Category: Notices

Textbooks for Next Semester

Spring Semester 2012 Textbooks

These are the books I have assigned in three of my courses this semester. In no particular order. The first two are for PHI 216 and the third is for REL 201 and REL 322. The fourth is only for REL 322. These books should all be available at the Mars Hill College Bookstore.

For PHI 216:

Bruce Kucklick, A History of Philosophy in America 1720–2000 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004; ISBN-10: 0199260168; ISBN-13: 978-0199260164).

PHI 216, American Philosophy, has two required texts, this philosophical history by Kuklick…

For PHI 216:

Sarah Vowell, The Wordy Shipmates (New York: Penguin/Riverhead Trade, 2009; ISBN-10: 1594484007; ISBN-13: 978-1594484001).

… and this charming and informative investigation of American Origins by humorist Sarah Vowell.

For REL 201 AND 322:

Harold W. Attridge, et al., eds., The HarperCollins Study Bible: Fully Revised and Updated (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 2006; ISBN-10: 006078685X; ISBN-13: 978-0060786854).

REL 201: The Bible as Literature, has only one required textbook, the HarperCollins Study Bible. I require the HarperCollins Study Bible in all my Biblical Studies courses. REL 322 students are also required to use this study Bible. Assignments in 201 and 322 require specifically proper reference to and citation of this handy and scholarly volume. Put together by a large team of leading scholars, it presents an diverse set of historical viewpoints on the Jewish and Christian scriptures and the Apocrypha.

For REL 322:

Elaine Pagels, Revelations: Visions, Prophecy, and Politics in the Book of Revelation (New York: Penguin, 2012; ISBN-10: 0143121634; ISBN-13: 978-0143121633).

My course REL 322: New Testament Studies — Apocalypse and Eschatology was (I hope) ironically scheduled to begin in mid January 2013, about six weeks past the “Mayan calendar” end-times marker. For it we use the edition of Bible discussed above, but also this recent volume by the well known Princetonian scholar Elaine Pagels. A part of our course will be a student led discussion of Pagels’ work.

What I’m currently reading

William Jennings Bryan in 1896 bid for Presidency. Image source: Wikimedia.

Most of my current reading focuses on material for the upcoming semester’s courses, on Early Christian Apocalypticism and Eschatology, on American Philosophy, and on the Bible as Literature.

Bruce Kuklick, A History of Philosophy in America, for my American Philosophy class.

Edward J. Larson, Summer for the Gods, also for my American philosophy class; a history of the Scopes Monkey trial.

Daniel T. Rogers, Age of Fracture, again, the focus is on American history and ideologies.

Roger Scruton, Kant: A Very Short Introduction, trying to get a grip on the most important philosopher for the background history of philosophy in America.

Yoram Hazony, The Philosophy of Hebrew Scripture, looking for helpful angles in the literary study of Bilbical texts.

I’m also about half way through George R.R. Martin, A Storm of Swords, just for fun.

Obviously, I have too much reading to do. This is only the surface, the stuff on my Kindle!

After Iowa: Ralph Reed on the evangelical vote

Ralph Reed opines on what the media doesn’t understand about evangelical voters:

Ralph Reed Laughing All the Way to the Bank

“Consider this: 61% of self-identified evangelicals who attended a caucus Tuesday night in Iowa voted for a candidate who is either Roman Catholic (Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum) or Mormon (Mitt Romney, who won the caucuses, besting Santorum by eight votes ).

“Here’s how the evangelical vote broke down: 32% for Santorum, 18% for Ron Paul, 13% each for Romney, Gingrich and Rick Perry, 6% for Michele Bachmann and 1% for Jon Huntsman.

“This suggests a more nuanced and complex portrait of voters of faith. They are often crudely portrayed as voting based solely on identity politics, born suckers for quotes from Scripture or “code words” laced in the speeches of candidates appealing to their spiritual beliefs.

“Evangelical voters, it turns out, are a more sophisticated bunch, judging candidates on a broad continuum of considerations from their personal faith and character to leadership attributes and electability.”

As usual, Reed has a point. But of course, there are a core of issues that do appeal to Christian evangelical voters. Also, I wouldn’t simply dismiss the idea that 32% of the evangelicals, a plurality, favored Santorum. He may be Catholic, but he does speak in terms readily understood by the right wing of American evangelicals; and some Catholics openly question how Catholic Santorum really is.

Perhaps these complex caucus results show only that Evangelicals make their decisions based on hope. Hope that they can find a candidate who will address the greatest number of their concerns in the most sympathetic manner. And furthermore that, because the candidates do mainly stick to “code words” (and other forms of propaganda) voters are always forced to hold their noses and take their best guess.

Source: CNN Religion Blogs

Lincoln and Slavery (Foner Redux)

About three weeks ago I mentioned my interest in Eric Foner’s book on Thomas Paine, Tom Paine and Revolutionary America [see my previous post]. Well, Foner has a new book about the era of the American Civil War, The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery. And this book, which was published last fall, has just been awarded the 2011 “Lincoln Prize” for books in American History [website].

National Public Radio’s own Terry Gross, host of the popular interview program Fresh Air, interviewed Foner last fall when his book was first published. Yesterday (Feb. 21st, 2011), that interview was rebroadcast in celebration of the book receiving the prize. The interview, which can of course be easily streamed online at the Fresh Air website, is more than worth your time.

Check it out: Terry Gross, interview with historian Eric Foner, “Tracing President Lincoln’s Thoughts on Slavery” (NPR Radio Broadcast, Feb. 21st, 2011).

Now, on Wednesday of this week, my American Philosophy class will be discussing primary sources that exemplify the two most significant political debates of mid-19th century America: suffrage for women and the abolition of slavery. So the timing of this interview could not be more perfect. So much so, in fact, that it tempts me to sense providence at work for us (yet again).

For those who are curious, our class will be reading excerpts from the writings of abolitionist and suffragist Sarah Grimké (1792–1873) and from the memoir and speeches of the intellectually powerful fugitive slave Frederick Douglass (1818–1895):

{a} Sarah M. Grimké, Letters IV–VIII, pages 22–55, in Letters on the Equality of the Sexes and the Condition of Woman Addressed to Mary S. Parker President of the Boston Female Anti-Slavery Society (1838) [google].

