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tv   The Bible and the Founding of America  CSPAN  August 5, 2021 3:02pm-4:04pm EDT

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weekend on c-span2 are an intellectual feast. every saturday, american history tv documents america's story. and on sundays, book tv brings you the latest in non-fiction books and authors. funding for c-span2 comes from these television companies, and more, including charter communications. >> broadbanded is a force for empowerment. that's why charter has invested billions, building infrastructure, upgrading technology, empowering opportunity in communities big and small. charter is connecting us. >> charter communications, along with these television companies, support c-span2 as a public service. american history tv continues now, with historians looking a the bible's influence on the founding fathers,
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including their few views on religious liberty, democracy, and the american republic. this discussion was part of a symposium hosted by museum of the bible, in washington, d.c. thank you, danielle. good afternoon, everyone. i hope you enjoyed your time at lunch and in the museum. take moment to silence your cell phone. please join me in giving our speaking a round of applause. they have done annious standing job. [ applause ] . today has really been an interesting look in how the bible influenced the people and events the american revolution and our nation's founding. so i am going to thank you to those that have submitted questions. i am going to randomly go through these. and for our speakers. and we will start with dr. kidd. franklin quoted, god helps those who help themselves. could you put that in the context of your remarks about
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franklin's believes. >> well, that's an example of franklin that poor richard's almanac was just full of aphorisms that sounded sort of like proverbs. and sometimes they were proverbs. and i think that that type of philosophy is -- god helps those who help themselves -- is an excellent example of this type of emphasis on virtual and egality and humility that were the hallmarks about franklin's philosophy about religion and morality. and so there is a way in which -- i mean that statement in particular i think sort of decenters god in a way that his calvinist forbearers would not have wanted to do. so the point for his parents
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would be, you don't just need god to help you. you need god to change your life. what needs to happen is converted by an experience of god's grace transforming power, and then we are able to live a godly moral life where i think that that type of philosophy of god helps those who helps themselves, god is more of a supplement, if you follow god's principles, you work hard, and you are honest, things will go well for you. custom is kind of a classic american creed. but it may be that it sits somewhat uncomfortably with the council of scripture. >> would you say that was a deist statement? >> yeah. i would say that it has a kinds of deist flavor to it in the sense of god -- maybe being active, but also somewhat, you need to take responsibility for
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yourself, that god's work, god's power is not the first thing that you need. the first thing that you need in that kind of formula is your own initiative. and so, again, god, i think is being decentered a little bit. it seems to me just knowing what i know about franklin, that it's a sense of god as being a little bit secondary or distant. >> thank you. another question from our audience for dr. dreisbach. i understand our government is a republic. so many people in america say it is a democracy. kit be both? or is it both? >> well, the constitution explicitly makes reference to republic in form of government. but i certainly don't think that these are inconsistent in some ways in which we manifest themselves. if we take the word and look at it in its purist definition there might be some restrictions.
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but let me just reminds you have the core of what republicanism would have meant to most late 18th century americans, which is government by consent of the government and exercised through representatives. and that second aspect could perhaps come into some contention with democracy in its purest form. but i think as these words might have been used in history they would not see such a clash between the two and they would not agree that some manifests and expectations of the people's voice as being in conessential with republicanism as they understood night if i could jump in there, too. when i explain this to my students -- i mean, the founders' view of pure democracy, which they would have thought was a really bad idea is as if, you know, every single question that any level of government deals with, then the people have to vote on, say a
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popular referendum, on every question. and so, you know, do they have the expertise to make she is sorts of decisions? probably not. if it's at issue about some complex foreign policy issue or financial issue, banking issue, or something like that. and so the ideal, the ideal is that you elect people who do have sufficient expertise in these kind of areas who -- and the founders would have hoped that these people would also be virtues. knowledgeable, independent -- vooir virvirtuous, knowledgeabl independent people who on behalf of the people can make these kinds of policy issues. we have definitely become more democratic since 1776, 1787 number one because we have a lot more kinds of people voting. women.
