The Christian Nation Controversy

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Jon Rowe

Jon Rowe is a full Professor of Business at Mercer County Community College, where he teaches business, law, and legal issues relating to politics. Of course, his views do not necessarily represent those of his employer.

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  1. Avatar King of Ireland
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    says:

    Jon,

    Well written but I think we are still using the wrong frame of whether certain founders or people who influenced the founding were Christian. IMO the right frame is whether these ideas that influenced the founding were Christian.Report

  2. Avatar Kyle Cupp
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    says:

    The founding of the U.S. can certainly be traced to a set of founding ideas, but these ideas were the product of very diverse and conflicting thought, heated debate, and prudent (perhaps) compromise, all performed by a very diverse set of founders. I cringe when I hear “the founding fathers” or “the founders” named as a singularity, as if they were of like or similar mind on matters of politics, law, religion, and so forth. This blurring of difference about our origins creates confusion about our national identity as it helps paint a simplistic mythological picture of who we are. Anyhow, I appreciate your analysis of the the possible meanings of “Christian” in the statement the America is a “Christian nation.” And, furthermore, I would say to your reader’s deconstructive question: Yes, America was founded to an extent on what might be called Christian heresies. Or at least by people who could , from the standpoint of Christian orthodoxy, be considered practitioners of heterodox and heretical Christianity.Report

  3. Avatar King of Ireland
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    says:

    I think sotierology is a red herring here.Report

  4. Avatar Jon Rowe
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    says:

    Thanks both!Report

  5. Avatar Jon Rowe
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    says:

    King: sotierology certainly IS relevant to those who take the “theological” perspective on whether America was founded as a “Christian Nation.” What I do (and what I think “we” do at AC) is interdisciplinary, where the political meets the theological meets the historical, and so on.

    “Sotierology” did become irrelevant because America’s Founders (and those whom they followed) MADE it irrelevant.

    It was NOT irrelevant when Calvin was executing Servetus for publicly denying the Trinity or when “Christian Commonwealths” were making covenants to the Triune God.Report

  6. Avatar Robert Cheeks
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    says:

    At least you teach bidness up at Mercer and not …say, American history. Allow me to suggest the two volume, “Political Sermons of the American Founding Era, 1730-1805” Reprinted by Liberty Fund (1998).
    Certainly the elite leadership you mentioned, and perhaps more, were products of the immanentizing process inherent in the Enlightenment. But, those men and their families that engaged the full weight of the greatest army on the planet and who suffered the hardship related to war, would be amused by your scholarship and analysis.

    “The true liberty of man is, to know, obey and enjoy his Creator….”
    from “An Appeal to the Public for Religious Liberty” Isaac BackusReport

  7. Avatar tom van dyke
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    says:

    One clever reader of mine reacted with the question: Was America founded, in a political-theological sense, on a “Christian heresy?”

    The proliferation of Protestant sects made a true orthodoxy impossible. For as Locke writes:

    “It will be answered, undoubtedly, that it is the orthodox church which has the right of authority over the erroneous or heretical. This is, in great and specious words, to say just nothing at all. For every church is orthodox to itself; to others, erroneous or heretical. For whatsoever any church believes, it believes to be true and the contrary unto those things it pronounce; to be error. So that the controversy between these churches about the truth of their doctrines and the purity of their worship is on both sides equal; nor is there any judge, either at Constantinople or elsewhere upon earth, by whose sentence it can be determined.”

    I think sotierology is a red herring here.

    Perhaps John Locke’s most elegant argument in the storied Letter Concerning Toleration is that government can’t get you into heaven.

    “We have already proved that the care of souls does not belong to the magistrate. Not a magisterial care, I mean (if I may so call it), which consists in prescribing by laws and compelling by punishments. But a charitable care, which consists in teaching, admonishing, and persuading, cannot be denied unto any man. The care, therefore, of every man’s soul belongs unto himself and is to be left unto himself. But what if he neglect the care of his soul? I answer: What if he neglect the care of his health or of his estate, which things are nearlier related to the government of the magistrate than the other? Will the magistrate provide by an express law that such a one shall not become poor or sick? Laws provide, as much as is possible, that the goods and health of subjects be not injured by the fraud and violence of others; they do not guard them from the negligence or ill-husbandry of the possessors themselves. No man can be forced to be rich or healthful whether he will or no. Nay, God Himself will not save men against their wills.”

    [Unlike the Roman model, where one could become divine by vote of the Senate.]

    I cringe when I hear “the founding fathers” or “the founders” named as a singularity, as if they were of like or similar mind on matters of politics, law, religion, and so forth.

    Still, there evolved a consensus, what Avery Dulles called The Deist Minimum, which was more than the cold deism of the God of the Philosophers, more than what the Supreme Court has called “ceremonial deism”:

    “Our American republic has therefore had what, following Jean-Jacques Rousseau, we may call a civil religion. Rousseau enumerates the positive dogmas of such a religion as follows: ‘the existence of a mighty, intelligent, beneficent divinity, possessed of foresight and providence, the life to come, the happiness of the just, the punishment of the wicked, and [Rousseau added] the sanctity of the social contract.’”

    [Just how sacrosanct that “social contract” actually is remains a question for another day.]Report

  8. Avatar Jon Rowe
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    says:

    Robert,

    I don’t mean to pull rank on you but I know those sermons better than you do and I’ve met with the editor Ellis Sandoz when he spoke at Princeton.

    They were a diverse bunch; but the most influential tended to be unitarians and universalists. Or at the very least, there were enough unitarian and universalist preachers to offset the Backuses and Witherspoons that they weren’t outliers.

    We can go over them one by one, which we may do in the future here. I plan on sticking around for a while.Report

    • Avatar Robert Cheeks in reply to Jon Rowe
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      says:

      Jon,

      Looking forward to future discussions.
      My point re: your blog is that while the elite leadership were infected with the psycho/pneumopathologies related to the Enlightenment, the unwashed, those that served in those beloved ‘regiments of the line’ did not share their apostacy.
      Again, looking forward to the debate.
      BTW, I’m down in eastern Ohio, out on the Little Beave Creek, the Ohio lands of the Five Nations.Report

  9. Avatar Jon Rowe
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    says:

    Robert,

    I also teach “Law in Society” and “Constitutional Law” (the political aspects of law). And our history dept. is largely unaware this particular nuance.

    Yet I do know experts (many of them tending to be evangelical Christians themselves) in history like John Fea at Messiah or Gregg Frazer at The Master’s College with whom I see eye to eye. Likewise what I say is confirmed by Mark Noll (of Notre Dame) who is the preeminent evangelical historian of the American Founding.Report

  10. Avatar Michael Heath
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    says:

    Robert Cheeks stated:

    At least you teach bidness up at Mercer and not …say, American history. Allow me to suggest the two volume, “Political Sermons of the American Founding Era, 1730-1805? Reprinted by Liberty Fund (1998).