{b} Frederick Douglass, My Bondage and My Freedom (1855), Chapter 23, "Introduced to the Abolitionists" (pp. 357-363) [google] and also, "Reception Speech of May 12, 1846" (pp. 407–418) [google].

Lots to talk about here. The Foner interview provides a glimpse into the fascinatingly complex background to the national debate.

(Reading List) Eric Foner: Tom Paine and Revolutionary America

On my reading list:

Eric Foner, Tom Paine and Revolutionary America  (New York: Oxford University Press, 1976; paperback in 1977; LCCCN: 75-25456).

Eric Foner probably should have been one of my professors when I was at Columbia, but alas, Epimetheus!

I suppose most schools offer more opportunities than students can use. Nevertheless, I do have an old copy, originally used in one of Foner’s classes! and, during my time there: 1987-1991. It feels like a bridge to a past course not taken, even if it is not. (Julie Anglin, if you ever read this, I have your old copy.)

I am looking at Foner this week, but this post isn’t actually about this book. It’s about the idea of Liberty in early America.

Foner begins this outstanding book with an epigram from a seventy year old Thomas Paine (1737-1809), written in 1806, three years before his death:

My motive and object in all my political works, beginning with Common Sense, the first work I ever published, have been to rescue man from tyranny and false systems and false principles of government, and enable him to be free.

  —Paine and Revolutionary America, frontmatter (p. vii).

These stirring, revolutionary words remind me well of the inscription inside the cupola of the Memorial of Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826) in D.C.:

I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.

These words come from one of Jefferson’s many letters; in this case one of Sep. 23rd, 1800, to Dr. Benjamin Rush (see this copy on google books).

For both Jefferson and Paine, tyranny took forms both intellectual (especially in religious matters) and governmental. This is why the revolution they fomented ended up enshrining the principle of religious liberty, extending Roger Williams’ experiment with the “wall of separation” in Rhode Island to the rest of New England and the Colonies, via the First Amendment to the Constitution in the Bill of Rights, and placing alongside it freedom of assembly and of the press.

We may be sure that deist revolutionaries such as Thomas Paine and Thomas Jefferson were sincere in their confidence that a right to freedom is granted to human beings from God, or, from “Nature’s God” as Jefferson refers to him in the Declaration of Independence.

In our course, it is illuminating to approach Paine and Jefferson as we do: immediately following the discussion of free will among Dissenting Christians, most especially the New Calvinist Edwards’ quarrel with Arminians as expressed in his book Freedom of the Will.

Edwards is against the idea of “free will,” but is no opponent of Freedom. To understand Edwards, I argue, you need to know simply that a human agent can be free, and can have a will, but cannot be said thereby to have a “free will.” The phrase “free will” predicates the property of a subject (a human self or “soul”), to a fellow property of a subject (namely: “will”). But properties are not like subjects; they can’t have their own properties. Now, human souls certainly have freedom, that is, liberty. Edwards defines Liberty (in ch. 5 of Part I of Freedom of the Will ) in congruity with John Locke. It is merely the ability to accomplish one’s will. When an action lies within someone’s power, and nothing impedes that action, there is liberty. So, unimpeded action is liberty. Edwards, following Locke, is not interested in any notion of an unlimited or unconditioned Freedom; rather, freedom is always limited by the world and the nature of persons. Freedom can be taken away (for example, by confinement, or, by tyranny) and it can granted again. For Edwards, God creates and sustains the power by which the human will (expressing, as it does for Edwards, the desire to do act on our understanding of whatever we deem best for us) can be expressed; that power to act, to choose action, is will.

Famously, the “Declaration of Independence” (see three drafts compared synoptically on google books) contains these words:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Notice that Jefferson doesn’t refer to humans being created free, but only that they are created equal. What the Creator gives is an inalienable right to liberty. This is stated to be self-evident. How can this right to liberty be detected? The answer lies in the proper understanding of liberty, and in observing in humans the power they have to secure it. And so here in Jefferson we are indeed looking at Locke again!

“Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness” is a phrase that is commonly asserted to bear an echo of Locke. And it does; in fact, Locke used similar phrases in various essays.

In Locke’s essay on The Reasonableness of Christianity (1695), he writes (in the context of an aside in which he remarks on the fact that so few human beings follow the dictates of the Virtuous Life):

Mankind, who are and must be allowed to pursue their Happiness, nay, cannot be hindered, cannot but think themselves excused from a strict Observation of Rules, which appeared so little to consist with their chief End, Happiness, whilst they kept them from the Enjoyments of this Life.  
[see google]

Here it is clear that Locke regarded the pursuit of happiness (not happiness itself, but the pursuit of it) as a kind of fundamental right. This right (recognizable by a power to pursue it) is not and should not be impeded, even though we might wish that we ourselves and others would pursue rather Virtue than Happiness.

Locke himself argued for a rather more robust notion of the Natural Rights of humans than did Jefferson, who omits all of Locke’s talk of “property”; Locke again:

Man being born, as has been proved, with a Title to perfect Freedom, and an uncontrolled Enjoyment of all the rights and privileges of the Law of Nature, equally with any other Man or Number of Men of the World, hath by Nature a Power, not only to preserve his Property, that is, his Life, Liberty, and Estate, against the Injuries and Attempts of other Men, but to judge of, and punish the Breaches of that Law in Others, as he is persuaded the Offense deserves, even with Death it self, in Crimes where the Heinousness of the Fact, in his Opinion, requires it. (Of Civil Government [1689], Chapter VII, Paragraph 87).

Notice that for Locke in Nature we are born with Title (clearly, a Right) to Freedom, but also with a violent and potentially deadly Power that we need in order to secure Life, Liberty and Property from “Attempts.” I think it is this Power itself that gives evidence to the Title.

In the Lockean thought about Liberty that is more or less shared by Jefferson and Paine, the common element is Locke’s idea of the power of the human being to resist tyranny and oppression. It is a theory of government (and authority) that – tentatively – permits revolution (although it also admits of, and perhaps usually prefers less violent courses for remedying injustice and casting off shackles).

