Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Nativism, Anti-Catholicism, and Strict Separationism

Here’s a pithy and penetrating summary of the classic Hamburger argument concerning the true history of religious liberty in our country so far.

In my unwavering effort to be perfectly fair and balanced, I’m adding, at Paul Seaton’s suggestion, Tom West’s positive but critical review of Hamburger--he’s sort of a Hamburger helper. I’m not as sure as Tom is that Hamburger is too hard on Jefferson, because I think Tom puts too much weight on the single ambiguous quotation that talks about our liberties being the gift of the wrathful God from NOTES ON VIRGINIA. I do like the image of Jefferson being caught between manly Lockeanisn and the trendy atheism of the French Enlightenment, although I think Tom underplays Locke’s effort to subvert the creaturely self-undestanding central to Christian faith. No doubt the truth on Jefferson is somewhere in between West and Hamburger.

Discussions - 3 Comments

Peter, you might link to Tom West's CRB review of Hamburger, too; he admires Hamburger, but not uncritically. I think Tom gets the better of the most recent Hamburger.

Locke's "manly Christianity" is one in which the religious authority has left the established churches and passed to individuals. It is in Locke that the democatic spirit is infused into Christianity, thanks in part to the infortuitous event of the Reformation(s). It is more like manly nihilism than manly Christianity, to tell the truth. And, this was the game played by the separationist "liberals" who supported Jefferson and who became stronger through the 19th Century. They wanted to deprive the churches of any political say by depriving them of religious authority. Adams and Hamilton knew very well what Jefferson's true opinions were, and Jefferson's last thoughts were filled with hatred of religion and irrational hope in the progress science would bring (see Letter to Weightman). Insofar as he was consistent in his thought, these were his fundamental thoughts. In the end, Jefferson may have been closer to contemporary secular liberalism than he was to Hamilton and Adams.

Rob's post is pretty darn manly and I hope will get some good responses (from Paul?). Meanwhile, I return to my pseudo-deep thought that Jefferson's own deep thought was the Epicureanism--beyond hope and fear-ism--expressed in his letters to his philosophic friends (see my ALIENS IN AMERICA). I emphatically agree with Rob that the letter to Weightman is naive secularist progressivism...and so more enthusiastic than deep.

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