Monday, July 25, 2005

Theocracy In Action

(...Or, I'm a Lazy Swine. Crossposted at Sisyphus Shrugged.)

Home-Schooling Cult Headquarters Patrick Henry College of Purcellville, Virginia, which was featured in a alarmingly credulous profile in The New Yorker a few weeks ago, has as it stated purpose the preparation of "Christian men and women who will lead our nation and shape our culture with timeless biblical values and fidelity to the spirit of the American founding."

One wonders, then, what lesson about "the spirit of the American founding" was being inculcated in our future leaders this June, when the school fired a college librarian, himself a devout Christian, because he sent a letter to the student body inviting them to attend his church. Now the college has sued the former employee because he sent a letter to school parents explaining why he was fired.

Now pay attention, because this gets a little complicated.

PHC's Statement of Faith, signed by all students and faculty as a prerequisite to matriculation or employment, explicitly states (Paragraph G): Personal salvation comes to mankind by grace through faith.

The fired librarian, Jeremy Hunley, is a member of the Purcellville Church of Christ, which, according to its web site, proclaims itself as part of the Restoration Movement begun in the early 19th century. They claim 2 million adherents. The relevant portion of the C of C's dogma for our purposes is that they believe that only through baptism by immersion can grace be bestowed.

This is in opposition to the Erasmian tradition in Protestantism, which arose in the 16th century as a reaction against the perceived empty rituals and symbolism of the Catholic Church. The Anabaptists -- who would become the Baptists, Amish, Mennonites, Quakers et al. and emigrate to America -- rejected the idea that baptism meant anything. The Lutheran element of the Reformation, the precursor of the Church of Christ, in contrast, firmly upheld the traditions of baptism and the Eucharist.

The Anabaptist attitude is what is being explicitly expressed in Paragraph G in the PCH Statement of Faith.

While it may be arguable that Patrick Henry has the historically more forward-thinking position -- embodying the very height of the most progressive thinking of the bloodsoaked, persecuted European 16th century -- it may also be pointed out that it was arguments --and, indeed, wars -- over precisely these unknowable and unprovable points of dogma that led, a century later, to the search for universal meaning through empirical observation and deduction -- the Scientific Method -- that characterized the Enlightenment, the Age of Reason and its ultimate political expression, the American Revolution.

The question naturally occurs to one: what kind of murky, torchlit, labyrinthine alleys of backward reasoning led the worthies at Patrick Henry College to stake their claim to "fidelity to the spirit of the American founding"?

Their treatment of their dissenting librarian suggests a closer alliance to the spirit of the Salem Witch Trials.


Anonymous said...

No joke. The secularity of American culture is like a commons (in the economist's sense); the fact that we've traditionally (mostly) respected that is the main reason we've managed to avoid most of the religious violence that much of the rest of this planet has had to put up with.

Molly, NYC

rameau's nephew said...

for so many of today's Muscular Christians and Testosterone Evangelicals, the spirit of the witch trials is more relevant to their view of America and the world than the Declaration, which most of them, having it paraphrased into our current vernacular, would call a pinko manifesto.

the scary thing that caught my eye when reading up on the madness that swept Essex Co., Mass in 1692 was how easily people were persuaded to confess to all manner of impossible acts, sadly persuaded by their own friends and family when presented with "the shameful choice that was forced on the accused - to either confess and live, or profess innocence, in truth, and die."

The haunting, sad story of accused witch Ann Foster speaks to that point.

I've heard it said that Cotton Mather's dissolution of the Court of Oyer and Terminer marked the end of Spectral Evidence being admitted at trial in North America, but that was before Intelligent Design and Faith Based Governance...

Verily, beware the Malleus Maleficarum... especially if you could be persuaded you might be a witch, or a even worse, a Democrat.

rameau's nephew said...

bloody html...

accused witch Ann Foster

mark xssmeraldi said...

And now, will the congregation please turn to (early Ry Cooder) "Denomination Blues"....It does lead one to wonder how these people react when the saviour/president starts showing feet (AND ankles) of clay...

The Viscount LaCarte said...

I started to think, "What would Patrick Henry have to say about all of this?" but then I rememebered that they don't even consider what Jesus would have to say about all of this. The only part that most of them ever get is that they are "forgiven" which then becomes a justification for any and every un-Christ-like thing that they do.

Good thing I'm used to irony.

Kevin Wolf said...

To the Vicount I respectfully suggest that the emphasis on forgiveness is a very Catholic thing - though I certainly can't claim to be an expert, just a "fallen" Catholic. When I was being brainwashed I must admit they didn't use forgiveness as a catch-all eraser, after the fact, for unacceptable behavior. You were meant to think about why you needed a confessor to begin with.

The folks under discussion don't "need" forgiveness as their public actions are always "righteous." It's the idea that they find their purely religious ideas to be exactly in tune with the Founding Fathers that creeps me out.

On the other hand, despite the demonstrated intolerance, so long as they are operating within thier own sphere (the college) and the rules have been laid out ahead of time for all who choose to join them, I'm not sure how you can fault them. It's like gays who insist on being Republicans or adhering to a church in which their actions are considered an abomination. Why not quit the organization? Find another (there are so many)! Move on altogether.

OH - yeah - Neddie, good post!

The Viscount LaCarte said...


Being raised a Catholic myself, I agree that we were told that if you sin deliberately thinking that you can just confess those sins away, you won't be forgiven.

However, since moving to The South and rubbing elbows with the Southern Baptists, I've learned that it's a whole 'notha thing. I had one tell me, "all you have to do is accept Jesus and you will be saved," and I said "so a well behaved agnostic such as myself who's intellect cannot get past the contradictions of Christianity has no chance but a Christian who is ill-behaved can still go to heaven?" and he said, "That's right. We're all sinners but Christians are forgiven!"

Thanks for your direct comment though, because I think I can see this germinating into a future post chez viscount lacarte.

res publica said...

One might argue that the Anabaptist view of the sacraments was originally more progressive (and indeed it is more closely associated with the Free Church tradition celebrated by liberals like James Luther Adams), but in the long run, I think it just ended up being a variant on Manichaism, denying that God might use God's material creation as a medium of grace. I think that sort of hyperspiritualism has contributed to the impoverished aesthetics of Protestantism (to whit, megachurches worshiping in gussied-up football stadia) on the one hand, and the vulgarity of American material culture on the other. Also, when you divorce Christianity from its fundamentally sacramental character and life, you have nothing left but hairsplitting interpretations of dogma to cling to. Which is precisely how you get to situations like the firing you discuss in your post.

Just my two cents. :)

PS, The PHC crowd knows full well that the real spirit of the American founding radically subverts their own agenda. That's why they're co-opting the Founders and re-telling their story in a way that agrees with their Happy Jesus Fun Time worldview. Maybe it's just my tinfoil hat talking, but I think that projects like PHC are a direct and intentional assault on the history of the Revolution as a source of legitimacy for secularists.