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let's just start with -- women can vote. lots of ethnic minoriies now participate where they couldn't have at the time of the founding. but i still think, it is fundamentally a democratic republic that we have as opposed to a pure democracy that the founders would have considered to be ill considered and chaotic. >> republicanism is another way of putting a check on the exercise of power. again, that comes back to this biblical anthropology that we are fallen creatures and we need as many checks and constraints as we can possibly manage in the way we frame our government. >> thank you. dr. byrd, this one is for you. [ no audio ] >> thomas jefferson's religious views? >> yes. >> okay. i didn't mention thomas
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jefferson. but -- >> we can jump in. >> you might be able to jump in. i mean, my basic understanding of thomas jefferson is he was a little bit more purely deistic in what he had to say. he basically trimmed the bible of certain text that were miraculous because he mainly wanted to confederate on the life and morals of jesus and see jesus as the example of morality, which was the key theme for him. other than that, i don't know much else about jefferson's religious views. >> i sometimes use the term he was adherent of a natural religion, where he saw human reason as sort the final arbiter at the end of the day, which gave him pause when he encountered the transcendent claims, the miraculous claims that he read in the bible. if he couldn't understand it or
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explain it through reason then he had question and reason to doubt it. having said, that he thought jesus of nazareth was the greatest moral teacher that ever was and there was great value in studying that. the kinds of religion that he would have warmed to would have been non-dogmatic it would have been non-hierarchical. i think he was very distrustful of churches in which their government was hire arcticcal, episcopal or oriented around bishops and so forth. i think he had a certain affinity, though he may not have embraced the specifics with more congress gagsal -- congregational organization. i think we are talking about a non-dogmatic religion that would
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be explained in rational terms. >> he agreed with the baptists because they agreed on separation of church and state. he had a fascinating relationship with baptistst. john leland, one of the major baptist figures in the period, who was both kinds of southern and new england. he kind of moved around, and preached. loved thomas jefferson -- he talked about -- and he was a fervent bible believing baptist. he loved jefferson. he thought jefferson was a gift of god. and he knew about jefferson's theology that he disagreed with, but he thought jefferson was such a gift to the nation because of jefferson's politics. and he spoke about him like he was a biblical figure or something. so, yeah, so he had religious meaning and value for -- even for baptists who disagreed with him. and he valued the baptist's take on politics because they agreed
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so well with what he thought of as, like you were describing as his view of religion, as basically about morality and freedom for individuals. >> if you look at his account books, he was very generous in giving money to ministers. >> yeah. >> he maintained friendships with many ministers, including ministers that he would not have agreed with on theological matters. i think was this of some importance to him. when you lock at jefferson's views, especially some of the anti-clerical statements he makes, he makes some harsh ones. i think it is useful to look at the context in which he makes them. for example, some of the harsh anti-clerical statements he makes is right in the midst of the where he sees so many especially anglican ministersr leaving, siding with loyalists. at the same time, he is express ing appreciation for others.
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same thing in the par of 1800. he is harshly attacked by the -- ministers in new england. i think he is deeply and personally wounded by some of the things they say about him. again i think you have to look at the context in which he makes harsh statements around clergy men around the election of 1800. if we jump ahead, we runs into conflicts withist press buytarians over who were going to be at his new university of virginia. again, he kind of lashes out in some harsh anti-clerical statements. so i think it is always useful to look at the political context in which he makes some of these statements to understand where he is coming from with that particular kinds of expression from jefferson. >> thank you.
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this next question is for dr. kidd. did franklin's knowledgeable but non-doctrinal faith make him a better bridge builder between various religious groups? did a similar thing work for lincoln? >> yeah. i think it did. he was on very friendly terms with lots of different kinds of churches and ministers. when he was in philadelphia he most commonly would attend the city's anglican church or church of england. his wife was more devout. she was an anglican. he would go with her to church. and he gave money for the anglican church to be expanded. some people said it would be so he would have a higher steeple for his electrical experiment. but i think he also thought the church was a good thing. but he even -- he even gave
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money to help build a synagogue in philadelphia. so it wasn't just charity and benevolence extended to different kinds of christian denominations, but even to jews, too. i mean, i think that's an upside to me of franklin's kinds of non-dogmatic approach. he was very eye rinnic. he thought -- in a way that jefferson didn't, he thought institutional religion even is a good thing. so he was keen to help a lot of different kinds of churches. and if you were here for my talk this morning, you will remember john adams saying that every christian group thought he was probably part of them. and the reason for that is because he was so friendly to a lot of groups in a very harsh time of interdenominational conflict, especially between
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catholics and protestants. but when franklin had the opportunity to visit the continent of europe he was complimentary towards catholics and catholic churches. never got over some of his deep bred anti-catholic sentiments that he grew up with and at times would make nasty statements about catholics. he definitely was a bridge builder between denominations and religions. that reflects the fact that he basically had a positive view of religion and church going and that sort of thing just as long as you didn't use it to beat people over the head with doctrine. >> did you -- did a similar thing work for lincoln? >> oh, yeah. right. i don't know as much about lincoln. maybe professor byrd can say something about this. but i mean that lincoln definitely has -- especially as a leader -- washington was like
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this, too -- of making sure to reach out to different leaders of different denominations to say, you know, we need your support and you are valued here. this sort of thing. so i think in washington, lincoln's case, that you see that kind of principled outreach to different kinds of denominations. >> i mean, with -- i think that's true. and with lincoln, there is so much consistency, i think in that comparison. that's why i think it's helpful. the only distinction that we might make with lincoln is that he had as strong a sense of providenttialism i think as anyone, clearly believed in providence. however, he had a very pessimistic kinds of providence. part of this was his time -- part of it was probably the war. but he -- you can and see this even in his famous speeches where he talks about we need to be on god's side.