This idea of what “Freedom” is explains why God (or Nature’s God, as the Declaration names it, again in harmony with Locke) cannot simply give (and simply has not given) Liberty to us, but rather can and has given us a power (thought of as a right) to defend and pursue Freedom. (Perhaps also a duty to do so?)

For Edwards, this power to pursue happiness is manifest in individuals in the will itself, considered as the power to choose that course of action deemed best for us in our (limited, natural, human, fallen, corrupted) understanding. For Locke, Jefferson and Paine, the power is indeed manifest in persons, especially in their inalienable power to resist the oppressor. But it is also evident in a Free State, where the powers of humans are used to grant equality under a sovereign Law (written by a legislature that works with the consent of the governed), granting to individuals freedom from the arbitrary will of other persons, by actively defending them against such arbitrary opposition.

The Garden and the Wall

My favorite character among the first generation New England Puritans is doubtless Roger Williams. Williams became the founder of Rhode Island after his libertarian impulses in matters of religion and politics led him into conflict with the magistrates and divines of the Puritan theocracy at Massachusetts Bay Colony. According to Williams, the Massachusetts colony lacked a legitimate title to their real estate, since they had not received a title for it from the Indians. Protestant to the core, Williams was in the Separatist camp of Puritans, holding the Anglican Church of England in the same contempt he had for the Roman Catholic Church. As a Separatist Williams refused to work as a Teacher for, or join in worship with the Massachusetts Bay colonists, who were nominally Non-Separatists and maintained strong ties to England. Their worship, he believed, was invalid precisely because the believers had not withdrawn fully from mother Babylon (apparently, Williams did not consider the Atlantic Ocean to be wide enough).

And finally, Williams despised and vocally protested the theonomic politics of the colony. Cotton, Winthrop and the other colonists had attempted to create a Christian utopia, a state composed entirely of regenerate believers who were unified by sharing a pure belief system founded on the study of the Bible and authentic “ordinances” (pure worship of God), committed to sharing one another’s burdens, and guided by an enlightened aristocracy of elected magistrates. Their society was supposed to be one knit together in liberally shared brotherly love and voluntary charity, made possible by the presence of the Spirit of God among the believers.

While in good standing, the believer/citizens would enjoy what Wintrhop called “our liberties” (Examination of Anne Hutchinson, in Adams, 1894: 283). But to enforce conformity and obedience, the Massachusetts Bay Colony used trials, imprisonment, banishment (and worse). Their vision depended on an impossible homogeneity of conscience, and on the willing submission of the people to the established authorities; such uniformity was proved totally impossible already by the time of the “Antinomian Controversy” and the conflict of the authorities with Anne Hutchinson (1636–1638). From the moment he arrived in New England, Williams began challenging the religious authority of civil magistrates. Williams saw their union of civil and religious government as a bloody mess, another example, perhaps, of the “lamentable shipwreck of mankind” (Bloudy Tenent Underhill, 1848: 3). He argued forcibly for liberty of conscience, aka soul liberty, and vehemently against the “bloudy tenent of persecution” that led the colonists to use the force of the state to enforce conformity in matters of conscience.

Perhaps because of his strenuous objections to “forced worship,” and his commitment to the idea of the freedom of conscience, but certainly also because of his readings of scripture, he accepted the Baptist idea that only a voluntary adult believer’s baptism is valid. This further estranged him from his fellow Puritan contemporaries. In 1638, after being exiled from Massachusetts and finding his way to a site in Narragansett territory that would later become Rhode Island, he founded the town of Providence, and established the still-extant First Baptist Church in America. Later he left the church and became a kind of seeker, convinced that no true visible church of Christ was possible in this world

Remarkably accepting of difference for a man whose religious scruples were so intense, Williams even lived and journeyed among the Narragansett Indians. He was the first to publish a study of the Algonquin language and Native American customs, beliefs, and practices: A Key into the Language of America (1643), which book made him famous as an author as well.

Prior to Williams’ founding of Rhode Island, no place on earth had ever been established in which an explicit separation of civil and religious powers and identity was maintained. But Williams did it. He established a state that was explicit about its tolerance of those of Jewish, “Turkish” (Muslim), and even “anti-Christian” beliefs. It was a bold experiment, one that was later expanded to include all of the states in the New World, under the bill of rights adopted in the newly independent United States of America (1791).

During the English Civil War, which pitted the forces of Parliament, sympathetic to Puritans, against the Royalists who naturally enough supported the Church of England, Williams happened to be back in the motherland trying to secure a fresh charter for Rhode Island. From Williams’ perspective, one imagines, all of the world, and especially Christendom in it, and especially England and New England, was guilty for spilling the blood of men in conflicts that essentially boiled down to differences in conscience, to scruples in religious belief. It was in this context that Williams published his most famous book The Bloudy Tenent of Persecution for Cause of Conscience Discussed in a Conference Between Truth and Peace (London: 1644) — a literary masterpiece of early American political theory and an outstanding example of the instrumental rationalism of Puritan thought, prizing as it did all Truth established through reasoning based on the Bible as God’s revealed Word.

The theology of separatism espoused by Williams’ leads him to describe the church of Christ as a pure, cultivated “garden” that is separated out from the world and worldly matters — described in contrast as a “wilderness.”

Thus, also in 1644, in one of several tracts written against letters by John Cotton (Mr. Cotton’s Letter, Lately Printed, Examined and Answered,), Williams defends the practices of the Separate churches, who desired a clean break with what they saw as the impurities of the churches of England.

He writes:

First, the faithful labours of many witnesses of Jesus Christ, extant to the world, abundantly proving, that the of church of the Jews under the Old Testament in the type, and the church of the Christians under the New Testament in the antitype, were both separate from the world; and that when they have opened a gap in the hedge, or wall of separation, between the garden of the church and the wilderness of the world, God hath ever broke down God the wall itself, removed the candlestick, &c., and made his his garden a wilderness, as at this day. And that therefore if he will ever please to restore his garden and paradise again, it must of necessity be walled in peculiarly unto himself from the world, and that all that shall be saved out of the world are to be transplanted out of the wilderness of the world, and added unto his church or garden. [Sidebar: The garden of the churches of both Old and New Testament, planted with an hedge or wall of separation from the world. When God’s people neglect to maintain that hedge or wall, God had turned his garden into a wilderness.] (Underhill, 1848: 435)

It is most important to notice that Williams puts the church at the center of the circular wall of separation; the concern is not so much the sin of government messing with religion, as it is the sin of the churches breaching God’s hedge to meddle in civil affairs.