    Good form would have you quoting exactly what Mr. Rowe actually wrote to which you object. Good form would then have you directly rebutting his assertions with independently validated evidence prior to insinuating he argues from ignorance as you do in what I quote here.

    It’s particularly ironic somebody would make such an argument against Mr. Rowe given his primary style of blogging is to report primary source material in a well-considered framework where his arguments extend little to none at all beyond the evidence. It is this style of reportage and analysis rather than dependence on rhetorical fallacy that’s resulted in my being a loyal reader, i.e., because I learn from him. I’m confident many of those who read him regularly who disagree his some of his conclusions would concede the same rather than claim he’s merely uninformed.Report

  11. Avatar James Hanley
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    says:

    psycho/pneumopathologies related to the Enlightenment

    Oh, the League’s got one of these folks, too? It already feels like home. *smile*Report

  12. Avatar Robert Cheeks
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    says:

    Mike thanks, but obviously I’m not particularly interested in ‘good form.’ I’m blogging on the internet, dude.
    And, I do hope to learn from Jon. However, given his proferred bio, I’m a bit fearful that I’m dealing with yet, another scholar bent on ‘immanentizing the eschaton.’Report

  13. Avatar King of Ireland
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    says:

    Robert,

    Micheal and I have butted heads quite often in another venue so please know that the person saying is not afraid to challenge him when I feel he is being unfair or wrong. With that stated I have to agree with him about Jon.

    Not only have I learned much of what I know about this broad topic from Jon and Tom Van Dyke above, but I have to say he is about the most informed dude I know on this topic and just about the fairest.

    I do not always agree with him but my admiration for him is very high. Read what he says and give it a chance. I changed a lot of my own religious views based on my discussions with Jon. As Michael can tell you I do not change my mind easily when I think I am right.

    I used the word discussion and not debate for a reason. I hope you understand why? If you do I think you and Mr. Rowe can learn a lot from one another.Report

  14. Avatar Robert Cheeks
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    says:

    Thanks King, I’m looking forward to the exchange.
    My lietmotif is that the great unwashed were, following the sundry tides of the Great Awakening, a “Christian” people, and consequently, a ‘christian’ people at the founding. Surely, they experienced some effect of the Enlightenment, or the positivistic nature thereof, however, I’m arguing that they sought to establish a ground of existence in the Logos/divine and these people, perhaps inherently, understood that that could only be accomplished in a freedom projected through the mechanism of republican virtues, that reflected the freedom of God in proferring the choice to love Him or not to love Him.
    Ironically, they were betrayed be the elite at the establishment of the Constitution, but that’s another story.
    I’m getting the sense, perhaps incorrectly, that Dr. Rowe is derailed by allowing himself to engage in an immanitazation of the tension of existence e.g. he’s engaged in ‘immanetizing the eschaton.’Report

  15. Avatar tom van dyke
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    says:

    Ironically, they were betrayed be the elite at the establishment of the Constitution, but that’s another story..

    That is his argument. By using orthodox Protestants as the arbiter of what is and isn’t Christianity, there’s no eschaton to immantize.

    No derailment atall on JR’s part, if you accept his method, which so far you appear to find congenial to your own.Report

  16. Avatar Robert Cheeks
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    says:

    Thanks Tom, but I’m missing it. Not the first time you know. Again, I’m arguing the great unwashed were indeed a ‘Christian’ nation, while the elite, at least some of them were victims of the Enlightenment.
    How prounounced were the sundry ‘heresies’ Mr. Rowe speaks of, I don’t know, but I do know the ‘waves’ of the Great Awakening had a significant impact on the founding generation and beyond.Report

  17. Avatar tom van dyke
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    says:

    Have at it then, but bring your “A” game. The Great Awakening is not the same as Sandoz’ collection of sermons.Report

  18. Avatar Angie
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    says:

    The Christian Nation concept came through the analogy to Israel. It is where American exceptionalism and “Biblical Christianity” intersect.

    The “Biblical judges”, “watchmen”, and those that think that their call in life is to “intervene” on God’s behalf, whether that means as to one’s moral understanding, or “salvation”. This is what fundamentalism and evanglicalism is about. It is called “discipleship”, “following in Jesus steps”, “obeying the Great Commission”, etc.

    So, “Christian” means that one adheres to Scripture as “God’s Word” and that one admonishes another because without “holiness” no one will see the Lord”. And that “Christians” are called to “speak the truth in love”, meaning that conformity to whatever they consider to be of importance must be imposed upon others.Report

  19. Avatar James Hanley
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    says:

    Mr. Cheeks,

    I can’t remember the reference right now (it might, indeed, have come via Jon Rowe), but I believe there was a study that showed that most families in the hinterlands of the American states (i.e., at that time, west of the Appalachians) didn’t own Bibles (and probably weren’t literate enough to read them if they did), and didn’t get out to church much.

    It’s pretty easy to say the great unwashed were devout in some way, but to demonstrate it requires that show some real evidence of their seriousness about faith matters. And from the perspective Jon Rowe brings, it is also critical that you show that there was enough agreement among them about what qualified as Christian to say that this was indeed a “Christian” country.

    Jehovas Witnesses, for example, from an external perspective would be considered a Christian sect, but I can guarantee that if the church I grew up in (Free Methodist Church) had been a small minority in a country dominated by Jehovas Witnesses, we would not have considered ourselves to live in a Christian country.

    I think what you’re missing so far–reasonably, as you haven’t yet had time to become familiar with John’s arguments–is that from Jon’s perspective these definitional issues do matter, a whole lot. As I would express it (so as not to make Jon appear responsible for my phrasing) it’s “cheating” a bit to lump all these disparate groups together and say, “See, Christian nation” if they themselves did not recognize themselves as Christians.

    Important in this line of thought is what we choose as our referent for determining the answer to “who is Christian?” That’s why Jon distinguishes those different levels, or measures, that are used. Sure, if we just want to use the cultural sense, then it was a Christian nation, almost indisputably. But then the leverage on political claims is extremely fragile. The stronger the argument you want to make about how Christian they were, the more dubious the claim becomes.Report

  20. Avatar Jon Rowe
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    says:

    Well I agree with Robert completely that the Enlightenment thing was a more “elite” thing; very similar to today whether it’s Abbie Hoffman, Leo Strauss or Paul Krugman. Ideas for which large sectors of “the masses” may have disdain (such as Hoffman’s) may nonetheless be influential in various elite circles.

    I’d like him to appreciate that a great deal of (at least “notable”) clergy, many of them found in Sandoz’s sermon book were ministers influenced by these Enlightenment elites. I listed a few of them with Jonathan Mayhew being the most notable. Mayhew, Chauncy, Cooper, West (theological unitarians) were explicit ENEMIES of Edwards’ Great Awakening. And it was THEY who were the most effective at rousing the populace to revolt.

