Monday, September 29, 2014

Constitution Day - In the Company of Heroes

On 9/18/2914, over at The Jackson Press website, MarkAlexander, in his commemorative article,  ConstitutionDay - In the Company of Heroes, included this snippet:

On 30 April 1789, America’s first commander in chief, George Washington, took this presidential oath of office with his hand on a Bible opened to Deuteronomy 28. He ended his oath with “So help me God,” which was added to military oaths for officers by Act of Congress 29 September 1789.

In contrast, the U.S. Army Center of Military History website, Oaths of Enlistment and Oaths of Office says:

The first oath under the Constitution was approved by Act of Congress 29 September 1789 (Sec. 3, Ch. 25, 1st Congress.) It applied to all commissioned officers and privates in the service of the United States. It came in two parts, the first of which read: “I. A, B., do solemnly swear or affirm (as the case may be) that I will support the Constitution of the United Sates.” The second part read: ” I, A. B., do solemnly swear or affirm to bear true allegiance to the United States of America, and to serve honestly and faithfully, against all enemies or opposers whatsoever, and to obey the orders of the President of the United States of America, and the orders of the officers over me.” The next section of the chapter specified that “the said troops shall be governed by the rules and articles of war, which have been established by the United States Congress assembled, or by such rules and articles of war as may hereafter by law be established.”

No matter how fervently convinced Mark Alexander may be regarding his claim that George Washington elected to use those same words in conclusion to the first oath of office as president, he is definitely mistaken when he says that "So help me God" "was added to military oaths for officers by Act of Congress 29 September 1789.”


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Thursday, September 25, 2014

Koppelman: "The religious roots of modern secularism"

You can see Andrew Koppelman inform us on this here. A taste:
[Charles] Taylor offers an invaluable map of how the modern religious-secular divide came into being. He concludes that modern Western secularism has its roots in Christian theology and that secularism and Christianity reveal a common ancestry in their shared commitment to human rights—a commitment that does not follow from atheism as such.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Aitken anniversary

   
The good people at 18th Century Bibles, craftsmen who preserve and reproduce historic Bibles and, in the process, hand off “historical accuracy of the great Christian literature of the 1700s” to posterity, cite today as the 232nd anniversary of Congress’ authorization of the Aitken Bible—the first English-language Bible to be printed in America. (However, I think the actual anniversary is September 12, per the Congressional resolution. Click here and scroll down.)

Here’s what 18th Century Bibles has to say:

Courtesy 18th
Century Bibles
Before the Revolution, it had been impossible to print an English language version of the Bible in the colonies, because no American printers held a license from the King granting permission to print the Bible. The war cut off shipments of Bibles from Great Britain, but also got rid of the need for the license; thereby creating a shortage of Bibles and the ability to print them in America. Robert Aitken stepped in to fill this void.
Beginning in 1777, Aitken began publishing and selling New Testaments. Aitken made the first New Testament printed in this country in 1777. After this first printing, he had to bury all of his equipment. The regulars were headed to Philadelphia and would have looked very unfavorably on any printer that they came across. Robert Aitken first advertised his New Testament for sale in the August 28, 1777 edition of the Pennsylvania Evening Post. The transcription of this ad is below:
“Just printed (bound and ready for sale) by R. Aitken, printer and bookseller, opposite the London Coffee-house, Frontstreet, a neat edition of THE NEW TESTAMENT for the use of schools, where may be had writing paper of different kinds, particularly letter paper of the first quality, and several hundreds of excellent quills.”
There are only three known copies of Aitken’s 1777 New Testament still in existence today. One can be found in the New York Public Library’s collection. Another belongs to the Philadelphia Historical Society. The last was auctioned off by Bloomsbury Auctions in London November, 2011 by an undisclosed seller. Demand was heavy, so every year, for the next five years, Aitken published a new edition of his New Testament. In total, he published five editions: Aitken’s second edition was published in 1778; his third in 1779; his fourth in 1780; and finally his last and fifth edition was published in 1781. I am unsure of the number of New Testaments Aitken printed each year, but I expect that it was somewhere between one thousand and ten thousand.
It was not until 1782 that Aitken had his first complete Bible. He printed his 1782 Old Testament and added it to his previously printed 1781 New Testament. I believe that Aitken planned ahead and printed about ten thousand additional New Testaments in 1781 and had them waiting to be bound with the ten thousand Old Testaments he printed in 1782. If you look at my web site, you will notice that the 1782 Bible’s New Testament title page is dated 1781, while the Old Testament is dated 1782. 1782, or maybe 1783, was the only year that the Aitken Bible was published. I am pretty sure that these Bibles were not available (bound) until 1783.
After the war, America was once again flooded with inexpensive Bibles from England. Aitken was stuck with way too many Bibles and was near financial ruin. The Presbyterian Synod stepped in and purchased Aitken’s remaining stock and gave them to the poor.