Nevertheless, his image of a “wall of separation” has helped to define generations of American thought. Every wall works both ways. What the church is counseled against doing (seizing worldly power), the government can be prohibited from doing (seizing spiritual power). The image of a “wall of separation” gets sealed in our memory by Thomas Jefferson, who uses the phrase in his 1802 reply to the Danbury Baptist Association:

I contemplate with sovreign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between church and state. Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of rights of conscience, I shall see with with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties.

Conscience conflicts with authority; according to Williams this is a root cause of bloodshed and oppression of the innocent. Jefferson links adherence to separation of religion and government a greater possibility for human freedom will in general wider quest for maximal human freedom.

But are humans free? American thinkers next struggle to make room for themselves within Calvinism.

A Matter of Conscience: Unpolished Notes on the Trial of Anne Hutchinson (1637)

November, 1637
Newtown, MA

Winthrop begins (235-236) by accusing her of:

promoting and divulging opinions (causing “this trouble”)

to be friends with censured individuals

speaking “divers things” “predjudicial” to churches and ministers

having a regular meeting in her house already condemned by the assembly as unbefitting a woman and not tolerable “in the sight of God”

Finally he asks her if she is a supporter of one Mr. Wheelwright.

Of course she was? Duh. He was married to her sister-in-law.

[[According to Wikipedia, Mr. John Wheelwright was yet another Cambridge educated Puritan clergyman; he arrived in Boston in June 1636 in the company of his wife, Mary, nee Hutchinson, and her mother, Sussana Hutchinson, who was of course the mother of Anne Hutchinson’s husband, William Hutchinson! I.E. Mary was sister-in-law to Anne.]]


Hutchinson replies, essentially, “but what have I done?”

This a clever ploy, since Winthrop’s accusations do seem to be pretty vague. Which opinions? Which individuals (besides Wheelwright, a member of her family)? what things against churches and ministers? Could he be more specific?

Hutchinson quickly defends her actions in supporting the opposing “faction” by stating: “that’s a matter of conscience, Sir.”

A matter of conscience. These are simple words with a powerful resonance; in the history of American thought (religious, political, psychological and epistemological), the idea or concept of “conscience” looms nearly as large as the idea of “liberty.”

Winthrop’s reply is equally telling; it is a comment deeply layered with an almost unspoken sexism, an overtly aristocratic impulse, and an ideal of social order that views civil and religious power as being continuous… in a pure community of regenerate saints.

“Your conscience you must keep, or it must be kept for you.”

It becomes clear (on p. 237), that the subtext of the conversation is that Anne Hutchinson had provided sanctuary to Wheelwright — her family — even after he had come into conflict with Winthrop. Her “entertainment” of them causes her to share in their lawbreaking, “the law of God and of the state”; and Winthrop accuses them of breaking the fifth commandment, “honor thy father and thy mother” (237).

As Anne twists Winthrops’ analysis of the situation fairly well, he finally, in some apparent exasperation, says, “we do not mean to discourse with those of your sex” (238); that pretty much sums up his thinking. He does not have to explain himself to a woman; she has helped his political/theological critic/enemy and so she is in his “faction,” just so.

The dialogue then turns to the weekly set meetings at Hutchinson’s house. Winthrop’s ire is that they are (a) regular, (b) an innovation, (c) sometimes involve men, (d) set her up as a teacher. She tries to deny his accusations; the dialogue is a little hard to follow at times through here.

A funny moment happens as Winthrop cross examines her and tries to get her to explain why she accepts the role of teacher, teaching anyone who comes to her, including men.

Hutchinson replies: “Do you think it not lawful for me to teach women and why do you call me to teach the court?” (240)

Against her professed rule of teaching younger women (from Titus [scil Tit 2:3-5]) he presents a rule from Corinthians [scil. a reference to 1 Cor. 14:34-35, forbidding a woman to teach a man].

In the end, she does not deign to defend her practice of holding set meetings in her house beyond claiming she teaches mainly or only women and that she bases this on a rule from Titus.

Winthrop, for his part, retreats from attempting to convince her that scripture forbids a woman to teach, and instead suggests that her teaching is “greatly prejudicial to the state” and an “occasion” “to seduce many honest persons” with “opinions being known to be different from the word of God” fearing she “may seduce many simple souls that resort unto you” (241). Note the repetition of the term “seduce.” For good measure he suggests that the women spend so much time in these meetings that they may neglect their families. (241)

Here’s a gem from this speech: “We see not that any should have authority to set up any other exercises [scil. a term for religious services] besides what authority hath already set up” (241).

Hutchinson disagrees, but allows: if he can show “a rule … from God’s word” that could convince her she is wrong to hold meetings, she will stop.

Winthrop: “We are your judges, and not you ours” (241).

On page 242, under some light cross-examination by the more level headed Simon Bradstreet, Hutchinson admits that she has, in fact, not one but two meetings at her house. One of men and women and one of women only; she claims they are not both “constant.”

After some additional cross examination by Dep. Gov. Thomas Dudley (242-243), further accusations come to light from Dudley. A narrative of Hutchinson as a political and theological outsider emerges. She was a suspect from the time she arrived in 1633: “some that came over with her in the ship did inform me what she was as soon as she was landed.” [what was that?]. She was initially cleared, by her friend John Cotton, of suspicion, but accusations of “strange opinions” came back and John Cotton and Henry Vane were accused of sharing them.

[[Cotton cleared his name (by recanting) whereas Vane, the sometimes rival of Winthrop, was ultimately forced out; see]]

“But now,” Dudley intones, “it appears by this women’s meeting that Mrs. Hutchinson hath so forestalled the minds of many by their resort to her meeting that now she hath a potent party in the country.” (243) I.E. she is a political / religious rival. An unwanted alternative in what is supposed to be a theonomic monolith.

