Monday, August 31, 2015

King James Bible Eliminates Tyrants and Tyranny

The early Pilgrims, Puritans, and Scottish Presbyterians are widely reported to have brought the Geneva Bible to America for their personal reading. (The King James Bible, first published in 1611, did not become the consensus bible until nearly a century later.)
The Washington D.C. Capitol Rotunda gives an illustrated example for the Pilgrims as shown here:
The Embarkation of the Pilgrims painting was commissioned in 1836 by the US Gov’t for the Capitol Rotunda. (Note the open Geneva Bible in the hands of John Robinson.)
There are a number of references saying that John Adams and Benjamin Franklin read the Geneva Bible.  Apparently,  Franklin was sufficiently impressed with the illustration on the frontispiece of the Geneva Bible to use it as the theme for his proposal of the First Great Seal.  

Geneva Bible Frontispiece is shown here:

In contrast to the restrained message of Exodus 14:14, the motto on Franklin’s Great Seal went one step further by inscribing it with "Rebellion to Tyrants is Obedience to God."  

The King James Bible was not meant to endorse Franklin’s chosen motto. Quite to the contrary, the underlying purpose for publishing the KJB was to supplant the Geneva Bible, and reinforce the edict that the divine right of kings as being sacrosanct. Just consider, for example, the King James Bible "translation" eliminated every occurrence of the words, “tyrant” and “tyranny,” whereas the Geneva Bible has 400 occurrences for both tyrant and tyranny.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Swedenborgs' Address to George Washington

I've written many times before on George Washington's classic address to the Swedenborgs where he lets them know whatever rights the federal Constitution grants to "religion" they are equally entitled to such.

But it's worth focusing on their address to him. Religious leaders constantly corresponded with Washington, praising him, seemingly both to try to smell him out and proselytize to him. Washington invariably responded with generic, inclusive head nodding language that affirmed his belief in a monotheistic Providence (as he does here).

They wrote:
An Address from the New Church at Baltimore, To George Washington, Esquire
While the Nations of the Earth, and the people of United America especially, have in their various denominations paid their tribute to the respectful deference to the illustrious President thereof, permit, for a Society however small in number, yet sincere they trust, in their attachment to offer up in the dawn of their institution, that mark of dutiful esteem which will become the new associations, to the Chief Magistrate of America.
We presume not, Sir, to enter into a reiterated panegyric of matchless virtues or exalted character, but assuming causes with effects, we are led to believe that you were a chosen vessel for great Salutary purposes, and that both in your actions and in your conduct, you justly stand one of the first disinterested and exemplary men upon earth. Neither in this address can we, was it expected, enter into a detail of the profession of our faith; but we are free to declare that we feel ourselves among the number of those who have occasion to rejoice that the word literally is spiritually fulfilling; that a new and glorious dispensation or fresh manifestation of Divine Love hath commenced in our Land; when as there is but one Lord, so is his name becoming one throughout the earth; & that the power of Light or truth and righteousness is in an eminent Degree, universally prevailing, and even triumphing over the powers of Darkness; when Priestcraft & Kingcraft, those banes of human felicity, are hiding their diminished heads, and equality in State, as well as in Church, proportionally to mind, are considered the true criterion of the majesty of the people. -- Oh! Sir, could we, without being charged with adulation, pour out the fullness of our souls to the enlightened conduct of him who stands chief among the foremost of men, what a volume of truth might we deservedly offer to the name of Washington, on the altar of Liberty uncircumscribed! Allow us, by the first opportunity, to present to your Excellency, among other Tracts, the Compendium of the New Church, signified by the New Jerusalem, as the readiest mean to furnish you with a just idea of the Heavenly Doctrines.
That the Lord Jesus, whom alone we acknowledge as "the true God & eternal Life," will preserve you long to reign in the hearts of the people, and lastly to shine as a gem of the brightest lustre, a Star of the first magnitude of the unfading mansions above, is the fervent aspiration of your faithful citizens and affectionate Brethren. Done in behalf of the members of the Lord's New Church at Baltimore, this 22d Day of January 1793 -- 37.
W.J. Didier
Secy. Protem
While they could not "enter into a detail of the profession of [their] faith," they still did proselytize for their unorthodox understanding of the Christian faith. They were modalists, believing the Father, Son & Holy Spirit were One Person, not Three Persons. While most modalists believe the three names are just three different titles or "modes" of One God, the Swedenborgs believed that One Person was Jesus Christ. (That Jesus wasn't just the "mode" of the Son; He was the "mode" of all three). 

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Julie Ingersoll's New Book

John Fea has the information here. It's noteworthy in that it's being published by Oxford University Press. A taste:
David Barton is also the popularizer of a revisionist history of race in America that has become part of the Tea Party narrative. Drawn in part from the writings of Christian Reconstructionists, that narrative recasts modern-day Republicans as the racially inclusive party, and modern-day Democrats as the racists supportive of slavery and postemancipation racist policies. Barton’s website has included a “Black History” section for some time. Like Barton’s larger revisionist effort to develop and perpetuate the narrative that America is a Christian nation, the “Republicans-are-really-the-party-of-racial-equality” narrative is not entirely fictive. Some historical points Barton makes are true; but he and his biggest promoter, Glenn Beck, manipulate those points, remove all historical context, and add patently false historical claims in order to promote their political agenda. Barton appeared regularly on Beck’s show to disseminate his alternative reading of African American history, carrying with him, as he does, what he claims are original documents and artifacts that he flashes around for credibility.
(Those are Ingersoll's words, not Fea's.)