My own photograph of an Aitken Bible, taken July 2011 at the American Bible Society in New York City.
   

Monday, September 15, 2014

FRC Robert Morrison touches on Feeling Our History

FRC Robert Morrison has posted a historical travel log with the title, Feeling Our History, that can be found over at the Family Research Council blog. (Previously, on March 4, 2014, I featured Robert Morrison in an American Creation blog you can see here.)

At the concluding part of his recollections of visiting the Induction Day ceremonies at the Annapolis, Maryland, United States Naval Academy, the reminiscing Morrison has this to say:
And the Plebes raise their right hands and recite the Oath of Office. Many of their parents and many of us assembled as a cloud of witnesses will be in tears as these vibrant young people pledge their lives to protect and defend our Constitution. 
They end their recitation of the Oath with the same words spoken by George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, and by every other commander-in-chief: 
So Help Me God
You can run your hands over these words. They are engraved on a plaque affixed to the bulkhead (wall) in Bancroft Hall. You can feel your country’s history.
Robert Morrison is not the first person to promote this blatantly false notion that every president has ended a four-word religious codicil to their presidential oath. But it is a new twist when he identifies the president as the commander-in-chief , because he is now suggesting  that ending a military oath with "So help me God" should be understood as if it were a command issued by the President, as Commander in Chief.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Lillian Gobitas Klose, RIP

See the NYT obit. A taste:
Lillian Gobitas Klose, whose refusal, on religious grounds, to recite the Pledge of Allegiance as a seventh grader in a Pennsylvania public school in 1935 ignited national indignation, as well as a roiling legal fight that led to an expansion of First Amendment rights, died on Aug. 22 at her home in Fayetteville, Ga. She was 90.
Her daughter, Judith Klose, confirmed the death.
Lillian Gobitas’s family belonged to the Jehovah’s Witnesses and heeded a leader’s call to refuse to recite the pledge in compliance with biblical commands against idolatry....

Volokh: "Should atheists who refuse to say ‘so help me God’ be excluded from the Air Force?"

Check it out here. A taste:
So 10 U.S.C. § 502 expressly says that each person may swear or affirm. Likewise, 1 U.S.C. § 1 expressly says that an oath includes an affirmation. And an affirmation means precisely a pledge without reference to a supreme being. Given this context, it seems to me quite clear that “So help me God” in the statute should be read as an optional component, to be used for the great bulk of people who swear, but should be omitted for those who exercise their expressly statutorily provided option to affirm — because that’s what affirming means (omitting reference to a supreme being).

Saturday, September 6, 2014

‘Our Strongest Tower’

     
The British Museum, in its Twitter feed today, observes the anniversary of the departure of the Mayflower for the New World in 1620. The tweet contains this photo of a commemorative bronze medal struck in 1970:




The Latin inscription on the reverse translated: “The name of the Lord is our strongest tower,” which originates in Proverbs:

“The name of the Lord is a strong tower: the righteous runneth into it, and is set up on high.” (18:10)

It is the motto of Plymouth, England.
     

