Call from Tomorrow
Douthat on Religious Experience

Adams, Liberal Christianity, Moral Virtue, and Democracy

John Adams
I'm rushing through Amy Kittelstrom's The Religion of Democracy but am woefully behind in my blogging I want to do about it.  So, let's begin trying to catch up.

The first full chapter was on John Adams as a paradigm example of the development of liberal Christianity out of Puritan Calvinism in the 18th century and how that liberal Christianity was connected to the development of democracy.

Back in college I researched and wrote some on this topic and now want to find those papers.  I remember reading about Adams' pastor Lemuel Briant and Briant's role in introducing Adams to John Locke.  Though I had read this, I've never encountered the thought again anywhere, so was glad to see a discussion of Briant in this book.  I had also written a college paper exploring how a phrase of Locke's had entered the Baptist Faith and Message of the Southern Baptist Convention.  That led me to the Cambridge Platonists, who also are discussed in this chapter.  Dissidents on both sides of the pond were reading and interacting with each other as liberal Christianity and democracy were developing hand-in-hand.

Part of what spoke to me as I read this chapter was the importance of the moral virtues.  My reading solidified thoughts I've been having that in the unvirtuous Age of Trump we must focus upon the cultivation of the virtues.

She writes that Adams grew up in a home with a "lifestyle of simplicity, modesty, and charity, and the regular enforcement of Christian order at home."  Adams did not continue the strict Calvinism of his father but she boils down his moral ethic as "one that valued the common good over self-interest, extolled the pursuit of knowledge as a way to worship God and his creation, and insisted on both the divine right of private judgment and the related, God-given 'dignity of human nature.'"  Yes, we are in sore need of those virtues.

Another valuable thought--"Human limitations are woefully apparent--and this is why liberty matters.  It is the necessary precondition for the fight against sin."

18th century liberal Christianity developed three rules for right reasoning:

The first rule was for Christians to acknowledge that they are not yet in possession of truth.  Call it humility, call it partiality, call it fallibility, it is objectively true from a Reformation Christian perspective that no one can claim to possess the whole truth any more than they can claim to be free of sin.  Therefore all must continue to seek more truth.

The second rule taught the critical thinking necessary to discern between doctrines.  Truth-seekers must be open-minded, honest, and sincere.  They resist appeals to authority, tradition, or superstition, thinking for themselves and being both candid about what they think and willing to consider all claims.

The third rule of right reasoning directed the Christian to consider the effects of a doctrine as indicative of its degree of validity.

Elaborating the final point (which according to the narrative in the book ultimately becomes Jamesian Pragmatism in the late 19th century) she writes, "in the American Reformation, the right of private judgment pointed to a duty of public expression too, evaluating the results of holding this or that belief by measure of the virtue or nonvirtue such a belief produced."

As I get time this weekend, I'll try to catch up with further blogging.


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