~~Alexander Hamilton to John Laurens, August 15, 1782
Anyone who has followed my blog and the past "discussions" that transpired there probably remembers my post "Thoughts on Reason, Revelation, and the Bible." The proponent of the "theistical rationalist-Founders" theory did not answer the post itself, probably because he believed the post to be a dissertation on the subject. True, the post did not directly address the issue at hand ("Did the Founding Fathers believe that revelation was inferior to man's reason?"), but it did, I believe, draw the line between reason and revelation in Christian theology. With those ideas in mind, I believed that it would provide a clear view into what the Founders meant when they praised reason (NOTE: In none of the Founders' writings, except those of the men who were definitely not Christian, such as Jefferson, did they say that reason was superior to the divine revelation.)
Of course, I was accused of misinterpreting the Founders' writings and intent. I don't mind that accusation when presented at first; however, I have a very difficult time retaining my patience when I quote the Founders, and their meaning is indisputable, and then that meaning is construed by the reader over and over again.
I knew that I had a case in point, but I was delighted when, upon doing some research, I found a near replica of my "Thoughts" essay, not in the book of a theologian, but rather in The Federalist Papers.
The "essay" to which I refer is found in the beginning paragraphs of The Federalist No. 31, which is one of the issues that was indisputably written by Hamilton. (1)
Of course, in this issue of the Federalist, it was not Hamilton's goal to discuss religion or to teach a course on philosophy, exactly. But it was the habit of the authors of The Federalist Papers, and it was the lifetime habit of Hamilton, to, before delving immediately into the issue at hand, to begin by laying the groundwork for basic truths and principles, and then flesh them out into whatever the issue at hand was. This method is what made The Federalist Papers, and indeed Hamilton himself, so convincing and so persuasive, or, in the words of his opponent Jefferson, "a colossus."
Here is the "essay":
To the People of the State of New York: What is interesting to note here, is that not only are his views and logic identical to those presented in my essay "Thoughts on Reason, Revelation, and the Bible," but that it was written YEARS before "his son died." Obviously, from this selection of the Federalist Papers, Hamilton had a conviction in Christianity that went deeper than his brain, and into his conscience. Without this inner conviction, Hamilton would probably have blamed God for the death of his son, instead of resting in the assurance of God's mercy and justice.
In disquisitions of every kind, there are certain primary truths, or first principles, upon which all subsequent reasonings must depend. These contain an internal evidence which, antecedent to all reflection or combination, commands the assent of the mind. Where it produces not this effect, it must proceed either from some defect or disorder in the organs of perception, or from the influence of some strong interest, or passion, or prejudice. Of this nature are the maxims in geometry, that the whole is greater than its part; things equal to the same are equal to one another; two straight lines cannot enclose a space; and all right angles are equal to each other. Of the same nature are these other maxims in ethics and politics, that there cannot be an effect without a cause; that the means ought to be proportioned to the end; that every power ought to be commensurate with its object; that there ought to be no limitation of a power destined to effect a purpose which is itself incapable of limitation. And there are other truths in the two latter sciences which, if they cannot pretend to rank in the class of axioms, are yet such direct inferences from them, and so obvious in themselves, and so agreeable to the natural and unsophisticated dictates of common-sense, that they challenge the assent of a sound and unbiased mind, with a degree of force and conviction almost equally irresistible.
The objects of geometrical inquiry are so entirely abstracted from those pursuits which stir up and put in motion the unruly passions of the human heart, that mankind, without difficulty, adopt not only the more simple theorems of the science, but even those abstruse paradoxes which, however they may appear susceptible of demonstration, are at variance with the natural conceptions which the mind, without the aid of philosophy, would be led to entertain upon the subject. The infinite divisibility of matter, or, in other words, the infinite divisibility of a finite thing, extending even to the minutest atom, is a point agreed among geometricians, though not less incomprehensible to common-sense than any of those mysteries in religion, against which the batteries of infidelity have been so industriously leveled.