    Re Church membership, I’ve seen one study show it at (if I remember correctly) 17%. Though James Hutson for whom I have a great deal of respect suggests it may be a lowball.

    Which basically brings to an America where there were a lot of pious folks (Ned Flanders Christians) fighting along side a lot of dregs with nominal Christian affiliations (Homer Simpson Christians).

    Brian Tubbs has a post at American Creation from a book he is reading that suggests a lot of the “religion and morality” talk given by J. Adams and Washington (neither of whom were orthodox Christians) was precisely because of the existence of so many dregs in the populace, that “religion” was something very useful in getting their butts in gear and making for an effective fighting force and governable populace.

    Washington pushed “religion”/”Christianity” on his troops; he never pushed a religion on his troops in which they did not believe. BUT GW always seemed to think that man will be religious, regardless of what that religion is and it’s better for soldiers to partake in whatever religion it is in which they believe (the overwhelming majority believed in some kind of “Christianity”; but not all of it might pass “mere Christianity”). (The classic example here is GW defending the Universalist Chaplain John Murray against more pious ministers who wanted him out.)

    GW always talked of Providence (didn’t get very specific on doctrine) and I think he did want “Providence” on America’s side, that the troops not “offend” Providence. But when it came to pushing “Christianity,” the context of his quotations always seem to suggest it was because of “religion’s” civic utility, NOT because he believed “Christian” doctrines true, that the soldiers’ souls needed to be saved, that “regenerate” make for better soldiers. Those last things are non-sequiturs that Christian America types have to inaptly “read in” to Washington’s quotations.Report

  21. Avatar Robert Cheeks
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    says:

    Mr. Hanley, I’m not in agreement with your (you and Jon’s) premise that it’s necessary to differentiate the “Christian” faith/phenomenon where, to the point where we exclude the unwashed multitudes. I’m thinking these folks, regardless of their backward ways, were, as they understood it, Christians, or at least people seeking the theophany of the Christ.
    Yes, I’m aware that much of the vast frontier was ‘unchurched’ and remained so until the arrival of the Moravians, who served the Eastern Aboriginal Nations (primarily the Delaware septs and the Mingo), and the Methodists, Baptists, etc. As an aside, my many times great grand pappy, following service in the revolution, took his section in the Ohio country and about 1790 or so gave a few acres and the family’s log cabin for a church.
    Further, I’m critical of your position that argues that the inability to read is a hinderance to accepting the Divine Ground (aition) of Existence (e.g. man existing in the divine/human relationship)…men have hungered throughout history for that experience and reading, or community, or edumacation, or social position isn’t a prerequisite for the pneumatic irruption.

    Jon, I’ll happily concede the point that any number of clergy were ‘influenced’ by the big E. And, I’ll concede that you have a better idea of how many there were and where they preached. However, I don’t see where that point negates my argument that America was founded as a ‘Christian’ nation, simply because we have to ask ourselves how these men understood the movement as anything more than following Aristotle and seeking to locate the ground of existence in the Nous, e.g Reason as the ground of existence in the divine.

    Another point that at first glance goes to your position is Richard Weaver’s lamantation that the Reformation destoyed Western Christianity’s ‘consensus,’ leaving everyman his priest. However, I’m inclined to think that while the brilliant Mr. Weaver has a point that fact that these sundry “Christian” sects running tither and yon in the wildes of America may have, in a rather perverse way, strengthened and spread Christian doctrine throughout the fledgling nation.

    Obviously I agree with your explication of the pious and non-pious Christian…that’s always the case. You do provide me succor in bringing up the war effort, simply because there are damn few non-believers when the lead is flying and those men went home to their families telling the stories of their experiences, ALL their experiences, to family and friend alike.

    Jon, I am just fascinated with your desire to draw GW into the Deist, believe in god, but not Jesus, crowd. Now, over the years I’ve bought and read at least three different GW bios. I’ve written magazine article on GW exploits at Jummonville Glen, Ft. Necessity, etc and damn if I can remember anything specific about his religious perspective. But, your desire to place GW in your camp as soon as practicable in this little conversation speaks volumes. Kinda like capturing the enemy’s capital..!

    So, I’m not conceding all those weird ‘christian’ sects to you people, but we’re in agreement as far as SOME of the American founding elite and their derailed proclivity to embrace the pernicious humanism of the big E. Also, I’m arguing that you don’t have a point because much of the American unwashed couldn’t read and weren’t well edumacated simply because the best way to spread the Word of God is orally.

    In your opinon what was the effect of the Great Awakening on the founding, revolution?Report

  22. Avatar Jon Rowe
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    says:

    Two points. One — I don’t see GW as a “Deist,” because of what that term connotes (belief in an inactive Providence). Maybe GW was *some* kind of Deist; but if that’s so he was also *some* kind of Christian. David L. Holmes uses “Christian-Deist” to describe GW’s faith. I see GW as believing in an active Providence, but not believing in “mere Christianity” as CS Lewis termed it. It’s up to the reader to pick the best descriptive term for such a belief system. Another might be “theist” not “deist.”

    Second — I see the Great Awakening as having a qualified influence on the Founding. I see anti-Great Awakeners like Mayhew as more influential. Even Witherspoon, when he taught politics and revolt turned to Locke, who wasn’t much of a “Great Awakener” type of Christian.Report

  23. Avatar Robert Cheeks
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    says:

    Jon, I’m not sure what it is we’re arguing about.
    Would it be correct to say that your position is that America was founded as “some sort of Christian nation?” If so, I agree. I never held the view that America was founded as an Evangelical, or Episcopalian, or whatever “Christian” nation.
    Also, there are significant Enlightenment and Greco-Roman concepts involved in the founding. Yes/No?

    My point, following Voegelin, is that the ‘Christian’ component incorporated in the founding and existing into the present has provided a critical regenerative component for the American polis, e.g. as Americans we experience the “Ground of existence” in a transcendent framework with “which one lives in tension.” We have that vocabulary, Voegelin tells us, that gives credence to this tension in such words as “love, hope, and faith..” As a people we were established to live an existence in the phenomenon of the ‘openness of the soul,’ in what Augustine described as “amor Dei,” where we “experience our existence” as not of ourselves (the Sartean ‘moi’) but rather emanating from some place beyond.
    The problem, of course, beyond the libido dominandi was the expression of the Enlightenment’s ‘amor sui,’ the Kracken unleashed. Man either loves himself in a perverse parody of existence, or he loves God. He becomes that for which he was created, what one church father described as a being in “dialogue with God.”
    I’m not sure what it was about the Christian element of the American founding that introduced a homonia (like mindedness) that acted to pull Americans into an embrace of “philia politike” but it may be that aspect of the American phenomenon that has helped to regenerate the foundational principles as they are needed.Report

    • Avatar Angie in reply to Robert Cheeks
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      says:

      Robert,
      In speaking about “being in dialogue with God”….what difference does it make if one is calling self-reflection and self-questioning a “dialogue with God”….or not? Isn’t it just a matter of semantics?Report

      • Avatar Robert Cheeks in reply to Angie
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        says:

        Angie, this thread is beginning to confuse albeit that isn’t all that difficult to do. Did you see my reply to you below? I’m not being snarky..I like your attitude/mind/comments.

