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tv   The Bible and the Founding of America  CSPAN  August 5, 2021 8:31pm-9:33pm EDT

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american history tv continues with historians looking at the bibles influence on the founding fathers, including their views on religious liberty, democracy, and the american republic. this discussion was part of a symposium hosted by the museum of the bible in washington d.c.. >> thank you danielle, good afternoon everyone, i hope you enjoyed your time at lunch in the museum. if you will take a moment to silence your cell phone or any device you might have with you, please join me and giving our speakers a round of applause.
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they have done an outstanding job. today has really been an interesting look at how the bible influenced the people, and the events of the revolution after nation's founding. i'm going to thank those who have submitted questions, i'm just gonna randomly go through these for our speakers. we will start with doctor kid. franklin quoted god, hey god helps those who help themselves. can you put that in the context of your remarks about franklin's beliefs? >> that is an example of franklin, the poor richards almanac was full of aphorisms that sounded sort of like proverbs, and sometimes they were proverbs, and i think that type of philosophy is and we excellent example of this type
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of emphasis on virtue and morality and industry, and frugality that where the hallmarks of franklin's philosophy about religion and morality. but there is a way in which, was that statement in particular sort of dissenters god in a way that his cabinet's four bearers would not have wanted him to do. the point for his parents would be, you don't just need got to help you, you need god to change your life. what needs to happen, is we are converted by the expense of god's grace transforming power and then we are able to live a more godly and moral life. i think that kind of philosophy, of god helps those who help themselves, is more of a god is a supplement, that if you got
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follow gods principles, you work hard, and your honest, things will go well for you, which is a kind of classic american creed. but maybe it's sits somewhat uncomfortably with the council of scripture. >> would you say that was a deist statement? >> yes, i would say it has a sort of deist flavor to it, in the sense that god -- maybe being active but somewhat -- you need to take responsibility for yourself, that god's were god's power is not the first thing that you need. the first thing that you need in that formula is your own initiative. so i think god is being descended a little bit, it seems to me, knowing what i know about franklin, there's a sense that god is being a little secondary or distant. >> thank you. another question from our
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audience, i understand our government is a republic. so many people in america say it's a democracy. can it be both or is it both? >> the constitution explicitly makes reference to republican form of government. i certainly don't think these are inconsistent in some ways in which they manifest themselves. if we take the words and look them in their purest definitions, there could be some restrictions. but let me just remind you of the core of what republicanism would've meant to most late 18th century americans, which is government by consent of the government is exercised through representatives. and that second aspect could come into tension with democracy in its purest form. but i think as these words might have been used at this time, they would've not seen such a sharp clash between the two, and they certainly did not
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view that some expressions and manifestations of the peoples voice as being in tune with republicanism as they understood it. i >> explained to my students, the founders view of pure democracy, which they would've thought was a really bad idea, is as if every single question at any level of government deals with and the people have to vote on, say popular referendum, on every question, do they have the expertise to make the sort of decisions? probably not. but if it's an issue of complex foreign policy issue or something like that. the ideal is that you elect people who do have sufficient
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expertise in these areas, who the founders would've hoped those people to be virtuous. but knowledgeable, independent people. who can make informed decisions about these various kinds of policy issues on behalf of the people. we've definitely become more democratic since 17 teen 76, 1787. because, number one, we have a lot more kinds of people voting, women, let's start with women, can vote. lots of ethnic minorities now participate when they couldn't have at the time of the founding. it's fundamentally a democratic republic that we have, as opposed to a pure democracy that the founders would've considered to be ill-considered and chaotic. >> rapid can-ism is another way of putting a check on the exercise of power, that comes
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back to this biblical anthropology that we are falling creatures, and we need as many checks and restrains as we possibly manage in the way we frame our government. >> thank you. doctor bird, this one is for you. we let's see, can you please expound more on thomas jefferson's religious views? >> thomas jefferson's religious views? >> yes. >> okay. i didn't mention thomas jefferson, but okay. what i might be able to jump in. >> you might be able to jump in. >> right, my basic understanding of thomas jefferson is that he was a little more purely days stick and what he had to say. he famously trimmed the bible of certain text that were miraculous because he mainly wanted to concentrate on the life and morals of jesus and
