Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Response to The Atlantic's The Real Reason the Humanities are in 'Crisis'

A brief response to The Atlantic's The Real Reason the Humanities are in 'Crisis'

     I'm apparently one of the few, one of the bold. Kidding aside, it makes me sad that not that many people get degrees in the Humanities as it is (less than 10%!), and to see that number dropping. But in my opinion, there's no crisis here, especially not because of a lack of women entering this discipline. If anything, this affords those already enrolled in the Humanities (of both genders) greater career opportunities in an already over-crowded and competitive field and indicates that those who are pursuing this track are here for the right reasons.

     Nothing's limiting women from studying History or the Classics so why act like it's a crime when women choose to pursue different subjects? Nothing to see here. Same goes for trying to force women into STEM fields when they're disinterested. Perhaps these studies should remember that individuals have different interests and occupational goals that shouldn't revolve around filling quotas over filling positions based on merit.

     Also, I don't think that a low percentage of a certain gender or demographic should indicate how many more people of a certain type "need" to be in this field or not. Whether there's only 2 women enrolled in the Humanities or 200,000, who cares? I think each of us should pursue what we're individually passionate about and where our talents align to fill the gaps that we alone were designed to fill. History will be better off for it.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Christianity and Liberalism: Machen's Analysis on the Destinction between God and Man

Hailed by D.G. Hart as the "most important conservative Protestant thinker of the first half of the twentieth century and a guiding light for the first generation of Orthodox Presbyterians," J. Gresham Machen remains a staunch champion of the validity of the Bible. In John Piper's presentation to the Bethlehem Conference for Pastors (1993), the fellow Presbyterian pastor illustrates through J. Gresham Machen’s Response to Modernism how the defender of orthodox Christianity titled his work precisely so, declaring that "liberalism is vying with Christianity as a separate religion." An American Presbyterian theologian and professor of the New Testament at Princeton Seminary, Gresham wrote Christianity and Liberalism written as a response to modernist theology. Published in 1923, the work of Gresham presents how there are varieties of modern Christianity deriving from a historical basis and how a modern offshoot departs from traditional theology and doctrine. Machen details the erroneous progressive synthesis of God as the “father of all,” the rise of pantheism that has replaced orthodox Christian theology in modern churches, as well as the detrimental form of sermons preached without intending to convict sin or express the personal yet distinct relationship between God and man.

Machen specifies how Liberalism inherently separates itself from the root of the historical Church, specifically in how modernists view the nature and relationship of God and man. Piper continues to explain how Machen viewed the negative aspects of modernism being surmised of general traits: a suspicion of the past that is natural in view of the stunning advances of recent decades (science and technological progress), skepticism about truth and a replacement of the true with the category of useful (pragmatism, utilitarianism), and the denial of the supernatural.”[1] As indicated by Machen’s writing, the modernists reinterpret the Bible without necessarily throwing out Christianity; instead manipulating the meanings and reinventing new creeds, symbols and messages to suit their ever changing agenda. Piper further articulates how progressive forms of Christianity differ from orthodoxy; stating that creeds and foundational principles are seen as relative - "if they are useful for one generation, good; if not for another, then they may be exchanged."[2] However, Machen clearly affirms in Christianity and Liberalism that the doctrine of God’s eternal and unchanging nature serve as a presupposition from which the entire gospel clings. As modern liberalism does not acknowledge this aspect, the radical and pragmatic form of Christianity lacks in consistency and fails to encapsulate the physical, spiritual, and historical essence of the Judeo-Christian faith. Machen stresses that liberalism is opposed to God due to the progressive’s very interpretation of Him. He mentions how many churches have leaned towards saying that a conception of God is “unnecessary; [that] theology, or the knowledge of God is the death of religion; we should not seek to know God, but should merely feel His presence."[3] However, emotions do not determine truth or the knowledge of what truth comprises of. Without knowledge of God, there is no basis for religion, Machen argues, as the knowledge of God is the very basis and foundation of the Christian faith. Furthermore, through his discussion analyzing non-theistic propositions, Machen clarifies plainly that the religion Jesus offered was triumphant only because of a “belief in the real existence of a personal God. And without that belief no type of religion can rightly appeal to Jesus today. Jesus was a theist, and rational theism is at the basis of Christianity.”[4]

In light of liberal preachers teaching that God can only be interacted with through Jesus, Machen pours over the Sermon on the Mount, the account of the Prodigal Son, and reflects on the words of the psalmists to show that it is in fact insulting to Christ, not a form of allegiance, to suggest that God could only be made known through the figure of Christ. He intellectually utilizes prominent scriptural passages to expose how Jesus acknowledged that God revealed Himself through nature, through moral laws, and through the biblical text. By suggesting that man can only know God through Jesus dismisses all “real knowledge of God” and despises the intimate character of God expressed through the Old Testament and the revelation which Christ teaching’s brought which further assisted and made complete the testimony of Creator and His creation.