Dudley finally gives some content to the accusation that she has “disparaged” the ministers. According to Dudley she says that all but Cotton preach a “covenant of works,” which is, to Puritan ears, indeed a disparagement.

She asks him (244) to prove that she said this. She denies it rather emphatically.

The “narrative” of Hutchinson the outsider troublemaker is then taken up again and elaborated by Rev. Hugh Peters of Salem (on p. 246). “This gentlewoman went under suspicion … from her landing,” she was “difficult in her opinions, but also of an intemperate spirit.” I.E. uppity and opinionated. He reports that early on he heard her accusations were directed against his ministry, but that instead of taking it before magistrates he [[perhaps following Matthew 18] took it up with her privately (247). There is a ring of truth to his account of her dispute with him and of her adoration of Cotton (she was in his church in Boston, Lincolnshire, England before his emigration). And of her statement that the ministers “know no more than the apostles did before the resurrection of Christ” (247), and “had not the seal of the spirit” (247).

But Hutchinson disputes this account. Yet several ministers present corroborate his account, and one Mr. Weld complains that he himself asked her “why she did cast such aspersions upon the ministers of the country though we were poor sinful men and and for ourselves we cared not but for the precious doctrine we held forth we could not but grieve to hear that so blasphemed” (248).

On page 250, during a discussion of the process by which Anne Hutchinson was examined by the teacher and minister of Boston Church, when she was admitted as a member, Mr. Wilson makes it clear that the theological difference has to do with fine distinctions in sanctification and justification. While Hutchinson did allow that sanctification might be a way of “evidencing justification,” and so was admitted to membership (for the Puritan Calvinist church membership had to commit to visible sanctification as evidence of their membership in the body of Christ) but she also said that “justification must be first.” Apparently, they all agreed to disagree on this point, Wilson and others thinking her idea “would take away the scruple,” probably by implying that in fact, sanctification was possible without justification (and thus could not reliably give evidence of it).

Now Thomas Shepherd, minister of Cambridge (where Harvard had been founded the year before, in 1636), steps forward with these eloquent words: “I am loth to speak in this assembly concerning this gentlewoman in question, but I can do no less than speak what my conscience speaks unto me” (251).

There’s that notion of conscience again!

It becomes clear on p. 254 that this dispute with Hutchinson comes down to a difference of opinion about the real referent of the saying “the letter kills, but the spirit gives life” in 2 Cor. 3:6. [[ FASCINATING. ]] The ministers read it literally, [[ and Paul is literally talking about the Torah; ]] she takes it to be a reference to all written code, including that of “the letter of the gospel” —

This strange passage she refers to has often been a friend of enthusiasts who want religion to move beyond mere appeals to scripture and on into the depths of the soul.

When the trial resumes on the second day, it begins with a dispute. Hutchinson says she has read notes by Wilson that would exonerate her; Wilson, somewhat equivocally, admits the notes exist. She then asks that her accusers, the ministers who report that she disparaged them, take an oath. Which the subsequent dialogue reveals (pp. 257–260) to be a really big deal for the Puritans, lest they take the name of God in vain; there is a great deal of waffling, as the court essentially protests that the testimony of the ministers is ipso facto credible, but thinks that the ministers will swear oaths if it will satisfy her, and so asks if it will satisfy her. Initially, she replies:

“I can’t be, notwithstanding oaths, satisfied against my own conscience” (258).

Conscience again!

After a great deal of legal and semantic banter, Winthrop and Dudley get Hutchinson to agree to the content of summary of the charges against her (on 260).

At this point, you can almost hear Thomas Shepard groan: “I know no reason of the oath but the importunity of this gentlewoman” (260).

But the wrangling goes on! The men in the courtroom are clearly agitated.

Finally, they give up on swearing oaths, or seem to; in what seems like a legal victory for Hutchinson, she is permitted to call three witnesses. She calls “Mr Leveret, and our teacher [John Cotton, who actually had already by this point come up and sat down beside her in court] and Mr. Coggeshall” (263).

Winthrop then discovers that Coggeshall is present, and learns from him “I dare say that she did not say all that which they lay against her” 263).

Winthrop asks Leveret, and he tells a story that got me thinking. The stumbling wording of his testimony is a bit hard to decipher. But the opening, in which he says “Mr. Peters did with much vehemency … urge her to tell what difference there was between Mr. Cotton and them.” He also makes it sound like Hutchinson was afraid of them; before answering, she quotes the proverb “the fear of man is a snare, but they that trust upon the Lord shall be safe.” Some variation of this saying is found in all the testimony against her, though the exact wording, timing, and reason for saying it were different. Here it serves to calm her enough to hazard an answer to the impertinent question.

The way I want to read Leveret, Hutchinson had actually been the victim here. A casual but intelligent remark from Hutchinson on the boat over had led to the start of a rumor after her arrival, which had reached the ears of some of the local divines (and some fellow passengers). But Leveret’s tale is made more interesting if we remember the special devotion that Hutchinson had for the preaching and ministry of John Cotton. I want to think that the ministers who confronted her were also jealous of the theological big-shot who had come two years into the venture and taken the choice position of Teacher at Boston Church. They knew Anne Hutchinson was going to join his congregation. So when they confronted her about the rumor, they tempted her to injure their pride in some way by asker her to compare them to her chosen minister. She was the victim of a theological bullying.

Confronted by a hostile questions about her obvious devotion to Cotton, she was prompted to give a reason why she preferred the ministry of John Cotton to their own.

In Leveret’s counterversion of events, the reason she gives is that Cotton’s gospel of the covenant of grace is much clearer than theirs, comparing the difference to the apostles with or without the Spirit (264).

If that’s what she said you can see why they were able to continue to attack her. The comparison only worked, it seemed, if we thought of them lacking the Spirit.

Winthrop then asks Cotton for his testimony, and Cotton begins a major speech that continues on for a page and a half; the longest continuous block of text so far (265-266).

I recommend reading it.