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see jesus as the example for morality, which was the key thing for him. and other than that, jefferson's religious views -- >> i sometimes use the term, he was adherent of a natural religion. where he saw really human reason -- which gave him pause when he encountered the transcended claims, the miraculous claims that he read in the bible. if he could not understand or explain it through a reason, then he had questioned reason to doubt it. having said that, he thought jesus of missouri was the greatest moral teacher there ever was, and it was great value in saying that. the kind of religion that he would've a dear to would've been non dogmatic it would have been on hierarchical. i think he was very distrustful of churches and governments or
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oriented around bishops for example. i think he had a certain affinity even though he may not have embraced the specifics with more congregation all baptists'church governance. he liked that kind of church governance quite apart from the belief system. but i think we are talking about a very non dogmatic religion that could be explained in rational terms. >> famously, he got along with baptists cause they agreed on political views. they agreed on separation of church and state and he had sort of a fascinating relationship with the baptist 's. john leland, one of the major baptist figures in the period who was both kind of southern and new england, he kind of moved around in preached, loved thomas jefferson.
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he actually talked about -- he was a very for the bible leaving baptist. but he loved jefferson, he thought jefferson was a gift of god and he knew about jefferson to an extent about jefferson's theology that he disagreed with but he thought jefferson was just such a gift to the nation because jefferson's politics and he spoke about how he was a biblical figure something, so he had religious meaning and value for even the baptists who disagreed with him. and he valued the baptists'take on politics as they agreed so well with what he thought of as i, think you are describing it as a beautiful religion as basically morality and freedom for individuals. if you look at -- >> if you look at his account books, he was very generous in giving money to the ministers, he maintained friendships with many ministers, including ministers that he would not agreed with on theological
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manners and i think this was of some importance to him. when you look at jefferson's views, especially some of the anti clerical statements that he makes and he makes some very harsh ones, i think it's always 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 war where he sees so many, especially anglican ministers that are leaving. they're siding with the loyalist but at the same time, he's expressing great friendship and admiration with other aggregate of ministers that side with the patriots. the same company a lectern of 1800. he is a harshly attacked by the congregation list ministers in new england and so again, i think he's deeply and personally wounded by some of the things they say about him. and so again, i think you have to look at the context in which he makes some of the harsh statements against clergymen around the election of 1800 and if you jump ahead another decade and a half, he runs into conflicts with presbyterian and
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central virginia over who is going to be the professors at his new university of virginia. and there were some presbyterian ministers and his own community that were not keen on some of the people he wanted to hire and again, he kind of lashes out at some very harsh anti clerical statements and so i think it's always useful to look at the political context in which he make some of the statements, to understand where he's coming from with that particular kind of expression from jefferson. >> thank you. this next question is for doctor kid. did franklin's knowledgeable but non-dock trundle faith make him a better bridge builder between various religious groups and today a similar thing work for lincoln? >> yeah, i think it did. he was on very friendly terms with lots of different kinds of
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churches and ministers. when he was in philadelphia, he most commonly would tend the cities anglican church, the church of england. his wife i think was more devout and she was an anglican so he would go with her to church and he gave money for the anglican church to be expanded some people said that it was so that he would have a higher steeple for his experiment but i think he also thought the church was a good thing, but he even gave 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. so, i mean, i think that that's an example of franklin's kind of non dogmatic
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approach because he was very -- and he definitely thought that in a way, jefferson didn't think institutional really, even if it's a good thing. and and so he was keen to help a lot of different kinds of churches in and you hear, from my top time this morning, you heard john adams say that every christian group thought that he was 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 inter denominational will conflict, especially between catholics and protestants. but when franklin had the opportunity to visit the continent of europe, he was very complimentary towards catholics and catholic churches, never quite got over some of his, you know, the anti catholic sentiments that he grew up with so he got some -- heat is definitely a bridge