A unique critique Machen offers is commentary on the liberal focus on the “fatherhood of God.” He considers it strange how “modern liberalism is decrying theistic proofs, and taking refuge in a "practical" knowledge while the liberal preacher loves to use one designation of God which is nothing if not theistic; he loves to speak of God as "Father.”[5] Most modern liberals, Machen asserts, do not either use the term literally or do so only when useful, not because of actual theological reasoning regarding God’s station to humanity. He links the usage of such a personal term to that found in other religions and where “father” is used to describe the transcended reality that is more akin to pantheistic or polytheistic inclinations. However, Machen claims that Jesus renewed the meaning of the term and identity of God as “something characteristically Christian”[6] - being “father” to those alone who have been redeemed and have been exclusively made part of God’s family, thus legitimizing their title and position of being known as His children. Rejecting this notion, many liberals do not seem to value or cherish doctrinal creeds, the reality of sin, salvation, and the atonement, but instead are content with the idea of a supposed fatherhood for all humans due to a shared brotherhood. Machen rejects that, stating that the concept of a universal fatherhood is absent in both the Old and New Testament. He dispels the idea that the story of the Prodigal Son proves this bond, continuing to show how the parable displays God’s adoration for a redeemed sinner who has received salvation – Machen dissects the passage to the point of revealing that God does not share this bond with unrepentant sinners, as they are not His children - they are not apart of the family of God. Machen counters arguments of how God cares for all by expressing how God “cares even for those who are not His children but His enemies; so His children, Jesus' disciples, ought to imitate Him by loving even those who are not their brethren but their persecutors. The modern doctrine of the universal fatherhood of God is not to be found in the teaching of Jesus.”[7]

Rejecting this form of doctrine and the demands of redemption, many turn to atheism, paganism, or substitute humanism for Christianity. It is arguable that the modern practice of Christianity is responsible in part due to the rise in atheism. Doctrine, church history, apologetic reasoning, intellectual Christian scholarship and achievement, and tradition are ignored, and are not adequately taught by a large majority of denominations. Followers of Christ profess their adoration for a merciful God while rebuking that mercy by consciously abandoning the standards which they claim to be so dear through lives that are conducted in quite a contrary manner. Machen notes how it is “useless for the preacher to breathe out fire and brimstone from the pulpit, if at the same time the occupants of the pews go on taking sin very lightly and being content with the standards of the world.[8] Sin is not seen as sin or the weight of it is instead considered a flippant aspect and an unavoidable measure of being human. The “perfectionism” of the Second Great Awakening which spurred the motivation towards social reform earned Christians lauded praise by how they eliminated intolerable circumstances in the world through the efforts of abolition, suffrage, education, and temperance - rallying first and foremost for such change based on the principles of Christ and the inherent need of a sincere Christian to rise to the standards presented in the doctrine. Though perfection cannot be attained by mere mortals, the lack of attempt towards Christ’s perfection ought to be viewed as inexcusable by those who claim to follow Jesus who specifically calls and equips His "sons and daughters" to live up to such perfection. If sin is not realized, life is conducted in a fashion more like the humanist, pantheistic reasoning described by Machen. Instead, sin is excused on account of the fragility of human weakness and the presumed inability to change upon a conviction of the Holy Spirit to confess contritely, turn from moral failings, and live uprightly. Often, arguments of convivence overrule the high cost of Biblical morality.

Aligned with the severe demands of the Christian faith, Machen stresses in the conclusion of his chapter on “God and Man” how modern preachers attempt to win souls without “requiring them to relinquish their pride; they are trying to help men avoid the conviction of sin.”[9] The preacher preaches about man’s goodness and how Christ’s message is good enough for them, rather than showing the inconsistency of that message with the entirety of Christianity’s foundational principles. Modernist Christianity appeals to modern culture instead of appealing to Scripture or Church history for authority. Out of desperation to be relevant to society, modernists Christians adapt their beliefs to fit the current era. A predominate vein of this progressive type of sermon and ministry lacks conviction and refuses to rage against the detrimental reality of human depravity as did ministers of old. Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield, and fundamentalist preachers like Billy Graham, are spurned as being a source of condemnation instead of seen as ministers presenting the hope available purely due to Christ’s atonement. Ultimately, Machen specifies how such topics are not touched upon as such a mention would lower the pride of man. His work ensnares the folly of human reasoning, advocates how a liberal intellectual orientation skews the Gospel into a very different religion than genuine Christianity, and finally, illuminates how modern liberalism reassures the pride of man that such arrogance is justified.

[1] John Piper. " J. Gresham Machen’s Response to Modernism." Desiring God. 1993.
[2] Ibid.
[3] J. Gresham Machen. Christianity and Liberalism. Grand Rapids, Michigan: W. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co, 55.
[4] Ibid, 55-57.
[5] Ibid, 58.
[6] Ibid, 59.
[7] Ibid, 60.
[8] Ibid, 67.
[9] Ibid, 68.

Pearl S. Buck - Disillusioned Missionary

Grant Wacker indicates throughout his account of the exploits of West Virginian female foreign missionary to China, "Pearl S. Buck and the Waning of the Missionary Impulse" that missionary fervor fueled by the revivals of the Second Great Awakening were doused by a sense of disillusionment, secularization, and apprehension towards the imperial elements and abuses of the Christian faith which peaked by the 1930s. Coinciding with international militant and economic effects of WWI and the Great Depression, such disillusionment may stem from the fatigue of continual warfare and the insurmountable fiscal and moral cost of unjust bloodshed, rather than a simple attribution to the ineffectiveness of Christian missionaries. Despite external factors, Buck’s reflective account regarding her ministry in China reveals how, though well-intentioned, many American missionaries were obliviously unaware and insensitive to the cultural practices of those they sought to reach. Her commentary and publishing later in life on the effectiveness of American foreign missions is brought to the forefront of conflicting debate that hotly rages today as in Buck’s life – a debate which simultaneously praises and critiques the expanse and benefits of capitalism and Christendom, but a debate nonetheless regarding the demands such a venture cost.

