Sunday, July 29, 2007
Isaac Newton's anti-Trinitarianism in the news.
I planned to ignore Boston Globe op-ed columnist Jeff Jacoby's wildly anachronistic paean to Isaac Newton, whom he tried to offer as a poster boy for Intelligent Design advocates. But the letters to the editor in response to Jacoby bring up a peculiarity he failed to note: Newton was no poster boy for the "fundamentalists" of his day, and may not be an ideal paragon for religious conservatives today, either. MIT professor and Newton scholar Thomas Levenson calls attention to Newton's anti-Trinitarianism, for example:
Isaac Newton was no Christian in any orthodox sense, and his heretical views could have cost him dearly. During his Cambridge University years, Newton denied the divinity of the Trinity and the co-equal status of Jesus with God the Father. Newton kept quiet about his growing commitment to this Arian heresy, but even so it nearly lost him his job. . . .
Newton's religious and scientific views were both deeply embedded in the great issues of his time, now three centuries gone. Jeff Jacoby's attempt to give cover to his own views on science and religion today by invoking Newton as a kind of patron saint fails on many counts, including the fact that while Newton's specific religious beliefs are under challenge now, they were then, too.
("Isaac Newton, in his time — and ours," Thomas Levenson (second letter), Boston Globe 7.28.07; earlier: "A teacher with faith and reason," Jeff Jacoby [op-ed], Boston Globe 7.22.07; related: "Newton's views on the corruptions of scripture and the church," The Newton Project)
P.S. While I'm mentioning anachronisms, I'd also like to suggest that anti-Trinitarianism may actually be anachronistic in contemporary North American Unitarian Universalism, too. It has seemed to me that the real importance of Arianism, Socinianism, and other forms of unitarian Christology in the early modern period was not their arguments against Chalcedonian doctrines of Christ's dual nature and the Trinity, rather that they introduced and developed liberal forms of interpreting scripture and tradition: They insisted on experiential and/or rational evidence beyond appeals to orthodox authority. It's the nascent liberalism of the anti-Trinitarians, not their particular doctrinal conclusions, that should matter to us. And as contemporary interpretations of the Trinity have emerged in the broader Christian world — interpretations that UUs tend to ignore entirely — our old-fashioned critiques can become anachronistic and even atavistic.
You might say that unitarianism has become dogmatic for us — the Trinity being something that a "good" UU simply cannot believe in because we are, by default, anti-Trinitarians. I'd suggest instead that UUs celebrate theological liberalism as a method rather than as a set of theological conclusions.
Copyright © 2007 by Philocrites | Posted 29 July 2007 at 8:20 AM