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builder between a lot of different kinds of denominations and religions and i think that reflected the fact that he basically had a builder between a lot of different kinds of denominations and religions and i think that reflected the fact that he basically had a positive view of religion and churchgoing and that sort of thing, just as long as you didn't use it to be people over >> i, and did a similar thing the head with it. doctrine were trailing? can >> you know, i don't know as much about lincoln but a professor can say something about this. but i think that lincoln definitely has -- a special as a leader, washington was like this to of making sure to reach out to different leaders of different denominations to say, you know, we need your support, your value here and this sort of thing so i think in washington, lincoln's case, that you see that kind of principle outreach to different kinds of denominations. >> yeah, i mean, i think that's true and with lincoln, there is
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so much consistency i think in that comparison and i think that's why i think it's helpful. the only distinction that we might make with lincoln is that he had a strong sense of prevention listen as anyone, clearly believed in providence, however he had a very pessimistic kind of providence and part of this was his time, part of it was probably the war and you can see this even in his famous speeches where he had -- way talks about we need to be on god's side, he talks about maybe god's not really in favor of what we are doing here. maybe we are going down the wrong road in various ways so he had a strong sense of job gods judgment on the nation, and that i think may have been something somewhat unique and probably again, it's easy to
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think of these figures as just kind of isolated -- will refer the acting out of body but they were living people in situations and professor dreisbach talked about specific situations with jefferson. you have to talk about context and the same is true with lincoln. his context -- his entire presidency and he's dealing president i could say that that includes founded by war from the time he took office was conflict. and that's what he did. >> you know, and that when that is where i read david mccullough's biography of john adams, that john adams was also attending wherever he was, different church services, different denominations and i found that to be an usual compared to how we a ten church today. it seems like we go toward nomination, do you feel like that visiting various churches, he mentioned those bridge building with our earlier founders, is that something that could help us today? >> well, i think that that -- you're right, and the 1700s,
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there's such intense conflict between, especially catholic and protestant but also between baptist and congregation ill arguing about the difference between presbyterian and congregation analysts. that's like, you issues you shed blood over. and it speaks to a time when people were number one, a lot more theologically conversing than we are today. but they also took these things so seriously and i think in retrospect, especially in our gain time when you can't take christian commitment for granted in the culture and it doesn't seem like you want to be fighting those kinds of
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issues anymore. but i think one of the real breakthroughs came with the new evangelical movement of the 17 thirties and forties if you've been to the museums of bible in america. i think you've seen about george whitfield and the great a weakening period or they have >> they have here. 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 church of england and minister, especially in america, he cooperated very avidly with non anglicans, anybody who was supportive of his message of the new birth of salvation, being born again. this is the experience all people need to have, he was quite willing to preach in their churches, and you preach alongside them. he was upgraded by anglican authorities about saying why are you cooperating so much with the --
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and the quaker's and all of that, he said because i see board again people among all denominations. that is a unity that is borne to me, out of a specific kind of religious principle, which is the belief or conversion and being one again. there is a way in which i think these two, you know, trends toward roller -- religious unity are happening at the same time. one is the evil and jeweler coal birth -- one, the enlightenment on trend of saying we need to stop fighting about differences in theology, we need to stop having wars and murdering people over the difference of small, and differences in theology. these are both surging at the same time. you end up getting people like a jefferson and john leland, you mentioned before, they have very different personal views
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about theology. they have identical views about the role of religion in american public life, that was we need to have a full religious liberty, the government should not persecute people because of religious beliefs, you should let people meet in their own churches and freedoms, you should not force them to pay religious taxes to support a church they don't attend. which is where most people in the colonial era had to do. yes, this is why that tradition of liberty is so important. it does not mean -- i only have so much time, i don't have time to attend so many peoples churches, i understand that. we should at least follow their example and say religious liberty is for everybody. >> i think there is a couple interesting things going on when you look at some of the communication that the founders, and particularly early presidents had with religious society.