        Re: your query above, I think there’s a great difference between ‘self-reflection’ and
        ‘dialogue with God.’ The latter is the purpose of existence (see Voegelin/Schelling) assuming you add the idea of ‘loving God’ as well, and I do! A self-reflection seems to me to be a intellectual or perhaps spiritual examination of our psyche, if we follow our Greek friends. There’s nothing wrong with ‘self-reflection’ as long as we are cognizant of the true nature of the tension of existence (Plato/Aristotlean Metaxy). However, if we aren’t we can easily derail.
        So, no, it’s not just a matter of semantics.Report

        • Avatar Angie in reply to Robert Cheeks
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          says:

          Robert,
          You said, ” A self-reflection seems to me to be a intellectual or perhaps spiritual examination of our psyche, if we follow our Greek friends.”

          The Eastern mystic is what you refer to, as Buddhist do such “self-reflection”. But religious identity is not an absolute, because it is still defined by outside “sources” of authority (even if one is a heretic to that source).

          The Hellenization of Judiasm is/was theology. And since you think that ‘loving God” is foremost, then wouldn’t loving God with one’s mind fall into that category? But, you seem dismissive of self reflection, as “Greek”.

          Greek Orthodoxy affirms the value of man, not just “God”. So, are you, as an Augustinian, affirming the hierarchal government as to “humility” (even though the Pope is a fallible human being?)?

          Hierarchal government was not what our Founders thought was “moral”, because of the “fall of man”. There is no divine right of Kings or Pope. And this is what “hope” truly is, liberation from any type of oppression, whether political, religious, or social.Report

          • Avatar Angie in reply to Angie
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            says:

            And I might add, that even God, Himself, if an oppressor, does not deserve the right to be served. He doesn’t respect man’s dignity, then.Report

          • Avatar Robert Cheeks in reply to Angie
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            says:

            No, no; no Greek snark, I love the Greeks, they gave us the epoch of the Nous!
            All gummint is ‘hierarchal.’
            I am a Randolphian republican, not a commie-Dem.
            I do not understand your last sentence?
            Our problem is you’re choosing to read my ‘comments’ argumentatively..which is fine but I profer them as my understanding of the reality of existence, nothing more.
            You’re mad at God. Trust me, it’s preferrable to share His love and His existence. But, it’s your choice and that idea just fascinates me.Report

            • Avatar Angie in reply to Robert Cheeks
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              says:

              You are correct. I read everything argumentatively these days, because I am arguing with MYSELF! So, I am not mad at “God”, I’m mad at myself. I have only myself to blame for not being educated enough. I am seeking a coherency and I’m angry that I have been naive, trusting and gullible!!Report

              • Avatar Robert Cheeks in reply to Angie
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                says:

                Ang, we are ALL flawed. I’m impressed with your mind and attitude. You appeared to have picked up the philosopher’s mantle and are engaged in the noble and worthy act of ‘searching, seeking, and questing.’ That is what separates us from the ignorant…so hang in there.
                I’m an autodidact, and you’re invited to join our little association. Autodidacts get to read, write papers, and participate in the intellectual, and more importantly spiritual life. Also, we don’t have to pay the exhorbitant cost of the university and be forced to sit there and listen to all the bs about Marx, Hegel, et al.
                I would recommend Voegelin simply because he’s so good with the ancient Greeks and you’ll learn so much. Read Plato’s allegory The Cave and turn toward the light.
                Ultimately all philosophy that approaches the truth of reality participates in a tension that moves toward the metalepsis, the Divine/human encounter and that requires the surrender of self.
                Find God, find yourself.Report

  24. Avatar James Hanley
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    says:

    I’m critical of your position that argues that the inability to read is a hinderance to accepting the Divine Ground

    Well, it’s easy to be critical of something I didn’t actually argue.Report

    • Avatar Robert Cheeks in reply to James Hanley
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      says:

      “and probably weren’t literate enough to read them if they did),…”

      You seemed to imply an emphasis here. Perhaps I’m guilty of misinterpreting?Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Robert Cheeks
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        says:

        It may be a hindrance to familiarity with the divine ground, rather than acceptance, which is easy enough once a person becomes familiar with it in one way or another. In the absence of Bibles and churches, though, I think it’s likely that people just weren’t really tremendously familiar with Christianity beyond a general cultural reference. An unchurched people is rarely a devout people, it seems to me.

        Keep in mind, these were people who eagerly moved out away from areas where there were churches. That’s not to say they were running from them, but they certainly weren’t running to them, and presumably found it fairly easy to leave them behind. I can only compare that to my own religious refugee ancestors who when they fled Switzerland to escape persecution didn’t simply leave their church behind, but actually came as a congregation/extended family. For most of them, I think, the idea of moving out to a remote area without church would been nearly unthinkable. Devout folk simply didn’t leave Christian fellowship behind.Report

        • Avatar Robert Cheeks in reply to James Hanley
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          says:

          Mr. Hanley, I do like the above comment. However, there’s something about it that sticks in my craw.
          For example, I do appreciate this: “I think it’s likely that people just weren’t really tremendously familiar with Christianity beyond a general cultural reference. An unchurched people is rarely a devout people, it seems to me.”
          However, man as being is, perhaps regardless of his circumstances, a creature designed to dialogue with God. So, I would think that even in most difficult of circumstances man sets aside some time, perhaps by the fire following his labors, to seek refuge in the Lord, even without benefit of a Bible or a church (and its associated doctrines) or a congregation of believers. My point is that the ‘nature of man is openness toward transcendence.’ In the case of these bold, brave, and oft scalped settlers, they may not have had ‘Christian’ fellowship, but inherently they were beings who eschewed the anthropomorphic distortion common in modernity and maintained a theomorphic existence, at least involuntarily.
          As a result and in following my argument above, I have to take issue with your statement: “An unchurched people is rarely a devout people, it seems to me.” Indeed, I find it possible to be just the opposite; consider the frontiersman is not subject to the sometimes radical distortions related to the sundry church doctrines of the day and he probably wasn’t all that subject to the Enlightenment’s ideological distortions. Ironically, he lived in a Rousseian (sp) natural environment, at least in a pneumatic sense and it very well may have been significantly easier to engage in thinking, praying, or meditating on the great questions or in particpating in the divine/human encounter.Report

  25. Avatar Jon Rowe
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    says:

    Robert,

    I’d agree on a Christian component. I’d also agree on Providence. But ultimately — not sure what kind of agreement we will get here — it was a synthesis that included Greco-Roman, Enlightenment, Common Law and Whig principles with the biblical Christian.

