguous. Widely different opinions were expressed by various Founders, so it is a relatively easy matter to find what you are looking for.

I used to be a Deist, and I have done a lot of work on Deism over the years. The summary I presented in "Deism and the Assault on Revealed Religion" (in Atheism, Ayn Rand, and Other Heresies) is as good as you will find anywhere:

Deism, as many scholars have pointed out, eludes a precise definition. Basically, it refers to the belief in a god of nature -- a noninterventionist creator who lets the universe run itself according to natural laws. These natural laws can be known through reason, and knowledge of them (including knowledge of the nature of human beings) is necessary and sufficient to guide our conduct. The derivation and elaboration of a proper moral code is the essence of natural and rational religion -- the "religion of nature."

Knowledge of nature, for Deists, is the means by which God reveals himself to man, so they often referred to it as natural revelation. This contrasts with special revelation -- divine knowledge supposedly communicated to a particular person or group of persons. Special revelation was often said to be "above" (though not contrary to) reason, so it collied with the Deistic agenda to subject all knowledge claims to rational examination. Reason should render the final verdict in all spheres of knowledge.

Deistic reactions to special revelation ranged from grudging tolerance to skepticism to outright rejection (most typically the latter). Therefore, the Deists undertook critical examinations of the Bible, miracles, prophecy, religious experience, and faith.

Some Christians claim that Jefferson was a Christian, not a Deist. Well, he had affinities with Unitarianism (as evidenced by his admiration of, and friendship with, the English Unitarian Joseph Priestley), but Unitarianism itself -- with its blending of rationalism, Socinianism (denial of the doctrines of original sin, atonement, and in some cases the divinity of Jesus), and Anti-Trinitarianism -- had a great deal in common with Deism. It is accurate to call figures like Jefferson and Franklin (and possibly Madison and Washington) "Deists," despite their occasional uses of Christian terminology, which was integral to the rhetoric of their time. I may say "God bless you" when you sneeze, or "God damn you" when I'm pissed, but my use of theistic language doesn't make me a theist. And if I use BC (Before Christ) rather than BCE (Before Common Era), this certainly doesn't mean I am a Christian.

Deists, like Unitarians, typically praised the teachings of Jesus, while rejecting the supernaturalistic stories in the Gospels. Their standard argument was that the original teachings of Jesus had become corrupted over time, by later interpolations in the Gospels, by Paul, and by the Catholic Church. This was the thesis, for example, of Priestley's A History of the Corruptions of Christianity (1782), a book that was admired by Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and others. None of this stuff was acceptable to orthodox Christians.

When Jefferson, in the Declaration, mentioned "the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God," he was using standard Deistic terminology -- a phrase that would be acceptable to "rational" Christians as well.

Ghs

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Do you believe that freedom of religion meant to the Founding Fathers that people should be able to freely practice witchcraft and Satanism as organized religions?

The answer to your question depends on which Founders you are referring to. In the case of Jefferson, Madison, and other hard-line defenders of religious freedom, the answer is, Yes, without a doubt.

Issues like this were actually discussed in the 18th century literature on religious freedom. Many Protestants believed that the Pope was the Anti-Christ and that the Catholic Church was an agent of Satan. But the Jefferson/Madison contigent defended religious freedom for Catholics nonetheless. Then there were those Christ-killers known as Jews.

Ghs

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The simple truth is that the historical record is frequently ambiguous. Widely different opinions were expressed by various Founders, so it is a relatively easy matter to find what you are looking for.

George,

This is exactly my point.

I believe this has to be kept in mind when looking at the work of Barton or you or anyone who writes about former times. That includes, of course, considering the author's intellectual bents and beliefs.

I don't agree with dismissing Barton so cavalierly. You said he is not to be trusted because "he is defending a political cause, and he sometimes distorts the historical record in the course of defending that cause."

So what about the rest of the times when he doesn't distort the historical record? Are those times not to be trusted. also?

Why not just make a mental note to check stuff?