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washington especially around the time of his inauguration communities with two or three dozen religious societies across the spectrum. these remain religious groups, but also religious groups from the minority communities. i think there are several things going on here. number one, he wants to reassure they are part of this american experiment. he wants to bring them into the fold, and ensure they are full participants in the american experience. he also is using this as an opportunity to cool -- communicate with 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. writing letters to religious societies and groups are one of those ways to communicate to a broad audience. all of the presidents, you use letter writing to religious
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societies to communicate some really important ideas. washington is talking very succinctly about conceptions of religious liberty. let's not forget that thomas jefferson used a letter to a baptist association, to express that's metaphor of a wall of separation between church and state. a few years later, and the closing days of the presidency, he raced to a methodist society which he says, he says the dearest part of the constitution is that part of that protects liberty of conscious. we are using this communication to really express, i think, heartfelt issues. some important issues. also think it is important to focus on these communications because the societies are communicating with them to. they are communicating with their concerns, with their ears are, they're concerned about whether in fact their liberties matters if religion will be
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respected. it also helps them understand and begins to labor for an american understanding average of liberty that would include them. >> thank you. doctor bird, this next question is for you it is a long one. >> take notes. pushed [laughs] >> you referenced david as a model for, a man at the gods bold heart, and a man of war. god said to david that because he was a man of war, he machete blood on the earth, david would not be the one to build got a house, but rather his son solomon, a got of peace. god chose his displeasure, please reconcile these two as you can. >> okay. i think it is fascinating that opponents of war did not use that text that reference. i think part of the reason
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could be that there were other texts that were just less obscure, or to the moment in which -- obviously, someone who is a patriot that are good people to go to war are not going to mention that incident. it is a valid point in many ways, it doesn't undercut the point, the larger point that god in some ways, when david was going to war, he was the feeding goliath, the scripture speaks that he was doing got work and doing that. it is a complicated question, but i did not see it, at least in the research are did. i did not see anybody pointing that out. are the nasty anybody saying, people calling david warrior, you might need to think about this. it was not one of the texts they drew on, however, it is an interesting point.
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again, it will reinforce the arguments not only pacifist, those were not pacifist technically. and did not support the war for one reason or another. doctor kid, do you suppose as real sent a letter to bring franklin to consider cries before the death. >> i don't know he did. he did not have much time left. he would be dead five weeks after franklin responded. it is true that there were people all through franklin's life who were very directly employed franklin to accept him as a savior. this is one of the reasons which i don't see franklin as a traditional christian, the traditional christians around franklin did not think he was a christian. so, i think the best example is
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george whitfield, who i mentioned a minute ago, whitfield and franklin were friends and business associates for 30 years. they had a very transparent relationship about understanding that they were not on the same page spiritually, and whitfield thought franklin needed to do something about that. so, field just pulls no punches and say, you need to put your faith increase for salvation. franklin would say, i am all set. they even have these conversations, my favorite is in the 17 fifties, whitfield wrote a letter to franklin, again, they are business partners. whitfield said i need to take care of this publication and so forth. now, by the way, i don't --
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i noticed how much success you have in electrical experiments, you made so much progress in understanding the mitch -- mysteries of electricity, he said to him. now i implore you to considering the mysteries of the new birth increase. you can imagine franklin rolling his eyes. . whitfield was constantly talking to him, and i wonder what they're private conversations that were all recorded, i wish i could have been there for some of the conversations. franklin and his sister had conversations like that. there was one time when franklin, after he had made it big and went back to boston from philadelphia to visit his family. it is clear that franklin and insist sister thought -- fought. this is one of the struggles
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you have written a biography, especially in 18th century figure like this. almost all of the letters that franklin and it wrote to her sister or lost. some person in the past thought, who cares about this 18th century woman. let's throw this in the trash. it breaks your heart, really. it's kind of like listening to a phone conversation where you only hear the one side. ben rights back to her later and into effect says i am sorry we fought. he sends her cloth as a gift to say i am sorry that i was harsh towards you. but it's clear they were fighting about whether you need god to be moral. she clearly was saying, you need to have god change your heart or you can never be truly moral. he was saying i don't think you do. and they fought about that.