    I follow Bailyn on this.

    Some kind of “Christian Nation”? Sure. But not the kind of “Christian Nation” as put forth by the Christian America types like Barton, D. James Kennedy, Peter Marshall, William Federer and so on.

    Although something interesting is going on with David Barton now teaming up with Glenn Beck as though Christians and Mormons worship the same God. That’s the kind of “political theology” that I see coming from the American Founding, Jews, Christians, Muslims, unconverted Native Americans whose God is call “The Great Spirit,” folks who may not be Christians because they don’t believe in the Trinity, but who nonetheless call themselves Christians all worship the same “Providence.”

    Some of the churches to whom Barton gives his history are now balking because they believe Christians and Mormons do NOT worship the same God and Barton may be giving comfort to Mormon Christian Nationalism. As I’ve written elsewhere because of when and where Mormonism was created it’s more authentic for THEM as opposed to believers in historic orthodox doctrines to incorporate the American Founding into their theology.Report

  26. Avatar Robert Cheeks
    Ignored
    says:

    “Some kind of “Christian Nation”? Sure. But not the kind of “Christian Nation” as put forth by the Christian America types like Barton, D. James Kennedy, Peter Marshall, William Federer and so on.”

    Well, I don’t have a problem with the above other then sensing an inappropriate antipathy toward our Evangelical bros. Perhaps they have it wrong and you (and other secularists) did a mighty thing by disproving their claim that Jesus founded the nation?

    My point is that this Christian component in the founding is, IMO, that pneumatic force (faith) that continues to serve the nation first in terms of “homonia” and then, following St. Paul (see Voegelin) where “the Logos of Christ has now entered as that community substance that constitutes homonia.”Report

    • Avatar Barrett Brown in reply to Robert Cheeks
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      says:

      Are there any other nations for which this is true, past or present?Report

      • Avatar Robert Cheeks in reply to Barrett Brown
        Ignored
        says:

        Barrett, not off the top of my head.
        Also, it’s interesting to note that Christianity seems to flourish unders oppression and seems to languish or decline during fat city..human nature I suppose.
        The Greeks engaged ‘homonia’ but they were already established. The Christian founding of America, while acknowledging the contribution of Greco-Roman republicanism, Locke, et al, established a free-state that continues to this day…rather amazing when you consider the derailments inherent in modernity. Methinks God has, indeed, blessed us..at least for the time being.Report

        • Avatar Angie in reply to Robert Cheeks
          Ignored
          says:

          Robert,
          Don’t you think that men try to live reasonably, and part of that reason is taking responsibility for their life, as this is the moral thing to do. When one lives under oppression where choice is undermined, then men have to “find a way” to reason about thier life. Why? Thus, God is the answer. Scriptures were written in such a time of oppression.

          Today, with an open and free society, one can form as a full human being, taking responsibility for his life and coming to terms with his values, pursuing his choice in vocation, etc. “God” or outward authority is not needed when man can become fully whole, through choice, development, and direction…Report

          • Avatar Robert Cheeks in reply to Angie
            Ignored
            says:

            Angie, I do love and appreciate your optimism. Sadly, if you follow Augustine and I do, man is a ‘fallen’ creature. This state/condition mucks us up pretty badly, at least in the metaleptic relationship (the relationship between man and God). I think, and perhaps I’m wrong, it mucks up about all our endeavors in one way or another.

            Re: “…pursuing his choice in vocation, etc. “God” or outward authority is not needed when man can become fully whole, through choice, development, and direction…” I would say respectfully, that with the above comment you are very clearly (and honestly) illustrating just how seriously derailed you are.
            (Following Voegelin) In your sincere search for the truth of reality, for the Nous, you have allowed yourself to be seduced by an immanent world-reality and rather than living a Metaxical existence where the tension of that existence is defined by the poles of immanence and transcendence, you’ve chosen to abandon the transcendent and place the ground of your existence in some immanent characteristic (such as Marx/economics, or politics, or some ideology, and so on).

            The good news is that there’s millions of folks who are in this camp. The bad news is, if folks don’t begin the process of living like a human being they tend to collapse into a psycho/pneumo-pathology and manifest a mental or spiritual illness that can create (for example) Hegelian second realities and other disorders. Also, I should note that there is always a remnent that breaks out of the current/contemporary social disorders and begin the process of searching, seeking, and questing for the truth of reality. You seem to be one of those….good luck!Report

            • Avatar Angie in reply to Robert Cheeks
              Ignored
              says:

              Thank you for respecting my questions. And for having hope that I will ‘find my way’. I only hope that others will be so respectful.

              Wasn’t Augustine the one who distinctified himself with “The City of God”, which was what brought about the “transcendental” vision of “hope” after the fall of Rome? Don’t you think that spiritualization is what undermines “reality”, as an escape from responsibility and accountability for one’s life?

              The difference with Marx in eonomics, and others that are accepted by the Academy and the liberal, is that there is no nuance. That is not my forte, but I do believe there is a way “between”, as a conservative realist.

              In my view, a conservative realist, is one who has knowledge of the accepted writers in the Academy, but has honed it such that it isn’t idealistic. The goal is applicability/practicality, for the “good of society” and for the “good of man”. I am far from being informed and aware of these areas.

              I agree that men are “fallen”, but not in the spiritual sense, but the limited sense. And this is why the balance of power is needed to bring accountability and equality to those limitations. This is what humility is about, not someone sacrificing themselves on a altar to God, OR others. Humilty is shared knowledge, understanding, and hope for the future. (and hope for the future is where the transcendent values lie for a realist, not in God.)Report

        • Avatar Barrett Brown in reply to Robert Cheeks
          Ignored
          says:

          I’d say Christianity flourished pretty well in the period during which the Christians were the oppressors.Report

          • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Barrett Brown
            Ignored
            says:

            Barrett,

            Christianity as an institution, or Christianity as a meaningful spirituality? As a former Christian, it seems to me that nothing is more deadly to it as a meaningful spirituality than the institutionalization that it undergoes when it is culturally and politically ascendant.

            Perhaps humility is conducive to spirituality, and hubris is deadly to it.Report

            • Avatar Barrett Brown in reply to James Hanley
              Ignored
              says:

              I mean Christianity as an institution. I agree with the division you employ, as there are really two sorts of Christians, one of which is represented by the James Dobsons of the world and the other being represented by people like Joe Carter, with whom I was recently debating. Having said that, I don’t particularly agree with the idea that the latter are “true” Christians; Jesus is often described by liberals as being in total agreement with them on pretty much everything although I think that a full reading of the several accounts of his words, to the extent that they are faithful (sorry) to the source, paints a somewhat more nuanced picture. I recommend Christ and Caesar, which I believe was the 3rd volume of William Durant’s Story of Civilization series, as among those books I’ve read which really shook up my preconceived notions of Christ and Paul and added greatly to my still quite limited knowledge on the subject.Report

  27. Avatar Jon Rowe
    Ignored
    says:

    Voegelin’s point may be too deep for me. I’m more about drawing lines and discernment. I’m not an evangelical, but do admire the way they do it.