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he talks about maybe god is not really in favor of what we are doing. maybe we are going down the wrong road in various ways. so he had a strong sense of god's judgment on the nation. and that i think may have been somewhat unique. and probably, again, it's easy to think of these figures as just kind of isolated intellects who are reflecting out of -- kinds of out of body. but they were living people, in situations. as professor dreisbach talks about with the specific situations with jefferson, you have to think about the context. and the same is true with lincoln. his context was very -- his entire presidency, and he's the only president who can say this, i think. his entire presidency was bounded by war. from the time he took office, it was conflict. and that's what he dealt with. >> yeah. i notice when i read david mccollough's biography of john
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adams. that john adams was also anti, wherever he was, different church services, different denominations. i found that be to unusual compared to how we attend church today. it seems like we go the our denomination. do you feel like, that visiting various churches -- we mentioned it was brimming building with our early founders. is that something that could help with us today? >> i think that that -- you are right. i mean, in the 1700s, there is such intense conflict between especially catholic and protestant. but also between baptists and congregationalists, and arguing about the difference between presbyterian and congregationalist pality. i mean that's like an issue you shed blood over. right? and it speaks to a time when
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people were -- number one, were a lot more theologically conversan than we are today. but they also took these things so seriously -- i think in retrospect, especially in our day and time when you can't take christian commitment for granted in the culture. so it doesn't seem like you want to be fighting about those kind of issues anymore. i think one of the real breakthroughs came with the new evangelical movement of the 1730s and '50s. if you have been to the museum's bible in america exhibit you have seen about george whitfield and the great awakening theater they have here. and one of the things that was so distinctive about whitfield, who was the greatest evangelist of that era is that even though he was an anglican minister, a
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church of england minister, especially in america he cooperated avidly with non-anglicans. everybody who was supportive of his message of the new birth of salvation, being born again, this is the experience that all people need to have. he is quite willing to preach in their churches, to preach alongside them. and he was upgraded by anglican authorities saying why are you cooperating so much with the dissenters, the baptists and the congragsallists and the quakers. and he said, because i see born again people among all denominations. so that's a unity that's important to me out of a specific kind of religious principle, which is the belief in the need for conversion and being born again. so there's a way in which i think these two, you know, trends towards religious unity are happening at the same time. one of the evangelical unity
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around the new birth of salvation of one is the enlightenment kinds of trend of saying we need to stop fighting about differences in theology. we need to stop having wars and murdering people over the differences of small, apparently, differences in theology. these are boast surging at the same time. so you winds up getting people like jefferson and john leland, as you mentioned before, who have very different personal views about theology who have ideacal views about the role of religion in american public life, which is that we need to have religious liberty, that the government shouldn't persecute people because of their religious beliefs. that you should let them meet in most places in freedom. yeah, i think that there is -- this is why that tradition of
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religious liberty is so important. it doesn't mean -- we all only have so much time. we don't have time to be attending everybody's church and so forth. i understand that but we should at least follow their example and say religious little bit cert for everybody. >> i think there is a couple interesting things going on when you look at some of the communication that the founders and particular early presidents had with religious societies. washington especially around the time of his inauguration, communicated with two or three dozen religious societies across the spectrum. these were main religious groups, but also religious groups from sort of the minority communities. there is much going on here. one is he wants to reassure them that they are part of the american experiment. he wants to bring them into the fold and ensure that they are full participants in the american experience.