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Bob Ruppert: "The Influence of “the Black Robes”

Check it out here. A taste:
Just as the clergy based their theology and Church structure on the law of God, so they based their political theories. Civil government had a divine origin and its purpose was “the good of the people.” A government that did not have this as its purpose, did not have a divine origin and thus did not have the sanction of God. In 1717, John Wise, in his treatise, A Vindication of the Government of New-England Churches, took it a step further when he said, “A democracy, this is a form of government, which the light of nature does highly value, and often directs to, as most agreeable to the just and natural prerogative of human beings …”
 [Hat tip: American Creation commenter JMS.]

Friday, August 29, 2014

Rod Dreher: "When The West Had An ISIS"

Check it out here. A taste:
Michael Brendan Dougherty remembers when the English state and its religious manifestation, the Church of England, behaved like ISIS toward the Irish:
Convert, leave, or die. That’s the trio of awful options ISS is giving to Christians in Iraq.
Sadly, there’s an all-too-familiar ring to this ultimatum. These were the exact options given to all Catholic clergy in Ireland when England instituted the penal laws against Catholics several hundred years ago.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Buzzfeed: "Nearly Every Founding Fathers’ Quote Shared By A Likely Future Congressman Is Fake"

Now that's a bad record.

A taste:
The Thomas Jefferson Foundation said it has “not found this particular statement in his writings” and Henry David Thoreau’s Civil Disobedience is the real source of the quotation.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

John Fea: "The Author's Corner with Barry Shain"

Check it out here. A taste:
JF: What led you to write The Declaration of Independence in Historical Context?
BS: I was motivated to write this book, in the main, by three goals: 1) to attempt to adjudicate between radically divergent claims concerning the standing of the Declaration of Independence’s briefly articulated political philosophy in leading the colonies to separate from Great Britain, in shaping American founding constitutional traditions, and in helping form America’s incipient political institutions; 2) to challenge the methodology, frequently encountered in political theory, in which historical documents are selectively chosen and mined to produce favored outcomes; and, 3) to begin a process of re-assessing the place of democratic republicanism in the thinking of those attending America’s first three continental political bodies.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Bill Fortenberry on Matthew Stewart, "Nature's God"

Check it out here. A taste:
Thus we see that both Pope and Bolingbroke, the two people that Stewart credits with introducing the phrase “Nature’s God” into English, ...

Book TV: Matthew Stewart, "Nature's God"

Watch a clip below.


Brayton: "More Christian Nation Nonsense"

Check it out here. A taste:
I always laugh when people cite the Puritans and their alleged influence on the founding fathers. The colony they established was a rather brutal theocracy that imprisoned, exiled and sometimes put to death even their fellow Christians if they were the wrong brand. Funny how they trusted themselves with such power.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Frazer Posts @ Fortenberry's