    They are the kind of folks who say “Mormonism isn’t ‘Christianity,'” even though Mormons call themselves “Christian.” If that’s true then you shouldn’t view the American Founding as “Christian” in a political-theological sense.

    Mormons are a good test case. Yeah they weren’t around during the AF; but they are the most notable group evangelicals tend to pick on as “not Christian” even though they call themselves “Christian.”

    The Swedenborgs were around during the Founding and are probably the closest analogy; they weren’t orthodox Trinitarians; they added additional revelation from their eccentric leader. And they were embraced by a number of the Founders. Jefferson, as far as I know, let them preach with the other “Christian” groups at the Capitol.

    And that sermon is part of Sandoz’s collection.

    My other bloggers at AC have noted there is something “CHRISTIANY” (note the spelling) about the American Founding; but recognize, it might not pass CS Lewis standard of “mere Christianity.”Report

  28. Avatar Jon Rowe
    Ignored
    says:

    I’ve never been to one of their churches; but there is a town called Bernathan, Pennsylvania near me which I’ve never been to. They have a Swedenborg based college there. One of my co-workers is from the area and has roots in that religion.Report

  29. Avatar jimmiraybob
    Ignored
    says:

    It might also help to focus on the meaning of nation. Although I’m aware of the pitfalls of using a Wiki reference, for convenience I’ll start there.

    “A nation is a group of people who share culture, ethnicity and language, often possessing or seeking its own independent government.”

    “A nation is not necessarily equated with country in that a country is akin to a state which is defined as the political entity within defined borders. Although “nation” is also commonly used in informal discourse as a synonym for state or country, a nation is not identical to a state. Countries where the social concept of “nation” coincides with the political concept of “state” are called nation states.”

    This seems a fair assessment and useful where we might speak of the Sioux Nation or Kiss Nation existing within the larger political unit called the United States of America – the state.

    What many of the modern Christian nationalists do today, however, is to conflate, or at least not clarify a difference between, the idea of a Christian-dominated culture with a Christian state. (Such as a David Barton whose agenda is clearly to infuse Christian doctrine into the politics of state – as a means of coercive influence on the citizens.)

    Distinguishing between culture, ethnicity and language and the state might be as useful as trying to define what it means to be Christian. And brings up other questions, such as “when did we become a nation?” Was there a common sense of shared culture among the 13 colonies before the revolution? What about after the ratification of the Constitution? I’d say hardly to the first and barely to the second. Almost all citizens and representatives from each colony/state thought of themselves as sovereign citizens of their respective colonies/states. There were vast cultural and certainly religious differences (sectarian), and ethnic differences and language differences as well. Don’t forget the indigenous peoples.

    If there was one thread that united the European immigrants in the new world, it was accepting some variant of Christianity to worship or to castigate or ignore – clearly a carryover from old Europe. (And don’t think that there weren’t agnostic, atheist and deist elements among the elite and the unwashed alike.*) But this hardly signaled unity either within the colonies/early states or between the colonies/early states. What the founders and framers were able to do was separate, or at least start the separation, of the state from religious domination and coercion, and the civil strife which it inspired in the old world and early new world. They laid a national foundation defending, among others, the individual right of conscience – a state government(s) to order man’s temporal affairs and religion to order one’s spiritual affairs (and as one route to instilling the virtue and morality necessary for republican civil governance).

    This idea of religion and piety providing a firm basis of cohesive governance is not derived from Christianity and is as old as the hills and governance itself and can be illustrated by 2nd century Imperial Rome in the person of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius, a pious pagan stoic who spoke of God and divine providence and defended his state from the corrosive “atheism” practiced by the upstart Christian sects.**

    So, I’d say that during the founding and early national period we had a largely Christian tradition-centric culture (in the broad sense) but with a large incorporated Greco-Roman political/religious tradition*** (via the Renaissance & Enlightenment as well as the preserved remnants within the Roman Catholic Church), but with large differences in other cultural traditions and norms, as well as language and ethnicity. Which is probably as close as we can get during that period to calling it a Christian nation. Also, if the right of individual conscience, central to founding-era political and religious ideology, means anything at all then America, with its religious diversity today, cannot now be called a Christian nation and certainly not a Christian state (which it was never intended to be). Does this mean that Christian tradition is dead or has had no influence or is not valuable today? Of course not.

    *An interesting juxtaposition of Christian-atheist worldview in alliance during the founding is presented in William Hogeland’s Declaration: The Nine Tumultuous Weeks When America Became Independent, May 1-July 4, 1776.

    **See, for instance, Gregory Hays’ Marcus Aurelius Meditations.

    ***A good introduction to Roman influence is Carl Richard’s Why We’re All Romans: The Roman Contribution to the Western World.Report

  30. Avatar Steve S.
    Ignored
    says:

    The Founders probably didn’t anticipate that a couple of hundred years later the most common image of Christianity in popular discourse would be the know-nothing, evangelical variety and that the two major political parties would be fighting over the rube vote, and that we’d still be having this discussion that they thought they had ended two hundred years earlier. Maybe they would have tightened up some of that vague language in the Declaration and Constitution if they’d known.Report

  31. Avatar tom van dyke
    Ignored
    says:

    They may be rubes, but they’re smart enough to know that one of the parties is full of people who have nothing but scorn for them and their beliefs.

    By contrast, Jefferson peeled off the Baptist vote and was quite conciliatory in his inauguration speech.

    ” Kindly separated by nature and a wide ocean from the exterminating havoc of one quarter of the globe; too high-minded to endure the degradations of the others; possessing a chosen country, with room enough for our descendants to the thousandth and thousandth generation; entertaining a due sense of our equal right to the use of our own faculties, to the acquisitions of our own industry, to honor and confidence from our fellow-citizens, resulting not from birth, but from our actions and their sense of them; enlightened by a benign religion, professed, indeed, and practiced in various forms, yet all of them inculcating honesty, truth, temperance, gratitude, and the love of man; acknowledging and adoring an overruling Providence, which by all its dispensations proves that it delights in the happiness of man here and his greater happiness hereafter—with all these blessings, what more is necessary to make us a happy and a prosperous people?”

    Oh, and one thing more, another theme of this election just past:

    “Still one thing more, fellow-citizens—a wise and frugal Government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned. This is the sum of good government, and this is necessary to close the circle of our felicities…”Report

    • Avatar Steve S. in reply to tom van dyke
      Ignored
      says:

      “They may be rubes, but they’re smart enough to know that one of the parties is full of people who have nothing but scorn for them and their beliefs.”