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Another Conservative Christian Nation Wacko

"I don't think we put enough stress on the necessity of implanting in the child's mind the moral code under which we live.

The fundamental basis of this Nation's law was given to Moses on the Mount. The fundamental basis of our Bill of Rights comes from the teachings which we get from Exodus and St. Matthew, from Isaiah and St. Paul. I don't think we emphasize that enough these days.

If we don't have the proper fundamental moral background, we will finally wind up with a totalitarian government which does not believe in rights for anybody except the state."

OK, OK, you're waiting for the other shoe to drop.

The answer is

[scroll down]

Harry S Truman
Address Before the Attorney General's Conference on Law Enforcement Problems
February 15, 1950

Mind you, I don't necessarily agree with all this, um, chapter and verse as it were, but I think it provides a interesting perspective in the current historiographical crisis.

[HT: WorldTribune-Editor.]

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Two From Robert Tracy McKenzie on the Founders & Religion

"Wheaton University Professor McKenzie is Chairman of the History Department." Here is the first entitled "The Contradictions Of A Secular University: Another Jefferson Legacy." And the second entitled "WERE THE FOUNDING FATHERS CHRISTIAN?" A pull quote from the first:
Jefferson’s approach to moral values differed in the details but was similar at the bottom line. Jefferson’s starting point was what historian Gregg Frazer labels theistic rationalism. Frazer means that Jefferson was willing to concede the existence of God on logical grounds, but reason was always in the driver’s seat when it came to determining his religious beliefs. He rejected as irrational almost all of the fundamental tenets of orthodox Christianity (as outlined in the Apostles’ Creed, for example), was skeptical of the concept of special revelation, and insisted repeatedly that reason was the only reliable guide to virtue.
And the second:
... If we were to imagine a continuum of religious belief, theistic rationalism would fall somewhere between orthodox Christianity (defined by historic confessions such as the Apostles’ or Nicene creeds) and Deism.
The latter is a slippery concept. Deism in the late-eighteenth century was not embodied in a formal denomination. It had no official creed or confession, and I’ve come across a range of definitions of it in my reading. I can’t say that Frazer’s understanding of Deism is the right one, but I do applaud him for offering a precise definition up front. Deism, as Frazer defines it, has two distinguishing characteristics: The first is the belief in an absent God, a Deity who takes no active role in his creation. There is no logical reason to pray to such a God or to expect this watchmaker Creator to intervene in human affairs. The second distinguishing feature, which follows logically from the first, is the rejection of the very possibility of what theologians call “special” (as opposed to “general”) revelation. The God of Deism does not speak to humankind except through the order inherent in the natural world.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

To bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance

On Monday’s date 225 years ago, there took place one of those singular moments in history when a moving event during the American Founding intersected with a cherished moment in the story of Freemasonry. On August 17, 1790, President George Washington visited Newport, Rhode Island during a nationwide public relations tour of the new country to confirm the bonds among the newly united states, and to show off its first president who, for all his exploits as commanding general during the Revolution, really had not seen most of the country.

The visit is memorialized in ways that include two exchanges of letters with Washington. The first was between the small congregation of Jewish residents of Newport; the second was between the Freemasons of the town. Both pairs of letters communicated messages of good will and brotherhood, and both would be remembered by posterity for their significance to the new nation’s fledgling commitment to guaranteeing religious liberty.

Mr. Moses Seixas, one of the leaders of the synagogue, representing approximately 300 Jews in Newport, writes:


Permit the children of the stock of Abraham to approach you with the most cordial affection and esteem for your person and merits, and to join with our fellow citizens in welcoming you to NewPort.

With pleasure we reflect on those days—those days of difficulty, and danger, when the God of Israel, who delivered David from the peril of the sword—shielded Your head in the day of battle, and we rejoice to think, that the same Spirit, who rested in the Bosom of the greatly beloved Daniel enabling him to preside over the Provinces of the Babylonish Empire, rests and ever will rest, upon you, enabling you to discharge the arduous duties of Chief Magistrate in these States.

Courtesy Library of Congress
Deprived as we heretofore have been of the invaluable rights of free Citizens, we now with a deep sense of gratitude to the Almighty disposer of all events behold a Government, erected by the Majesty of the People—a Government, which to bigotry gives no sanction, to persecution no assistance, but generously affording to all Liberty of conscience, and immunities of Citizenship—deeming every one, of whatever Nation, tongue, or language equal parts of the great governmental Machine. This so ample and extensive Federal Union whose basis is Philanthropy, Mutual confidence and Public Virtue, we cannot but acknowledge to be the work of the Great God, who ruleth in the Armies of Heaven, and among the Inhabitants of the Earth, doing whatever seemeth him good.