Receiving the Literature Nobel Prize Laureate (1938), Buck’s use of Chinese idioms and Biblical parallels fill her literary fiction, such as displayed through her famed The Good Earth. The novel’s style and intentionality derives from her own experiences growing up in China. Paul Doyle’s analysis regarding her narrative suggests that Buck believed “these good, solid farmers formed the heart of China. Her interest in them as people gave her a starting point, and love and affirmation for the Chinese peasant became one of the principal ingredients of her thought and writing"[1] as well as in her ministry. After reaping the prestige from being the first US woman to be awarded the Nobel Prize for literature, the novelist became a recognized political Christian activist who founded the East and West Association “to aid the Allied war effort in Asia by helping Americans understand the culture and concerns of the people of China and India.”[2] She later formed a scholarly movement known as “critical internationalism” – a “perspective working against colonialism and racism in Asia and in the United States during World War II; [an organization which would later] expand that world to include a critique of the Cold War.”[3] Her social activism highlights concerns stemming from her earlier days as a missionary serving in China, bearing witness to the ill effects of racial and national superiority being entwined with the Christian message by well-intentioned missionaries.

Though a controversial public figure, Buck's courageous critiques on imperialism met with admiration and resentment. She functioned as an expert on Chinese diplomacy and internal affairs while also serving as a "popular authority on the truthfulness of Christianity and the validity of the Christian missionary enterprise in China."[4] However, her earlier writings revealed her contempt for the wickedness and depravity she witnessed in Chinese society and especially the "absolute corruption of the official class. Family life riddled with opium addiction, drunkenness, [how daughters-in-law were treated like a slave of the family], foot-binding, and female infanticide."[5] Most missionaries operated for decades in the area in which they were assigned and yet, “the enterprise in which they were involved was heavily influenced by imperialist assumptions regarding the West’s superiority, including ideas about the superiority of women’s status in Western civilization. American Protestants imagined that the United States most closely reflected God’s kingdom on earth and that their country should therefore serve as a model for all the world.”[6] Female missionaries banded together to create the first denominational foreign mission board in 1819 (the General Board) as well as the most successful female agency, the Woman’s Foreign Missionary Society, directly formed to aid and assist women in living in scenarios which they viewed as oppressive. Buck’s writing aligned with the accounts of barbarism other missionaries encountered. With renewed justification and a millennial sense of immediacy, they were determined to purge the sinfulness from their lives with the light of the gospel coupled by Western social graces.

Though the evangelistic desire to witness weighed heavily on her mind, the concept that "evangelists focused too much on saving souls and too little on saving bodies"[7] increasingly disturbed Buck and caused her to vocalize the need to first minister to the physical detriments of the people they were trying to convert. The tone of her evaluations changed in the 1930s which showed an appreciation for the distinctiveness of Asian culture as well as China’s development as a nation. Due to this reevaluation, her pen turned toward critiquing the leviathan of Western imperialism as well as the traditional and dogmatic aspects of Christ's followers. Buck emphatically noted throughout her writings of how early Protestant missionaries, “although they produced a good number of conversions, were [ultimately] rejected by the Chinese, especially by the intelligentsia, for they were regarded as imperialistic enforcers of sweeping disapproval of Chinese culture. Those who opposed ancestor worship consisted [largely of missionaries apart of] the China Inland Mission - the largest Protestant mission group. They had received basic theological training and brought with them not only their Christian beliefs but also Western social and cultural symbolism. They sincerely believed that only their religious system was appropriate to express the true Christian faith, and they failed to understand Chinese culture.”[8]

Pearl’s frustration was not unwarranted. Missionary effectiveness in China became dampened by dissident factions which spurred sociopolitical uproars, such as the Taipei Rebellion and seeded other forms of unrest due to the “international treaties imposed on the Chinese, [including] the 1858 Toleration Clauses. These placed not just the missionaries but all Christians under the protection of the foreign powers. While that made persecution less likely, it was a situation open to abuse. Most Chinese viewed westerners as oppressors and had no way of distinguishing missionaries from the rest. In the course of the Boxer Rebellion, which lasted until 1901, 230 foreign missionaries and over 32,000 Chinese Christians lost their lives.”[9] The cost of evangelizing and converting was high for all parties; jeopardizing not only social standing and economic stability, but also one’s reputation as well as life.

However, Buck never rejected the usefulness of foreign missions and greatly admired the first missionaries, realizing their ventures out from European shores and into a vast unknown would understandably be fraught with errors and their practices in great need of revision. She considered figures such as her missionary father, Absalom Sydenstricker, as "willful conquerors, proud and quarrelsome, brave and intolerant and passionate, nonetheless good and innocent because they were blind”[10] to the destructiveness to their ideologue-like nature. Instead, her wrath fumed over the behavior of contemporary missionaries who “seem weak and despicable” in comparison, “shot through with doubt and distrust of themselves and their message."[11] Buck appears to have looked regretfully over the past, disillusioned with the initial approach to missions work as well as the ineffectiveness of current missionaries, but it also can be projected that the famed author and activist came to see to the beauty and purpose of missions, including the movement’s imperfections. Although attacking denominations for their common inability to integrate Christian teaching respectfully through their evangelization methods, Buck clearly asserted that there is indeed a "Case for Foreign Missions," despite offering a disclaimer that the "authoritative, unchangeable, and exactly phrased body of doctrine" may need to become more fluid and that the presentation of the gospel ought to allow flexibility in reaching the hearts of the intended.

