As I mentioned in part 1, I am reading through Gregg Frazer’s book The Religious Beliefs of America’s Founders and responding to his erroneous quotations from and conclusions about the founders of our nation. Frazer claims that the most important founders were not Christians but rather followers of a hybrid belief system that he refers to as “Theistic Rationalism.” I’m currently in the chapter on John Adams, and Frazer’s second error follows immediately after his first. According to Frazer:
It’s been nearly four years since I purchase my copy of The Religious Beliefs of America’s Founders in which Gregg Frazer claims that America’s founders were not Christians but were actually followers of a hybrid religion that Frazer termed “Theistic Rationalism.” I previously wrote about the theological errors of Frazer’s claim, and my goal at the time was to present a detailed analysis of his quotations from and his conclusions about our nation’s founders. Unfortunately, life forced me to put off that goal for a few years, but now that I have a bit more time available for research, I’ve decided to return to Frazer’s book and respond to as much of it as I can.
As I was scrolling through facebook yesterday, I came across this meme in my news feed:
Usually, I just roll my eyes at these kind of attempts, but I was a little bored that morning, so I decided to actually find the original sources of the quotes and write a response. Here is what I posted as a reply to this meme:
One of the most influential books during the American founding era was the book The Spirit of the Laws by the Baron of Montesquieu, and as is the case with most of the ancient philosophers, most Americans have never read Montesquieu's work. This has become especially evident in the current dispute over the President's claim that the religion of Islam played a significant role in the formation of our nation. Many historians have agreed with the President on this point, but if the founders of our nation were even half as influenced by Montesquieu as historians claim that they were, then it would be nearly impossible for them to have accepted Islam as a good foundation on which to build a nation. In The Spirit of the Laws, Montesquieu concluded "that a moderate government is most agreeable to the Christian religion, and a despotic government to the Mahometans," and then he defended that conclusion with this analysis:
With the battle over marriage taking place in Alabama's courts, I thought that it would be a good idea to remind everyone of the view of marriage that was foundational to our nation. This view is conveyed very clearly in James Wilson's Lectures on the Law. Wilson was one of the most influential of our founding fathers. He was one of only six men to sign both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, and he was one of the six original Supreme Court justices. Wilson's Lectures on the Law give us an unprecedented view of the legal foundation on which our nation was established. With this in mind, it is my opinion that Wilson's statements on marriage should carry tremendous weight in any decision regarding that institution today
As I've shared my research on Franklin's faith with more and more people, one particular quotation has consistently been presented as evidence that Franklin never became a Christian. This quotation is taken from Franklin's Autobiography in which he made the following statement about George Whitefield:
"He us’d indeed sometimes to pray for my Conversion, but never had the Satisfaction of believing that his Prayers were heard."
Here is what I have written about this quote in my upcoming book Franklin on Faith:
I recently received a request from a friend informing me that he was preparing for a public debate with a secularist on the topic of the Christian nature of the American Revolution. My friend wanted me to put together some suggestions to guide his study, so I quickly gathered up some of my notes and started jotting down a quick reply... Five pages later, I decided that I should probably stop before I completely overwhelmed him. I sent those five pages off to my friend a few days ago, and now I would like to share them here for the benefit of my readers. Here is the text of that letter:
Mr. Fortenberry has asked me to explain to his readers something of how I handle quotes as evidence. Contrary to popular belief (and to undergraduate education), the emphasis in graduate programs and in the process of earning a PhD degree is not on information transfer or indoctrination. The emphasis is on the proper methods for doing one’s own research. PhDs are expected to contribute to the academic world – to write the books used by others; so one is taught how to appropriately handle evidence and what counts as evidence. Contrary to what those who have never attended graduate school say, PhD students are not taught what to think, but how to properly treat competing and conflicting sources of information.
There’s a new book on the founding of America that has been receiving a lot of praise lately. It’s another book by atheist philosopher Matthew Stewart which he provocatively entitled Nature’s God: The Heretical Origins of the American Republic. Stewart’s foundational premise is that "'Nature's God' … the presiding deity of the American Revolution is another word for 'Nature.'" To support this claim, Stewart traced the origin of the phrase “Nature’s God” back to a poem written in 1732 by Alexander Pope and argues from thence that this God could not possibly be the God of the Bible but rather a pantheistic god from ancient Greece.
Contrary to popular opinion, Benjamin Franklin was a Christian who thought that the Bible was "the most faithful of all Histories." In fact, Franklin thought so highly of the Bible that he argued in the Constitutional Convention that "We should remember the character which the Scripture requires in rulers, that they should be men hating covetousness." In 1788, Franklin wrote a letter to the Federal Gazette in which he used the example of the government of ancient Israel to defend the newly written Constitution of the United States. Franklin makes several observations in this piece which serve as unquestionable evidence of the fact that he was a sincere Christian. Here is the text of Franklin's letter:
Bill Fortenberry is a Christian philosopher and historian in Birmingham, AL. Bill's work has been cited in several legal journals, and he has appeared as a guest on shows including The Dr. Gina Show, The Michael Hart Show, and Real Science Radio.
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"Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be yet wiser: teach a just man, and he will increase in learning." (Proverbs 9:9)