For all these Blessings of civil and religious liberty which we enjoy under an equal benign administration, we desire to send up our thanks to the Ancient of Days, the great preserver of Men, beseeching him, that the Angel who conducted our forefathers through the wilderness into the promised Land, may graciously conduct you through all the difficulties and dangers of this mortal life. And, when, like Joshua full of days and full of honour, you are gathered to your Fathers, may you be admitted into the Heavenly Paradise to partake of the water of life, and the tree of immortality.

Done and Signed by order of the Hebrew Congregation in NewPort, Rhode Island,
August 17th 1790.
Moses Seixas, Warden

President Washington replies:


While I receive, with much satisfaction, your Address replete with expressions of affection and esteem; I rejoice in the opportunity of assuring you, that I shall always retain a grateful remembrance of the cordial welcome I experienced in my visit to Newport, from all classes of Citizens.

The reflection on the days of difficulty and danger which are past is rendered the more sweet, from a consciousness that they are succeeded by days of uncommon prosperity and security. If we have wisdom to make the best use of the advantages with which we are now favored, we cannot fail, under the just administration of a good Government, to become a great and happy people.

The Citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for having given to mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy: a policy worthy of imitation. All possess a like liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship. It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people, that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights. For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.

It would be inconsistent with the frankness of my character not to avow that I am pleased with your favorable opinion of my Administration, and fervent wishes for my felicity. May the children of the Stock of Abraham, who dwell in this land, continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other Inhabitants; while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and figtree, and there shall be none to make him afraid.

May the father of all mercies scatter light and not darkness in our paths, and make us all in our several vocations useful here, and in his own due time and way everlastingly happy.

G. Washington

It is “to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance” that is most remembered from these letters, partially because it is communicated by both writers, but I think mostly because it powerfully summarizes what is at stake. The Jews of Newport were denied citizenship. The First Amendment’s protection of religious liberty still was in its embryonic stage in the summer of 1790, as the Bill of Rights would not be ratified for another sixteen months. But what is more significant to me is what Washington writes additionally: “It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people, that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights.” Again, before the ratification of the Bill of Rights, the first president assures a tiny and disenfranchised religious minority that the right of conscience is not a political option to be elected or rejected by a majority, but is part of what makes the new United States distinct among nations. And I believe there is within it an echo of the first Masonic grand lodges book of jurisprudence—Anderson’s Constitutions of 1723—that enjoins Freemasons from concerning themselves with each others’ religious convictions, instead urging all Masons to build on the common ground of a shared faith in deity, regardless of how various specific theologies can differ beyond that primary spark of belief.

(Thomas Jefferson’s letter of January 1, 1802 to the Danbury Baptist Association in Connecticut arguably is the more famous presidential assurance to a religious congregation of their right to worship. It is here that Jefferson writes of “building a wall of separation between Church and State”—an idea that goes beyond the First Amendment’s prohibitions of a U.S. government-founded church and government interference with religious practices, and that colors many citizens’ understanding of religious freedom to this day.)

Returning to Freemasonry, it was on August 17, 1790 that King David’s Lodge—originally a lodge of Jewish Masons founded in New York City on February 17, 1769—sent a welcoming note to President Washington, the fraternity’s most famous and beloved brother. Moses Seixas, Warden of the Hebrew Congregation in NewPort, was Worshipful Master of King David’s Lodge also, and it is he from whom we hear again:

We the Master, Wardens, and Brethren, of King David’s Lodge, in Newport, Rhode Island with Joyful hearts embrace this Opportunity, to greet you as a Brother and to hail you welcome to Rhode Island. We exult in the thought that as Masonry has always been patronised by the wise, the good, and the great; so hath it stood and ever will stand as its fixtures are on the immutable pillars of faith, hope, and Charity.

With unspeakable pleasure we Gratulate you as filling the Presidential Chair with the applause of a numerous and enlightened people, whilst, at the same time, we felicitate ourselves in the honour done the Brotherhood by your many exemplary Virtues and emanations of Goodness proceeding from a heart worthy of possessing the Antient Mysteries of our craft; being persuaded that the wisdom and Grace with which heaven has endowed you, will ever square all your thoughts, words, and actions by the eternal Laws of honour, equity, and truth, so as to promote the advancement of all good works; your own happiness, and that of mankind.

Permit us then Illustrious Brother cordially to Salute you with Three times Three and to add your fervent supplications that the Sovereign Architect of the Universe may always encompass you with his holy protection.

Mentions of Masonic thought and practice abound in this brief note, which should surprise no one, but what catches my eye is the writer’s seamless blending of Masonic phrasing with concern for civic integrity. Washington was not the president of Freemasonry; he was chief executive of the new federal government. (An attempt years earlier to elect him Grand Master of Masons for the entire country was unsuccessful, Masonic governance thought best to be kept local, not unlike the Federal system of civil government formed later by the U.S. Constitution.) Again:

Virtues and emanations of Goodness proceeding from a heart worthy of possessing the Antient Mysteries of our craft; being persuaded that the wisdom and Grace with which heaven has endowed you, will ever square all your thoughts, words, and actions by the eternal Laws of honour, equity, and truth, so as to promote the advancement of all good works; your own happiness, and that of mankind.

Reading this in 2015, the heart pines.