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the point being that franklin, throughout his life, and that's why i find his response about i have never been asked about this before kind of exasperating is because people have been asking about this his whole life. it's a constant theme for him. >> thank you. doctor dreisbach, since america and her constitution were established with the knowledge and reverence to the bible, how long can we maintain these establishments if we continue to move away from biblical foundations? >> that's a very hard question. i would start by saying that i think it's important that we understand where these ideas came from.
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i also think that you understand why they were perceived as important in their own time, and then we can ask the hard question, are those reasons still pertinent to us today. my own views of politics is that things like constitutions cannot be divorced from a political culture or a culture at large. you can take a constitution, a well conceived constitution, and you can put it in a very different cultural context and it won't work. we have seen attempts to import other constitutions around the world, and so i think it is always useful to understand a context in which a constitution is written and in which it is designed to work. my own view is the founders generally viewed religion as indispensable to their project. washington himself spoke to this in his farewell address when he said of all the habits and this positions that lead to
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political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. he doesn'tr flesh out how the expression of religion looks like, but he's telling us religion and morality are indispensable to the political project. i think we are also fairly clear that he's not thinking in terms of a religious establishment, a kind of formal institutional establishment that had been part of europe since the time of konstantin. rather, he sees a vital role, an informal role, for religion in maintaining this political order that's been created. to underscore how important this, is to, washington is not an outlier here.
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i think he's expressing a common place of his age. there is virtually no dissent on this point. what does he go on to say? in the very next sentence? having said religion and morality are indispensable to political prosperity, he said in vain with that man claimed the tribute of patriotism who should labor to subvert these prompts of human happiness. that's rather stunning language. having said religion and morality are indispensable, he then goes on to say, as i interpret, it if you are seeking to undermine those pillars of religion and morality, you cannot call yourself a patriot. i think for at least washington as a representative of his own time, he would have seen this role of religion in the culture as absolutely essential to the survival of panic spearmint and republican self government. >> i think i agree and the founders would have taken that has a given that virtue has to undergird the republic. there are some cautionary notes,
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because we tend to think, critics of what american culture has become today might sometimes take to rosy a view of what american culture was in 1787. there were some notable problems back then as well. slavery, hello. they have got their own issues. even though you cannot see your own blind spots and most cases, they would have at least agreed that virtue is the issue. when this issue comes up today and people on the secular left will hear, oh, you mean abortion, or you mean gay marriage, these kinds of hot button issues. i always explain to my students i actually think almost everyone in america believes we
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will be better off with a virtuous society. the example i give is the 2007-2008 financial crisis where we have incredibly complex, and greedy and selfish, things going on in the financial industry. credit default swaps and those kinds of things and no one understands it. 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. left, right, middle, whoever, said we probably would have done better if we had more pervasive virtue and public spiritedness. that's what the founders meant.
