Friday, August 17, 2007

The Quote in Question

While Henry Cabot Lodge was preparing his own edition of Alexander Hamilton's works (John Church Hamilton had published his own in the 1840s and 1850s), he discovered an incomplete writing of Hamilton's that had never been published. The piece itself was an extraordinary criticism of the French Revolution, and Hamilton usually did, he started his denunciations of the French Revolution by denouncing their blatant rejection of Christianity. The work was undated, but several clues lead me to believe that it was written sometime in the mid-1790s:

(1) Hamilton's language is very strong, passionate, and fervent, as if the news of the infidelity of France was still fresh in Hamilton's mind, and he sat down and scrawled down his thoughts on paper (as was his habit).

(2) The words, phrases, and structure are very similar to Hamilton's published pamphlet The Stand, No. III, which was published in 1798. It is probable that this writing in question, which Lodge titled "Fragment on the French Revolution," was a rough draft of The Stand, No. III.

The "Fragment" began,

Facts, numerous and unequivocal, demonstrate that the present ÆRA is among the most extraordinary which have occurred in the history of human affairs. Opinions, for a long time, have been gradually gaining ground, which threaten the foundations of religion, morality, and society. An attack was first made upon the Christian revelation, for which natural religion was offered as the substitute. The Gospel was to be discarded as a gross imposture, but the being and attributes of GOD, the obligations of piety, even the doctrine of a future state of rewards and punishments, were to be retained and cherished.
In proportion as success has appeared to attend the plan, a bolder project has been unfolded. The very existence of a Deity has been questioned and in some instances denied. The duty of piety has been ridiculed, the perishable nature of man asserted, and his hopes bounded to the short span of his earthly state. DEATH has been proclaimed an ETERNAL SLEEP; "the dogma of the immortality of the soul a cheat, invented to torment the living for the benefit of the dead." Irreligion, no longer confined to the closets of conceited sophists, nor to the haunts of wealthy riot, has more or less displayed its hideous front among all classes. (1)
Here, Hamilton is clearly attacking atheism and deism (that defeats the popular argument that Hamilton became a deist). And yet there is a new theory that is being popularized by the secularists. They are losing the "The Founders were deists" argument, and so now they are giving the Founders labels such as "religious, but not Christian" and "theistic rationalists." And a theistic rationalist accepts the existence of God, has respect for Jesus as a "good teacher," and accepts parts of the Bible to be true, perhaps even inspired. It believes that divine revelation does exist, but that man's rational faculties are superior to anything with the label "divine revelation" on it. Now, to any rational and unprejudiced mind, Hamilton is not defending theistic rationalism, but rather Christianity. Here's the proof:

(1) He refers specifically to the "Christian revelation" and "the Gospel." He never uses any language that is distinctly "rationalist," but rather "Christian."

(2) "Theistic rationalism" may not discard ALL of the "Christian revelation," but it cannot accept "the Gospel," to which Hamilton not only makes direct reference, but implies an equation of "Christian revelation" and "the Gospel." Theistic rationalism is incompatible with the Gospel, and if one takes Hamilton's definition of "natural religion" at face value, one must admit the following obvious facts:

Theistic rationalism is incompatible with the Gospel, and may be categorized ultimately as "natural religion" (because theistic rationalism ultimately holds the dictates of man's reason and the laws of nature to be the sources of absolute truth). The Gospel, according to the rationalist, is fundamentally erroneous.

The basic tenets of the Gospel are as follows:

(1) Jesus Christ is the Son of God, who became a human being as the son of a chaste virgin.

According to the mind of any rationalist, this is impossible, as it goes beyond the comprehension of reason and it is contrary to the laws of nature.

(2) Jesus Christ performed the miracles described in the Gospels, and fulfilled the divinely-inspired prophesies of the Old Testament.

According to theistic-rationalistic reasoning, the miracles that Jesus performed (multiplying fishes and loaves, casting out demons, walking on water, etc.) are merely myths or parables, since it is impossible for such things to REALLY happen because they transgress the bounds of reason and natural laws.

(3) Jesus Christ died on the cross to atone for the sins of the human race, and accomplished what moral codes alone could not accomplish.

Atonement is impossible, according to the theistic rationalist, because only God incarnate could possible and truly atone for humanity's sins, and since theistic rationalism has ruled out the possibility of God being incarnate, and being born of a virgin, atonement is rationally impossible.

(4) Jesus Christ truly died, and yet He arose from the grave physically alive, just as the Gospels record.

According to theistic rationalism, this is rationally incomprehensible, and once again, it transgresses the bounds of natural law.