In the cross examination afterwards Peters goes after Cotton a bit and gets him to remember things a bit more his way. And then, after Cotton remarks that he did “remember well” Hutchinson saying that the other ministers “were not sealed with the seal of the spirit” Peters snidely comes back “There was a double seal found out that day which never was” (266).

Humor? No.

The little exchange that comes next involves a disagreement about memory, exactly who said what, and whose expression it was that there was a difference between a little seal and a big seal, between ‘having the spirit’ and ‘having the seal of the spirit.’ Who was responsible for this slogan is at issue. Peters and Cotton disagree on the facts.

Winthrop suggests: “I do not see that we need their testimony any further. Mr. Cotton hath expressed what he remembered, and what took impression upon him, and so I think the other elders also did remember that which took impression upon them” (267).

Perhaps everyone is tired. But Hutchinson steps up at this point and really testifies. And nobody stops her (p. 268). Which is good for the judges but bad for Anne Hutchinson.

This is her big speech (268–269); it’s about a page in length. A faint marginalia on page 269 marks its denoument; I can’t quite make out the word but the line encloses her final remarks and a brief exchange afterwards; the outcome of that exchange is that her judges take her to be saying she has a direct line of revelation from the Holy Spirit (269); she can discern true from false ministry “by an immediate revelation” (269);

Which shocks them a bit. That she would claim this in open court.

She elaborates: “by the voice of his own spirit into my soul.” And continues on, for another page of text (269–270). She is on a roll. She has everybody’s attention. She explains how the voice of the Lord reveals particular scriptures to her, that become her oracles (such as Isa 30, which consoles her she and Wheelwright will see Cotton again after he departs for New England). She grows so impassioned during the course of the speech, I think, that she declares in defiant tones:

“I desire you to to look to it, for you see this scripture fulfilled this day and therefore I desire you that as you tender the Lord and the church and commonwealth to consider and look what you do. You have power over my body but the Lord Jesus hath power over my body and soul, and assure yourselves thus much, you do as much as in you lies to put the Lord Jesus Christ from you, and if you go on in this course you begin you will bring a curse upon you and your posterity, and the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it” (270).

The Deputy Governor snidely asks, “What is the scripture she brings?”

Stoughton says, “Behold I turn away from you.”

Hutchinson says, “But now having seen him which is invisible I fear not what man can do unto me.” (270)

Then, on pages 271-272, an interesting thing happens. After Hutchinson admits she fully expects the support of Divine Providence in her cause (like Daniel rescued from the lion’s den), then a certain H. William Bartholomew comes forward to talk of his remembrances; he recalls Hutchinson’s interest in revelation, and her claims that she receives revelation of her own course. Hutchinson confirms this is so — “I say the same thing again” (272). He also says that he remembers “she said that she was come to New-England but for Mr. Cotton’s sake.”

Reading over Bartholomew’s entire testimony, it becomes clear that he meant his initial charge to be understood in the sense that Hutchinson was moving to New England because she believed in a doomsday prophecy about England, and had further confided in him that “her heart would shake” at the prospect of her new digs if she didn’t know about it already. A certain English preacher named Hooker, he says, put it in her head that England was doomed (272).

She had also had a prophecy about a healing while on the ship, he charges (her own daughter, he says, spread that report); the subsequent discussion, over several pages, include a cross-examination of Cotton on the doctrine regarding personal revelations, and questioned about Hutchinson’s revelations, especially the one that God will save her by some providence from any calamity that is coming from the trial; Cotton is pressed regarding whether he will say if Hutchinson’s revelation is of God or not; but he squirms out of it, more or less, while casting some skeptical vibes in Hutchinson’s direction (275).

Finally, Winthrop picks up the theme of providence with glee. He repeats a phrase of Mr. Endicott, who had a few minutes earlier said: “I have heard of many revelations of Mr. Hutchinson’s, but they were reports, but Mrs. Hutchinson I see doth maintain some by this discourse, and I think it is a special providence of God to hear what she hath said” (273); meaning: she just convicted herself by claiming revelations of providence. Now Winthrop crows, in one of his longest speeches (on 275): “The case is altered and will not stand with us now, but I see a marvellous providence of God to bring things to this pass that they are. We have been hearkening about the trial of this thing and now the mercy of God by a providence hath answered our desires and made her to lay open her self and the ground of all these disturbances to be by revelations, for we receive no such” (275) and a break in the manuscript there ruins the rest of the sentence.

He then goes on to deeply disparage her claim to knowledge by revelation: “the ground work of her revelations is the immediate revelation of the spirit and not by the ministry of the word;” he goes on: “and that is the means by which she hath very much abused the country… this hath been the ground of all these tumults and troubles, and I would that those were all cut off from us that trouble us, for this is the thing that hat been the root of all the mischief.” (275)

The story is not to be believed when the text reports, in the next line:

“Court [says]: We all consent with you.”

So, Anne Hutchinson is going to be cut off from the community.

But then, Endicott says, wait a minute… John Cotton needs to clarify his position in this mess (276). It’s an interesting exchange. Cotton tries to straddle the fence, refusing to condemn the possibility of individual revelation through a word (scil. scripture) of God; and makes it clear that he understands Anne Hutchinson to be claiming exactly that gift. But the Dep. Gov. is not satisfied with Cotton, complaining several times (he seems like he wants to impeach Cotton if possible).

Then Mr. Nowell pipes in: “I think [Anne’s prophecy] is a devilish delusion” (276).

The accusations are coming together.

The Deputy governor makes his heart known (on 277). “I am fully persuaded that Mrs. Hutchinson is deluded by the devil, because the spirit of God speaks truth in all his servants” (277).

Things heat up against Cotton, but Winthrop tries to cool the flames; “Mr Cotton is not called to answer to anything but we are to deal with the party here standing before us” (278).

After several voices call for punishment, and one man for an even severer punishment than had previously been sought, Gov. Winthrop announces his thoughts on the matter:

“Seeing the court hath declared itself and hearing what hath been laid to the charge of Mrs. Hutchinson and especially what she by the providence of God hath declared freely without being asked, if therefore it be the mind of the court, looking at her as the principal cause of all our trouble, that they would not consider what is to be done to her” (278–279).