Check out this guest post by Dr. Gregg Frazer at Bill Fortenberry's website. A taste:
If someone merely quotes someone else talking about Christ, that does not tell us anything about what the person doing the quoting believes. If someone is raised in an orthodox environment and only mentions Christ as a young man, but as an adult at the time of the Founding says contrary things, the original quote tells us little about what he believed as “a founder.” If someone reports the subject of a conversation in which someone else mentioned the word “Christ,” that tells us nothing about the views of the reporter – especially when, in his commentary on the event, he expresses heretical views of his own about Jesus. If someone is defending a pastor and reports what the pastor taught, that tells us nothing about the beliefs of the defender. If, in that same situation, the defender uses the language of the judges/jurors to try to favorably influence them, that tells us nothing about the views of the defender. If, in more than 20,000 pages of someone’s writings, there is only one reference to “Jesus” or “Christ” and that is not in the person’s handwriting, but in the handwriting of an aide of his who was a Christian, that tells us little about that person’s belief in Christ. Use of the word “divine” must also be evaluated in context because in 18th century common usage, “divine” also meant simply “preeminently gifted or extraordinarily excellent” (like some people even today refer to symphonies or desserts as “divine” or to Bette Midler as “the divine Miss M”). It was also a common term for a merely human representative of God, such as pastors. When a 21st-century evangelical sees the word “divine,” he/she automatically assumes a reference to God – but not so in the 18th century. This is context. In the case of one of the key founders, quotes given in which he says “Christ” and even expresses belief in Christ actually make my point: he does not do so until after he has a conversion experience and is born again (long after he was a “founder”).
As a general rule, the public statements and pronouncements of politicians sensitive to public approval are not as reliable indicators of true belief as private statements which they did not expect the public to see. Like politicians today, they often had aides who wrote public documents. They wrote their own private correspondence, however, and, depending on the recipient, usually had no reason to hide their true beliefs. On numerous occasions, key founders aware of the heterodoxy they expressed in a letter, instructed the recipients of correspondence to return or to burn the letters to keep them from the public eye. Surely we are all aware of the propensity of politicians to “tickle the ears” of the public in order to become or remain popular – the key founders were no exception; they were not gods or demi-gods, they were merely political men (albeit much better ones than we have today).

Sunday, August 10, 2014

1776: News of the Declaration reaches London

     

From Fraunces Tavern Museum today:
On this day in 1776, news reaches London that the Americans had drafted the Declaration of Independence. Until the Declaration of Independence formally transformed the 13 British colonies into states, both Americans and the British saw the conflict centered in Massachusetts as a local uprising within the British empire. To King George III, it was a colonial rebellion, and to the Americans, it was a struggle for their rights as British citizens. However, when Parliament continued to oppose any reform and remained unwilling to negotiate with the American rebels and instead hired Hessians, German mercenaries, to help the British army crush the rebellion, the Continental Congress began to pass measures abolishing British authority in the colonies.

The Declaration of Independence was largely the work of Virginian Thomas Jefferson. In justifying American independence, Jefferson drew generously from the political philosophy of John Locke, an advocate of natural rights, and from the work of other British theorists. The declaration features the immortal lines "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, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." It then goes on to present a long list of grievances that provided the American rationale for rebellion.

The ship carrying the first copy of the declaration to leave the USA was heading for London but hit stormy waters off the north coast of Ireland. It sought refuge in Londonderry and arrangements were made for the declaration to be sent on by rider to Belfast, where it would be met by another ship for delivery to King George III. However, the Belfast News-Letter's editor somehow gained access to the priceless document and duly published it, before King George III or Parliament had seen it, on the front page of the paper's August, 1776 edition. A terrific scoop - and one that stands the test of time.

Friday, August 8, 2014

William Livingston: "Primitive Christian"

William Livingston represents the truth that one errs when one looks superficially at the denominations America's Founders were associated with to try and determine what their religious convictions were.

The source of this common error is M.E. Bradford who derived the statistic using that formula, that 52 of the 55 members of the Constitutional Convention were "orthodox Christians." I don't blame him too much for it. For him, this seemed to be a minor aside. Rather it was other, later Christian Nationalists who tried to run with the ball and turn it into a "meme."

Livingston was formally associated with the Presbyterians. That means then he was a good Calvinist who believed in TULIP and the Westminster and every other creed and confession associated with them, right?

Well, no.

Livingston, in fact, was a self professed "Primitive Christian," who believed in Jesus as Messiah (with NO evidence of believing in the Trinity) and the Old and New Testament, and nothing else.

There is nothing in Livingston's writings that laud the term "orthodox," in fact, to the contrary. As he wrote, "I believe that the word orthodox, is a hard, equivocal, priestly term, that has caused the effusion of more blood than all the Roman emperors put together."

