For each of the Documents in this collection, we suggest below in section A questions relevant for that Document alone and in section B questions that require comparison between Documents.
1. John Winthrop, Model of Christian Charity (1630)
A. What does Winthrop mean by “charity”? How does this principle relate to his understanding of the way that God has “disposed of the condition of mankind” so that “some must be rich, some poor, some high,” etc.? In what ways is the principle of charity intended to shape the new political community?
B. How is Winthrop’s vision of the Massachusetts Bay colonists’ covenant with God similar to or different from John Quincy Adams’ account of America in his Speech on Independence Day or FDR in his Address to the National Conference of Catholic Charities? How does his understanding of “charity” relate to later understandings of social justice and religion presented by Jane Addams or Francis Schaeffer, for example?
2. Excerpts of Colonial Laws related to Religious Establishment and Toleration
A. How do the authors of these laws understand human nature? How do they understand the role of religion in public life? What is the difference between religious toleration and freedom of conscience as presented in these laws?
B. Which of these laws, if any, would be compatible with the view of “civil liberty” presented by Henry Ward Beecher in “The Moral Theory of Civil Liberty”?
3. Cotton Mather, A Man of Reason (1718) and Jonathan Edwards, A Divine and Supernatural Light (1734)
A. Are the distinctions in these sermons merely matters of emphasis, or is there a genuine problem of incompatibility? What are the implications of the shift from a more socially-oriented approach to religion to a more individualistic one?
B. How does Mather’s view of reason relate to or diverge from the account of reason given by later thinkers such as Palmer, Hall, or Schaeffer? How would Lincoln evaluate Edwards’ claims about the importance of supernatural light, based on his Temperance Address and Second Inaugural Address?
4. Jonathan Mayhew, A Discourse Concerning Unlimited Submission and Non-resistance to the Higher Powers (1750)
A. Explain Mayhew’s argument: how does he reconcile the command to Christians to “be subject” to civil powers with their duty to “resist the Devil”? Is this a paradox? How does he address the criticism that his position will lead to anarchy?
B. Given that Mayhew’s sermon was delivered in celebration of the Puritan revolution in England, and that Winthrop wrote regularly in support of that revolution from Massachusetts, discuss the relationship between Winthrop’s vision of civil society (seen in “A Model of Christian Charity” and in the Massachusetts Laws and Liberties) and Mayhew’s. In what ways is Mayhew’s argument for the legitimate resistance to tyranny similar to that presented in the Declaration of Independence or Schaeffer? In what ways does it differ?
5. Excerpts from Founding Documents (1776–1798)
A. What is the significance of “nature” in the Declaration of Independence? If instead of the phrase “the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them,” the Declaration read simply “the separate and equal station to which the laws of God entitle them,” would that change its meaning? What is the connection between morality, knowledge and education made in the Northwest Ordinance and Washington’s Farewell Address? Would it be right to say that religion is necessary to preserve the rights enumerated in the Declaration? If so, why does the Declaration not mention this? Is Jefferson’s understanding of nature in Query VI of Notes on the State of Virginia the same as in the Declaration? How are nature and Providence connected in the Declaration? How do Jefferson and Rush differ on the issue of religion in education?
B. In Herbert Spencer and the Doctrine of Evolution, E. L. Youmans argues that the theory of evolution calls into question the existence of a Creator God, at least as such a God is presented in the account of creation in Genesis. If this is true, does it call into question the claim of the Declaration of Independence “that all men are created equal” and “that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights”?
6. George Washington, Letter to the Hebrew Congregation of Newport (1790)
A. What is the difference between toleration and religious freedom? Would tolerance be acceptable given the argument of the Declaration of Independence about the rights that men are endowed with?
B. How is Washington’s view in his letter to the Hebrew Congregation similar to and different from the views expressed in these excerpts of Colonial laws?
7. John Quincy Adams, Speech on Independence Day (July 4, 1821)
A. What is the connection that Adams sees between the Reformation and the American Revolution? According to Adams, how is the United States distinguished from all previous government? How has religion contributed to this distinction?