The Masonic Brother’s reply to the lodge bears the same date, suggesting the two notes were delivered by messenger:


I receive the welcome which you give me to Rhode-Island with pleasure—and I acknowledge my obligations for the flattering expressions of regard contained in your address with grateful sincerity.

Being persuaded that a just application of the principles, on which the masonic fraternity is founded, must be promotive of private virtue and public prosperity, I shall always be happy to advance the interests of the Society, and to be considered by them a deserving Brother.

My best wishes, Gentlemen, are offered for your individual happiness.

Go. Washington

Thursday, August 13, 2015

RIP Paul Sigmund

A good man gone. I can't say "too soon" because, at 85, he lived a long life. But he will be missed by many.

I'm embarrassed to say that he passed last April (2014) and I just took note of it.

One of the things I like to do with my free time is attend open to the public lectures at Princeton. Even though I disagree with Robert P. George on social issues, as it relates to the study of the American Founding, religion, history, politics & philosophy (the interdisciplinary I study and blog about) his James Madison Program is the best Princeton offers in this area.

There are other good ones too, for instance the University Center for Human Values. And sometimes the two projects will promote lectures and conferences jointly. But for what interests me, the James Madison Program is the best.

And that's where I first encountered Professor Sigmund. He was, among other things, a top John Locke scholar. When discussing Locke, Sigmund was adamant in his assertion that Locke was, despite protests to the contrary a "Christian."

But that assertion depends on what it means to be a "Christian." When after a conference I asked Prof. Sigmund whether he thought Locke believed in the Arian heresy, his eyes lit up with excitement as he was happy that someone was interested enough in the controversy to even know to ask that question. He said yes, pointing to the scholarship of John Marshall of Johns Hopkins University as confirming the point.

That begs the question, though, what it means to be a "Christian." Dr. Sigmund's answer paralleled Locke's: You don't necessarily have to believe in the Trinity; rather hold that Jesus was Messiah or central to your faith. So Trinitarians, Arians, Socinians, Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses are all "Christians" as it were.

Dr. Sigmund vehemently disagreed with the assertions of Leo Strauss and his followers that Locke was some kind of esoteric Hobbesian atheist. (I don't know as much on Thomas Hobbes as I do Locke, but I don't think even Hobbes was a secret atheist). Locke was an esoteric something, but not, at least not provably an atheist.

Rather, more likely as noted above, Locke was a secret heretic (unitarian) writing in a context when the public promotion of heresy could get one executed (something Locke, thankfully helped deliver us from).

But when moderating the controversy publicly, Dr. Sigmund was scrupulously magnanimous.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Jonathan Den Hartog: "John Adams and 'The Religion of Democracy'"

From JDH here. A taste:
Since Penguin was kind enough to send me a review copy of Amy Kittelstrom's The Religion of Democracy , I thought the book deserved some thoughtful response.  (Note: there is an excerpt from the introduction here.)


When John Adams does show up, 2/3 of the way through the chapter, he has encountered the rationalism of Jonathan Mayhew and his own minister Lemuel Briant, as well as many advocates of orthodoxy. As he adopts his own religious values--and Adams was always a party of one--he articulates a broad-minded belief that emphasized humane concerns, with respect toward a singular deity. Kittelstrom here tends to emphasize either the diary Adams kept when a young man or his correspondence--most notably with Thomas Jefferson at the end of his life. These broad statements don't fully wrestle with Adams's own view of how religion and society might interact.

This approach runs into several problems for cantankerous, contrarian Adams. One is that his religious commitments are hard to pin down. Gregg Frazer sees him as a "theistic rationalist," which might help Kittelstrom's cause. Still, Adams tended to emphasize different pieces of his belief in different settings--the correspondence with Jefferson does not exhaust Adams on religion. Further, Adams's own beliefs themselves evolved, a point well made in an unpublished paper by Adina Johnson.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Christians in Nagasaki

On the 70th Anniversary of the bombing of Nagasaki, I learned something about the presence of Christians there. The article obviously has a strong slant (I'm certainly no master of the ethical dilemmas posed by war). But it's well within tradition of Christianity & the "Christian Nation" question. A taste:
In 1945, the US was regarded as the most Christian nation in the world (that is, if you can label as truly Christian a nation whose churches are proponents of eye-for-an-eye retaliation, are supportive of America’s military and economic exploitation of other nations or otherwise fail to sincerely teach or adhere to the ethics of Jesus as taught in the Sermon on the Mount).

Ironically, prior to the bomb exploding nearly directly over the Urakami Cathedral at 11:02 AM, Nagasaki was the most Christian city in Japan, and the massive cathedral was the largest Christian church in the Orient.


Most Nagasaki Christians did not survive the blast. 6,000 of them died instantly, including all who were at confession that morning. Of the 12,000 church members, 8,500 of them eventually died as a result of the bomb. Many of the others were seriously sickened with a highly lethal entirely new disease: radiation sickness.

Three orders of nuns and a Christian girl’s school nearby disappeared into black smoke or became chunks of charcoal. Tens of thousands of other innocent, non-Christian non-combatants also died instantly, and many more were mortally or incurably wounded. Some of the victim’s progeny are still suffering from the trans-generational malignancies and immune deficiencies caused by the deadly plutonium and other radioactive isotopes produced by the bomb.