But in the sciences of morals and politics, men are found far less tractable. To a certain degree, it is right and useful that this should be the case. Caution and investigation are a necessary armor against error and imposition. But this untractableness may be carried too far, and may degenerate into obstinacy, perverseness, or disingenuity. Though it cannot be pretended that the principles of moral and political knowledge have, in general, the same degree of certainty with those of the mathematics, yet they have much better claims in this respect than, to judge from the conduct of men in particular situations, we should be disposed to allow them. The obscurity is much oftener in the passions and prejudices of the reasoner than in the subject. Men, upon too many occasions, do not give their own understandings fair play; but, yielding to some untoward bias, they entangle themselves in words and confound themselves in subtleties. (2)
As far as the historical evidence shows, Hamilton never believed himself to be a deist OR a theistic rationalist.
One quick note: When Hamilton makes reference to the "mysteries of religion," the religion he is obviously referring to is the CHRISTIAN religion. How do I know that? So far as I know, Islam, or Zen Buddhism were totally irrelevant to influencing Europe and America at that time, and so those kinds of religions would not have suffered under (quoting Hamilton) "the batteries of infidelity." "Infidelity" is not a positive term, so obviously Hamilton's use of that word, as well as the context of the portion of The Federalist which is being discussed makes it clear that Hamilton was DEFENDING, in some way or other, the validity of "religion." Today, we are exposed to different religions in this nation on a daily basis, but this was not the case in America. Usually, the Founding Fathers used the word "religion" to reference to Christianity, because an overwhelming majority of the people at the time considered themselves to be, really or nominally, Christian. And so far as I know, and so far as applies to the sphere of the Founders, no other religion suffered under the "industrious leveling" of the "batteries of infidelity" (at least not that the Founders were concerned about) than Christianity. Also bear in mind that Hamilton never evinced sympathy toward any other religion than Christianity. So here, he is discussing Christianity.
In addition to this, Hamilton cannot be a theistic rationalist, because he is obviously defending the "mysteries of religion," that is, those tenets of religion which cannot be completely solved by human reason, which theistic rationalism holds as the highest authority. So Hamilton seems to be expressing a religious and philosophical difference with theistic rationalism, or rationalism of any kind.
The Constitution, and our whole American philosophy of government of law, is rooted in the Biblical worldview. One does not have to be a "Doctor of Divinity" to know that all other worldviews (and every worldview is grounded in a religion) are diametrically opposed to Christianity. Christianity and any other religion cannot co-operate, or compromise. This reality does not mean that Christians are to force people of other religious beliefs to convert, or that a society in which Christianity is the established religion must persecute or treat as less human those of other faiths. However, in such areas as government and education, the vital organs of society, all religions cannot be treated as equally valid, nor can they all be looked upon as having no direct relationship to a person's political (or other) convictions and actions. All religions that do not fall under the category of general Biblical Christianity are not to be established by any branch of American government, nor are their principles to be promulgated as dogma in American schools. Those who profess those foreign religions are welcome in this country; however, they are under obligation to respect our nation, and the basic principles which forged our nation. They must owe their absolute allegiance to the law of the land. Therefore, some individuals may be restricted in exercising their religion to its full extent in this land. In the case of radical Muslims, for example, they will not be allowed in this nation to practice "jihad" or "holy war against unbelievers" in this country, because our laws forbid murder and terrorism. Therefore, although it would be equally wrong to murder a Muslim as it would be to murder a Christian (since both are human beings created in God's image, and therefore have the same right to life), Muslims may have more restrictions than Christians in fully exercising their religion.
The Founding Fathers agreed that people from other religions are welcome to find asylum in this country. However, they never said that those religions stood on an equal political basis with Christianity in this country. Freedom of conscience is extended to all; however, freedom of establishment is not. The Founding Fathers let the states establish whatever Christian denomination the states themselves chose, if they chose to establish a denomination(s) at all. When the Founding Fathers said that religious establishment was reserved to the states, "religion" did not include foreign religions; that was simply out of the question. How can a state(s) of the Union, who, by its very membership of the Union is obligated to support and submit to the Constitution of the United States (the essential pillar of which is Christianity) have a foreign religion (automatically OPPOSED to Christianity) as its established religion? The only possible definition of "religion" in this case is Christianity; otherwise, the Founding Fathers would be allowing the states to plant seeds of suicide to the Constitution within the American Union itself! The federal government (the US Constitution is its charter) is therefore "neutral" to all Christian denominations (general Christianity); it is not neutral to all religions.