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i think he also is -- uses this as an opportunity to communicate to the american public at large. let's remember, this is a time when there are limited ways in which a political figure can speak to the american public at large. and writing letters to religious societies and groups was one of those ways to communicate to a broad audience. and in all of our early presidents used letter writing to religious societies as a way to communicate some pretty important ideas. -- succinctly about concessions of religious liberty. thomas jefferson used a letter to a baptist association to express that famous metaphor of a wall of separation between church and state. years later at closing dates of his presidency, he writes to a methodist society in which he says -- he says, the dearest part of our constitution is that
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part that protects liberty of conscience. so they are using these communications to really express, i think, some heart felt issues, some important issues. but i also think it's important to focus on these communications because these societies are communicating with them, too. and they are communicating what their concerns, what their fears are. their concerns about whether n fact, their liberty in matters of religion is going to be respected. so it helps them understand the fears and concerns of religious minorities and begin to labor for an american understanding of religious liberty that would include them.
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>> -- rather his son solomon arc man of peace. so god shows his displeasure. please reconcile these two as you can. >> okay. i think that it's fascinating that opponents of war did not use that text, that reference. i think part of the reason could be that there were other text that were just less obscure, more sort of to the moment in terms of something like the sermon on the mount. obviously, someone who is a patriot who is trying to argue for people to go to war are not going to mention that, that incident. it's a valid point in man ways. it doesn't, though, undercut the point, the larger point that god in some ways when david was going to war, when he was defeating goliath, scripture
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says he was doing god's work in doing that so i think it's a complicated question. but i didn't see it -- at least in the research that i did, i didn't see anyone pointing that out. i didn't see anyone saying, those of you calling david warrior, you might want to talk about this. it wasn't one of the texts that they drew on. however, it is an interesting point. again, it would have helped to reinforce the argument for not only passivists, but those who weren't passivists directly but didn't support the war for one reason or another. >> thank you. dr. kidd, do you suppose ezra styles sent a letter to urge ben franklin to krr christ before his death? >> i don't know that he did. he didn't have much time left. because he was going to be dead five weeks after franklin
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responded. but it is true that there were people all through franklin's life who were very directly imploring franklin to accept christ as his savior. this is one of the reasons why i don't see franklin as a traditional christian because the traditional christians around franklin didn't think he was a christian. so i think the best example is george whitfield, who i mentioned a minute ago. whitfield and franklin were friends and business associates for 30 years. and they had a very transparent relationship about understanding that they were not on the same page spiritually and that whitfield thought franklin needed to do something about that. you know, whitfield would just
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pull no punches and say, you need to put your faith if christ for salvation. and franklin would sort of say, i'm all set. and they would have these conversations. my favorite is that in the 1750s whitfield wrote a letter to franklin. again, they are business partners. franklin publishes a lot of whitfield's stuff. whitfield is saying i need to you take care of this publication, and so forth. now, by the way, i have noticed how much success you have had in electrical experiments. and you have made so much progress in understanding the mysteries of electricity, he said to him. now i implore you to consider the mysteries of the new birth in christ. you can just imagine franklin kind of rolling his eyes and so forth. but whitfield was constantly talking to him. and i just wonder what their private conversations in a were
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unrecorded -- i wish i could have been there for those conversations. franklin and his sister had conversations like that. there was one time where franklin, after he had kind of made it big in publishing, went back to boston from philadelphia to visit his family. and it's clear that his sister and he fought. this is one of the struggles that you have writing a biography of almost any kind of 18th century figure like this. almost all the letters that she wrote to ben franklin are lost because some person in the past thought oh, who cares of this 18th century woman, let's just throw this in the trash. this priceless stuff. it breaks your heart, really. it makes you think of a phone conversation where you hear only the one side.
