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Wednesday, June 9, 2010

John Adams Quoting Total Depravity

I found this quote in a letter to Mercy Warren. In this letter without any doubt, Adam's adhered to John Calvin's Total Depravity of Human Nature:
The Form of Government, which you admire, when its Principals are pure is admirable indeed. It is productive of every Thing, which is great and excellent among Men. But its Principles are as easily destroyed, as human Nature is corrupted. Such a Government is only to be supported by pure Religion, or Austere Morals. Public Virtue cannot exist in a Nation without private, and public Virtue is the only Foundation of Republics. There must be a possitive Passion for the public good, the public Interest, Honour, Power, and Glory, established in the Minds of the People, or there can be no Republican Government, nor any real Liberty. [bold face mine]
John Adams to Mercy Warren April 16, 1776.
Adam's links Christianity with the fall; as did James Madison, understanding our corrupt nature is imputed to us by Adam's sin. Thus, it isn't a stretch, at this time in his life, to conclude Adams believed in imago dei (unalienable rights imputed by Adam), and pre-destination.

The imputation of sin, unalienable rights, and pre-destination, is accomplished by the same process.


Our Founding Truth said...

Correction. It should not be pre-destination that imputation is based, but Christ's righteousness.

Here is Dickinson on imago dei:

"Kings or parliaments could not give the rights essential to happiness... We claim them from a higher source -- from the King of kings, and Lord of all the earth. They are not annexed to us by parchments and seals. They are created in us by the decrees of Providence, which establish the laws of our nature. They are born with us; exist with us; and cannot be taken from us by any human power, without taking our lives."

-John Dickinson, An Address to the Committee of Correspondence in Barbados, 1766.

Tom Van Dyke said...

And may we add even Thomas Jefferson in his oft-quoted post-presidential life:

"We do not claim these under the charters of kings or legislators, but under the King of kings." --Thomas Jefferson to John Manners, 1817. ME 15:124

Rights are granted [endowed] by the King of kings [not Jesus, according to Jefferson, mind you, just God]. It was a universal claim to rights in the Founding era. Rights come from God, not by a "social contract" among men.


Man's fallenness isn't just Calvinist. The Catholic convert GK Chesterton while he was still an Anglican [Church of England] wrote in his Orthodoxy

"Modern masters of science are much impressed with the need of beginning all inquiry with a fact. The ancient masters of religion were quite equally impressed with that necessity. They began with the fact of sin—a fact as practical as potatoes. Whether or no man could be washed in miraculous waters, there was no doubt at any rate that he wanted washing. But certain religious leaders in London, not mere materialists, have begun in our day not to deny the highly disputable water, but to deny the indisputable dirt.

Certain new theologians dispute original sin, which is the only part of Christian theology which can really be proved. Some followers of the Reverend R. J. Campbell [a "modernizer" in religion during Chesterton's time--ed.], in their almost too fastidious spirituality, admit divine sinlessness, which they cannot see even in their dreams. But they essentially deny human sin, which they can see in the street.

The strongest saints and and strongest sceptics alike took positive evil as the starting-point of their argument. If it be true (as it certainly is) that a man can feel ex­quisite happiness in skinning a cat, then the religious philosopher can only draw one of two deductions. He must either deny the exis­tence of God, as all atheists do; or he must deny the present union between God and man, as all Christians do. The new theologians seem to think it a highly rationalistic solution to deny the cat."

In fact, even John Adams, and in his way the irreligionist David Hume wrote that reason is a slave to the passions. We call it "rationalizing." Our minds can justify anything, especially our sins against the natural law.

In this way, reason is the enemy of the good, and an enemy of the truth. If you can't lie to yourself, who can you lie to?

You needn't calvinize this so much, Jim. That man is a fallen creature goes back to Genesis. That man might have a moral sense implanted in human nature by God, that there is a "natural law," goes back to the Greek-educated Paul the Apostle, the "law written on the human heart," if I recall correctly.

We lie to ourselves, against our conscience. This is human nature, no more, no less.

Our Founding Truth said...

TVD said, Rights are granted [endowed] by the King of kings [not Jesus, according to Jefferson, mind you, just God].

Great point Tom! It's nice to have a different perspective. I'm not surprised TJ made a comment like that, however, that expression is used only twice in the New Testament; 1 Tim 6, and Rev. 17, specifically referring to Jesus. Something tells me TJ knew that.

That man is a fallen creature goes back to Genesis.

Exactly. You know me a little TVD, I'm no hardcore Calvinist, barely a Calvinist atall. Jean(John) Calvin high-lighted the concept Original Sin, that Paul elucidated in Romans 5, and made it part of his reformed theology Adams et al., could stomach.

Total Depravity was a large part of Puritan social ethic that permeated the colonies. This total depravity of man TJ, and Franklin rejected.

Tom Van Dyke said...

No, I didn't know your stance on Calvinism one way or the other. Just sola scriptura. ;-)

Total Depravity was on the way out by the Founding; slipping in was a belief in man's "goodness," and therefore a belief in "human progress."

I've found it in James Wilson, for instance, a rather "modern" belief about man's nature. Think Rousseau and the "noble savage."

But Madison realized in "separation of powers," and setting factions against each other, man's goodness cannot be trusted. [See also Washington's letter to John Jay, 1796.]

What Aquinas would say [sometimes accused of "semi-Pelegianism"], and Locke would too, is that if man isn't usually capable of originating the good, he knows the good when he sees it.

Natural law would say man stumbles upon the good; Locke would say that a man knows the truth of the Gospel [the "good news"] when he hears it. Via reason, mind you, not grace, albeit an openness to "right reason."

In fact, Locke argues---as did James Wilson---that the Gospel was a gift and a mercy upon men in sin and error pining, that direct "revelation" from God [via Jesus] rescued, "saved," man from stumbling about trying to figure out the natural law.

[Wilson embraced both the natural law and scripture as from the "same adorable source, in other words, God.]

As for Luther and Calvin, it's likely they misunderstood Aquinas on the role of grace, and created a split where none existed.