A good Whig, Livingston hated doctrinal Anglicanism, especially the "Athanasian Creed," which is formally endorsed by not only the Anglicans, but also the Presbyterians (the group he was affiliated with!). This led me to conclude previously, perhaps accurately, Livingston a theological unitarian.

This is how Livingston described his creed:

“Primitive Christianity short and intelligible, modern Christianity voluminous and incomprehensible,” The Independent Reflector, no. XXXI, June 28, 1753.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

The term "Primitive Christianity" and its connection to Deism & Unitarianism (and Mormonism & JWism)

If you look closely at the historical record, many of America's Founders speak positively of something known as "Primitive Christianity." I won't provide the quotations (just yet). You can either trust me or look it up yourself.

But what does that term mean? American Creation's Tom Van Dyke might answer Christianity "adulterated by man, i.e., the papists...." There certainly is a strong kernel of truth there, but also a larger picture as I explain below.

I've observed when certain figures -- some of America's Founders and their influences over whose proper religious categorization we argue -- refer positively to something known as "primitive Christianity," they mean they believe Christianity was corrupted by the "church" early on.

Now that's something in which a good evangelical or reformed Protestant can believe? Corruption in the church necessitated the Reformation. Well, not exactly as I will explain below.  Back then "primitive Christianity" was very often (though perhaps not always) a code word for Christian-Deism, Christian-Unitarianism, and today is something a Mormon or Jehovah's Witness would feel comfortable with.

You see, for many, perhaps most of these folks who valued "primitive Christianity," the Church at Nicea was already corrupted. And indeed, these folks think of the Nicene Church as a "Papist" one (and therefore illegitimate). The problem is Anglicans, capital O Orthodox Christians and most reformed and evangelical Protestants wish to claim and feel in communion with the Church at Nicea and the Nicene Creed.

Folks like certain Baptists who believe both in the Trinity but think the Nicene Church was already Roman Catholic are the oddball outliers among Protestant Trintarians. (See the fourth paragraph in this piece written by American Creation's Brian Tubbs, himself a Baptist pastor, on why Baptists might have such disproportionate oddball theology.) The Quakers who believe in the Trinity, but not creeds, likewise qualify as Trinitarians who might endorse the notion that the Nicene Church was corrupt and "real Christianity" was the "primitive" one of the ante-Nicene era.

But it's mainly those who reject the Trinity that are interested in attacking the Council of Nicea. Indeed, notable unitarians blame the doctrine of the Trinity on the "Papism" of Nicea. For instance, John Adams:

"The Trinity was carried in a general council by one vote against a quaternity; the Virgin Mary lost an equality with the Father, Son, and Spirit only by a single suffrage."

 -- To Benjamin Rush, June 12, 1812.

And since the Church around the time of Nicea was the one who selected and finalized the books of the canon (i.e., "the Bible") some of the professors of "primitive Christianity" disregard entire books of "the Bible" and blame it on "Papism," i.e. the Church who wrote the Nicene Creed. (And not just "books" of the Catholic Bible, but of the Protestant Bible as well like the Revelation of St. John.)

It was this same mindset that led Christian-Deists and Unitarians like John Adams to both 1. reject the Trinity, and 2. think "the Bible" was an errant, corrupted book, that nonetheless contained "the Word of God" underneath the error and corruption.

In today's day and age, folks who believe in sacred scripture as the "Word of God," but not the Trinity (i.e., the Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses) are ones likely to 1. have an affinity for the "primitive Christianity" of the ante-Nicene era and 2. seek to "restore" the faith to what it was before it got corrupted.

Friday, August 1, 2014

WatchMojo.com Ranks the Top 10 Presidents

In this 7-minute video, WatchMojo.com ranks the top 10 Presidents who (in their view) made the longest-lasting, most "positive" contributions in American history. Their list includes several early American Presidents, including of course George Washington whom they rank way too low in my opinion. Check out the video....


...and give us your thoughts. Do you agree with the rankings? Or do you, like me, feel that George Washington should be number one?