Frankly, I don't see how any historian who has a strongly held political point of view can escape the charge of framing his narrative at times to the point of distortion to advance his beliefs.

But let's say Barton should be dismissed. Does that mean when any other historian holds strong views we don't agree with, his work is totally without value and he should be ignored? What about the folks on the side we agree with? Do they get a pass?

My vote is for interested people to look at it all and come to their own conclusions.

From what I have read and viewed so far, Barton gets a lot right and some things wrong. I know this because I look at his critics. And then I check stuff I doubt. So I'm fine with my understanding.

Michael

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Many Protestants believed that the Pope was the Anti-Christ and that the Catholic Church was an agent of Satan. But the Jefferson/Madison contigent defended religious freedom for Catholics nonetheless. Then there were those Christ-killers known as Jews.

George,

I see this as getting very close to spin.

I was talking about a religion that identified Satan as the deity as such. But you knew that, right?

I understand they were committed to a broad tent where they included differing (and often antagonistic) views of God. But not outright Satan-worship.

Michael

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George:

Is there any historical work that you are comfortable with that addresses how many of the founders, and or, signers of the Declaration, or, the Constitution were definitely Freemasons?

Thanks.

Adam

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The simple truth is that the historical record is frequently ambiguous. Widely different opinions were expressed by various Founders, so it is a relatively easy matter to find what you are looking for.

George,

This is exactly my point.

I believe this has to be kept in mind when looking at the work of Barton or you or anyone who writes about former times. That includes, of course, considering the author's intellectual bents and beliefs.

I don't agree with dismissing Barton so cavalierly. You said he is not to be trusted because "he is defending a political cause, and he sometimes distorts the historical record in the course of defending that cause."

So what about the rest of the times when he doesn't distort the historical record? Are those times not to be trusted. also?

Why not just make a mental note to check stuff?

Frankly, I don't see how any historian who has a strongly held political point of view can escape the charge of framing his narrative at times to the point of distortion to advance his beliefs.

But let's say Barton should be dismissed. Does that mean when any other historian holds strong views we don't agree with, his work is totally without value and he should be ignored? What about the folks on the side we agree with? Do they get a pass?

My vote is for interested people to look at it all and come to their own conclusions.

From what I have read and viewed so far, Barton gets a lot right and some things wrong. I know this because I look at his critics. And then I check stuff I doubt. So I'm fine with my understanding.

Michael

Of course people should read both sides and reach their own conclusions. I recommend that they read original sources, but if they want reliable secondary sources, then Barton is not the right guy to read.

You exaggerate the extent to which political ideology distorts one's intepretation of history. Good historians follow the advice of Lord Acton and make the best possible case for the other side. Barton isn't one of these historians; instead, he tends to cherry-pick quotations (some of which are not even accurate) and use them out of context. This is discussed in the Wiki article you linked.

If you have to check every source cited by a historian, then there is no point in reading that historian at all. When you become reasonably familiar with a given field of historical reseach, it is not all that difficult to distinguish between trustworthy and untrustworthy historians. Barton is not trustworthy, and it doesn't help matters to argue that all historians should be read with a critical eye. These are two separate and distinct issues.

Ghs

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Good historians follow the advice of Lord Acton and make the best possible case for the other side. Barton isn't one of these historians...

George,

I agree with this assessment.

This is the prism through which I look at him.

Michael

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Many Protestants believed that the Pope was the Anti-Christ and that the Catholic Church was an agent of Satan. But the Jefferson/Madison contingent defended religious freedom for Catholics nonetheless. Then there were those Christ-killers known as Jews.

George,

I see this as getting very close to spin.

I was talking about a religion that identified Satan as the deity as such. But you knew that, right?

I understand they were committed to a broad tent where they included differing (and often antagonistic) views of God. But not outright Satan-worship.

Michael

I'm not spinning anything. The Anti-Christ was regarded as Satan himself by some Protestants.

So what 18th-century cases of "outright Satan worship" were you thinking of? Witches? Well, virtually no American during the time of Jefferson defended the persecution of witches. And if you are not persecuted, then you are free to be a Satan-worshiping witch, if you like.