Theistic rationalism, although not specifically referred to by Hamilton in the above quotation, must then be included in the philosophies which "attack ... the Christian revelation" and discard the Gospel "as a gross imposture." If you reject some of Christian revelation, you reject all of it, because you acknowledge a higher source than revelation. If the basic tenets of the Gospel are untrue, than the Gospel is untrue, and is, according to the theistic rationalist, "a gross imposture," although he may not refer to the Gospel in such strong terms.

16 Comments:

Jonathan said...

Before I would dig into this I would caution you against making overbroad claims here:

And yet there is a new theory that is being popularized by the secularists.

Personally, I don't feel offended by the secularist label, though I'm a secular-minded libertarian, not a leftist and as such often disagree with ACLU and AU style secular leftism (for instance, I support vouchers).

That said, the person who coined the concept of theistic rationalism is no secularist, but an evangelical conservative who teaches at one of the most fundamentalist colleges in the nation. And the concept was endorsed by Dr. Gary Smith, chair of the history dept. at Grove City College, and as such one of the most distinguished evangelical historians in the nation.

I have found that many non-secular leftist, conservative academics who often challenge the ALCU's interpretation of the Constitution do not buy into the "Christian America" hagiography that seeks to make all but a sprinkling of Founders into orthodox evangelical Christians. You don't need to believe Alexander Hamilton or George Washington were orthodox Trinitarian Christians to believe the ACLU is wrong on the original meaning of the US Constitution.

Our Founding Truth said...

Brilliant! Where were you? Ah ah, great post you put to the Great Hamilton on Rowe's blog.

He was more brilliant than Jefferson and Madison put together. Hamilton understood Republican was good, but there was something better. What was it? Republican govt. is built on Biblical law, and Representative govt. is in Ex 18:21. The bloggers on Ed Brayton try to say it's not there, but anyway it's carried out, it is there.

If Hamilton realized the people needed a greater authority on them, that's why he like the British Constitution, the executive could be stronger, if the people were more virtuous. It makes perfect sense. But Hamilton realized we were not to be a monarchy. What would you call a Republican govt. with a stronger executive?

As long as the people remain virtueous, the people should not fear the executive.

Morris, I think is a little off on Hamilton "hating" a Republican govt. He thought there was something better. Check out my blog.

Can you find any quotes from James Wilson on miracles or Christianity, denying his theisic rationalist label?

Hercules Mulligan said...

You don't need to believe Alexander Hamilton or George Washington were orthodox Trinitarian Christians to believe the ACLU is wrong on the original meaning of the US Constitution.

This is a true statement in some regards; however, the only reason that I combat the opinion that they weren't is twofold:

(A) I don't find any evidence that proves the claim that most of the Founders weren't Christians, and

(B) I study the issue of their faith because I am an ardent Christian and an ardent American. My family heritage is steeped in the Founding of our nation, and so the lives and faith of the Founders is of great interest to me.

As far as my "overbroad" claim goes, I was not saying that all people who buy into the "theistic rationalistic" idea are "secularists." Evangelicals have made the mistake of endorsing this opinion, as you pointed out they did. Like I said elsewhere, I hope to explain in detail why I disagree with the evangelicals in Hamilton's case in the future.

Thanks for reading and commenting.

Hercules Mulligan said...

Our Founding Truth:

Thanks for reading and commenting on my blog. This blog still needs much work, but I hope what I have up so far is informative enough until I add more.

I will read your blog; I have browsed it already, and it looks like you made some very good points!

I will also do some of the research on James Wilson that you requested. You probably read Mr. Rowe's post on him, and all I have to say at the immediate moment is that most of the quotes that he presented from Wilson don't vindicate the fact that he believed that reason was SUPERIOR to the Bible. Some of the sentiments expressed by Christians are expressed by Wilson. Compare, for instance, the quote that begins "But whoever expects to find, in [Scripture], particular directions for every moral doubt which arises, expects more than he will find," with Colossians 2:20-23. I will write more on the subject in the future (most of my planned writing is always in the future; hope it will soon be in the present and then the past:) ), but that is my immediate comment for now.

I'd like to point you to my great research aid, The Founders' Bookshelf. It is my collection of 4 years of research, and has helped me greatly in my research. I was suprised at how many of the Founders' writings are online!

Jonathan said...

One thing I see here is you are trying to make theistic rationalism into something deistic than it really is so you can knock down. I completely understand why you would want to put deism and unitarianism/theistic rationalism in the same boat; the orthodox Christians during the Founding did exactly this, terming both "infidelity."