William Coddington then rises to Hutchinson’s defense. He clears her, eloquently, of the previous charges against her, and urges the court to soften its censure for the really not so devilish belief/experience that God reveals himself in scriptures with his Spirit in our spirit. Coddington is famous for this defense (at least in Rhode Island).

In the final pages, Endicott and Weld and Peters return to the issues of what she had originally said about their ministries and about the seal… (282-283)

But in spite of further words from Cotton and Coddington in her defense, the Governor calls it short and makes a motion to condemn her, thusly:

“Therefore if it be the mind of the court that Mrs Hutchinson for these things that appear before us is unfit for our society, and if it be the mind of the court that she shall be banished out of our liberties and imprisoned till she be sent away, let them hold up their hands.” (283)

“All but three.”

Reports the text.

Only Coddington and Colborn vote with her.

Tennison abstains and offers to explain but nobody takes him up on it (284).

The final exchange between Hutchinson and Winthrop sounds a note of bitter meanness into the event; she asks to know where she will be sent, and Winthrop says only “Say no more, the court knows wherefore and is satisfied” (284). The final words of the trial.


Transcript of the Trial of Anne Hutchinson before John Winthrop (1637). This can be read on pages 235–284 in Charles Francis Adams, ed. Antinomianism in the Colony of Massachusetts Bay, 1636–1638: Including The Short Story and Other Documents (Boston: The Prince Society, 1894);


Also in Adams, on pp. 53–234, is Winthrop’s Short Story of the Rise, Reign, and Ruine of the Antinomians, Familists and Libertines, that Infected the Churches of New England (1644).

America’s Puritan Heritage (and a plug for The Wordy Shipmates)

It was like providence. Or Providence. Pun intended.

Less than a week ago, during the time when I was feverishly preparing myself to begin my American Philosophy course, I just happened to be browsing in the world’s best bookstore, Powell’s City of Books in Portland, Oregon, when I caught sight of this winsome little book. It was all orange and blue and white, and glossy. And relatively slender. I like books of a certain size, and this was one.

And then, the author’s name caught my eye: Sarah Vowell. I love Sarah Vowell. What an American treasure! Vowell rose to fame because of her distinctly comic radio essays that can be heard with great frequency on Ira Glass’ excellent NPR show “This American Life”. (If you don’t know this show, well, consider that an assignment). Score! In truth, I was already on the lookout for books by her. I must have noticed the book because her name was on the cover.

You see, I had heard she was writing a book on the history of Hawaii; loving Hawaii, as I do, that sounded promising to me. Vowell is known for her funny travelogues and historical nonfiction, which sounds boring, but she brings her acerbic, critical, self-deprecating and almost macabre panache to every sentence of her work. This is mind candy.

This book, however, turned out not to be the one on Hawaii. It turned out to be a book on Puritan America.

This was amazing to me. I had just been studying the Puritans myself! and I had found my fascination with their writings steadily growing. My plan for American Philosophy is to begin by having students read primary source texts from such Puritan luminaries as John Cotton, John Winthrop, Roger Williams, and Anne Hutchinson. And I had been puzzling about how to present these figures and their era without resorting to clichés and stereotypes.

And now here was funny lady Sarah Vowell, writing a full, book length essay, full of her good humor and intelligent insight and written in her crystal clear prose… and hadn’t she just done all my work for me. If it weren’t true, it would be too good to be true. If only I had assigned the book to my students when I submitted my book orders! Alas.

The way Vowell sees it, Americans mistakenly think of the Puritans as a bunch of killjoys. And because of their deep, evangelical — and let’s be frank, fanatical — Protestant Christian faith, they are usually also assumed to be early representatives of the anti-intellectual, anti-rational, pro-religion tradition of American thought. What Vowell sees, however, are “Wordy Shipmates,” literary proponents of an ideal society.

What Vowell points out is that these figures were passionately intellectual literary types, obsessed with ideas, books, and language. Vowell can identify, as can I. Those of us who are still literary types in an America where a love for language and for literature has fallen out of favor might look back to Puritan America as a potential wellspring for renewal. If we only cared to look.

But, weren’t they a bunch of misogynistic witch hunters and myopic bigots who perpetrated genocide on America’s native population? Well, yes, sort of. But that sort of description can only apply if you care to ignore the side of Puritan ideology that is so deeply and warmly oriented towards society viewed as community.

While the theocratic Puritan world they attempted to create in early colonial America is no longer on the top of most people’s lists of ideal societies, reading about their world and ideas demonstrates that they were also passionately idealistic about creating a society that was a true commonwealth (Massachusetts, to this day, is called a “commonwealth” and not a state; see their constitution).

When John Winthrop articulated his compelling vision of the Massachusetts bay colony as God’s “City on a Hill” — apparently appropriating ancient Israelite Zionism for English colonial interests — he created an image that has frequently been exploited in the service of what is today called “American exceptionalism.” America regards itself as the leader of the free world, the policeman of the world, and the guiding light given to the nations in politics and economic and culture. The image has often been exploited in American politics (most prominently by Ronald Reagan). And it has become steadily identified with a distinctly conservative brand of politcs.

Shrewdly, Vowell points out the discord inherent in this position. Our Puritan forebears may well have been arrogant exceptionalists (they did, after all, believe God Himself was guiding their progress). But what conservative politicos who have embraced the image of the “City on the Hill” have missed is that the Puritan idea of a Godly social order was deeply communitarian, being rooted in an ideal of self-sacrificial Christian charity and the obligations that come from our mutual interconnection in society. Once again, Vowell rescues the Puritans from that one-dimensional viewpoint that sees them merely as a bunch of Tom Delays in shiny black boots with big buckles on them. Those of us who care about the idea that people should work together in society to care for the general welfare of all, i.e. “we the people,” we have Puritan forebears too.

It’s a fascinating read. Highly recommended.

Sarah Vowell, The Wordy Shipmates (New York: Riverhead Books, 2008; ISBN: 978-1-59448-400-1); preview it on google books.

American Philosophy (and a plug for The Metaphysical Club)

For the next sixteen weeks every post I make in this blog will be related to my American Philosophy course (PHI 216). I am a neophyte in this field, but it combines two of my intellectual avocations: philosophy and American history.