What makes you think that the Jefferson/Madison types would not have defended freedom for Satan worshipers? I know that literature like the back of my hand, and I have never seen anything that would support your claim.

Ghs

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I'm not spinning anything. The Anti-Christ was regarded as Satan himself by some Protestants.

George,

You mean Jefferson et al are the protestants you are talking about, the ones who considered the Pope as the Anti-Christ?

It that were the case, then, yes I would agree that they supported Satan-worship under freedom of religion. That would have been big of them.

Sorry, without a quote of some sort, I just don't agree with your argument. I think you stretch their context to fit your political view.

But that's not a biggie for me since I'm used to seeing that everywhere I turn.

Michael

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I'm not spinning anything. The Anti-Christ was regarded as Satan himself by some Protestants.

George,

You mean Jefferson et al are the protestants you are talking about, the ones who considered the Pope as the Anti-Christ?

It that were the case, then, yes I would agree that they supported Satan-worship under freedom of religion. That would have been big of them.

Sorry, without a quote of some sort, I just don't agree with your argument. I think you stretch their context to fit your political view.

But that's not a biggie for me since I'm used to seeing that everywhere I turn.

Michael

You made the assertion, so it is your responsibility to provide some evidence for that claim. We haven't seen anything so far, except your speculation.

Of course Jefferson was not among those who regarded the pope as the Anti-Christ. So what is your point?

And what point am I supposedly stretching to fit my political views? Which among my political views are relevant, in this matter? Have you ever actually read any of my lengthy and heavily documented discussions of religious freedom and related matters? If you had, you would know that I go out of my way to criticize historical figures I agree with in most respects.

We been through this before, and you insulted me before in much the same manner that you have now. Keep in up and we will have a problem, as we had before. If you want to defend a point, then present some facts and a reasonable interpretation of those facts. So far you have presented no facts at all -- not a single passage from Madison or Jefferson that would suggest that Satan-worshipers would not be included in their unqualified defenses of religious freedom. Such defenses stood in stark contrast to earlier calls for toleration, in which exceptions (such as atheists and Catholics) were explicitly mentioned.

Consider these passages by Madison (my italics).

[W]e hold it for a fundamental and undeniable truth, that Religion or the duty which we owe to our Creator and the manner of discharging it, can be directly only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence. The Religion then of every man must be left to the conviction and conscience of every man; and it is the right of every man to exercise it as they may dictate. This right is in its nature an unalienable right. It is unalienable, because the opinions of men, depending only on the evidence contemplated by their own minds cannot follow the dictates of other men. It is unalienable also, because what is here a right towards men, is a duty towards the Creator. It is the duty of every man to render to the Creator such homage and such only as he believes to be acceptable to him.

...If “all men are by nature equally free and independent,” all men are to be considered as entering into society on equal conditions; as relinquishing no more, and therefore retaining no less, one than another, of their natural rights. Above all are they to be considered as retaining an “equal” title to the free exercise of religion according to the dictates of conscience.” Whilst we assert for ourselves a freedom to embrace, to profess and to observe the religion which we believe to be of divine origin, we cannot deny an equal freedom to those whose minds have no yet yielded to the evidence which has convinced us. If this freedom be abused, it is an offense against God, not against man. To God, therefore, not to man, must an account of it be rendered.

And here is Jefferson:

The error seems not sufficiently eradicated, that the operations of the mind, as well as the acts of the body, are subject to the coercion of the laws. But our rulers can have authority over such natural rights, only as we have submitted to them. The rights of conscience we never submitted, we could not submit. We are answerable for them to our God. The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg. If it be said his testimony in a court of justice cannot be relied on, reject it then, and be the stigma on him. Constraint may make him worse by making him a hypocrite, but it will never make him a truer man. It may fix him obstinately in his errors, but will not cure them. Reason and free inquiry are the only effectual agents against error. Give a loose to them, they will support the true religion by bringing every false one to their tribunal, to the test of their investigation. They are the natural enemies of error, and of error only. Had not the Roman government permitted free inquiry, christianity could never have been introduced. Had not free inquiry been indulged, at the æra of the reformation, the corruptions of christianity could not have been purged away. If it be restrained now, the present corruptions will be protected, and new ones encouraged. Was the government to prescribe to us our medicine and diet, our bodies would be in such keeping as our souls are now. Thus in France the emetic was once forbidden as a medicine, and the potatoe as an article of food.1 Government is just as infallible, too, when it fixes systems in physics. Galileo was sent to the inquisition for affirming that the earth was a sphere; the government had declared it to be as flat as a trencher, and Galileo was obliged to abjure his error. This error however at length prevailed, the earth became a globe, and Descartes declared it was whirled round its axis by a vortex. The government in which he lived was wise enough to see that this was no question of civil jurisdiction, or we should all have been involved by authority in vortices. In fact the vortices have been exploded, and the Newtonian principles of gravitation is now more firmly established, on the basis of reason, than it would be were the government to step in and to make it an article of necessary faith. Reason and experiment have been indulged, and error has fled before them. It is error alone which needs the support of government. Truth can stand by itself. Subject opinion to coercion: whom will you make your inquisitors? Fallible men; men governed by bad passions, by private as well as public reasons. And why subject it to coercion? To produce uniformity. But is uniformity of opinion desireable? No more than of face and stature. Introduce the bed of Procrustes then, and as there is danger that the large men may beat the small, make us all of a size, by lopping the former and stretching the latter. Difference of opinion is advantageous in religion. The several sects perform the office of a Censor morum over each other. Is uniformity attainable? Millions of innocent men, women and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined, imprisoned: yet we have not advanced one inch towards uniformity. What has been the effect of coercion? To make one half the world fools, and the other half hypocrites. To support roguery and error all over the earth. Let us reflect that it is inhabited by a thousand millions of people. That these profess probably a thousand different systems of religion. That ours is but one of that thousand. That if there be but one right, and ours that one, we should wish to see the 999 wandering sects gathered into the fold of truth. But against such a majority we cannot effect this by force. Reason and persuasion are the only practicable instruments.

So how on God's Green Earth do you find an exception for Satan worship in these passages?

Ghs

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My paternal grandfather was an elder-preacher in the Seventh Day Adventist Church. He thought the Pope was the Anti-Christ, according to my father. My father as a boy used to have terrible arguments with him about theology, winning them of course. He went to the Library of Congress and found out that Sister White was a plagiarist and that her writings had been toned down by the Church. This all would have been like 85 years ago. It's hard to believe that my grandfather, born in Russia in 1871, voted for Grover Cleveland for President and his first two children, baby boys, were killed in a streetcar accident in Defiance, Ohio 110 years ago. His last surviving son will be 94 in April, if he makes it.

--Brant

I'm only 27, which is really unbelievable

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Reference 3: "And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor." .

A minor but mildly interesting point: The reference to divine providence was not written by Jefferson. It was added by Congress after Jefferson submitted his draft. That draft simply read: "And for the support of this declaration, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor."

Excellent article. My only disagreements of any substance relate to your discussion of natural law. I may comment on this later, when I get the time.

Ghs

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My paternal grandfather was an elder-preacher in the Seventh Day Adventist Church. He thought the Pope was the Anti-Christ, according to my father. My father as a boy used to have terrible arguments with him about theology, winning them of course. He went to the Library of Congress and found out that Sister White was a plagiarist and that her writings had been toned down by the Church. This all would have been like 85 years ago. It's hard to believe that my grandfather, born in Russia in 1871, voted for Grover Cleveland for President and his first two children, baby boys, were killed in a streetcar accident in Defiance, Ohio 110 years ago. His last surviving son will be 94 in April, if he makes it.

--Brant

I'm only 27, which is really unbelievable

And he just made it being 22 for his second term, 1893-1897!

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Excellent article. My only disagreements of any substance relate to your discussion of natural law. I may comment on this later, when I get the time.