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i am responsible to my fellow person. i can't just act selfishly, because i have to be responsible to the public interest. we had a financial meltdown that was partly a result of a pervasive spirit of greed and selfishness, and we all kind of are connected to it in america. so as a republic, we would have done better if we had more virtue. i like to go to that kind of example, because most people can say yes, we probably could have stood to have more virtue in an area like that. where we won't agree, as we see every day in the news about abortion and marriage and these kinds of things, and i have my own opinions about that, but
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anyone who would say, virtue, 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. >> that is an expression of licentiousness which is at war with the very concept of liberty. >> we started this question talking about the constitution, the influence of the bible on that. i know you had an opportunity to go to the second floor and see the bible in america exhibit. -- how would you describe the impact on the mayflower? >> i think we should start with who the people were that crafted the document. they were pious people. not everyone on the ship was a pilgrim. it was a mix of people, which is partly what prompted the crafting of the document. we are on a godly mission is as
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we understood it. i think they saw themselves in a rather unique position in human history. they had an opportunity to wipe clean the slate of human history, to undo some of the bad mistakes of the past, and to try to build a political system that would avoid some of those mistakes. i think we've begin to see reflections of that even a document like the mayflower compact. it is a brief document. it doesn't tell us a whole lot, but it's a compact in the sense that they are promising 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 into constitutionalism through the mayflower compact itself. the seeds of ideas of a constitution are certainly there. and these are seeds that will
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replicate themselves throughout american constitutional history. for example, virtually all american constitutions began with a statement of for whom this document is created. we see that in the mayflower compact. we see that in the united states constitution. we also see a statement of purpose. we see that in the preamble to the united states constitution. there are three very clear and distinct statements of purpose in the mayflower compact. it's very interesting in which the order comes. it's for god and the propagation of the gospel, and we get to the king. even so, the fact that they still firm their allegiance to the king is itself remarkable, because after all, they are fleeing the persecution of the king. but i think it goes back to the healthy respect for authority that they would have read in
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romans 13 that professor bird was talking about in his discussion. in itself, i think that reflects a sort of biblical understanding of authority and how you begin to structural government. >> undergirding all these agreements in the mayflower compact, the puritan separatists, is the concept of covenant. sometimes we miss the full ramifications of what that meant to them. from a reformers and point of view, god is absolutely sovereign. god is omnipotent, omniscient. god makes covenants with humans, which is a remarkable statement of love that god puts forth. they read the bible as a series of interlocking covenants and their lives are all based on
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covenants, cabinets for churches, for cities, marriage, family. this concept of covenant, so influential overall, they take from scripture, i think in the back of their minds and sometimes at the very front of their thoughts as they understand these things and negotiations of who they are, in the new world, as they call it. >> thank you. doctor bird, members of our audience would like to hear more details about the database and what you are gathering and cataloguing. >> this is really interesting. the database for the revolutionary war project i basically designed using a program called microsoft access, which is a system in microsoft office.
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i went into different primary sources and entered diverse, by, verse by verse everything that i found. then after i read as much as i could find, i just kind of granite and that i could find were texts were and all that. it's a very cumbersome kind of thing. for the civil war project, it's a much more streamlined process. a friend of mine, an incredible coder and professor of history, is sweeping through an algorithm for like 2000 primary source texts or more, picking out text stream matching. the database is so much larger, because you can do so much more
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with the tax in the mid 19th century, in part because you can scan them and they can be understood. try that with something written in 1776. anything else will look like a recipe for chocolate cake or something. you won't have a clue what it is. that's basically what it is. it was a time consuming process of assembling data. >> i imagine you have graduate students helping with that too. 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. >> doctor, this is for you, another long question. when the bible is used in political settings and debates, there is often the concern that biblical texts will be used without regard to their biblical context in order to serve a partisan political
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agenda. do you see evidence of this in the time period you've been discussing today? and are there examples of the bible being taken out of context for a media political goal? >> this is one of the concerns that i really wanted to focus on when i wrote this book on the bible and the founders. i was not only interested in what kinds of texts they were drawn to, but i was very interested in whether they were using these texts in ways that were consistent with the biblical context in which we find them. i think the record is somewhat mixed. there are some examples where i think you see the founders using biblical texts in ways that are perhaps more faithful to its biblical context than we oftentimes use. for example, you see quite a few references in the founding
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literature to the use of micah 6: 8 what does the lord require view but to do justice and, love, mercy and serve god. in my, life i've probably heard a dozen of so sermons on that. they are always focused on by individual virtue. that's what's god requires of me individually. quite often, when you see this, i think they quite properly understood that this is what's theologian's sometimes called a covenant lawsuit text. this was god's grievance against the nation, and in the end of that text, the children of israel, having been convinced they had broken the covenant with god say what must do you do to make things. right that's when god comes back and says you must do justice with mercy and walk humbly with god. i think there's a richer understanding of the biblical context if you understand it's about a grievance that god has with his people, rather than
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gods instruction to be as an individual. having said that, i think they are misappropriating a biblical text. i made a reference to this in my talk this morning. take, for example, uses of new testament language on liberty. americans in this period loved new testament texts that used the word liberty. i mentioned galatians 5: 1 stand past where in crisis made you free. there are other similar texts. they love to quote this. in my reading, these are really more about christian liberty or spiritual liberty then political liberty. it's very interesting that this debate over whether in fact the use of these new testament text was appropriate rises even in the midst of their use in the 18th century.
