A guest post by commenter JMSmith:
If you are a conservative Christian, you have no doubt been assailed with the allegation that your religion leans to the left. This has been said by godless leftists, who wish to set you marching under the red banner, and this has been said by godless rightists, who wish to convert you, or purge you, or maybe just pull your nose. And because there are some trace elements of truth in this allegation, your may be tempted to believe what these mountebanks say.
What you should do is remember that a Great Schism rent American Protestantism in the early nineteenth century, with the sundering fissure tearing through denominations, and even congregations. Protestants on one side of the fissure called themselves “liberals,” those on the other side called themselves “orthodox.” (Roman Catholics went through a similar schism somewhat later.) When someone says that Christianity leans to the left, they are championing the “liberal” side of the Great Schism, and insinuating (without argument) that liberal Protestants are the legitimate heirs to the Christian tradition.
If you are a conservative Christian, you are obviously standing on the other side of the fissure, and what you see across that momentous crevasse is a crypto-humanist heresy. That’s what orthodox Protestants said it was in the early nineteenth century, and they were right.
Liberal Protestantism is a new, post-Christian religion that in its early stages opportunistically spoke in a Christian idiom, but nevertheless preached a new gospel. Calvin Blanchard, a humanist author who supported himself through the sale of radical and pornographic books, exulted in 1860 that humanism was taught “under the name of ‘Christianity’ . . . in many of the most fashionable ‘Christian’ churches,” and that “the masses sleep as quietly under that doctrine, but thinly disguised, as they used to under preaching the most orthodox.”
The “orthodox” Protestants were correct—theirs was the more authentically Christian faith; but they were not victorious, and any vindication they have enjoyed, they have enjoyed in heaven. They have not disappeared, of course, but they are a small, despised minority. All respectable Americans today are Humanists, the difference between those who speak in a Christian idiom and those who don’t being very, very small.
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To find the sources of the Great Schism, you must look into the polemical literature of American Protestantism in the Eighteenth Century, where you will find recurrent complaints of Socinianism, Arminianism, and (less frequently) Antinomianism. Arianism and Pelagianism were sometimes employed as substitutes for the first two terms, and for all practical purposes denoted the same tendency. What all of this meant is that, even at that early date, some American Protestants were beginning to lay less emphasis on the divinity of Christ (Socinianism, Arianism), more emphasis on the divinity of Man (Arminianism, Pelagianism), and less emphasis on the difference between a life that was “godly” and a life that was “good.” (Antinomianism).
Rolled together in a single clod, Socinianism, Arminianism, and Antinomianism constitute the Humanist Heresy because, when these tendencies are fully worked out, the result is humanism. Christ is then (at best) a great teacher and exemplary human being, and is no longer divine; sinful men are the victims of unfortunate circumstances, and are no longer fallen Sons of Adam; earthly life is then a pursuit of temporal happiness, and is no longer the porch of eternity where men work out their own salvation with fear and trembling.
Dreadful forebodings of this Humanist Heresy can be read in a booklet written by Thomas Clap, President of Yale University, and published in 1755. The booklet was written to justify religious tests for Yale faculty, a precaution that became necessary because “sundry persons have of late risen up . . . and have by various means endeavored to introduce a new scheme of religion, and an easy way of salvation, unknown to the gospel of Christ” (emphasis in original). The full title of Clap’s booklet is, A Brief History and Vindication of Doctrines Received and Established in the Churches of New England with a Specimen of the New Scheme of Religion Beginning to Prevail.
The New Scheme of Religion that was beginning to prevail in 1755 had very nearly prevailed by 1855, and is, of course, prevalent today. This New Scheme had its source, not in New England Calvinism, as is so often alleged, but in books written by English Deists such as Thomas Chubb, John Taylor, James Foster, and Francis Hutcheson. The “fundamental principle” of this New Scheme of Religion, according to Clap, was that “the happiness of the creature is the sole end of the creation”; that man’s whole religious and moral duty was conscientious pursuit of happiness (due respect being shown for the happiness of others); and that sin was nothing but a failure to succeed in this pursuit or to show this respect. And such failures, when they occurred, were not interpreted as the consequences of of man’s original depravity, but rather as the consequences of “a contracted disposition or inclination.” For according to the New Scheme of Religion, “every child comes into the world like a clean white piece of paper.”