And here is one of the most important ironic points of this article: What the Japanese Imperial government could not do in 250 years of persecution (i.e., to destroy Japanese Christianity) American Christians did in mere seconds.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

John Adams on Swedenborg and Wesley

His words were, to put it mildly, unkind.

A taste:
I have just read a sketch of the life of Swedenborg, and a larger work in two huge volumes of Memoirs of John Westley* by Southery, and your kind letter of January 22d came to hand in the nick of time to furnish me with a very rational exclamation, “What a bedlamite is man”! They are histories of Galvanism and Mesmerism thrown into hotch potch they say that these men were honest and sincere, so were the Worshipers of the White Bull in Egypt, and now in Calcutta, so were the Worshipers of Bacchus and Venus, so were the worshipers of St Dominick and St Bernard. Swedenborg and Westley had certainly vast memories and immaginations, and great talents for Lunaticks.
-- To Thomas Jefferson from John Adams, 3 February 1821.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

The Two Quaker Hybrid American Founders

Given that Quakers didn't believe in taking up arms it was difficult to be both a "Quaker" and a "Founder" (at least one who supported the American Revolution) at the same time.

So the two most notable of America's Founders who happened to be both, technically, weren't actual members of the Quaker club but considered themselves something different. (On a personal note, I use the word "Quakerish" to describe my religious sentiments.)

Those two men were John Dickinson and William Livingston. This links to a letter by Livingston to an actual Quaker whilst Livingston was serving as Governor of NJ in 1778.

Livingston, while trying to balance the Quakers' privilege to absolutely refuse to take up arms against the British, with the right of the State to demand citizens do such, gives us a hint as to his personal faith when he says, "I am more than half a Quaker myself."

Friday, July 24, 2015

The God of Benevolence

One of the claims made, among elsewhere, in Dr. Gregg Frazer's book is that the God of the American Founding (what he terms "theistic rationalism," but could be termed differently) was more benevolent than the God of "the commonly received ideas of Christianity" in late 18th Century America.

Benevolence was one of the "lenses" through which America's key Founders viewed God. Indeed, Robert J. Wilson III's book entitled The Benevolent Deity: Ebenezer Gay and the Rise of Rational Religion in New England, 1696-1787 features the influential unitarian theologian Gay as one of the first leaders of this theological movement. (Gay doesn't get the press for Americanist theology that do like-minded slightly later theologians Revs. Jonathan Mayhew and Charles Chauncy, because he turned out to be a Tory.)

"Rationalism" was another lens through which Dr. Frazer claimed the key Founders viewed their Deity. Hence, America's God wasn't that of late 18th Century biblical Christianity, but something more humanistic and rationalistic (the idea is it's American "man's reason" that changed the Christian God's features).

That's quite a contentious claim, but one in which I believe has a degree of merit. There are some lesser included claims that are not so contentious. One is to stress the benevolent nature of the deity, part of the zeitgeist of the American Founding. This contrasts with the nature of the god of Calvinism, i.e., the god of Jonathan Edward's "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God."

So for instance, Benjamin Rush was influenced by the lens of God's benevolence when he rejected Calvin's God and in turn Rush's conversion to Arminianism terminated with the belief in "the salvation of all men" where the unsaved experienced "future punishment ... of long duration." Yes, this "Christian-Universalism" accepted punishment for the unsaved. Indeed, even the "non-Christian" deists believed in the existence of a deity and the future state of rewards and punishments.

But Rush was no deist. He was an Arminian orthodox Trinitarian Christian who believed all men would eventually be saved through Christ's universal as opposed to limited atonement. In so doing Rush expressed faith that God's benevolent nature would ultimately prevail against other competing aspects of His persona. And he did so without converting to "theistic rationalism/unitarianism/Christian-Deism," whatever we term it.

And with that I mention the God of Emmanuel Swedenborg. Swedenborg was no rationalist. To the contrary he was a mystic, who posited trippy theological notions. But his God was benevolent. Indeed, what I've seen from Swedenborg's testimony, his God could win a benevolence contest among the various extant theological ideas in 18th Century Christendom.

[To remind readers of the relationship of Swedenborg to the American Founding see here and here.]

But like even the deists, unitarians, and universalists in 18th Century Christendom, Swedenborg didn't believe everyone automatically got the same Heaven at death (Swedenborg was way too smart to believe in something that simplistic).  He wrote a book called Heaven and Hell (not this Heaven and Hell, but I'd love to merge the two concepts) describing his nuanced understanding of such.

You often hear Arminians say things like "people choose to send themselves to Hell," but that begs the question of what the nature of Hell is really like. People choose to send themselves to eternal conscience torment worse than the holocaust or being confined to solitary in a prison for eternity?

The response is something like "no, people know what they are rejecting, and therefore the eternal conscience torment they get is their choice not god's." The Calvinists are stuck with the notion that god chooses to Elect and thus send folks to Hell for all eternity.