[1] Paul A. Doyle. "The Good Earth." In Pearl S. Buck, Rev. ed., 29-41. Twayne's United States Authors Series 85. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1980.
[2] R. Schaffer. "Pearl S. Buck and the East and West Association: The Trajectory and Fate of “Critical Internationalism,” 1940–1950." Peace & Change 28, no. 1 (January 2003): 1-36.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Grant Wacker. "Pearl S. Buck and the Waning of the Missionary Impulse1." Church History 72, no. 4 (12, 2003): 856.
[5] Ibid., 857.
[6] Karen K. Seat. Providence has Freed Our Hands: Women’s Missions and the American Encounter with Japan. Syracuse, New York: Syracuse University Press, 2008.
[7] Wacker, 858.
[8] Paul de Neui. Family and Faith in Asia: The Missional Impact of Social Networks. Pasadena, California: William Carey Library, 2010, 188.
[9] John Pritchard. Methodists and their Missionary Societies 1760-1900. Burlington, Vermont: Ashgate Publishing, 2013, 125.
[10] Wacker, 872.
[11] Ibid.

Monday, October 31, 2016

American Missions Distinctly Rooted in New Divinity Theology

Within The New Divinity and the Origins of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions David W. Kling proposes that the theological influences of the New Divinity movement of the early 1800s intricately inspired the formative nature of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM) - a concept Kling asserts is unchallenged by scholars of American religious history as the doctrinal guidance of Jonathan Edwards, Samuel Hopkins, and other Congregational ministers visibly are rooted in the origins of the Protestant missionary movement. Congregational ministers and heirs of Edwardsean thought became known as proponents of the New Divinity movement and initiated evangelical pursuits of mass conversions to the Protestant religion. An early model for missionary work can be detected through the urging of the Great Awakening theologian's Life of Brainerd which emphasized the reality of redemption and man's need to encounter that grace. Following Edwards' example, Kling suggests that Samuel Hopkins took the basis for mission work further by taking the abstract ideal of heart conversion and forming sincere spiritual change into a matter of practicality narrowed on "self-denial for the greater glory of God's kingdom and the betterment of humankind."[1]

The essence prevailing Edwards’ New Divinity resulted in a “distinction between natural and moral inability,” found especially in his well-regarded Freedom of the Will which promoted the idea of human agency and cultivated a sense of urgency in believers to demonstrate that "faith as doctrine is incomplete without fruition in experience,"[2] convictions which motivated hopeful missionaries to fulfill the calling to convert nations yet deaf to the Gospel as per Edwards’ emphasis upon genuine expressions of religious affections. These sentiments would rekindle during the Second Great Awakening and future Holiness Movements as Protestantism submerged America’s culture in a spiritual landscape.

Despite the demise of famed Great Awakening ministers, the revivals of the 1800s saw an influx of youthful converts desiring to enter missions. Upon fervent prayer meetings and intimate gatherings, many attendees of Second Great Awakening camp revivals associated as New Divinity believers who committed their lives to spreading the Gospel across domestic, cultural, and political borders. A famous example of such commitment by youth attending one of these revivals was the declaration of Samuel J. Mills Jr. to fulfill the spiritual calling resonating within him and his peers at Williams College despite enduring balmy weather which ushered the group to take shelter beneath a haystack while they continued formulating ways in which they could realize this vision. The Haystack Prayer Meeting served as the fundamental instance where the foreign missions movement initiated by American Protestants spread from Christian students to other seminaries and eventually into formal organizations and mission associations. Student involvement, interest, and assistance from congregational bodies resulted in the official opening of the ABCFM in 1810. Within the span of two short years, five missionaries from this religious collective ventured to the vastly pagan "jewel of the British empire:" India while others turned their gazes inward to reform American society.

This initial launch sounded the beginning of American missionary work which found its basis primarily in the contributions and labor of Congregationalists from New England though the activities of Presbyterians, Reformed Dutch, and other denominations which came to join the ranks of the new ABCFM. Kling wisely discerns that though Edwards and Hopkins offered theological insight, they did not purposefully intend nor supply doctrinal rationale as to how Protestants were to engage in international or domestic ministry. Kling paints them as transitional figures as Edwards functioned prior to the growing consciousness of the importance of mission work, and though Hopkins was aware of the underpinnings of this movement through New Light influence through the Great Awakening of the 1740s, he did not live to witness the effects occurring in the generation proceeding after these two influential theological figures ascended into glory. Instead, Kling argues that the following generation "extended and applied the implicit missionary theology of Edwards and Hopkins into an explicit theological justification for the creation of the ABCFM."[3] It is also an ironic fact that the man known as the "father of the foreign missionary work in Christian America” is often overlooked, as Samuel J. Mills Jr. never served as a foreign missionary, yet he arguably did more to pioneer the advance of mission work compared to any contemporary. A grand student leader and religious evangelical promoter, Mills organized the ABCFM, was "instrumental in the formation of the Foreign Mission School,"[4] and dedicated to educating converted native peoples so that they could serve as ambassadors for Christ amongst the members of their culture in their homeland.

Though he did not travel abroad, Mills’ domestic influence punctured the heart of Congregational worship as he served as a pioneer missionary in the western territories of America and posed as an abolitionist who desired to rectify the institution of slavery, to educate, and to include African Americans as equal members of church and society. Suitably, Mills’ lobbying for educational reform assisted evangelization at home and abroad with the opening of missionary societies and organizations which funded the distribution of Bibles, construction of Sunday schools, the traveling expenses and lodging for preachers and missionary families, and the establishment of education societies to lessen the “cost for ministerial training for pious young men aspiring to the ministry.”[5] Thus, Mills operated as a fundamental catalyst of the foreign missionary movement which aligned with the broader scope of the antebellum reforms sweeping throughout the initial stages of the nineteenth century.