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but ben writes back to her later and in a sense says i am sorry we fought. and he sends her a cloth as a government or something like that to say i am sorry, i was harsh towards you. but it is clearly that they were fight being whether you need god to be moral. and she clearly was saying to him, you need to have god change your heart or you can never be truly moral. and he was saying, i don't think you do, and they fought about that. the point being that franklin throughout his life -- this is why i find his response to styles about i have never been asked about this before exasperating because people have been asking him about this his whole life. so it was a constant theme. >> thank you. dr. dreisbach, since america and her constitution were established with the knowledge and reference to the bible, how
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long can we maintain these establishments if we continue to move away from biblical foundations? >> that's a very, very hard question, yes. so, you know, i would start by saying that i think it's important that we understand where these ideas came from. and i also think that you understand why they were perceived as important in their own time. then we can ask the question, are those reasons still pertinent to us today. i think in my own view is that institutions like politics can't be divorced -- constitutions can't be divorced from a political culture. you can take a constitution like the american constitution and put it in a different cultural context and it won't work. right? i think this is true not just of our own constitution, but as we have seen attempts to import
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other constitutions around the world. so i think it's always useful. always useful to understand a context in which a constitution is written, and in which it's designed to work. i think, my own view is that the founders generally viewed religion as indispensable to their project. you know, washington himself speaks of this in his farewell address when he says, of all the habits and dispositions which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. now, he doesn't flesh out what that expression of religion looks like, but easy telling us that religion and morality are indispensable to this political project. -- but i think we are also farrell clear in that he's not thinking here in terms of a religious establishent in, the kinds of formal institutional establishment that had been part of europe since the time of
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constantine. rather, he sees a violates role, an informal role for religion in maintaining this political order that's been created. and i think to simply underscore how important this is to washington -- by the way, washington is not an outlier. i think he is describing a demonstrate place of his age, there is virtually no dissent on this point. what he says in the very next sentence, having an religious and morality are indispensable to political prosperity, he says, in vain would that man in political patriotism who should lay she is -- as he interpret it, if you are seeking to underminist those pillars and morality, you can't call yourself a patriot. i think for at least washington as a representative of his own
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time he would have seen this role of religion in the culture as absolutely essential to the survival of an experiment in republican self government. >> yeah, i -- i think -- i agree. and the founders would have just taken that as a given, that virtue has to undergird a republic. now, i mean there are some cautionary notes we need -- because we tend to think -- critics of what american culture has become today might sometimes take a little bit rosie view of what american culture was in 1787. there were notable problems back then, too. slavery, hello. i mean, they have got their own issues. but i think that they, you know, would have -- even though you can't see your own blind spots in most cases, but they would
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have at least agreed that virtue is essential. now, when this issue comes up today people on the secular left will hear oh, you mean abortion, you mean gay marriage, these kind of hot button issues. i actually think -- i explain to my students, i actually think that almost everybody in america believes that we will be better off if we have a virtuous society, at least on some things. and the example i always give is the financial crisis of 2007-2008, where, you know, we have incredibly complex and most of us would say greedy and selfish things going on in the finance industry. credit default swapts nobody understands and it is all about trying to make money for me.
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right? now, would we have done better as a republic if everybody involved in the financial sector had all agreed that we need to be working in the best interests of the public at all times while also making money, which you can do that? and i think left, right, middle, you know, whoever would say yeah, yeah, we probably would have done better if we had had more pervasive virtue and public spiritedness. that's what the founders meant is i am responsible to my fellow person. i can't just act selfishly because i have to be responsible to the public interests. so we had a financial meltdown that was partly a result of pervasive spirit of greed and selfishness and we all kind of are connected to it in america. as a republic, we would have done better if we had had more
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virtue. that's an example. i like to go that kind of a example. because it is more apolitical. most people can say, yeah, yeah, we probably could have stood to have, you know, more virtue in an area like that. now, we are not going to agree, as we see every day in the news, about some of the -- abortion and marriage and these kind of things. i have my own opinions about that. but anyone who would say, oh, virtue and morality, that's passe, people should just be able to do what they want and be free to do that -- the founders certainly would have said that's a formula for chaos and social breakdown. >> in fact, that's an expression of lie schenn husband isness which is at war with the very concept of liberty. >> yeah. so we started this question off talking about the constitution, the influence of the bible on that. i know the three of you had an opportunity to go down to the second floor and see the bible in america exhibit. how would you describe the influence of the bible on the
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mayflower compact? >> well, i think you start with who these people who that crafted this document. they were pious people. not everyone that was on that ship were pilgrims, right, it was a mix of people, which in part is what prompted the crafting of the document. but we start from the proposition that these were people who were on a godly mission, as they understood it. and they want to -- i think they saw themselves in a rather unique position in human history. they had an opportunity in a way to wipe clean the slate of human history, to undo some of the bad mistakes of the past and to try to build a new political system that would avoid some of those mistakes. and i think we begin to see reflections of that even in a document like the mayflower compact.