      Which party? Obama, for instance, went to almost fanatic lengths to court this demographic, while McCain is pretty demure about religion and once labeled leading evangelicals as “agents of intolerance.”Report

      • Avatar tom van dyke in reply to Steve S.
        Ignored
        says:

        “So it’s not surprising then that they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.”—Barack Obama, 2008

        Contrary to popular belief, the rubes know how to read.

        Also contrary to popular belief, it’s not just about rhetoric. There was a substantive difference between the candidates on the abortion issue.

        Steve S., I happened to subscribe to this thread because it’s of interest to me. I admit I’m a bit of a Luddite when it comes to threads, and will not subscribe everytime I might comment anyway. There is already too much junk in my email as a result of this one and my many kind interlocutors. Under ordinary circumstances, I would have missed your worthy reply, so please don’t read any future silences as anything more than that.Report

        • Avatar Steve S. in reply to tom van dyke
          Ignored
          says:

          “Under ordinary circumstances, I would have missed your worthy reply, so please don’t read any future silences as anything more than that.”

          So I guess this question will be rhetorical. Which party are you talking about?Report

    • Avatar Angie in reply to tom van dyke
      Ignored
      says:

      Tom,

      “Still one thing more, fellow-citizens—a wise and frugal Government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned. This is the sum of good government, and this is necessary to close the circle of our felicities…”

      This is all I argue for….

      Thanks, AngieReport

  32. Avatar James Hanley
    Ignored
    says:

    They may be rubes, but they’re smart enough to know that one of the parties is full of people who have nothing but scorn for them and their beliefs.

    You say that as though scorn for their beliefs is a bad thing.

    Or at least as though it was an unfair thing. I’ve noticed that they tend to have nothing but scorn for liberals and their beliefs, so turnabout is fair play, no?Report

  33. Avatar mark boggs
    Ignored
    says:

    One of the major parties is completely atheistic?Report

  34. Avatar Michael Heath
    Ignored
    says:

    mark boggs:

    One of the major parties is completely atheistic?

    Actually I heard on Fox News it’s 50/50 Muslim/Atheists.Report

  35. Avatar tom van dyke
    Ignored
    says:

    One of the major parties is completely atheistic?

    Did I say that? You know better than this, Mark.

    James, scorn for their beliefs is a only bad thing if you want their votes. You illustrate my point perfectly.

    The irony of course is that we know Jefferson did indeed regard such beliefs with scorn, but only in private. The public man was a genuine American pluralist.Report

  36. Avatar mark boggs
    Ignored
    says:

    “one of the parties is full of people who have nothing but scorn for them and their beliefs.”

    Mine was said in jest? Et tu?Report

  37. Avatar tom van dyke
    Ignored
    says:

    I dunno, Mark. It appears we’re done here. “Fox News” is a corollary to Godwin’s Law, or should be.

    One party tends to attract those who are hostile to religion. But there’s still a “social gospel” left that runs between 20-45%, depending on the candidate. It’s all good. I don’t consider any of them rubes.

    http://people-press.org/commentary/?analysisid=103Report

  38. Avatar mark boggs
    Ignored
    says:

    I’m not the one who brought Fox into it and I know you despise “culture war” talk anyway, so I wouldn’t intentionally “go there”. But it did seem you were using an especially broad brush.

    Besides, haven’t you and I already had the conversation re: the Huckabee wing of the GOP v. the Romney factor? So even inside a party, there are those who have nothing but scorn for others and their beliefs.Report

  39. Avatar James Hanley
    Ignored
    says:

    James, scorn for their beliefs is a only bad thing if you want their votes. You illustrate my point perfectly.

    Yeah, Tom, it still cuts both ways, doesn’t it? You’re taking a general rule and really trying to apply it to only one party. That doesn’t work in reasoned debate. Never has, never will.Report

  40. Avatar tom van dyke
    Ignored
    says:

    Mark, theological disagreement isn’t “scorn.” Jefferson did indeed scorn Christian orthodoxy in his private letters, but as noted, publicly, he still showed respect to the American principle of religious pluralism, and of course to whatever individuals were involved. This is key, and a principle we have lost, or at least we are losing.

    Of course we find each other’s religious beliefs ridiculous. Or non-beliefs. That’s a given. The question for the Founding era was where to go from there. Even Jefferson, the most scornful of all, knew how to behave himself. He might even have done it sincerely.

    And yes, Mark, I know you didn’t play the reductio ad FoxNewsium card. That was directed at Dr. Hanley and his henchman. James, as is your custom, you have added no substance to the discussion, only ill will. But as is often the case, your truculence simply illustrates my point.Report

  41. Avatar James Hanley
    Ignored
    says:

    And yes, Mark, I know you didn’t play the reductio ad FoxNewsium card. That was directed at Dr. Hanley and his henchman.

    Since I have no henchmen here (or anywhere, so far as I know, although if anyone knows where I can get some minions, please let me know), and since I never mentioned Fox News, I am completely baffled as to what Mr. van Dyke possibly could think he is referring to.

    James, as is your custom, you have added no substance to the discussion, only ill will

    Actually, Mr. van Dyke, it’s rather a substantive point to note that you are engaged in a form of special pleading. Regrettably, you responded with a personal attack rather than considering the substance of the point.Report

  42. Avatar mark boggs
    Ignored
    says:

    Agreed, Tom, that theological disagreement doesn’t necessarily have to be scorn.Report

  43. Avatar tom van dyke
    Ignored
    says:

    Sophistic. And bad sophistry at that. You need to go back to school, Dr. Hanley, and clean up your game.Report

  44. Avatar James Hanley
    Ignored
    says:

    Seriously? Pointing out logical fallacies is sophistry? Then you’ll have no objections if I engage in ad hominem attacks, beg the question, appeal to authority, etc? Somehow I suspect that suddenly “sophistry” will be in vogue again, or rather, that legitimate objections to fallacious modes of argument will be reclassified out of the sophistic category at your own convenience.

    And “go back to school”? Did you actually say that? Do you really want to get into a battle of scholarly credentials with me? Are we going to whip our CVs out of our pants and compare them to see whose is bigger?Report

  45. Avatar tom van dyke
    Ignored
    says:

    That is not substance, Dr. Hanley. That is sophism, arguing the form of the argument and not its content. We’re finished here. Also, you are wrong even in your sophistry. You cry “fallacy” like a bad basketball player cries “foul!”

    Do you really want to get into a battle of scholarly credentials with me?
    Heh heh. You’re a Dr. That’s what makes it all the more tragic.

    I see Barrett Brown has argued—yet again—

    I’d say Christianity flourished pretty well in the period during which the
    Christians were the oppressors.