B. Are the views Adams expresses about reason and its role in human life similar to or different from those of Cotton Mather?
8. Lyman Beecher, A Plea for the West (1835)
A. What is the connection between religion, education, and liberty for Beecher? Why does he fear Catholicism, and what does it tell us about the types of religions that he believes will be compatible or incompatible with the American way of life?
B. How is Beecher’s vision of American expansion related to Winthrop’s “city on a hill”? How does it relate to the Northwest Ordinance or Adams’ Speech on Independence Day? In what ways is Beecher’s understanding of religion and liberty similar to or different from that presented by Obama?
9. Edward Beecher, The Nature, Importance, and Means of Eminent Holiness Throughout the Church (1835)
A. What is holiness, according to Beecher? How is the holiness movement connected to the “regeneration of the world”? What does Beecher mean when he speaks of the regeneration of the world? What is the view of man, God and nature in the holiness and reform movements?
B. Compare Beecher’s views on God’s relationship to man with those expressed by Mather, Edwards, and Moody. In what ways do they differ? How are they similar? How might their views affect attitudes towards politics?
10. Abraham Lincoln, The Temperance Address (1842)
A. Does Lincoln see a political problem with the Temperance movement? Does he see a problem with religion in a political order based on human equality? Does he see problems with only a certain kind of religion? What characteristics of religion make it a problem for a government based on human equality?
B. How do you think that Lincoln would respond to Edward Beecher’s sermon on holiness?
11. Benjamin Morgan Palmer, Baconianism and the Bible (1852)
A. Does Palmer’s article draw a connection, even implicitly, between science and the Declaration of Independence? If so, what is the connection? How does Palmer argue that the Reformation and modern science are alike? What is the status of the Bible for Palmer?
B. Compare Palmer’s account of science and religion to Youmans’ and Hall’s. How do they differ? Are the alike in any ways?
12. Abraham Lincoln, Second Inaugural Address (1865)
A. Is Lincoln’s view of God’s relation to man the same in the Temperance Address and the Second Inaugural? How would you characterize that view?
B. Is there a similarity in the view of Southerners in the Second Inaugural and the view of drunkards in the Temperance Address? Is this the same view or attitude expressed toward sin in Edward Beecher’s sermon on holiness?
13. Henry Ward Beecher, The Moral Theory of Civil Liberty (1869)
A. What does Beecher mean by civil liberty? Why does he say that “self-government” is a better term than liberty? How is self-government connected to morality? What is the connection between religion and morality for Beecher? How does Beecher understand nature? What does he see as the connection between nature and self-government? Does Beecher’s argument require the existence of God or any of the teachings of the Bible?
B. Would A. C. Dixon or Fosdick accept Beecher’s argument? Would Mather?
14. E. L. Youmans, Herbert Spencer and the Doctrine of Evolution (1874)
A. Why does Youmans believe that Spencer is important? What is the connection between Spencer’s view of nature, as described by Youmans, and Spencer’s views of morality and social relations?
B. How is the view of nature in Spencer’s work, as Youmans describes it, different from nature as understood by Palmer? How is the view of society and government in Spencer’s work, as Youmans describes it, different from the views expressed by John Winthrop and Henry Ward Beecher?
15. Dwight L. Moody, On Being Born Again (1877)
A. What does it mean to be “born again,” according to Moody? How is the born again person supposed to act in their society?
B. In what ways does the concept of being “born again” seem similar to or different from the experience described by Mather or Edwards? How does Moody’s view relate to the vision of social engagement presented by Addams or King?
16. G. Stanley Hall, Philosophy in the United States (1879)
A. What is Hall’s attitude toward religion? Does he see philosophy as the antagonist of religion? What explains this attitude?