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it is a very brief document. very brief. it doesn't tell us a whole lot. but it is a compact in the sense that they are promising in a sense to work together in a righteous way for something in the future, for some kind of structure. so i don't know that we get a lot of insight to constitutionalism through the mayflower compact itself. there is seeds, and they replicate themselves throughout american history. for example, virtually every document begins with the statement, for whom this document is created. we see it in the mayflower contract, in the constitution. there are three clear and distinction statements of purposes in both the constitution and the mayflower
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compact. it is for god, and propagation of the goss spell, and finally we get around to for the king. even so, the fact that they still affirm their allegiance to the king is in it self rather remarkable, because, after all, they are fleeing the persecution of the king. but i think it goes back to that healthy respect for authority that they would have read in romans 13 and 1, peter 12. that in itself i think reflects sort of a biblical understand ing of authority and how you begin to structure a government. >> another thing, i think, to add to that, is that undergirding all of these agreements, the mayflower compact who were puritan separatists is the concept of covenant. i think sometimes we miss the full ramifications of what that meant to them. from a reformed point of view,
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god is absolutely sovereign. god does what god wants. god is omnipotent. god is some nichent. but god makes covenants with humans, which is a remarkable statement of love that god puts forth so they read the bible as a series of interlocking covenants. and then all of their lives are based on covenants. covenants for churches. covenants for cities. covenants for marriage. covenants for family. so this concept of calf nant, which is so influential overall, they take from scripture is i think always at the back of their minds and sometimes at the front of their thoughts as they enter any kinds of these deals or understandings or negotiations of who they are in the new world as they called it. >> thank you. dr. byrd, members of our
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audience would like the hear more details about the database. >> okay. >> what you are gathering and cataloging in that database? >> okay. this is really interesting. so the database -- the database for the war -- the revolutionary war project i basically designed using a program calls microsoft access which is just in microsoft office. and i just went into different primary sources and just entered like verse by verse by verse by verse by verse everything that i found. and then at the end of -- after i had read about as much as i could find, i just kind of ran it and printed out the most cited text and then i could find out where they were and all of that. so it's a very cumbersome kinds of thing. for the civil war project, it is
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a much more streamlined process. i have been helped by lincoln mullen, a professor of history. he's also an incredible coder. so he's programming an algorithm that can sweep through 2,000 primary source for more and picks out text stream matching. so that database is so much larger than the revolutionary war -- revolutionary period database because you can do so much more with the text in the mid 19th century. in part because you can scan them and ocr can pick out -- can understand them. try that with something written in 1776. computer is going to get garbled. something ben franklin wrote to his sister is going to look like a recipe for chocolate cake. that's kpaskly what it is. it was just kind of a time consuming process of assembling data. >> i hope you had some graduate
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students helping you with that, too? >> i don't -- i have graduate students helping with some things but i don't want to persecute a graduate student by saying -- that's just too much punishment to ask. >> dr. dreisbach, this is for you. and this is another long question. when the bible is used in political settings and debates, there is often the concern that biblical text will be used without regard to their biblical context in order to serve a partisan political agenda. do you see evidence of this in the time period you have been discussing today? and are there examples of the bible being taken out of context for immediate political goal? >> so, yeah, this is one of the concerns that i really wanted to focus on when i wrote this book on the the bible and the founders. is i wanted to -- i was not only interested in what kinds of text they were drawn to. but i was very interested
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whether they were using these texts in ways that were consistent with the biblical context in which we find them. and i think the record is somewhat mixed. there are some examples where i think that you see founders using biblical text in ways that are perhaps more faithful to its biblical context than we oftentimes use it. for example, you see quite a few references in the founding literature to the use of micah 6 :8, what does the lord require of thee but to do justice, have mercy and walk humbly with your god? in my adult life i have probably heard a dozen or so sermons on that and it is always very much focus on my individual virtue, right, this is what god requires of me individually. but quite often when you see this in the literature of the american founding i think they quite properly understood this is what theologians sometimes call a covenant code text. this was god's grievance against
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the nation israel. and in the end of that text god, the children of israel, having been convinced that they have broke ten covenant with god say what must we do to make things right. and this is when god through the prophet michael comes back and says these words. if you understand this is about a grievance that god has with his people you understand the biblical context rather than it is simply god's instruction to me as an individual. having said that, there are other text where is i think that they are misappropriating, one might say a biblical text. i made a reference to this in my talk this morning. take for example, uses of new testament language on liberty. right? americans of this period moved new testament text. it simply used the word liberty. and i mentioned galations 5 :1.