My sincere thanks. I'd appreciate getting your feedback.

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George,

I'm sorry you feel that disagreeing with your manner of presentation is insulting to you and gets your macho juices flowing.

But I'm not backing down.

First point. In the Madison quote you presented, maybe you missed the words "our Creator" written several times. Where in any part of history, especially back during Madison's time, was Satan considered as "our Creator"?

I missed that in my studies. Maybe you can present about 20 kilos of books that will explain it. Just one instance will do.

The second point is that I have not advanced the argument that the Founders were promoting the use of force against Satanism or witchcraft, yet you are spinning me as if I am going in that direction.

Not gonna happen because I don't hold that view.

If you want to push and try to make that strawman, go right ahead. You're going to have to do that on your own, though. You are not going to get my help. I know exactly what I think and the limitations of my knowledge much better than you do and your words will not convince me otherwise, nor make me defend things I do not hold.

What I am saying--and this is my intent--is that I don't believe the Founding Fathers magically divorced their minds from their culture when they sat down to write about freedom, religion and so forth. When I said, "I have a great deal of difficulty believing that witchcraft and Satanism were what the Founding Fathers had in mind" when they were drawing up their ideas, I was talking about a frame of mind.

And this is how I understand the concept of the USA as a Christian nation when the discussion comes up. (I am quite aware that others have a theocratic intent and I am an enemy of that view.)

It's silly to me (so far as I have read, at least) to imagine the Founders were defending the right of the USA to potentially become a society devoted to Satanism (due to great missionary work or whatever), with sporadic small pockets of religions devoted to "our Creator" existing within that culture. That is a theoretical possibility, right? But I don't believe they would have even bothered--and I fully believe their enthusiasm would have been shot to hell--had they considered that frame of reference having a chance of becoming a reality.

Their frame of reference was Christianity as the predominant culture and all other religions as getting protection within a predominantly Christian society. And from that frame, they discussed and focused on individual rights.

(I also believe their focus on reason moved their concepts of rights and so on away from Christianity and religion in general, and I believe that is a good thing, but that's not the point I was discussing. My point is against demonizing religion and demonizing atheism and demonizing anything by clouding the facts that do not support the demonizing with selective omissions and cherry-picking, by intimidating people into suspending their own reason when they look at history in order to avoid a whole lot of unpleasantness, or by tricking them with biased interpretations. And I will not back down from that view before anyone if they can't convince me with facts and good logic.)

Even in the Jefferson quote you presented, I see him defending progress, defending religious changes that challenge the evils of the entrenched culture, not defending the inalienable right to replace a good culture with an evil corrupt one. I don't think that was what he was fighting for at all. I believe, to the extent he discussed cultural change due to religion in the quote you gave, he was defending a march toward better understanding and practice of the good and away from "corruptions," not the inalienable right to worship outright evil.

btw - Here is another quote from that same work (Notes on the State of Virginia) when he was reflecting on slavery:

Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just: that his justice cannot sleep for ever...

That does not sound to me like a person who is fighting for the right of people to establish Satan worship--the worship of evil. And it does not sound to me like a person casually using the word "God" as a figure of speech.

If that insults you, so be it.

I will not bear false witness to my own eyes and my own mind.