    He should take this back up with Joe Carter, on mutually agreed upon terms of debate.Report

    • Avatar Barrett Brown in reply to tom van dyke
      Ignored
      says:

      Carter did not seem to object to my rather uncontroversial assertion that there was a period in which Christianity dealt out a great deal of oppression and was able to expand its influence thereby. In fact, Carter and I had trouble coming to any real disagreement on much of anything and, worse, I quickly came to like and respect him based on his very evident knowledge and the manner in which he conducted the debate. I would have much preferred to debate you.Report

      • Avatar Heidegger in reply to Barrett Brown
        Ignored
        says:

        Are you speaking of THE Joe Carter who hit the walk-off home run to win the World Series in 1993? I did notice that he pointed his finger to the heavens to thank the Lord and Creator for his gifts…he also tended to wax endlessly about sophistry and physicalism at post game interviews. Who would have known? Maybe Moe Berg–would-be OSS assassin, sent on mission to assassinate Heisenberg. Mission aborted because it became evident Nazis weren’t close to their own Manhattan Project.Report

      • Avatar Heidegger in reply to Barrett Brown
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        says:

        I forgot to mention–Moe Berg did all this while still being a catcher for the Boston Red Sox! Oh, and he was also fluent in 12 languages.Report

    • Avatar James Hanley in reply to tom van dyke
      Ignored
      says:

      Tom, if you had more schooling you might understand that form of argument plays a very large role in determining the value of substance. But then I suppose you never had a methodology course, and you seem never to have taken even a basic logic course. Like most bright but poorly educated people, you know some particular niches really well but lack a solid foundation. There are a lot of CCs out in L.A., where you could pick up a course in logic–but given your general attitude, I can see you spending your time dismissing anything the prof says as unworthy of your attention because a person whose actually educated in the topic is saying it.Report

  46. Avatar Robert Cheeks
    Ignored
    says:

    Rough crew! Kinda like a boat load of Vikings just got shore leave, however, I can’t say it wasn’t fun!Report

  47. Avatar Michael Heath
    Ignored
    says:

    James Hanley stated:

    form of argument plays a very large role in determining the value of substance. But then I suppose you never had a methodology course, and you seem never to have taken even a basic logic course. Like most bright but poorly educated people, you know some particular niches really well but lack a solid foundation. There are a lot of CCs out in L.A., where you could pick up a course in logic–but given your general attitude, I can see you spending your time dismissing anything the prof says as unworthy of your attention because a person whose actually educated in the topic is saying it.

    An English teacher at a nearby junior college recently wrote a guest column in our regional paper of record. Her column successfully ripped a previously published letter to the editor which was utterly dependent on rhetorical fallacies. I was shocked that her bio noted she taught a class in critical thinking and writing from within the English Dept. and that such a class even existed in such a small junior college.

    I note this because I would have been surprised by your advice here except that I encountered such a fine example several days ago. Prior to that column I had no idea such classes were available at such venues and that English teachers existed who were capable of teaching such a class. Perhaps our young people have an even better shot than I realize.Report

  48. Avatar tom van dyke
    Ignored
    says:

    Not atall, gentlemen. Let’s use a hypothetical example: If someone were to say that James Hanley is a fool, and therefore the teachers at Adrian College are fools, that would be a fallacy.

    But if he were to say many of the faculty at Adrian College are fools, we would give that weight, since we know James Hanley.

    Hypothetically speaking, of course. I’m not calling James Hanley a fool, necessarily.

    Regardless, one can present 10 pieces of evidence for why OJ Simpson is guilty. Now, this is where the sophist makes his living, a corollary of the “straw man” fallacy—to pick only on the weakest argument. 9 of the pieces are valid, but the sophist goes after the 10th, which is flawed.

    The sophist is unconcerned with truth, only with winning. He succeeds in impeaching the 10th, and declares victory, even though the other 9 conclusively prove OJ’s guilt.

    We watch too much Law & Order these days.
    ______________

    To Barrett: I haven’t understood your point yet, which is why I requested you fellows agree on a topic. The Church never had much luck running things, and of course is not synonymous with “Christianity” anyway.

    Well, I see Jefferson or Locke or the American Founding haven’t been mentioned in awhile here, and the thread has devolved into the usual sophistic nonsense, as is the case wherever the faculty of Adrian College goes

    😉

    so let’s call it a day.Report

    • Avatar James Hanley in reply to tom van dyke
      Ignored
      says:

      Tom,

      I directly linked you to the fallacies you committed. I trust others, if not you yourself, to be able to see them. Your example of impeaching 1 piece of evidence out of 10 has no bearing on whether you engaged in special pleading. I’m sure there’s a name for the fallacy of using irrelevant examples as well. Perhaps it’s a special form of the red herring fallacy.

      What you utterly fail to understand is that an argument that proceeds by fallacious reasoning is simply an invalid argument. If there is indeed some true conclusion to the argument, you can reach it without the fallacies, but the moment you engage in the use of fallacies you fail to demonstrate the truth of your claim because it is no longer based on a legitimate chain of logical argument.

      I’ve sat in enough philosophy and methods courses to know exactly how your argument here would be treated. Not well.

      You may want people to recognize your great truths regardless of how badly you present the argument, but the world doesn’t work that way. It’s your responsibility to do the task right and not engage in a bit of a tantrum when your errors are pointed out.Report

  49. Avatar tom van dyke
    Ignored
    says:

    Tantrum? Moi, James? I want to talk about Thomas Jefferson, Locke, etc. You clearly have nothing of substance to add there, so you do this little circus instead.

    You also clearly do not know the difference between a valid formal argument and truth itself. Your background in statistics makes everything look like a nail, and you keep hammering away, to no avail.

    OJ was guilty, glove or no bloody glove.Report

  50. Avatar James Hanley
    Ignored
    says:

    You also clearly do not know the difference between a valid formal argument and truth itself. Your background in statistics makes everything look like a nail, and you keep hammering away, to no avail.

    Ah, nice, Tom. You zero in on my reference to methods courses, and carefully ignore my repeated reference to basic logic courses. Now who was complaining about ignoring the 9 pieces of evidence condemning O.J., and focusing on just the one that couldn’t be proved? Oh, yes, that was you. No wonder you’re so attuned to that possibility, given that you are presently engaging in it yourself.

    Of course you haven’t demonstrated that I’ve done that, because I haven’t. But what you would like is for us to ignore the issue of whether your argument has any formal validity, and simply accept it’s alleged truth value (and I emphasize alleged, since you haven’t provided any evidence for your assertion of truth).

    But of course the reason for taking the formal construction of the argument seriously is that when you discipline yourself that way, you sometimes find that you can’t reach your preferred conclusion without violating formal logic and engaging in fallacies. That’s generally a warning sign that your conclusion is false.

    By avoiding that disciplined approach, and pretending that it’s ok to ignore the correctness of the logic, you free yourself from ever having to face the conclusion that your argument isn’t in fact true. The only potential causes of that approach are ignorance, laziness, and cowardice. I won’t make any pretense of knowing which applies to you, but undoubtedly at least one of them has to.Report

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