When you write:

If you reject some of Christian revelation, you reject all of it, because you acknowledge a higher source than revelation.

I understand that as your perspective and that of many orthodox Christians during the Founding era; but I don't see this as Hamilton's perspective in the letter in question.

The theistic rationalists could value, some, even most of what the Bible said, but still view it as partially inspired and subservient to man's reason. I don't think Adams, who clearly believed this, would approve of dismissing the entire Bible as "gross imposture."

The theistic rationalists had no problem looking to their left and attacking strict deism and atheism as too extreme, which is exactly what Franklin and Adams did to Paine and others. That's exactly what Hamilton could be doing here.

Within the next week or two I've got a few interesting posts on GW which illustrate this dynamic.

Washington, Franklin and company certainly didn't see themselves as "infidels" (I'm not sure if anyone back in the day, including Paine et al. embraced that label) and indeed could sometimes even use that term to criticize those to their left like Paine as such. However, orthodox Christians viewed what they believed (assuming, as I do, that GW was a theistic rationalist like Franklin) as "infidelity."

What I'm going to post about: Bishop Meade in Old Churches terms "Universalism" as infidelty. Benjamin Rush eventually converted to such "infidel" principles believing all will eventually be saved; though he remained Trinitarian. I have a letter GW wrote to one of these "infidel" Universalist Churches praising them and letting them know whatever it was he valued that "religion" contributed to society, they had it.

Jonathan said...

Glad I could match you two up.

James: you should model your web etiquette after HM's.

Herc: If you ever want me to scram, let me know and I will.

Hercules Mulligan said...

"When you write:

If you reject some of Christian revelation, you reject all of it, because you acknowledge a higher source than revelation.

I understand that as your perspective and that of many orthodox Christians during the Founding era; but I don't see this as Hamilton's perspective in the letter in question.

The theistic rationalists could value, some, even most of what the Bible said, but still view it as partially inspired and subservient to man's reason. I don't think Adams, who clearly believed this, would approve of dismissing the entire Bible as 'gross imposture.'" (bold added)

Your statement in bold proves my point; the Bible, according to the theistic rationalists, is only partially inspired merely because man's reason says it is (I do not advocate the idea that reason is worthless, but that it is not the final authority). I repeat my statement that you quoted again.

That Hamilton was a theistic rationalist is only your opinion. Sure, Adams would not have used such strong language as "gross imposture," but nevertheless, the Gospel would still have been ultimately "discarded ... , but the being and attributes of GOD, the obligations of piety, even the doctrine of a future state of rewards and punishments, were to be retained and cherished." This applies to deism and theistic rationalism (I acknowledge the difference), does it not?

To sum up, you ignored the logic and whole of the argument of the post. Hamilton said nothing which explicitly points to his being a "theistic rationalist" instead of a Christian, but rather, Hamilton said things which explicitly declare that he was a Christian instead of a theistic rationalist."

I mentioned in one place how he was one of the first two men to sign (with John Jay being the first) the founding document of the NY Manumission Society, which document was written in 1785, and makes this declaration:

"OBJECTS OF THE SOCIETY:
It is our duty, therefore, as Free Citizens and Christians, not only to regard, with Compassion, the injustice done to those, among us, who are held as Slaves, but to endeavor, by lawful Ways and Means, to enable them to Share, equally with us, in that civil and religious Liberty, with which an indulgent Providence has blessed these States; and to which these, our Brethren, are by Nature, as much entitled as ourselves ..." (bold added)

I don't think Hamilton saw himself as any other than a Christian. There are more quotes from him on the subject, and there are quotes from his contemporaries that lean toward his Christianity more than anything else. To my knowledge, he never said anything that was expressly rationalist, even though his statements might not be a blatant denial of theistic rationalism (although I think the quote in question is an exception).

Rob Scot said...

As always, astute observations by Hamilton. The comment about doing away with the Gospel while retaining the more favorable and comfortable ideas of spirituality in general is especially interesting. It sounds remarkably similar to much of the thinking that is prevalent in Western society today. Remind me, how did the French Revolution pan out?

Thanks for the post.

Jonathan said...

Hamilton said things which explicitly declare that he was a Christian instead of a theistic rationalist

No. Natural Religion refers to Deism, what can be known from reason wholly unaided by Revelation. Theistic rationalism is more of a hybrid between natural religion and Protestant Christianity, but with rationalism as the trumping element.