Michael

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George, I'm sorry you feel that disagreeing with your manner of presentation is insulting to you and gets your macho juices flowing. But I'm not backing down. First point. In the Madison quote you presented, maybe you missed the words "our Creator" written several times. Where in any part of history, especially back during Madison's time, was Satan considered as "our Creator"? I missed that in my studies. Maybe you can present about 20 kilos of books that will explain it. Just one instance will do. The second point is that I have not advanced the argument that the Founders were promoting the use of force against Satanism or witchcraft, yet you are spinning me as if I am going in that direction. Not gonna happen because I don't hold that view. If you want to push and try to make that strawman, go right ahead. You're going to have to do that on your own, though. You are not going to get my help. I know exactly what I think and the limitations of my knowledge much better than you do and your words will not convince me otherwise, nor make me defend things I do not hold. What I am saying--and this is my intent--is that I don't believe the Founding Fathers magically divorced their minds from their culture when they sat down to write about freedom, religion and so forth. When I said, "I have a great deal of difficulty believing that witchcraft and Satanism were what the Founding Fathers had in mind" when they were drawing up their ideas, I was talking about a frame of mind. And this is how I understand the concept of the USA as a Christian nation when the discussion comes up. (I am quite aware that others have a theocratic intent and I am an enemy of that view.) It's silly to me (so far as I have read, at least) to imagine the Founders were defending the right of the USA to potentially become a society devoted to Satanism (due to great missionary work or whatever), with sporadic small pockets of religions devoted to "our Creator" existing within that culture. That is a theoretical possibility, right? But I don't believe they would have even bothered--and I fully believe their enthusiasm would have been shot to hell--had they considered that frame of reference having a chance of becoming a reality. Their frame of reference was Christianity as the predominant culture and all other religions as getting protection within a predominantly Christian society. And from that frame, they discussed and focused on individual rights. (I also believe their focus on reason moved their concepts of rights and so on away from Christianity and religion in general, and I believe that is a good thing, but that's not the point I was discussing. My point is against demonizing religion and demonizing atheism and demonizing anything by clouding the facts that do not support the demonizing with selective omissions and cherry-picking, by intimidating people into suspending their own reason when they look at history in order to avoid a whole lot of unpleasantness, or by tricking them with biased interpretations. And I will not back down from that view before anyone if they can't convince me with facts and good logic.) Even in the Jefferson quote you presented, I see him defending progress, defending religious changes that challenge the evils of the entrenched culture, not defending the inalienable right to replace a good culture with an evil corrupt one. I don't think that was what he was fighting for at all. I believe, to the extent he discussed cultural change due to religion in the quote you gave, he was defending a march toward better understanding and practice of the good and away from "corruptions," not the inalienable right to worship outright evil. btw - Here is another quote from that same work (Notes on the State of Virginia) when he was reflecting on slavery:
Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just: that his justice cannot sleep for ever...
That does not sound to me like a person who is fighting for the right of people to establish Satan worship--the worship of evil. And it does not sound to me like a person casually using the word "God" as a figure of speech. If that insults you, so be it. I will not bear false witness to my own eyes and my own mind. Michael

For decades I have made much of my living as a professional historian. To suggest that I am stretching (i.e., distorting) history to fit my political beliefs is to question my professional ethics. So how about if I question your professional ethics? Is that okay with you? Or will this get your macho juices flowing?

You have completely misunderstood the Madison quotation, and I don't have the patience to explain it to you.

The remainder of your comments are irrelevant to the point at hand. Would Jefferson have approved of a Satanic cult? Of course not. But unlike you, apparently, he understood the difference between disapproving of something, and even crusading against it, and using the power of government to suppress it.

You say that you "see" Jefferson as defending progress. In fact, Jefferson was defending freedom of religion for everyone, so long as they do not violate rights of other people. He makes no exceptions whatsoever, he never so much as hinted at possible exceptions, and the logic of his position admits of no exceptions. And, like many Radical Whigs of his day, Jefferson believed that such freedom is a necessary precondition for the progress of knowledge.

In no way did Jefferson conceive of America as a Christian nation. He conceived of it as a free nation that had been influenced by Christianity, for both good and ill.

Did Jefferson, Madison, et al., specifically have Satanism in mind when they argued for religious freedom? No, of course not, just as they didn't have a host of other religious beliefs in mind. Nor did they have the Internet in mind when they framed their arguments for free speech. But they framed general principles that covered all such contingencies and future developments.

I never said or suggested that Jefferson used "God" as a figure of speech. He believed in God.

The quote about slavery has nothing to do with this issue. It deals with the use of coecion. Leaving people free to worship as they like does not.

Ghs

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He conceived of it as a free nation that had been influenced by Christianity, for both good and ill.