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In 1755 we may be sure that the President of Yale University understood and approved the “doctrines received and established in the churches of New England,” so when you read Clap’s denial that the New Scheme expressed or developed these doctrines, you should begin to doubt the internet authors who tell you that the leftist programs of what they like to call “the Cathedral” originated in the Christianity of the churches of New England. In fact, you should begin to suspect that “the Cathedral” originated in what Clap called the New Scheme of Religion, and you should begin to understand that orthodox Protestants didn’t like this New Scheme any better than you like “the Cathedral.”
There is, however, at least one respect in which these internet authors are right about the connection between New England and “the Cathedral.” The spirit of political Puritanism did pass into the New Scheme, and from there it passed into Unitarianism, Humanitarianism and today’s regime of Political Correctness. An Episcopalian writer named N. S. Richardson, who made a close study of the Puritan temperament, noted its “perpetual officiousness” in an article he published in in The Church Review in 1868. Richardson goes on to say that, because the Puritan believes that he is “better than other people,” he “feels bound to keep ‘watch and care,’ as the phrase runs, over other people’s affairs.” And in order to satisfy this implacable itch to keep watch and care over other people’s affairs, the Puritan is ever eager “get hold of some great ‘moral idea’. . .and get into power with it.”
Puritans were only accidentally and temporarily Calvinists. So long as Calvinism provided them with a metaphysical foundation for sanctimonious browbeating, they were satisfied with it; but when this foundation began to lose its advantage, they were not slow in removing themselves to a more commanding position. Their primary requirement, after all, was a metaphysical foundation that justified their claim to moral superiority and the political power to impose their views on morally inferior men. They found this commanding position in the New Scheme of Religion and the Humanist Heresy to which it led, for here it was taught that one had simply to look “to the intuitive teachings of the soul for the disclosure of Absolute truth.”
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By 1855 the perpetually officious spirit of Puritanism had taken up residence in the New Scheme of Religion. It took the form of a humanitarian movement that sought to “get into power” by exercising “watch and care” over American social institutions, all of which it condemned as affronts to the “moral ideas” of liberty and equality. It disapproved of marriage, family, government and, most of all, what was then called the “servile relationship” of master and slave. The grounds of its fierce officiousness, and of its claim to the political power that would be needed to redress these evils, was not scripture, or law, but “the intuitive teachings of the [Puritan’s] soul.”
As Clap had written a century before, they believed that “every child comes into the world like a clean white piece of paper,” and they believed that they had the inspired wisdom to reorganize society in such a way that every child would stay that way. Under their watch and care, the blood of Christ would be superfluous.
Orthodox Christians disagreed, and this disagreement caused the Great Schism.
To better understand this disagreement we can look into two booklets published by Nathan Lord, who was President of Dartmouth College until he was forced to resign after refusing to endorse Abolitionism. In A Letter of Inquiry (1854), Lord wrote that “humanitarian philosophy” had “insinuated itself into the church of God,” where it taught the doctrines of “man’s natural virtuousness, and his capacity to enjoy life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness agreeably to his natural instincts, sentiments, ideas, and judgments.” In other words, it taught that there was nothing wrong with men’s natural desires, but that there was a great deal wrong with existing social institutions, which mostly thwarted or perverted these desires.
Later that same year, in A Northern Presbyter’s Second Letter, Lord again condemned as anti-Christian the new “humanitarian philosophy” that “denies, ignores, diminishes, or travesties the facts of natural and revealed religion which slavery presupposes.” The facts denied by humanitarian philosophy were, “the fallen, depraved, imbecile, disordered, and condemned state of the world,” and the consequent need of “ordinance for the better restraint, discipline, and correction of bad men, and some more than others.” In other words, orthodox Christianity taught that all men were essentially bad—some more bad than others—and that there was therefore a need for “ordinance,” or social institutions, adapted to this fact.