The theistic rationalists defended Christianity, even orthodox Christianity (though they disagreed with the doctrines of orthodoxy) because they thought society was better off with "religion" than without it. They just were so creedally indifferent that they didn't distinguish much between Christianity, and other religions. For instance, Ben Franklin was involved in the building of churches, which I think ended up being used by orthodox Christians only. Yet, he made it clear that if the people wanted the "Mufti of Constantinople...to send a missionary to preach Mohammedanism" in those churches, that would be just fine. Christianity and Mohammedanism were, to Franklin et al., both valid religions, with Christianity having an edge because Jesus of Nazareth as a man was the greatest moral teacher the world had seen.

But to more squarely address your point: the context of Hamilton's letter clearly indiciates he's attacking the French Revolution's decline into deism then atheism, or "irreligion," which is something all of the theistic rationalists were against.

Hercules Mulligan said...

Perhaps theistic rationalism could possibly be skweezed into Hamilton's quote. However, it can also be read in light of his being Christian. Hamilton never said he was a theistic rationalist, or that he believed that reason was superior to the Bible. He did, however, say that he was a Christian, and other people who knew him from his youth up said he was a Christian, and that from youth he expressed his conviction in "revealed religion."

Jonathan said...

There is only one person I am aware from his youth who said he was devout -- his college roomate; other folks who knew him, I think (I'll have to double check), said he wasn't Christian. He certainly didn't appear to be a Christian between 1777-92. Check out my latest post where I note a letter of his where talks about what he looked for in a wife: He didn't say she had to be Christian, but believe in God, and preferred a "moderate."

Hercules Mulligan said...

When you do your double-checking, Jonathan, please let me know; I am interested. But one note of caution: there may have been several people who were acquainted with him (Hamilton was acquainted with MANY people), but if those who knew him closely and walked and talked with him said that during the time he was heavily involved in the Founding, he wasn't a Christian, that is worth looking into and considering.

But it should always be remembered that Hamilton never said anything that was rationalist but NOT Christian at the same time. Perhaps some of Hamilton's statements are consistent with theistic rationalism, in that they don't blatantly contradict it, but they also agree with Christianity too. I have never seen an exception to this rule (unless you can show me some from HIS WRITINGS).

Our Founding Truth said...

Hi Hercules,

I applaud you for your information on Hamilton. I have learned quite a bit, the scenes after the duel are touching.

Based on your evidence, I have concluded he most likely was a nominal Christian until his affair, where he became closer to God, probably born again in 1797.

My reasons for labeling him "nominal" may be incorrect, and inappropriate. Why else would John Adams, and others attack his personal character? Rumors of that sort do not get started against men like George Washington and Billy Graham. However, it seems Hamilton was in agreement with the Bible, and Law of Nature, not understanding regeneration until later.

As early as 1772, Hamilton believed in the God of the Bible, for he affirmed the Law of Nature, who is universally known as Yahweh, the God of Israel.

In the Lord

Hercules Mulligan said...

Our Founding Truth:

I think you are right. The subject of Hamilton's religion and faith is still an object of my continuing study, but from what I have seen so far (and what I have uncovered so far is more than contemporary professors have been willing to reveal) leans toward the conclusion you came up with in your comment.

I think that Hamilton was indeed a born-again Christian before the affair, and he evinced it most openly during his youth. In the very near future, I will write a post (the first of a series on this blog that will cover Hamilton's religion in chronological progression) on this very subject. But for now, you may view Hamilton's writings during this period, and what several of his most intimate contemporaries had to say about his religion during this time period. Hamilton was more than just plain old "religious" and "devout" during this time period -- he was a passionate believer.

Here are the writings:

"Hurricane letter"

"Soul Ascending into Bliss"

Testimony of Contemporaries. Here you will find testimonies of close friends and family members, on Hamilton's life in general, on his youth, middle life, and later years.

As for John Adams vehement attacks on Hamilton's personal character (nothing against Mr. Adams), see the comments of Rob Scott and I here along that line.

I hope this information proves informative.

Our Founding Truth said...

hercules mulligan said:

I think that Hamilton was indeed a born-again Christian before the affair, and he evinced it most openly during his youth.>>

Based on the evidence you provided, he sounds born again. I wonder if there is any record of his early conversion. The attacks against him could have been from jealousy, and personal issues, especially from Abigail Adams. She basically called him evil.

Hercules Mulligan said...

Our Founding Truth:

"Based on the evidence you provided, he sounds born again. I wonder if there is any record of his early conversion."

I think that the "hurricane letter,' to which I linked, is Hamilton's record of his conversion, and the manner of his writing indicates that he wrote this letter at the same time that the events and circumstances took place, and as his thoughts and reflections occurred to him.

Thanks for Reading!