The New Divinity or Edwardsean or Hopkinsian mindsets relied upon by Mills and other Congregationalists surged the movement forward as many felt compelled by the idea of a "disinterested benevolence," rather that the believer ought to be willing to be damned for all eternity if one’s individual sacrifice of their salvation could bring glory to God. Though perhaps misguided regarding how the redemption and salvation of all mankind remains at the heart of the Christian doctrine, those of New Divinity theology stewed in Edward’s “grand providential/millennial scheme” believed that revivals “signaled the dawn of the millennium – a new age [emerging] through natural means as an outpouring of God’s Spirit manifested in religious activity – [denoting how] Christian activity was a precondition [and that Christians ought to be] engaged in benevolent activities, social reform, and missionary outreach”[6] to usher in the second coming of Christ.

Fundamentally, Kling’s work explains the contributions of multiple New Divinity members, such as Moses Hallock, William Richards, Ammi Robbins, and the impact of sermons such as Edward D. Griffin's "The Kingdom of Christ" which called for the fulfillment of the Great Commission which supported Mills’ efforts to gain sponsors and volunteers to sustain and expand the ABCFM. However, Kling primarily constructs a narrative regarding an exploration of Edwardsean theology, Mills' exceptional organizational skills and passion which propelled the success of the "Society of the Brethren" (a secret missionary society) and the ABCFM as an institution and movement, as well as how the historian analyzes the overall influence of New Divinity thought on the mission field. Intriguingly, Kling reiterates how most scholarship lacks the assertion that New Divinity is the stirring cultural factor entwined with the Edwardsean tradition that prompts the development of American missions. In fact, Kling boldly claims that New Divinity ideology should be considered a "widespread movement insofar as it promoted a theology and directed that ideology into organizations bent on influencing the nature of society"[7] – the origin of missionary societies being firmly ingrained within New Divinity doctrine, revivalism, and an intricate series of voluntary associations which were distinctly New Divinity-based and whose members adhered to New Divinity doctrine which served as the motivation and justification for domestic and international American missions due to a benevolent view of depraved mankind – a step away from prior forms of Calvinist theology as though a new light had dawned in order to lead America and the world closer toward the Divine being and the awaiting millennium.

[1] David Kling, “The New Divinity and the Origins of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions.” Church History (2003): 792.
[2] Michael Haykin, “All the Dogmas of the American School” in Great Admirers of the Transatlantic Divinity, 201.
[3] Kling, “The New Divinity,” 793.
[4] David Raymond, "The Legacy of Samuel J. Mills Jr." International Bulletin of Missionary Research 38, no. 4 (2014): 207.
[5] Ibid,.
[6] John Hubers, "Making Friends with Locusts: Early ABCFM Missionary Perceptions of Muslims and Islam, 1818-50." International Bulletin of Missionary Research 33, no. 3 (2009): 151.
[7] Kling, 794.

Image (c) Salem Harbor, Caravan, 1818.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Literary Synopsis - Washington Irving’s Rip Van Winkle

Published in 1819 by Washington Irving, the story of Rip Van Winkle centers around the character of a Dutch-American living in the mountains of New York prior to the War for Independence. An American short story based on Dutch myth and legends experienced in the Hudson River Valley, novelist Irving created the tale of a villager living in the Catskill Mountains who awoke to an altered reality akin to how colonial New England transformed following the establishment of the early American republic.

Initiating the tale with a description of a quaint Dutch village nestled in the fair Hudson River valley, Irving introduces the character of Rip Van Winkle - a descendant of the Van Winkles famed during the days of Peter Stuyvesant. However, Rip lacked the chivalrous nobility of his ancestors. Instead, he was rather simplistic and good-natured, though henpecked by his wife. Her shrewish temper and tirades were warranted as her husband blamed Dame Van Winkle for his mishaps and would instead play games with village children, preoccupying focus from his patriarchal role due to an "aversion to all kinds of profitable labor." He would rather while hours away flying kites, husking corn, telling tales of ghosts and Indians, assisting neighbors with their chores, and by running errands for the village ladies. He most cherished hunting in the woods with his dog, Wolf, and ignore his troubles by fishing all day. Notably, he found little use in cultivating his deteriorated farm covered in weeds. Suffering from their father's negligence, his children wore rags and seemed to be as wild as the mountains their father so loved. His son took after him and declared that he would replicate his father in speech, dress, and deed - much to his mother's chagrin.

Escaping the tirades of his wife's lashing tongue, Rip would often flee to the village inn to drown his sorrows in gossip and to hear the fanciful stories of the refined schoolmaster, Derrick Van Bummel. Meek and carefree, the lighthearted Winkle submerged himself in lengthy discussions at the inn. However Dame Winkle would often disrupt and reprimand his laziness to the point where Nicholas Vedder, the inn's landlord, refused Rip continued service. Refusing to occupy himself in a meaningful way, Van Winkle would resort to trekking in the mountains with faithful dog and gun in hand.

Upon one of his travels through the Catskills, he reached a high peak in the mountains which enabled him to survey the entire valley. The hunter lay down to admire the beauty of the Hudson river and before long, nighttime fell. Right as he roused himself upwards to return home while regretfully imagining forthcoming beratement, he happened to hear the call of his name in the twilight. Spying a figure traveling up the mountain carrying a heavy keg on his back, Winkle shimmied down to aid the burly individual dressed in antique clothing. Though apprehensive, Rip helped hoist the package up the ravine. They came to a small natural amphitheater surrounded by trees where the duo finally rested the carton of liquor the man had brought to the secluded hollow.