A few years ago a friend of mine encouraged me to read Louis Menand’s The Metaphysical Club: A Story of Ideas in America and this book really astounded me. Menand’s fluid style, which owes more to the classic Transcendentalist essay than to analytic prose (he is a professor of English), brings to life the way ideas relate historically to institutions, events, personalities, ideologies and cultures. Real intellectual history. It is small wonder that in 2002, it won the Pulitzer Prize for History writing.

Besides presenting an outstanding overview of 19th century American philosophy, Menand lays bare the roots of America’s most important school of thought, Pragmatism. The book deals not only with powerful and complex ideas — and in a surprisingly straightforward and easy to understand way — it vividly portrays the personalities (William James, Chauncey Wright, Charles Sanders Peirce, Oliver Wendell Holmes, John Dewey), places (Cambridge in particular) and traumatic events (the Civil War) that shaped them. Menand manages to expose the organic stuff from which philosophy is composed; he makes one feel as if the concerns of the philosophers are one’s own; and he does so in a way that offers profound possibilities for thinking about what makes a thought American.

Highly recommended.

Speaking of “American thought,” one cannot raise the question, “what makes a thought American?” without offering at least a thought about the answer.

Since, for the next 16 weeks, I have to teach (that is, constantly think and read about, assign a syllabus of readings and topics for seminar meetings, lead discussions, and occasionally lecture on) the “subject” of “American Philosophy,” I would like nothing more than a clear answer to this question.

I would like that. It would simplify things.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if there was a consistently American way of thought? Occasionally the phrase “American philosophy of” gets debased and used to make generalizations about typically American ways of doing things, things that are mostly practical, economic, and political (“American philosophy of war, business, government,” etc.). But the reality is that there is no consensus “American” view to teach on any particular subject in philosophy, be it natural, moral, metaphysical, epistemological or political.

It would also simplify things if I could tell a consistent narrative of development from a single point of origin. Wouldn’t it be Amazing if the study of American philosophy was a review of the progress of thought, a narrative that could be traced from early colonial inquiry to our well established and final, authoritative account of the world? Alas.

Yet, it would over-simplify the problem to claim that the only “American” thing about “American ideas” is the nationality of the philosophers. That would be a truly nominalist view of the subject! You might think (though for a few minutes only) that you could make a course on “American Philosophy” into a more or less comprehensive review of American philosophers. As if the series of thinkers being considered were related to one another by historical accident alone: they all happened to practice philosophy (or think and write deeply) within the borders of a place called America.

I take seriously a more organic view of history; by accident or no, proximity in time and place brings different individuals into relationship with forces that are larger than themselves. You could call these forces weather, or structures, or gods, or demons, or spirits, or ideologies, or cultures, or regimes, or even mechanisms… you might just be speaking about the impact of large-scale phenomena like climate, economic practices, wars, and even natural disasters.

Take Iraq and Katrina, for example. Ask yourself: how do things that happen in America, or that Americans do, impact “the American mind,” considered as a vast collection of wildly divergent and heterogeneous individual minds.

Time and place matter, so, with the help of like-minded historians (especially Bruce Kuklick, author of our textbook, A History of Philosophy in America, 1720–2000) and plenty of reading of primary sources found in the public domain, we are going in search of philosophy that is American in all senses of the phrase. We should have a relatively easy time finding freely available primary source material down to the early 1930’s. Thereafter we have to be much more selective in our coverage, because even Absolute Idealists seem to believe in copyright.

(On that topic, it might be interesting to talk about the recent re-emergence of the concept of the “public commons” and even of the idea of so-called copyleft in American intellectual life, a phenomenon which has been paralleled by the rise of huge free public databases like google and collective epistemological enterprises like Wikipedia. But I digress.)

We will consider the impact of the Puritan Colonial experience and origins of American political and religious life in the 17th century, pause to ask ourselves about the way of thought found among those native Americans that we displaced, and about the impact of our displacement of them upon our national character. We will explore the emergence of erudite philosophical speculation among America’s clergy in the 18th century, and examine the emergence of both liberal and conservative Christian thought in America from this milieu. We will look at and consider the intellectual preoccupations of various schools of Philosophy from the 19th and early 20th centuries, especially Trancendentalism, Idealism, Pragmatism, Naturalism, and Instrumentalism, and consider how the struggles against slavery and for national unity, for womens’ suffrage and rights, temperance, economic justice, and racial equality have impacted and been impacted by the way Americans have thought about philosophical matters. We will note the way our national debates on war, sexual orientation, the role of government, and the content of education are informed by and inform the changing landscape of the American mind.

American thought is shot through with fundamental contrasts that define its contours like the shadows on a mountainside. I hope we can highlight and explore a number of these areas of shared interest and debate that are peculiarly related to the American experience. Especially relevant is the pattern of thinking that emerges around the tensions that arise when a society is rooted in a notion of individual freedom but organized around the authority of an ideal community. We see this tension at place from the earliest Puritan fights over conscience to the much later struggles for equality in a pluralistic society.

The American experience has also brought a constant struggle with authority that is reflected not only in our political history (Puritan separatism, the Revolution, the Civil War, the struggle for civil rights, the culture wars) but in the preoccupation of our philosophers with epistemology and the philosophy of science. What emerges from the study of American philosophy is an awareness that Americans are in an ongoing process of debate on the extent of and meaning of what we might know and should believe. Americans have been particularly committed to searching for certainty in our beliefs, which has led to a recurring effort to reconcile or resolve the apparent tensions that exist between science and religion, or rather, between scientific and religious ways of knowing.

Ultimately, ours is a debate about authority. Who or what will lead the way: tradition, faith, and the God of our fathers? or reason and experience? God and country? or science and book learning? It is not safe to presume in advance that you know already who stands on what side of this debate. The debate runs far deeper and twists more complexly than you might presume.

Ultimately, I would like to suggest that the study of American philosophers in the context of the unfolding American experience can offer to those of us who are Americans a deep well of ideas about who we are and what we might be. What kind of America do we want to be, and why? What do we know, and how do we know it? What ought we to do?

Let’s begin (again).

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