It is true that the states are sovereign in their own affairs; HOWEVER, they owe their allegiance TO THE CONSTITUTION, and therefore, have certain restrictions placed upon them. Such was the whole reason the Founding Fathers abandoned the Articles of Confederation and made a new Constitution with a new federal government. If the states were not held accountable in something, such as whether or not that could ESTABLISH a foreign religion, there would be no real American Union. If a state(s) decided to break the Constitution by officially establishing another religion, than what is left but for the federal government to exclude that state from Constitutional protection? I don't know if the feds can come in and simply war against that state for the establishment of a religion contrary to the Constitution -- the Founders never said what the federal government should do in such a case.
And now to some particulars which the host of Our Founding Truth and I discussed:
"However, the Founding Fathers, so far as I am aware, never said that the states are permitted to establish Hinduism, Islam, Buddhism, secular humanism, etc."
To which Our Founding Truth replied:
"Mr. Spaight in the state convention clears this up; the people can choose whatever religion they want, the feds cannot tell the people which God to worship, they aren't to have that power:Here, Mr. Spaight does not seem to be refferring to foreign religions as well as Christianity; the word "sect" which he uses, as well as the fact that almost always the Founders were referring to the different DENOMINATIONS in Christianity when they use such language like "worship God in the manner he himself thinks proper," convinces me that Mr. Spaight was referring to GENERAL Christianity, and not including foreign religions as well.
'As to the subject of religion. . . . no power is given to the general government to interfere with it at all. . . . No sect is preferred to another. Every man has a right to worship the Supreme Being in the manner he thinks proper.'
The Debates in the Several State Conventions on the Adoption of the Federal Constitution, Jonathan Elliot, editor (Washington, D. C.: Jonathan Elliot, 1836), Vol. IV, p. 208, Richard Dobbs Spaight, July 30, 1788."
Take into account that just before Spaight spoke at this meeting, Samuel Johnston stood up and made this statement, which would today would be tortured to bits by the media, ACLU, etc.:
"I read the Constitution over and over, but could not see one cause of apprehension or jealousy on this subject [the exclusion of a religious test by the Constitution]. ... It is apprehended that Jews, Mahometans, pagans, &c., may be elected to high offices under the government of the United States Those who are Mahometans, or any others who are not professors of the Christian religion, can never be elected to the office of President, or other high office, but in one of two cases. First, if the people of America lay aside the Christian religion altogether, it may happen. Should this unfortunately take place, the people will choose such men as think as they do themselves. Another case is, if any persons of such descriptions should, notwithstanding their religion, acquire the confidence and esteem of the people of America by their good conduct and practice of virtue, they may be chosen. I leave it to gentlemen's candor to judge what probability there is of the people's choosing men of different sentiments from themselves." (emphasis added) (1)Remember also that John Jay said:
"Real Christians will abstain from violating the rights of others, and therefore will not prevoke war. Almost all nations have peace or war at the will or pleasure of the rulers whom they do not elect, and who are not always wise or virtuous. Providence has given to our people the choice of their rulers, and it is the duty, as well as the priviledge and interest, of our Christian nation to select and prefer Christians for their rulers."And remember that Alexander Hamilton, one of the delegates who proposed the "no religious test" clause, was almost literally up in arms at the prospect of the election of Thomas Jefferson, whom Hamilton called "an atheist in religion," to the office of United States President. Hamilton said that any effort to prevent the election of an atheist to federal office was "a legal and constitutional step" (emphasis original).(2)
John Jay to John Murry, Jr., October 12, 1816 (The Life of John Jay, vol. 2, p. 376, by William Jay [John Jay's son])
So while the Constitution is neutral in letter towards other religions, it is not neutral to foreign religions in spirit.