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there are other similar text. the sun shall set you free. they loved to quote this. in my reading these are really more about christian liberty or spiritual liberty than political liberty. now it is very interesting that this debate over whether in fact the use of the new testament text was appropriate arises even in the midst of their use in the 18th century. there would be those who would say not so fast, that's not about political liberty. we oftentimes heard this from loyalist ministers who are calling out these patriots for their misuse or misappropriation of the language of liberty. and there would have been in fact a back and forth about is it pro appropriate the use this language of liberty, which is more about spiritual matters than about political matters in these political pamphlets and the like? now, quite often the response that you would hear from the patriots is, well you know i think god's understanding of
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liberty is significantly ka patience and we will incorporate it into political liberty even though we understand it is more about the spiritual side. but there was an ongoing debate even at that time. i think a richer and much more consequential debate is the one that professor byrd mentioned, how do we interpret a text like romans 13? again. here's why you see a very different interpretation of "roma"s 13 by the loyalists than you see by those favoring the independents. each is going call the other side out and say you are misinterpreting this text. we know why. because you think it is going to help your political cause. so there was a genuinely lively debate between loyalists and patriots over what exactly does romans 13, this idea of deist submission, what does that mean?
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and you can understand why it is such a lively debate because it goes to the very legitimacy of those who are suggesting we should resist or rebel against england. so it's a very -- a very heated conversation that we find. again, it's over the proper interpretation of scripture, whether we are misappropriating it simply to advance a political objective of the moment. >> thank you. would either of you care to elaborate on that or contribute? >> i always perk up when i see someone in -- we are mostly talking about the founding period here. when someone loses something because of their commitment to follow what the bible says. that's when i think, you know, you have got somebody on your hands who is really committed to the scripture. my favorite example of this is a press buytarian pastor in savanna called john zubly, who was a delegate to the first
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continental congress from georgia. and he was as bothered as anybody about the taxes, you know, concerns about british authority in the colonies. but in 177 5 and 1776 when he saw that the trend was heading towards independence and revolution rather than just resistance, he said, we can't do that as christians. we can't -- we can't rise up against the government because of these kinds of romans 13 reason. i don't think that that argument is necessarily a lock. i don't know what my position would have been, whether i would have been a patriot or loyalist. but he resigned from the continental congress and became a loyalist opposed to violent revolution, for sure. and he lost everything he had. he ended up having to live in a swamp in south carolina for a while. he lost his church. he lost all of his property. he lost everything. why? because he was acting in accord
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with his conscience and what he saw going on in 1 peter and in romans. now, it's debatable whether he's absolutely right about that interpretation. but that's a good sign. and you do see instances like that where people will act according to their conscience, even to the point of great personal loss. i find those kind of examples really inspiring. i think in a lot of cases -- i mean, it is like today. i mean, a lot of times i think that in the time of the founding you do have people using the scripture as kind of window dressing. they are not being insincere, but it's not as if they are paying any kind of price of conscience to cite the bible for this or that purpose. and probably what that tells us most often is just the bible is the coin of the realm. it's the language that everybody knew how to speak. >> yeah. part of what is so fascinating about this to me, the history of
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interpretation of scripture, is, if you think about it, various people across time in various places with various presuppositions over time reading this text. so that people who don't have very much in common at all meet together across time, over romans 13, or some particular text -- i think it is just fascinating to see how people read it, to see how people interpret it based on their context, their situation. and in part, it's easy for us to say, well, of course the loyalists are going to interpret romans 13 as -- to enforce their position, because they are being selfish, because they are just trying to finds ammunition to support their position. perhaps. but we all read from our position in a certain situation. so -- and they look to scripture for insight. they look to scripture for
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guidance. they meditate on scripture -- not everyone. but a lot of people did. and they look to find where they were in the story. and i think it was only natural in some cases for people to see their side. so i think it's easy for us to condemn that reading. i think we have to do it as we do any other -- as we deal with any other situation in history. we have to kind of look at it from their point of view, think about it from their point of view. but then it's also fascinating to see the other side on the same text and how others can read that same text. and sometimes, somehow both arguments seem pretty good. so i think where the bible's history as well as the history and interpretation of the bible gives so much to us. in part, it gives us insight into the people that we are studying. i don't know how many times i would be reading -- i know a little bit about the bible. i would be reading a secondary