The New Scheme of Religion taught a very different doctrine. “Every child,” it proclaimed, “comes into the world like a clean white piece of paper”; and because it arrives in this immaculate condition, it does not require ordinance to “restrain, discipline, and correct.” It requires, instead, ordinance—if that is the word—that will liberate, tolerate, and affirm.
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The climax of the Great Schism was, of course, the American Civil War. As with almost every war, this one was fought to decide many questions, some of them economic, some of them political, and some of them religious. In 1863 the landscape painter and inventor Samuel F. B. Morse (remembered today for Morse Code) wrote a pamphlet arguing that the Civil War was primarily a dispute between “two violently opposed sects,” animated by “two opposite gospels,” fighting to decide a “religious question.” The clash was between orthodox Christianity and the new “humanitarian philosophy,” and the question to be decided was whether man was fallen in his nature, or only as an accident of remediable social circumstances.
Morse was himself an orthodox Christian and a northerner, son and worthy scion of the great orthodox Christian crusader Jedediah Morse. He wrote that the orthodox Christians “speak of mankind as degenerate,” rebellious, and essentially “disobedient,” and that this was the reason they defended the traditional social order. Traditional civil institutions were, so far as orthodox Christians were concerned, instruments in “the divine plan adapted to man as a fallen being.” Together these institutions formed a “system of restraint” that caged the recalcitrant spirits of men and women, taught “the great lesson of obedience,” and in time promised to accomplish a “restoration of obedience in the human soul.”
Following the philosopher James McCosh, Morse approved this system of restraint, calling it the “the social system which God has ordained” for man in his “disciplinary state.” In this “system of restraint” there were, he wrote, “four great regulators” that enforced “obedience to authority” and trained men to duty. These were civil government, in which rulers had authority over ruled; marriage, in which husbands had authority over wives; families, in which parents had authority over children; and the servile relationship, in which masters had authority over slaves. In each of these “governments,” Morse wrote, “obedience is the central idea.” Without these governments there would be anarchy, for “the whole human race without government is barbarous.”
In the opposite gospel of the humanitarian social reformers, all of these institutions were suspect, if not sinful. Morse wrote that this was because they “deny the degeneracy of man,” “look upon human nature with unmingled feelings of pride and satisfaction,” and believe that “obedience, or subjection to authority, must be altogether blotted out of the social system.” The humanitarian sect was, even as Morse wrote his pamphlet, destroying the servile relationship by violence, but its members were also working to undermine Christian marriage with doctrines of women’s rights and “free love,” and to undermine civil government with doctrines of “democracy.” They hadn’t yet gotten round to liberating the children.
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We live today under the watch and care of officious Puritans. As of old, they believe that they are better than other people, and they have got hold of a “great ‘moral’ idea” to get themselves into power. This regime has no official name, but its detractors use terms such as “totalitarian humanism,” “political correctness” and “the Cathedral.” I suspect that most conservative Christians feel intuitive distrust of this regime, and sense that it is at heart an alien ideology. But they will at the same time read writers on the left and right who claim that it grew out of Christianity, and more especially out of Calvinist New England. These writers, many of whom are exceedingly capable and interesting, may cause some conservative Christians to wonder whether it is, indeed, possible to be both conservative and Christian. This post attempts to answer that question. It is a sort of paternity test on the Humanist Heresy; and what it has shown is that the Humanist Heresy is not our baby. There is no reason on earth why we should pay child support.
JMSmith is an occasional commenter at the Orthosphere. He earns his bread as a professor of cultural geography, and since that is his real name anyone with a search engine and insane curiosity can figure out who he really is. In youth he was a rather rickety Protestant, in young manhood an equally rickety infidel. He remains rickety, but is now Roman Catholic.