Yes, I know what you are thinking. "It's a miracle Hercules can run all these blogs!" Actually, I am barely running them now. This is just an outlet for my thoughts, and for my continuous desire to experiment with blog templates.
But I couldn't help thinking the other day about what miracles are. Some time ago, there was a discussion on one of my other blogs about the beliefs of theistic rationalists, because the individual who brought that group into discussion believed that most of the Founders could be put into that category (I beg to differ, even though not all of them were Christian). He said that theistic rationalists, unlike deists, accept the possibility of miraculous occurances; rationalists, he said, just don't believe in the miracles that "break the laws of nature." The commentator did explain that he was not a theistic rationalist himself, and so I am not accusing him of this belief. But it ridiculous to believe in miracles that don't "break the laws of nature," for two reasons. First of all, miracles don't "break" the laws of nature (I'll explain why in a moment), and second, miracles are not to be judged by the laws of nature, because the laws of nature make no room for miracles. To say that you accept miracles that are within the confines of the law of nature is equivalent to the statement that one believes in clouds, as long as they do not hold moisture.
Lately I have been reading Dr. Francis Schaeffer's book A Christian Manifesto again. I have read it before, and was very impressed with his style of presentation, his research, and his ability to see the big picture and get his reader (who would be paying attention, of course) to see it, too. Presently, I have been reading the part in his book where he is discussing higher law, and the concept of a government of law (one of my favorite subjects). Of course, Dr. Schaeffer has written all of this from a Christian perspective, and he brings into focus that an absolute submission to just law is the hallmark of the very nature and character of God. God abides by His own law. That is quite an amazing thought when one takes into perspective the fact that men in places of authority do that.
And then I began to apply that same line of thought to the relationship between miracles and the laws of nature. It suddenly dawned on me that the laws of nature are simply the summation of how the mechanism of nature works on its own. The laws of nature do not rule out miracles, and they do not rule out God.
A good analogy that will help my reader understand this line of thinking is an electric toy racetrack. Most of us, I am sure, have seen them or played with them at one point or another. The track is put together piece-by-piece, the cars are put on the track, and the switch is turned on. The cars go around-and-around on the track, and never change their course. In a way, the electric mechanisms that make the machine work, and that make the cars spin around the track are akin to the laws of nature. Their simply state "This is the way that things are when they run their natural course, and when no one steps into the picture to change anything." But let's say that as the cars are circling round the track, that the little boy to whom the set belongs lifts one of the cars of the track, turns it around, and sets it back on the track to continue its course. Such is the case when God steps in to do things that supersede the laws of nature. The electric mechanisms in the track cannot explain how the car began to go backwards; and the fact that those mechanisms provide no explanation for how the car was turned around (just like those mechanisms cannot explain how the track got manufactured and assembled, and how the mechanisms were put together to make the track perform its function) does not mean that the track created itself, or that the fact that the car is now circling the track backwards is imaginary. It is silly to limit oneself to the world of the mechanism, without acknowledging the power of the one who made the mechanism. Evolutionists, agnostics, deists, and yes -- theistic rationalists, are also being silly when they purport the laws of nature as being the only and the final reality.
One other thought:
If miracles really "broke" the laws of nature, then the whole universe would fall apart, according to Newton's Third Law of Motion, "To every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction." A genuine breaking of the laws of nature would result in a devastating chain reaction that would destroy the entire universe. There is evidence for miracles everywhere we look, and the world hasn't blown up yet.
God has authority over His own creation, and He can supersede it whenever He sees fit. It is against His nature to do it arbitrarily, but He will supersede the laws of nature to interven on the behalf of those whom He has called, and those who love and serve Him.
I love to blog! I love artistic creativity (although this template is bland), and so I am just testing.
I seriously doubt that this blog will be my actual thoughts upon various and unclassified subjects. However, it was just fun to tinker with!