October 23, 2006

One of the Reasons I've Determined to Bone Up on History

Justin Katz

Discussions about history that occur within the context of modern ideological debates are difficult the keep under intellectual control. With such a vast body of knowledge, factoids can contradict each other. But it is gratifying to find that one's general sense of things is not without basis.

On the matter of the United States' Christian heritage, I recommend Christopher Levenick and Michael Novak's summary of some rebuttals and arguments on the "yes, Christian" side. I also found this tidbit, related by Matthew Franck, to be interesting, as well as relevant to some recent debate here on Anchor Rising:

...after the death of his son Philip in a duel, Hamilton’s devotion revived. As Forrest McDonald writes in his 1979 biography: “His youthful faith had never entirely departed him, and the overt atheism of the French Revolution had rekindled his sense of the importance of religion. Now, in the wake of Philip’s death, he became as devout as he had been as a protégé of the Reverend Hugh Knox. In the spring of 1802 he went so far as to propose the formation of a political party to be known as the Christian Constitutional Society.”
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One of the reasons I decided to get an MA in History was because I wanted to be better prepared on the ideological battleground. What I ended up discovering is that there is usually historical evidence that supports both sides of many a contemporary political argument! What is certainly true, however, is that a general sense of the the way things were can be determined, and the case of the "Godless Constitution" is an example of overstatement if ever there was one. Incidentally, I tackled one of the points brought up by the same article that Novak and Levenick deal with here. In short, a pretty thorough investigation revealed that the author's point wasn't so cut and dried, which is usually the case in history.

Posted by: Marc Comtois at October 24, 2006 9:01 AM

Yes, please do. That is one of the failings I find with the writers at this site: too much reliance on theory, not enough knowledge of real history.

Just realize that of the four citations of "God" mentioned on the link, three of them are not at all specifically Christian. I hope you read something that tells you that many of the Founders, as products of Enlightenment thought, had decidedly deist leanings. As such, calling them "Christian" may not be exactly accurate.

Think more along the lines of Unitarian Universalists.

If that's the case, what does that do to your position?

Secondly, even if they were Christian, they also believed in slavery. So, by going back to "originalism" (or whatever you call it), where do you draw the line?

Posted by: klaus at October 24, 2006 7:44 PM

Let's not pretend that "Deist" is really just a codeword for "atheist." Of particular interest, on this count, in the linked article is: "Incidentally, a God who personally intervenes in the course of human affairs is not consistent with the Deist account of God."

And anyway, what are "deist leanings"? Sounds like an attempt to minimize the Christianity on which the feet of the leaners was planted.

If that's the case, what does that do to your position?

What "position"? I was merely noting some interesting things that I'd read. With my various views, I don't rely particularly on "our Christian heritage" arguments, except perhaps to note secularist anachronisms.

even if they were Christian, they also believed in slavery. So, by going back to "originalism" (or whatever you call it), where do you draw the line?

I'm not sure what you're implying that I'm obligated to believe (or even just defend). Again, it seems as if you're insisting that I'm doing more with this post than I am. At any rate, the Founders were also products of the Enlightenment; how does the existence of slavery bear there?

That is one of the failings I find with the writers at this site: too much reliance on theory, not enough knowledge of real history.

Well, if our failings ever become too much to bear, feel free to go elsewhere. Another of my "failings" is that I don't take kindly to condescension. The gall of anonymous commenters is sometimes a bit much to take.

Posted by: Justin Katz at October 24, 2006 8:43 PM

OK, fair enough. It appears I read into your post some positions taken by other authors at the site, as well as positions taken in the link provided. Since you gave the link, I drew an inference that you tended to agree with what's his name at the corner.

First, "deist" is not a code word for "atheist." However, it is very, very different from "Christian" as well. Just because the Founders were religious shouldn't be taken as a blanket proof that they were Christians, especially with the connotations of today. That is an argument I've had several times with your colleagues. If you don't subscribe, then we're closer to agreement than I may have believed.

And the same with slavery. One of the big, big problems I have with "originalism" is that it's very selective in what they want to restore. Again, if you don't subscribe, all the better.

However, my contention about the lack of historical knowledge exhibited here stands. That statement is based on empirical observation, and I make it often. If you find that condescending, that's your issue and not mine.

Posted by: klaus at October 25, 2006 7:11 PM

I found this link about Deism, Christianity and the Founding Fathers to be concise and interesting... http://www.gracecathedral.org/enrichment/interviews/int_20060711.shtml

Posted by: bren at October 25, 2006 8:52 PM

It seems that the "deist" vs "atheist" vs "Christian" "beliefs" of the founding fathers are extremely distorted on both sides.

The founding father personal religious beliefs really have no baring on their belief for religion in government.

The bottom line is that neither the Constitution nor the Bill of Rights mentions God nor implies a place for such a being in the federal government. Further more the Bill of Rights explicitly prevents congress from using federal funds to "respect an establishment of religion". (All this talk about "the sanctity of marriage" - well given that marriage is a religious establishment, I'm surprised there can be any governmental acknowledgment of marriage at all - much less "gay" marriage)

On the flip side calling the founding fathers "less than Christian" is insincere. These men were certainly more Christian than any "Christian" politician we have today. You would never have seen our founding fathers using his religious belief to justify the kind of rancid remarks that come from the distorted hi-jacked Christianity of the far right today.


Posted by: ChronoFish at October 26, 2006 11:47 PM