Rather Swedenborg's notion of Hell is more like C.S. Lewis' assertion that the doors of Hell are locked from the inside. Which again, begs the question, what could the nature of Heaven & Hell be like that would lead individuals to make such a choice? No one will choose to be burned, waterboarded, or in a state of maximum security prison-like solitary confinement for all eternity. See contemporary Mixed Martial Arts; people will "tap out." And a god who would send anyone much less than the majority of human souls there for all eternity could hardly be seen a "benevolent Deity." 

Swedenborg provides specific answers. People choose Hell because they get more pleasure from sinning than not. The God of Benevolence permits this eternal choice. People in Hell because of their willful choices actually flourish better there than they would in Heaven. Indeed they could only flourish in Hell not in Heaven. In Hell people can choose to love themselves but not others, and make a partnership with each other not unlike a partnership of thieves like in "The Sopranos."

Swedenborg teaches God is so benevolent that when souls choose to send themselves to Hell to compete and connive with one another and thus get "hurt," God's angels will come to Hell to comfort such hurt souls much like a loving humanistic authority figure (parents to little children, owners to pets) would seek to comfort wayward subordinates.

Thus, living a life or eternity of such chosen sin will not lead to the real happiness that those who choose otherwise experience. We can make this choice before we die. And indeed, after we die and get more information as to ultimate reality on the other side (the period of sorting things out). The unsaved will stay in hell for as long as they choose. Will they choose to stay there forever? We can't yet answer.

For the source of my understanding of Swedenborg's teachings see this.

Throckmorton on Carter

See this post from Warren Throckmorton on Robert Carter III. It's from 2012 and written in the context of answering a claim by David Barton. I'm linking to it now because I have my radar up on the Swedenborgians. A taste:
 Regular readers of this blog will know that Robert Carter wrote what he called a “deed of gift” that set in motion the largest emancipation of slaves in the United States prior to the Civil War. Carter’s deed listed 452 slaves to be emancipated throughout the remainder of Carter’s life. To see parts of the six page deed, click here. ...

Monday, July 20, 2015

Stephen Klugewicz: "The Forgotten First Emancipator"

Check it out here. A taste:
After reading Andrew Levy’s The First Emancipator, the story of Virginia aristocrat Robert Carter III (not to be confused with his grandfather, Robert “King” Carter), I can no longer blithely make excuses for slaveowning Founding Fathers who refused to free their slaves. Motivated by the egalitarianism of his religious beliefs—a combination of Baptist and Swedenborgian theology—Carter in 1791 quietly issued his “Deed of Gift,” which provided for the gradual emancipation of his 452 slaves. ...

Robert Carter, then, stands as the personification of the inconvenient truth that emancipation, even on a large scale, was entirely feasible in the United States, at least at the turn of the nineteenth century. In this way, his life serves as an indictment of the civic gods of America—Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, James Madison, Patrick Henry, Richard Henry Lee—who did not free their slaves during their lifetimes. ...

John Hargrove's First (1802) Sermon

Hat tip to Bill Fortenberry for finding and uploading Swedenborian John Hargrove's first sermon delivered to the President and Congress.

In it you will not find the trippy teachings of Swedenborg. But you do find an honest comparison between the prevailing doctrines in orthodox Christianity and what the New Jerusalem Church teaches. They were not orthodox on among other doctrines the Trinity and the Atonement.

You do see there, the notion (I'm not sure if original to Swedenborg) that God never gets "angry" (yes I put that term in scare quotes). Many objections could be offered like "but what about Jesus and the money lenders." The response is the Bible doesn't say Jesus got angry with them, rather merely that He drove them out.

So yes, you can "straighten someone out" even to the point of pulling the trigger without getting angry or upset (that is if you have achieved such perfection). To be not upset means to be in control. Likewise anger and fear, insofar as we understand the biological response to them are opposite sides of the same coin: Fight or flight. Stress. Part of the lower animal nature.

So saying God gets angry is to me necessarily like saying "God gets scared" or "God gets stressed."

One recent response I've dealt with was proof texting "but God says He gets angry." Yes there are translations of verses and chapters of scripture that use that word to describe how God feels. My response is that the word "anger" is not the properly translated term for the reasons I noted above. It's not what humans experience when they get angry (when their heart races and their face turns red, etc.). It's something in principle different.

See the link below from a modern Swedenborgian teacher on why there is no such thing as "righteous anger."

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Swedenborg, the Ultimate "Cosmic" Theologian

In the future look for me to say much more on Emanuel Swedenborg. When one learns about his ideas, one might be tempted to write him off as a crank. Well, he was very smart; I've seen estimates of his IQ at the 200 level. I know that doesn't demonstrate he wasn't a crank as a lot of brilliant people are crazy. Indeed, Swedenborg's testimony led folks to question his sanity.

Whatever Swedenborg's legacy we don't write off Immanuel Kant (another really smart fellow). And Kant -- the man who coined the term "Enlightenment" -- took Swedenborg's ideas very seriously. He seemed obsessed and fascinated with them, and had a love hate relationship with them.

While Swedenborg's theology is extremely complex, I will try to simplify it in a nutshell: He was a self understood "Christian," coming from the Lutheran tradition, who believed in the divine inspiration of the Old and New Testaments. He believed the "Father, Son & Holy Spirit" were equally divine, but different modes of one God. Thus, he wasn't an orthodox Trinitarian Christian, but a modalist.