B. How do the views expressed by Hall and Youmans differ from those expressed by Palmer and Henry Ward Beecher?
17. Jane Addams, Religious Education and Contemporary Social Conditions (1911)
A. What type of religious education does Addams see around her, how does she want it to change, and why? How would you describe her understanding of religion and its relationship to human nature?
B. Is Addams’ vision of religious education similar to or different from that presented by Lyman Beecher? How would she respond to Mather or Dixon, both of whom seem to be more concerned about teaching proper theology than engaging in social reform per se? In what ways can we connect Addams’ vision of religiously motivated social reform to Winthrop’s vision of Christian charity, if at all?
18. A. C. Dixon, The Bible at the Center of the Modern University (1920)
A. What are the key characteristics of what Dixon calls German thinking? Why is he so concerned that it will gain influence in the United States? How is it related to evolution? Is what Dixon describes as German thinking compatible with the principles of the Declaration of Independence? Why is Lincoln important to Dixon? What is Dixon’s attitude toward science? What is Dixon’s attitude toward the Bible?
B. Would Dixon consider Spencer, as described by Youmans, as “German thinking”? What would Dixon say about Spencer’s social and ethical philosophy?
19. Harry Emerson Fosdick, Shall the Fundamentalists Win? (1922)
A. What is Fosdick’s attitude toward science? Toward the Bible? What does Fosdick mean by progressive revelation? Is there a connection between progressive revelation and evolution? What is the greater authority for Fosdick, the Bible or science?
B. What would Fosdick say about Dixon’s claims about the strong mistreating the weak? Would he object? If so, on what basis?
20. J. Gresham Machen, Christianity and Liberalism (1923)
A. What does Machen mean by the inerrancy of the Bible? Why is it important to him?
B. How does Machen’s view of inerrancy differ from Fosdick’s?
21. Franklin D. Roosevelt, Speech to the National Council of Catholic Charities (1933)
A. What does Roosevelt mean by social justice? What is the connection between religion and social justice? What does Roosevelt understand to be the roles of government and the churches with regard to social justice?
B. How are Roosevelt’s views of religion and politics different from those expressed by Dixon, Fosdick, and Spencer (as described by Youmans).
22. Martin Luther King, Can a Christian Be a Communist? (1962)
A. How does King portray America in relation to the divine? In what ways does he suggest American religion has failed in regard to Civil Rights? What remedies does he recommend for these failures? How did the religious rhetoric of the Civil Rights Movement affect its ability to dissent from the established political and cultural order? What does King suggest Christians can learn from communism and how should they apply those lessons to America’s ongoing racial, cultural, social, and economic problems?
B. In what ways are King’s views of Christianity and politics and how human beings should treat one another similar to or different from those of Winthrop, Dixon, Fosdick, and Schaeffer?
23. Francis Schaeffer, A Christian Manifesto (1982)
A. What is Schaeffer’s “manifesto” – that is, to what course of action is he calling American Christians? What does Schaeffer mean by “humanism” and why does he see it as such a threat?
B. Is Schaeffer’s understanding of civil disobedience similar to or different from that presented by Mayhew? How would Schaeffer respond to Palmer or Hall?
24. Ronald Reagan, Remarks at the Annual Convention of the National Association of Evangelicals (1983)
A. What is the connection Reagan sees between religion and liberty? What does Reagan mean by secularism? Why does he see it as a threat to America?
B. Is the connection Reagan sees between religion and liberty similar to or different from the view expressed in the Northwest Ordinance and Washington’s Farewell Address?
25. Barack Obama, Address at Cairo University (2009)
A. What is the “new beginning” that Obama sought in Cairo? What is it based on? Is it based on a religious precept or a principle evident to all human beings? Is the “new beginning” more likely to succeed if it is based on one or the other? In his speech, the President said that “freedom in America is indivisible from the freedom to practice one’s religion.” What does this mean?
B. Are Obama’s views of religion most similar to Dixon’s or Fosdick’s? Are Obama’s views of the relationship between religion and freedom similar to those of Henry Ward Beecher or Reagan? If they differ, how do they differ?