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there would be those who would say not so fast. that's not about political liberty. we oftentimes heard this from loyalist ministers who were calling out these patriots for their misappropriation of the language of liberty, and there would have been a back and forth about is it appropriate to use this language of liberty, which is more about spiritual matters than about political matters, in these political pamphlets. quite often, the response you hear from patriots is i think god's understanding of liberty would incorporate within it political liberty, even though we might appreciated a bit more about the spiritual side, but there was an ongoing debate even at that time. an even richer and much more consequential debate is the one that professor burton mentioned. how do we interpret a text like romans 13? here is where you see a very different interpretation of romans 13 by the loyalists than
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you see by those who are favoring independence. each will call the other side out and say you are misinterpreting this text. you think it's going to help your political cause. there was a genuinely lively debate between loyalists and patriots over what exactly does romans 13, this idea of be in submission, what does that mean, and you can understand why it's such a lively debate. it goes to the very legitimacy of those suggesting we should rebel against england. it's a very heated conversation that we find, and it's over the proper interpretation of scripture, where they're misappropriating simply to advance a political objective of the moment. >> thank you. would either of you care to elaborate on that?
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>> i always perk up when i see someone, and we are talking about the founding period here, when someone loses something because of their commitment to following what the bible says. i think that's when you have someone on your hands who is really committed to the scripture. my favorite example of this is a presbyterian pastor in savannah who was a delegate of the first continental congress for georgia. he was as moderate as anyone about the taxes and concerns about british authority and colonies. but in 1775, when he saw that, the trend was heading towards independence and revolution, rather than just resistance. he said we can't do that is christians. we can't rise up against the government because of the reasons.
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i don't think that argument is necessarily a lie. i don't know what my position would have been, if i would have been a patriot or a loyalist. he resigned from the continental congress and became a loyalist. he was 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, all his property, everything. why? because he was acting in accord with his conscience and what he saw going on in romans. it's debatable whether he is 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 kinds of examples really inspiring. it's like today.
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in the time of the founding, you do have people using these scripture as 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 the bible is the language everybody knew how to speak. >> part of what is so fascinating about this to me, the history of interpretation of scripture, is if you think about it, various people across time, in various places, with various presuppositions, overtime, reading this text, so that people who don't have very much in common at all meet together across time over romans 13, i just think it's fascinating to see how people
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read it, to see how people interpret it based on their context, their situation, and it's easy for us to say of course no loyalists will interpret it to enforce a position because they are being selfish, because they are just trying to find ammunition to support their position. perhaps, but we all read from our position in a certain situation. they looked to scripture for guidance, they meditate on scripture, not everyone, but a lot of people did. and they looked to find where they were in the story. and i think it was only natural in some cases for people to see their side. it's easy to condemn that reading as we do with any other situation in history. we have to kind of look at it from their point of view, try to think about it from their point of view, but then it's also fascinating to see the
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other side and see how others can read that same text. and sometimes both arguments seem pretty good. so, i think this is where the bible history as well as the history of the bible gives so much to us, in part gives us insight into the people that we are studying. i don't know how many times i would be reading a little bit about the viral -- i would be reading a primary or a secondary source of historians take on something and there were biblical references in the primary text that the historian doesn't recognize and they're just thinking, well this is an interesting insight. well, maybe it was just genesis and so, i think it gives us insight into the people were studying because it's so important, it was so much a part of their lives and it gives us insight into just the scripture and how deep the text can be and how multifaceted. >> very interesting. this question is