George

That is precisely the meaning of "Christian nation" many people hold--not just me. When someone says the USA was founded as a "Christian nation," that is exactly what they have in mind. (Maybe they would replace "influenced by Christianity" with "greatly influenced by Christianity"--I know I would.) They do not have in mind a true theocracy like Iran.

And, from the way I see people who promote the idea that the Founders were not Christian but instead Deists as an either-or option in a false dichotomy (including some of your comments on this thread), that meaning of "Christian nation" is the meaning you obscure.

You cannot defeat an idea like theocracy by trying to deny an idea exists in wording you don't approve of--and only exists outside of that wording.

Isn't it a far better path to simply say the phrase has two meanings, and clarify which one you are talking about? I know that doesn't serve an agenda, but it does a hell of a lot of good for clarity.

btw - I most definitely did not misunderstand the Madison quote. Phrases like "Religion or the duty which we owe to our Creator and the manner of discharging it..." are pretty straightforward. "Our Creator" is a fundamental concept to him when thinking about religion. He even says here we have duties to "our Creator."

Where is my understanding wrong?

Ah... You want me to advocate government intervention... right? I already told you that ain't gonna happen. I'm sticking to what I meant, not what you want me to mean.

And my meaning says "our Creator" is not Satan in Madison's mind. I don't see how it can be argued that it was or ever could be. So when he talked about religion, he was not discussing Satan-worship.

The quote about slavery has nothing to do with this issue. It deals with the use of coecion. Leaving people free to worship as they like does not.

Say what?

Freedom does not deal with the use of coercion?

To me, that's practically all it deals with, only from the end of limiting the use of it.

Michael

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He conceived of it as a free nation that had been influenced by Christianity, for both good and ill.

George

That is precisely the meaning of "Christian nation" many people hold--not just me. When someone says the USA was founded as a "Christian nation," that is exactly what they have in mind. (Maybe they would replace "influenced by Christianity" with "greatly influenced by Christianity"--I know I would.) They do not have in mind a true theocracy like Iran.

And, from the way I see people who promote the idea that the Founders were not Christian but instead Deists as an either-or option in a false dichotomy (including some of your comments on this thread), that meaning of "Christian nation" is the meaning you obscure.

You cannot defeat an idea like theocracy by trying to deny an idea exists in wording you don't approve of--and only exists outside of that wording.

Isn't it a far better path to simply say the phrase has two meanings, and clarify which one you are talking about? I know that doesn't serve an agenda, but it does a hell of a lot of good for clarity.

btw - I most definitely did not misunderstand the Madison quote. Phrases like "Religion or the duty which we owe to our Creator and the manner of discharging it..." are pretty straightforward. "Our Creator" is a fundamental concept to him when thinking about religion. He even says here we have duties to "our Creator."

Where is my understanding wrong?

Ah... You want me to advocate government intervention... right? I already told you that ain't gonna happen. I'm sticking to what I meant, not what you want me to mean.

And my meaning says "our Creator" is not Satan in Madison's mind. I don't see how it can be argued that it was or ever could be. So when he talked about religion, he was not discussing Satan-worship.

The quote about slavery has nothing to do with this issue. It deals with the use of coecion. Leaving people free to worship as they like does not.

Say what?

Freedom does not deal with the use of coercion?

To me, that's practically all it deals with, only from the end of limiting the use of it.

Michael

I give up.

Ghs

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Ghs wrote:

And if I use BC (Before Christ) rather than BCE (Before Common Era), this certainly doesn't mean I am a Christian.

end quote

BP, “Before the Present” is the most logical and neutral. I keep hoping that will catch on. I have seen it in a few Scientific Journals. It in no way relates to or lessens a religion and is my favorite way to gauge long stretches of time.

Peter Taylor

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George,

I want to apologize.

I had a very bad day yesterday.

Substantially I stand by what I wrote, but I did a very poor job of explaining what I meant.

I, also, took the discussion to places it should not have gone.

That's not your fault. That's mine.

Michael

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