ISI Conference Part Two: Christ in Our Soul

This is part two of my three part report on the Intercollegiate Studies Institute’s one day conference on The Roots of American Order. So here is part two of mine titled Lift a Glass to the Past: America Rooted in Tradition or a New Covenant? (Part one can be seen here)

The second speaker of the day was Brad Birzer who regaled us on America’s Judeo-Christian History.

Bizer began his session by noting that historian Donald Lutz discovered that the founders used Christian references in their pre-war writing far more than any other source. St. Paul was the most referenced New Testament figure with Micah 4:4 being the most referenced Old Testament verse.

But they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree; and none shall make them afraid: for the mouth of the LORD of hosts hath spoken it.

On this Lutz quotation, though, I want to clarify something. Many have bandied about the claim that Donald Lutz said that 34 percent of the founder’s writing contain direct Biblical citations. This claim is not altogether true. On the other hand, it is not something to quickly dismiss as fans of the Enlightenment influence want to do, either.

The problem is that Lutz’ research didn’t reveal that this 34 percent came “directly” from Biblical citations. What Lutz found was that the Bible and quotes from sermons of the period added up to his finding of 34 percent. Lutz wasn’t saying the 34 percent was made up solely of Biblical quotations. It is a bit misleading to say that this large number of citations “came from the Bible” when a portion came from the sermons of famous preachers of the era — and political sermons at that. Granted sermons are generally of religious content, but a quote for a sermon isn’t the same thing as a direct citation from the Bible.

Add to this the fact that Lutz also found that the Federalist Papers and the debates about the Constitution contain very few Biblical citations and we get another shade of this debate that is necessary to consider. Many Atheists and Enlightenment influence fans claim that the lack of Biblical citations during this second period of the American founding proves that religion was meaningless. But I warn these deniers that Lutz was also not saying that the Bible was meaningless. In his study, after he notes that the Biblical influence seemed to disappear from the founder’s writing during the Constitutional phase, Lutz says it isn’t “surprising since the debate centered upon specific institutions about which the Bible has little to say.”

The fact is that this 34 percent of Protestant Religious citations isn’t meaningless. It still shows that a great preponderance of the founder’s citations were religiously based, and of the Protestant religion at that. It also shows that religious appeals formed a large part of the thinking of the founding era as they geared up both for war with Britain and the formation of the United States of America.

I sort of wish that Birzer had gone into this further, but I understand why he didn’t. He had a finite amount of time and this diversion would have moved away from his main point. In any case, both sides make at the same time too much and too little of Lutz’ study.

Birzer next noted that America was, indeed, a land of religious freedom even if its particular parts were “islands of intolerance.” He notes that the religious freedom that our early years are famous for did exist, but not in the laissez faire style we’d like to wish it were. Sure it was illegal to be a Catholic in Maryland after 1689, for instance, or one had to be an Anglican to hold office in Virginia but those particular restrictions were less extent in other parts of the country. Each segment had its particular religious sect as the officially recognized religion, but there wasn’t a single religion for all of the colonies leaving people free to choose where they might like to live in accordance with their individual principles.

The summation is that religion played a supremely important part in the early days from the first colonists to the founding era.

As an example Birzer notes that as laid out in his “On Conciliation With America,” Edmund Burke’s characterization of the American Colonies was that the colonies were born of English liberty and religion.

In this character of the Americans, a love of freedom is the predominating feature which marks and distinguishes the whole… This fierce spirit of liberty is stronger in the English Colonies probably than in any other people of the earth, and this from a great variety of powerful causes…

If anything were wanting to this necessary operation of the form of government, religion would have given it a complete effect. Religion, always a principle of energy, in this new people is no way worn out or impaired; and their mode of professing it is also one main cause of this free spirit. The people are Protestants; and of that kind which is the most adverse to all implicit submission of mind and opinion. This is a persuasion not only favorable to liberty, but built upon it.

Birzer, though, also pointed out that a chief motivating factor in rallying Americans to the revolutionary cause was an anti-Catholicism that was inflamed by the Crown’s 1774 Quebec Act that gave an official Crown-recognized status to French Catholics in Canada. This fear of “Papism” led many Americans to fear for their liberties expecting a creeping Catholic tyranny to invade their colonies through the Crown’s apostasy.

Birzer notes, though, that in many ways the establishment of local rule in the colonies was a bloodless coup of sorts. He gives the example of Charles Carroll of Carrollton a Roman Catholic who led Marylanders to form an extra legal government that eventually simply took over the colony as the official government in the minds of the people. At some point, the poor Royal Governor had to just go home because he was simply ignored by the whole colony as they favored their fellows instead.

Of course, Carroll’s efforts led him to become a celebrated citizen despite his Catholic religion and this, in turn, broke down some of those religious barriers for Catholics, at least in Maryland.

Birzer really pressed the point, though, that the main reason that colonists feared Papism was because of the top-down leadership of the Church, a style that necessarily negated, as far as they were concerned, the liberties that the colonists valued above all else.

He summed up his talk by asking of us all a question. In some parts of the colonies, men were required by law to bring two things to church with them on a Sunday morning: Their Bible and their rifle. These men were ready to give their all to protect their liberties. But are we today still ready to reclaim what is ours? With all the world flexing its muscles, from North Korea, to China to Iran, are we as Americans ready to fight to reclaim our legacy of freedom or are we to roll over and allow an out-of-control, socialist government to usurp our liberties as enemies gather at our gates?

Next: More British Than the British!

Share this!

Enjoy reading? Share it with your friends!