He also rejected Sola Fide, and like the Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and others, believed in justification through some mysterious process of faith, grace and works. 

Oh, and he also claimed to have visited the afterlife and described what it's like there. Indeed in vivid detail. And that testimony, as far as I can tell, is taken by his followers to have divine revelatory authority along the lines of the Old and New Testament. That's obviously where his ideas cause controversy.

On salvation, Swedenborg was not technically a universalist, but perhaps could be termed a "modified universalist." On a personal note, I don't just reject the notion of Hell as described by Jonathan Edwards in "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" as false, but, as a doctrine, I believe it as pernicious as the worst of what radical Islam offers.

On the days I am a believer, I consider myself a "universalist." But as a believer, I still hold to the doctrine of a future state of rewards and punishments.

It's either "Heaven or Hell," one of the other -- one thing perfectly awesome, the other, worst than the worst someone can experience on Earth (like the Holocaust) forever. This strikes me as not only an overly simplistic false dichotomy, but as mentioned above,  renders such idea of Hell no more respectable than the theology that motivated those 19 hijackers to do what they did on 9/11/2001.

But that doesn't invalidate the concept of future punishment,  Hell, what have you. We want folks punished in the future for the bad they do to others. Hitler, Stalin, serial killers? Yes. (And even them, no, not forever.) But the Jews who simply didn't accept Jesus as savior but committed ordinary sins like lusting for someone who isn't your spouse or stealing a candy bar from the lunch room? And Hell is worse than the holocaust, but for eternity?

This is crazy (in my opinion), something which I could never believe in or respect. It's, again, as an idea, in Mohammed Attaville.

But Swedenborg didn't see Hell that way. Rather he saw it in a way that I independently, doing a thought experiment, concluded was just (as much as I despise the above mentioned notion of Hell). It has to do with Aristotle's notion of Eudaimonia; or as George Washington put it,
There is no truth more thoroughly established, than that there exists in the economy and course of nature, an indissoluble union between virtue and happiness, ...
In other words, Hell for the unsaved is like Ground Hog Day. In fact, Heaven and Hell may be the same place! Being in God's Presence for all eternity with His rules. Follow them, and you'll be happy. Break them, and you won't. Do as much smoking, drugging, gaming, hedonistic pleasure pursuing and conniving you want and see how happy it gets you.

That's more or less the notion of Hell I get from Swedenborg. As CS Lewis put it, the doors of Hell are locked from the inside. And no wonder so many folks would choose to stay there for so long, perhaps forever.

Recently, for the first time in my life I attended a funeral at a Swedenborgian Church.  There were the traditional citing of verses and chapters of scripture and singing of traditional hymns like "Amazing Grace." But the minister then cited Swedenborg's writings as seemingly something on par with the Old and New Testament.

It was a very nice sermon, and pleasant, peaceful experience for me.

As it relates to my interest in the American Founding, 1. George Washington wrote the "New Church" (Swedenborgian) and let them know whatever rights the US Constitution grants to "religion" the Swedenborgs were equally entitled to them. And 2. Thomas Jefferson, as President in a context when ministers were invited to preach to the newly formed Federal Government, invited John Hargrove to preach the doctrines of Swedenborg to Congress.

[No, Jefferson was not a secret Swedenborgian. Rather, I think his motive was, if I have to sit through sermons that preach doctrines in which I don't believe, you people should have to do the same. Open your minds a little.]

But let's finally get to the "cosmic" nature of Swedenborg's ideas. He like a lot of the "Christian" figures in the 18th Century pondered the newly understood nature of the stars and universe and concluded such were teaming with intelligent life. Aliens? Angels? Spiritual beings in the cosmos that may have material form? What's the difference?

Consider what Swedenborg wrote when discussing his experiences with the "the spirits of the earth Mercury":
I was desirous to know what kind of face and body the men in the earth Mercury had, whether they were like the men on our earth; instantly there was presented before my eyes a woman exactly resembling the women in that earth; she had a beautiful face, but it was smaller than that of a woman of our earth; her body also was more slender, but her height was equal; she wore on her head a linen cap, which was put on without art, but yet in a manner becoming. A man also was presented to view, who was more slender in body than the men of our earth are; he was clad in a garment of a dark blue color, closely fitted to his body, without any foldings or protuberances: it was given to understand, that such was the form of body, and such the dress of the men of that earth....
 Sounds to me like Swedenborg met himself some Nordic Whites

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

D. G. Hart: "When Did Christian America End?"

Check it out here. A taste:
The odd wrinkle to Christian readings of the American revolution is that the United Kingdom was a Christian nation. Presbyterians were the established church in Scotland. And King George was head of a church that claimed George Washington as a member (and he was an orthodox Christian, you know). Plus, it seems that King George III wasn’t all that bad a king.

What the United States did was to establish itself without a Christian church. Advocates of a Christian America may not like the language of the separation of church and state, but what the United States did in comparison to Europe and 1500 years of history (and even compared to France where Napolean eventually made Roman Catholicism the established church) was to create a nation without a state church (at the national level — hello) and that prohibited religious tests for holding office. That also meant the churches (except for Congregationalists in New England) had to pay as they went on the basis of their own creative schemes for finding parishioners and persuading them to give (till it hurts — I mean, tithe).