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addressed to all speakers so please reflect on religion in masonry and the founders including franklin, george washington, and other founders. >> yeah, i can -- i get asked this a lot. so, ben franklin was a free mason and a lot of the major founders were free masons. and, that has remained a controversial subject through present day. i think for franklin, his membership in the masons was significant but he doesn't talk about it a lot. now, some people would say it's because it's a secret society. you're 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
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mid 1700s were quite as controversial as they became later on in american history. but they were very much a kind of, you know, it fits right along with what franklin said all his beliefs were. minimally doctrine all, very focused on service and benevolence and these kinds of things and it's sort of the epitome of the religion of the indictment. and its men, fellow shipping over you no issues of how can we do the most good in society and these kinds of issues, but it was also a special club for them. this is the great era of the social club and coffee
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houses and taverns, sociability and so forth so when franklin went to france, he very much connected with me since there for a short time, voltaire were one of the members who are the same may sonic lodge. so there were international collections, connections that were involved with it. but i see it as being a representative of a time a fairly elite sort of social clubs and that had these kind of religious overtones, but they don't argue about in the doctrine. >> i think that's well stated. >> so doctor, good discussions for. you can you give us an example of the ways in which the bible itself influenced franklin's writings? >> okay, i mainly sided episodes where would just show up and builders of babble and things like that. that's kind of a lot of the ways that will come up. but you know we were talking about the bible showing up and not knowing that it's the
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bible. after mitt, that happened to me a few times 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 are just things that were going on over my head. one of my favorite examples is a passage that franklin cited in his pen flip, plain truth, which was one of the first political pamphlets in american history. i think in the 17 fifties, it's about the pennsylvania militia and the quaker's opposing the militia. it's kind of -- one of the arguments that he makes is based on, get ready for this, the expedition of the day nights in judges 18. do you -- does any buddy remember this very well? i don't remember this very well. i would bring this up and remind myself about the
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expedition. but to him, and 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 it was like pain and common sense he thought just like in pain and common sense in samuel eight, people will know this, franklin's thinking, the people in philadelphia will instantly see the relevance of 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 even have what. even as someone who tries to go to church and stay up with the bible and so forth, there's so deeply biblically literate that it just goes over your head sometimes. what so franklin --
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that not only tells you how literate franklin is in the scripture, but more importantly how the culture is and that is true in philadelphia, and it's true in parts of the south. >> we have just a few seconds left, would anyone want to make a crossing remark or a comment about today? >> i would comment about what was said today, let's not forget, this was a literate culture quite apart from biblical literacy. and one of the reasons why it was such an a -- a literate culture is because they were reading the bible and the bible was an ideal tool for teaching literacy. it was a profoundly useful tool in literacy. this was a generation that would've been raised with learning how to read with a bible in front of them. and that's why they would've known so much about these stories from scripture. >> thank you very much. please join me in thanking dr.
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bird, dr. kid, and doctor dries back. outstanding job, thank you! we so we have a few remarks, we like to release our speakers to sit back at their table for the book signing. thank you gentlemen. we also have their books for sale in the back of the room, if you'd like to purchase them. and right now, i'd like to introduce you to rob koch plan who would like to say a few words on behalf of museum of the bible. thank you.
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next, on american history tv, religious historians -- on american political and social justice figures like thomas jefferson, james madison, and martin luther king jr.. the museum of the bible, and the baylor institute for studies of religion coast of the discussion. this is an hour. >> i am tony's iced, the director of the museum, what a wonderful privilege to be in a terrific bolden, we hope that you come to think of this very soon as your museum, because it is the new community museum. in fact, it is their world museum. we are going to be live on c-span tonight, thank you so


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