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source, a historian's take onning? and there were biblical references in the primary text that the historian doesn't recognize. and they are thinking, this is an interesting insight. well, maybe it was just genesis. you know? i think it gives us into the people that we are studying because it was so much a part of their lives and gives us insight into the scripture and how deep the text can be, and how multifaceted. >> very interesting this. question is addressed to all speakers. so please reflect on religion and masonry and the founders, including franklin, george washington, and other founders. >> oh, yeah. >> hmm. >> yeah. i get asked this a lot. ben franklin was a free mason. and a lot of the major founders were free masons. and that has remained a controversial subject through
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present day. i think for -- for franklin, his membership in the masons was significant. but he doesn't talk about it a lot. now, some people will say it's because it is a secret society and you are not supposed to talk about it. but i don't get the sense that it was for most of his life a really central issue for him. and i don't think that the masons in the mid 1700s were quite as controversial as they became later on in american history. but they were very much a kind of, you know, a minimal -- i mean, it fits right along with what franklin's overall religious beliefs were, minimally doctrinal, very focus on service and benevolence and these kinds of things. and it is sort of the epitome of the religion of the enlightenment. and it is -- you know, men --
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men fellowshiping over issues about how can we be -- do the most good in society and these kinds of issues. but it was also a social club for them. i mean this is the great era of the social clubs and coffee houses and taverns and sociability and so forth. so when franklin went to france, he very much connected with masons there. for a short time, he and voltaire were members of the same masonic lodge in paris. so there were international connections that were involved with it. but i just see it as being representative at the time of a fairly elite, you know, sort of social club that has these kinds of religious overtone, but they don't argue about any kind of doctrine. >> i think that's well stated. i don't have anything to add to that. very well stated. >> great. so dr. kidd, this question is
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for you. can you give us some examples of the ways that the bible itself influenced franklin's writings. >> in my talk, i mainly cited u know, episodes where it would just show up, builders of babble, that's a lot of ways that it would come up. you were talking about the bible showing up and not even knowing it's the bible. i have to admit it happened to me a few times with franklin because it was so omnipresent that i would either just not notice or -- even though i try to read the bible every day as a believer. there were just things that were going over my head. one of my favorite examples is a passage that franklin cited in his pamphlet, plain truth. which was one of the very first political pamphlets in american history. i think in the 1750s. and it's about the pennsylvania
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militia ask. the quakers are opposed to the militia. it is not important to get into the details but he is pushing for raising a pennsylvania militia. and one of the arguments that he makes is based on -- get ready for this -- the expedition the danites in judges 18. >> i saw that one. >> does anybody remember this very well? i didn't remember this very well. i had to bring this up and remind myself about the competition of the danites. but to him, again, without going into the details, it was -- the basic point was not being prepared and being deceived and some of these kind of themes. and he thought that for -- it was like pain and common sense. he thought, just like in pain and common sensing in 1 samuel 8, because people will know this, franklin is thinking, the people in philadelphia will instantly see the relevance of
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judges 18 because they know it and they understand the point that he's trying to make. and i thought, this is a lost world of biblical literacy that i don't inhabit, even as someone who tries to go to church and to stay up with the bible and so forth. they are so deeply biblecally literate that it just goes over your head sometimes. that not only tells you again how literal franklin is in the skipture, and i think importantly how literate the culture is. it is certainly true in philadelphia, certainly true in boston, and even parts of the south. >> well, we have just a few seconds left. would anyone like to make a closing remark? or a comment about today? >> i will just add to what was just said, which is let's not forget that this was a literate culture quite apart from biblical literacy. and one of the reasons why it
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was such a literate culture is because they read the bible. and the bible was an ideal tool for teaching literacy. it was a profound euseful tool in literacy education. this was a generation that would have been raised learning how to read with a bible in front of them. that's why they would have known so much about these stories from scripture. >> thank you very much. please join me in thanking dr. byrd and dr. kidd and dr. dreisbach. outstanding job. thank you. [ applause ] so, we have a few remarks. we would like to release our speakers to go sit back at their table for their book signing. thank you, gentlemen. we do have their books for sale in the back of the room if you would like to purchase them. and right now, i would like to introduce you to rob coupland who would like to say a few
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words on behalf of museum of the bible. thank you. weekends on c-span2 are an intellectual feast. every saturday, american history tv documents america's story. and on sundays, book tv brings you the latest in non-fiction books in authors. funding for c-span2 comes from these television companies, and more, including charter communications. >> broadband is a force for empowerment. that's why charter has invested billions building infrastructure, upgrading technology, empowering opportunity in communities big and small. charter is connecting us. >> charter communications, along with these television companies, support c-span2 as a public service. next, on american history tv, religious historians discuss the influence the bible and other christian writings had on american political and social justice figures like thomas jefferson, j

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