Monday, July 13, 2015

MRFF, "Spiritual Rape" & Roger Williams

Check out Chris Rodda's newest piece here. A taste:
In his 1643 pamphlet Queries of the Highest Consideration, Williams wrote (emphasis added):
"And oh! since the commonweal cannot, without a spiritual rape, force the consciences of all to one Worship, oh! that it may never commit that rape, in forcing the consciences of all men to one Worship, which a stronger arm and sword may soon (as formerly) arise to alter."
In his 1644 book The Bloody Tenent of Persecution for Cause of Conscience, he wrote:
"A Soule or spiritual Rape is more abominable in God's eye than to force and ravish the bodies of all the women in the world."

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Stewart on the Founders' Cosmic Beliefs

A few days after I wrote my piece on cosmic religions, I see Matthew Stewart had a similar piece on the matter. I didn't read Stewart's book. His article could have been based on the research found there. A taste:
If these peace-loving aliens were a threat to anything, it was to theology. John Adams put his finger on the problem as a young man in a diary entry from 1756. Given the near-certainty of alien life, he reasoned, Evangelical Christians must either condemn our extraterrestrial brothers to everlasting perdition or suppose that Jesus shows up on an endless number of planets in ever-changing alien incarnations. Thomas Paine later made the same point in print, rather more caustically: “The person who is irreverently called the Son of God, and sometimes God himself, would have nothing else to do than to travel from world to world, in an endless succession of death, with scarcely a momentary interval of life.”
There are a lot of sightings of strange objects in the sky. I often wonder if not only have we been visited by them, but if we are their projects. If they do exist and are visiting, it needs explaining why they aren't sharing their technology like zero point energy and cures for diseases like cancer. One reason is it would be too "disruptive." Likewise if they are that much more advanced then they have presumably knowledge of the origins of reality. That would disrupt or perhaps clarify "religion."

Perhaps the recorded miracles of old were simply uses of advanced alien technology. From Thor:
Erik Selvig: I'm talking about science, not magic.
Jane Foster: Well, "magic's just science we don't understand yet." Arthur C. Clarke.


 Thor: Your ancestors called it magic...
[Thor skims through a book on Norse mythology]
Thor: ...but you call it science. I come from a land where they are one and the same.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Arnhart: "Did Leo Strauss Think that Liberalism's Success Denied the Need for Esoteric Writing?"

Check out Larry Arnart's post here. A taste:
...  On the one hand, Strauss seems to agree with the pre-modern view that esoteric writing is necessary and desirable because of the natural conflict between the philosophic life of the few and the moral, religious, or political life of the many.  On the other hand, Strauss seems to agree with the modern view that in a liberal or open society, there is no natural conflict between the philosophic life and the practical life, and therefore esoteric writing is unnecessary and undesirable.
Thoughts: I believe esoteric writing is still used in modern open society because of the "meet the old boss, same as the new boss" dynamic. Small l "liberal" society turned out to be not as "open" and "liberal" in the ideal for everybody as might have been imagined or desired.

Still, as bad as today's ideological and political tyrants in liberal democracies may be, the context in which the pre-moderns needed to write esoterically was far worse. Back then, those who bucked the line could be, not just fired from their jobs or have their reputations ruined in respectable society, but burned at the stake or otherwise forced to leave the nation-state.

So I think of John Locke for instance, someone the Straussians have notoriously analyzed for his "esoteric" sentiments. They claim he was an esoteric atheist. I don't believe this. Locke exoterically claimed to believe in God, be a Christian, that "Jesus was Messiah" (and that was his test for lowest-common-denominator "Christianity"); but he never claimed that one must believe in doctrines like the Trinity, Incarnation, Atonement, etc. to be a "Christian."

Now, I DO think Locke was up to something esoterically, exactly what, we can never be sure. Personally, I don't believe Locke was an atheist but a secret unitarian or Trinity denier. That is, if I could go back in time and pin Locke down with truth serum and ask him "do you believe in the Trinity and Incarnation" I firmly believe his answer would be "Absolutely not. In fact, I deny these doctrines."

Instead, Locke just studiously avoided putting his specific cards on the table as it related to those doctrines. When a critic of his said his refusal to assert orthodox Trinitarian doctrines as part of the necessary minimums for what it means to be a "Christian" necessarily meant he denied the Trinity and was therefore a "Socinian," Locke replied that nothing in his writings clearly denied the Trinity. (He simply didn't affirm the doctrine.)

The problem for Locke is that if he wanted to deny the Trinity, it was illegal in England at that time for him to so do; England like the rest of pre-Englightenment Christendom would, at worst, execute heretics (including those who denied the Trinity). Locke also left the England in exile for Holland because of the controversial nature of his ideas.

I'm no fan of political correctness, but how many Americans today feel they need to and ACTUALLY DO leave the country because of their ideas? That's the context in which Locke not only existed but the politics of which he attempted to transcend in favor of something more tolerant, open and "rights oriented." Small l "liberalism." What Locke helped to establish.