Gazing at the unfamiliar clearing, Rip realized he was surrounded by curious looking people dressed similarly to the strange man carrying the barrel up the mountainside. They resembled figures from old Flemish paintings though not as composed, for in spite of their wordlessness, they played a game of ninepins. Silence reigned save the clack of balls resounding like thunder. Trembling in fear as their eyes fell upon him, the man carrying the keg up the mountain, none other than the ghost of Henry Hudson - the explorer of the Hudson River after which the valley received its named – motioned for Rip to wait as he filled flagons with liquor for the crew of the Half Moon. After downing their portions, the crewmembers returned to their game while Rip, so taken with the drink, sipped more and more until his head swam and he slipped into a dream-like state.

Unable to recall when he nodded off to sleep, Rip awakened the next morning only to find that his gun has disintegrated with rot and rust. Rip assumed that the strange men he had encountered the night before played a trick by dousing him with liquor only to steal his gun. Rising with creaking joints, Rip whistled for his dog but Wolf had departed. Thinking Wolf had chased after a nearby fowl, Rip decided to return to the amphitheater. However, the pass was impaired by a trickling stream that he did not recall. No amount of effort afforded him entry to the clearing now covered by vines and thick vegetation. Exhausted, hungry, and dreading to return to his wife empty-handed, Rip grieved the loss of his dog and gun, and stumbled homeward.

Managing to find his way into town, Van Winkle soon became perplexed by all the unfamiliar faces he spotted along the country road, as he thought we was well-acquainted with most residents. Their strange method of fashion and gaping stares caused him to mimic their expressions and the scratching of their chins. Upon scratching his own, he realized his beard had grown over a foot long.

When he reached the outskirts of the village he found, to his dismay, not the small yellow brick houses that were once constructed after the architectural traditions of Holland, but that the town had grown more populous as there were rows of new houses and storefronts. Many of his favorite locations had disappeared or were replaced by foreign signs and family names. Children laughed at him and dogs bristled. Soon Rip began to wonder if he were in a dream or cast under a spell that had disoriented the native life of the village he knew to be quite different only the day before. Seeing that the landscape remained the same, Rip knew that this village was his own. Acknowledging that his hallucinations were real, Van Winkle, now an old man, realized that these effects must be due to the peculiar flagon from which he had sipped.

Coming upon his home, he found it decayed with the windows shattered and abandoned save the emaciated dog that resembled his faithful Wolf. When Rip called out to the starved animal it growled and moved along, causing Rip to mourn that his own dog had forgotten him. Entering the house, he loudly called for his family yet was met by silence. He raced out towards the inn, expecting to find a semblance of normalcy yet once he arrived, it too no longer existed in its original form.

The village inn had been renovated into a hotel. The sign no longer bared the image of King George but a new portrait of a man in blue bedecked by a cocked hat. This man, identified as “George Washington” by the fresh engraving within the wooden emblem, held a "sword instead of a scepter." Amazement and concern plagued the disoriented man in the bustling center fraught with talk of liberty, elections, war heroes, and the rights of citizens. The bewildered man soon gained the attention of the politically-minded who crowded around him as though he were a curious spectacle. He was asked which partisan affiliation he adhered to, Federal or Democrat, and was jostled about as an old gentleman demanded to know whether he intended to bring a riot into the tavern by wielding his gun. 

In dismay, he attempted to clarify that he was a peaceful subject of the king to which the crowd accused him of being a tory until the elderly man restored order. After inquiring the location of his friends, he was informed that Nicholas Vedder and Brom Dutcher had been long deceased after fighting in the American Revolution while Van Bummel, the school master, was now a member of Congress. Perplexed by news of warfare and these new political terms, Van Winkle cried out if anyone knew a person by his name. Someone indicated to the young, lazy fellow leaning against a tree. Seeing the vision of his aged son, he began to doubt his identity and desperately explained how he fell asleep in the mountains and that everything has changed upon his return. The crowd began to chuckle, thinking that the old man was simply senile, however, an old woman with a child in her arms approached.

He recognized her as his daughter though he saw how considerably aged she had become. He learned through Judith Gardenier, his daughter, how she was now married and accompanied by a child, his grandson, Rip Van Winkle III. She told of how Van Winkle was thought to have gone off into the mountains only to never be heard from again. Most of the villagers assumed he had either shot himself or had been accosted by Indians. Van Winkle confessed that he was her father. Believing him, she related news of her mother’s death and, though Rip was relieved to hear of his nagging wife’s demise, Rip began to comprehend that he had truly been asleep for twenty years though he thought he had only spent one night in the Catskills.

Another old neighbor welcomed him home while Peter Vanderdonk, a historian of Dutch lore and the oldest remaining villager alive, confirmed the identity of Rip Van Winkle and asserted that his tale was credible. The pairs’ aligning details regarding the myth of the ghost of Henry Hudson and his crew pacified the crowd and they soon dispersed. Judith invited Rip to live at her family home and while there, he quickly resumed his old habits. As before, he ignored labor and enjoyed the company of children of whom he gained favor. Irresponsible tendencies continued to plague the elderly man as he had slept through vital years that may have prompted maturity. Despite his lethargic tendencies, his natural charm and inherent kindness had not dissipated, for yet again, the eccentric orator came to be beloved by the villagers whom he entertained with stories of old Dutch colonial life and of his wanderings in the wild.

