12 July 2012

Kirk Cameron's Monumental Part 4: Common Law, The Puritans, Composite and Monistic Views of Society

Did the Founders belong to a time when a Sacral Christian consensus still reigned? Of course. And yet, they were of many different stripes and persuasions and a jumble of ideas came together in what they produced. The Sacral consensus of the Middle Ages and Reformation was beginning to crumble and the Founders were men of their day. They imbibed (as we all do) from a variety of sources of worldviews, everything from English Common Law to Locke and others.
Interestingly Jefferson detested the famous Blackstone commentaries on English Common Law, which is often something Christian America advocates point to when trying to build their case for the Founders attempting to establish a Christian state. While it may work with someone like John Adams, they won't find an ally in the author of the Declaration of Independence.

If the Founders weren't specifically Theonomic, looking to form a civil polity based on Scripture, then they had to be imbibing ideals from the surrounding culture. Of course I would argue even the Theonomists do this. They too bring cultural baggage and it shapes how they read Biblical Law. Their 'pure' reading is fiction. They too are shaped by context. There are ways to divorce one's self from this trap, but it will destroy any overarching meta-narrative that has been created and perhaps take you where you did not originally intend to go.
When it comes to the issue of Biblical Law and how it applies to the civil sphere, the Puritans were definitely Theonomic in their outlook, even if not specifically advocating the exact theses of Rushdoony, North or Bahnsen. Democracy was abhorrent to them Puritans, not just in principle, but in practice. Their Christian anthropological outlook, their doctrine of sin alone would have made them hesitant in trusting in a system that looked to the common man to do what was right and good.
Needless to say they viewed proto-Capitalist economics in the same fashion. All these systems functioned on Pelagian assumptions regarding the nature of man...that he could and would do good. The Puritans did not believe that, and on that point they were right. They believed that possessing a right understanding and application of Scripture, they 'could' do right and hold power without being corrupted. And on this point a Christian ethical reading of history would call that assumption into question.
While the Pilgrims did not wish to create a North American Christendom with an Established Church, they more or less operated with the same ideas about sin, Scripture, and man's place in the world.
This is quite a different understanding of man, society, law and the world than what we find with the later American Founders.
To try and blend their ideals with the Mayflower Pilgrims and/or Puritans is just plain dishonest or horribly ignorant. And again in the Cameron film, the interpretation of the 'monument' is not an interpretation of history, but an interpretation of art that was itself interpreting history. It's flawed from the beginning.
It's interesting because historically all the states and kingdoms within Christendom consciously formed their states in Sacral terms. Kings ruled 'by the grace of God' or by 'Divine Right', and often had been crowned by prelates demonstrating Divine/Ecclesiastical sanction. Crosses and other Christian symbols were woven into the nation's symbolism, on flags and seals.
In the past Protestants shrugged off most of this as being 'Catholic' and thus not really Christian. The contemporary embrace of Catholicism has driven many to reassess this, but how disappointed they must be when they come to the founding of the United States!
I've heard many Evangelicals in the past suggest America was the first and has been the only 'Christian' nation on the Earth. Besides being loaded with false assumptions and undefined concepts, if they now embrace Catholicism as Christian, then how would they defend such a statement in light of the Middle Ages, Charlemagne, the Holy Roman Empire, or Byzantium?
In the Declaration of Independence Jefferson doesn't appeal to Biblical law...he appeals to self-evident truths, at best Natural Law with a Lockean spin. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are hardly Biblical concerns, at least you won't find that construct anywhere in the Bible. You'll notice many Dominionists will say, 'life, liberty and property' because that better suits their understanding, but once again the phraseology comes from Locke!
It's echoed in the both the 5th and 14th amendments to the Constitution, but I'm not sure Theonomists would want to venture into those waters. The 14th amendment is an expansion of the 5th amendment and empowers and tasks the government to proactively insure these rights for all citizens. They can invoke the language, but as it stands and is used in Constitutional law it goes against their use of the phrase. This will be discussed later in the essay.
The pursuit of happiness is hardly a goal of New Testament Christianity which calls us to suffer and to gain victory by being slaughtered as sheep. Joy and Happiness are fruits of the Spirit, not rights derived from or even secured by the state.
The wording in the Declaration is in reality an anthropological expression regarding man's need. It reflects an epistemology rooted in British Empiricism, not Christian Theism. Knowledge and thus ethics are derived from sense perception. How we define good is not determined by an Eternal Lawgiver, but by what we know to make us happy. That is what is good. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are reflections of the supreme good in that, such a state of being fulfills the desires of man...pleases his senses. It's a secularist worldview trying to express its version of Utopia, or heaven on earth.
Jefferson doesn't appeal to power as being Divine or derived from God, but from the 'consent of the governed' which not only goes completely against Theonomic and Dominionistic understandings of government, law, and society, it was socially revolutionary for the time.
Rather than the United States being formed as a 'Christian' nation in the Sacral sense....in all actuality it was the first Western nation formed since the fall of Rome that explicitly was NOT Christian.
As an anti-Sacralist I celebrate this fact, and would wish for something along those lines once again...not because I share the philosophical worldview but pragmatically because I believe a non-Sacral political structure allows for a Composite (versus Monistic) society. Social pluralism is desirable and does not necessitate the embrace of Theological Pluralism. The one is pragmatic and the other ideological.
Sacralism in all forms (especially Christian) means persecution for the faithful who will not join with the Sacral project. A composite society holding democratic power has a much harder time forming into a Sacral Project. The Babel Impulse is diluted and in the United States, this has largely proven to be true from a domestic standpoint. Though we're permeated with idolatrous patriotism, the state up until recently has been hindered in its attempts to forge (by force) a social monism. Now outside the boundaries of America, that's a different story. The Imperial Beast has raged and left a trail of blood, carnage, and suffering. There are only a few empires in history that surpass the United States in terms of murder and death.


Cal said...

It's even worse when Capitalism is justified biblically. Of course many will couch it in American terms but someone more mindful of Scripture will mention the absurdity of providence. Look at "The Wealth of Nations", Adam Smith talks about an "invisible hand" guiding the markets. He's talking about providence!

While there is some evidence he had some kind of providence in mind it is either non-Christian or blasphemous. To all but the most fierce ideologue, it is apparent Smith was a Deist or an Agnostic and that the Invisible Hand was not the governance of the "Lord of Heave and Earth" we find in the Scriptures.

However, if this was his intent, how absurd you can make a system of God's working. That clearly, things will be set right if we follow the standard. It's almost as bad as those who sell books on how to pray the right prayers to "get the devil off your finances and relationships" which is merely religious blather for how to be likeable and how to be wealthy. Of course, you corner a different market than the Oprah-esque books, though they certainly overlap.

Good post!

Protoprotestant said...

Adam Smith's Invisible Hand could also be appealed to say...look since a or b won this or that war...that's right too!

While Providence I believe guides all things, it does not mean Providence approves all things.

Judas and Assyria were part of God's plan....but they still sinned wickedly and were punished for it.

I remember years ago arguing with a guy. He insisted the Union was blessed by God and approved by Him...why? Well they won didn't they?

Not much to say to someone like that.

I often attack Capitalism and will continue to do so...but not because it's so awful of a system or so evil. It can work in certain contexts and quite nicely. But when someone erects it as the Christian system....no, no. I'll labour to show it's not Christian at all. If you like it fine...but don't call it Christian.

It's also interesting how if you cite this or that person's ideas...well, they're not Christians. They don't have a Biblical worldview.

And Jefferson did? Adam Smith? Barry Goldwater?