Image (c) Geoffrey Crayon, 1921.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Historical Review - Levy’s Jefferson and Civil Liberties: The Darker Side

Levy, Leonard W. Jefferson and Civil Liberties: The Darker Side. Cambridge: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1963. xviii+225 pp, Bibliography, notes, and index. $4.50.
A philosopher of limited government, classical liberal ideals, and civil equality, Thomas Jefferson yet poses as a dichotomy according to Leonard Levy’s Jefferson and Civil Liberties: The Darker Side. He accounts for Jefferson's involvement toward religious and civil liberties during and after the American Revolution, details Jefferson's controversial support of Virginia's 1778 Bill of Attainder and sometimes hypocritical defense of freedom of expression (Levy denotes that the politician was open to exceptions when it related to his political adversaries), as well as the results of Aaron Burr conspiracy, the Embargo Act, his repressment of Federalist writings and sentiment, as well as Jefferson's activities after his presidential term including the establishment of his beloved University of Virginia intended to enshrine republican values. Despite, provided a thorough exposition on Jefferson as a political figure, Levy appears to be agenda-driven - successfully exposing Jefferson’s supposed darker side.

Denigrating Jefferson’s hallowed position in the minds of the American public, Levy presents an often unseen side to the otherwise esteemed Virginia statesman, showing how his "at one time or another supported loyalty oats; countenanced internment camps for political suspects; drafted a bill of attainder; urged prosecutions for seditious libel; condoned military despotism; used the Army to enforce laws in time of peace; censored reading; chose professors for their political opinions; and endorsed the doctrine that means, however odious, are justified by ends.”[1] Due to these scholarly findings, Leonard W. Levy explores Jefferson’s political and social record and relatively achieves his stated goal to “determine the validity of his historical reputation as the apostle of liberty.”[2]

Objectively, Levy could be pressed upon to have utilized a more neutral approach to discerning Jefferson's achievements and failures, yet his intension to critique the pristine image of the Founder is well-founded. By opting to do so, Levy's work stands out as rather biased despite his emphasis that enough books have been produced praising the statesman. A fair reading would instead find the complexity of Jefferson engaging and understandable as there exists a “tension between the principle of tolerance and the habit of complete commitment between idealism and the exercise of power in a revolutionary age.”[3] Instead, Levy appears to convict Jefferson on all charges and rip his saintly halo and drag Jefferson’s tarnished image through allegorical mud. “In his effort to expose sin, error, and dereliction [Levy] has ranged through the entire career of Jefferson, covering half a century or more, and has collected a considerable pile of what he regards as dirt...and while admitting that balance is not his objective, [Levy] claims that in fact he is restoring it.”[4] Astutely Trevor Colbourn notes that Jefferson was a “politician- (and with all it connotes) a superb one. Jefferson does not need to be protected from himself; virtues clearly outweigh his vices; like most human beings Jefferson was not always on the side of angels,”[5] and rightly so, suggests that Levy has constructed an unnecessarily embellished interpretation in order to prove his thesis.

Although Levy reveals clear partiality, his portrayal of Jefferson’s actions which stand contrary to national memory and his abandonment of privately held and publically espoused ideals is a credible aspect of his career that ought to be further explored. In The Darker Side, Levy provides an account that carries significant weight in furthering a genuine exploration of America’s most revered historical figures, including their exalted and broken particularities. Though harshly critiquing Jefferson's conflicting ideals and actions while in power, Levy offers an insightful and weighty account of a passionate supporter of liberty while engaging in the humanistic portrayal of a flawed and complex individual attempting to achieve the hopes enshrined in his political and philosophical ponderings.


Levy, Leonard W. Jefferson and Civil Liberties: The Darker Side. Cambridge: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1963.

Scholarly Reviews Consulted:

Colbourn, Trevor. Jefferson and Civil Liberties: The Darker Side by Leonard W. Levy The Journal of American History 51, no. 2 (1964): 297-99.
Harrison, Joseph H. Jefferson and Civil Liberties: The Darker Side by Leonard W. LevyThe William and Mary Quarterly 21, no. 3 (1964): 451-54.
Malone, Dumas. Jefferson and Civil Liberties: The Darker Side by Leonard W. Levy” The American Historical Review 69, no. 3 (1964): 787-89.

[1] Leonard W. Levy, Jefferson and Civil Liberties: The Darker Side, 1963, 225.
[2] Ibid,.
[3] Joseph H. Harrison, The William and Mary Quarterly 21, no. 3 (1964): 451.
[4] Dumas Malone. The American Historical Review 69, no. 3 (1964): 787.
[5] Trevor Colbourn. The Journal of American History 51, no. 2 (1964): 298.

An Appeal to Heaven – Baptist Isaac Backus' Struggle for Religious Liberty in the Revolutionary Era

Converting to Christianity in 1741 as an effect of the Great Awakening, Isaac Backus became a separatist Baptist Congregationalist and head of the Warren Association of Baptists who championed religious freedom in America. Through the work of his piestic writings and petitions to Congress and State legislatures, the Massachusetts Baptist pastor vied for the separation of church and state in order to ensure and protect individual liberty of consciousness.

An Appeal to the Public for Religious Liberty (1773) poses as one of Backus’ most renowned works that details legal, Biblical, and Enlightenment rationale to support his position which stresses the importance of true liberty, the role of the government, and the differences between civil and ecclesial structures. Backus clearly defines the distinction between each government type, stating that "all acts of executive power in the civil state, are to be performed in the name of the king or state they belong to; while all our religious acts are to be done in the name of the Lord Jesus." He goes onto say that due to the nature of civically elected systems, “putting any men into civil office is of men, of the people of the world; so officers have truly no more authority than the people give them."[1] Justification for the Patriots’ separation from the mother-country fell along these lines, with Colonies abject to Britain’s refusal to acknowledge their rights as Englishmen or fairly represent the interests and concerns of citizens.

Similarly, having endured decades of religious persecution due to the arrangement of state-sponsored churches, Backus and other religious dissenters saw hypocrisy in how Revolutionaries decried civil subjugation while spiritually subjugating their fellow compatriots who theologically differed from the traditional Congregational and Anglican Church structure which dominated Colonial religious life.

Backus’ Appeal to the Public illustrates that “while his thoughts were similar to John Locke, he maintained a distinctly pietistic interpretation of man's natural obedience to God. [The two ordained systems of government held] purposes and natures [which] were distinctly different and should never be linked together.”[2] He relied upon Biblical narratives and the sovereign examples of David and Solomon to reveal that God erected covenants with nations and that the creation of laws ensured the protection of liberty. However, Backus appealed to notions of God’s ordained order, the distinctive nature of man’s depravity, and how though the Revolutionary Era’s mindset adhered to the idea that civil liberty ought not to be denied, he proposed that religious liberty shared the same fundamental importance.

Patriotic cries against a neglectful sovereign were validated however, when the “same cry was raised by Backus and the Baptists in protest against religious taxes imposed by civil government, it was perceived as an unnecessarily divisive ploy by fanatical rabble-rousers.”[3] Due to their association with other groups desiring religious freedom, such as pacifistic Quakers, Baptists were viewed as non-patriotic and their petitions, letters, and public addressment of religious concerns were largely ignored. However, Backus managed to utilize the “rhetorical strategies of the more elite New England revolutionaries in support of the minority opinion that their right of conscience, like the patriots' rights with Great Britain, had been unjustly denied.”[4] Through the War for Independence, Backus preached to the Continental Army, met with Congressional members, and traveled about the colonies sermonizing the importance of religious autonomy. He consistently readdressed the Baptist “position in relation to the colonial bid for freedom emphasizing that religious taxation without representation was just as unjust as civil taxation without representation.”[5]

Historian Thomas Kidd eloquently specifies how the “evangelical tradition supplied spiritual propulsion to the Patriot cause that was unsurpassed by any other element of Patriot ideology"[6] Though differing doctrinally, these “individuals of such varied theological strands [agreed] that religion had political implications.Communal convictions and adherence to republicanism strengthened both the religious and irreligious alike as a core principle acknowledged was that the “disestablishment of state churches was the best means to promote religious tolerance and freedom of conscience. Following the war, evangelicals and rationalists often joined politically in agreement on the public role of religion and that the government had no business legislating religion.”[7] Dissenters amicably account that the “war in Virginia was not only a war against British rule but also a war against religious establishment. Religious liberty was not the result of republicanization, but republicanization was the result of the concerted efforts by dissenters to gain religious freedom from the establishment in exchange for mobilization against the British.[8] Furthermore, the advance of religious liberty in America is revealed to be “not inevitable, nor was it the natural outcome of the American victory in the Revolution. It had to be won, not from Britain per se, but from the established church which was at war with the British. Thus, religious liberty was won through petitions and negotiations more than on the battlefields of the Revolution.”[9] Despite theological disputes, Backus supported the Revolution, and by relying on Biblical and civil arguments vindicating the rights of man, he became known as the “most forceful and effective writer America produced on behalf of the pietistic or evangelical theory of separation of church and state."[10]

Ultimately, political change ushered in a reconfiguration of state and church structure in America. As new state constitutions were designed and adopted, a more inclusive awareness emerged towards dissenters as sects, such as the Baptists, were gradually accepted into the fold of mainstream Protestantism. The voluntary service of dissenters during the Revolution additionally aided their plight, as the conscientious objectors to imposed theocracy had proven themselves loyal to the new republic through blood and Christian fervor. The hold of Anglican and Congregational churches slowly began to weaken, yet it was not until the mid-19th century that the final ties between church and state were officially severed.[11]

[1] Isaac Backus, “An Appeal to the Public for Religious Liberty,” 1973.
[2] Sewell Jr. and Edward H. “Isaac Backus’ Plea for Religious Freedom, 1770-1776.” Today's Speech 23, no. 2 (1975): 39-47.
[3] Ibid., 45-6.
[4] Ibid,.
[5] Sewell Jr. and Edward H. “Isaac Backus’ Plea for Religious Freedom,” 44.
[6] Thomas S. Kidd, God of Liberty: A Religious History of the American Revolution (2010): 94.
[7] Matthew Hill, “God of Liberty: A Religious History of the American Revolution.” Fides Et Historia 43, no. 1 (2011): 93-4.
[8] John A. Ragosta, Wellspring of Liberty: How Virginia’s Religious Dissenters Helped Win the American Revolution and Secured Religious Liberty, 2010.
[9] John D. Wilsey, “Wellspring of Liberty: How Virginia’s Religious Dissenters Helped Win the American Revolution and Secured Religious Liberty.” Fides Et Historia 45, no. 1 (2013): 156-7.
[10] William G. McLoughlin, “Isaac Backus on Church, State, and Calvinism: Pamphlets, 1754-1789,” (1968): 1.
[11] Sewell Jr. and Edward H. “Isaac Backus’ Plea for Religious Freedom,” 45.

Image - Isaac Backus, Government and Liberty Described and Ecclesiastical Tyranny Exposed, 1788.