Subject: Religion and America's Founding Fathers (Re: Re^2: Fundy juries) Date: 3 May 90 0

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From: loren@tristan.llnl.gov (Loren Petrich) Subject: Religion and America's Founding Fathers (Re: Re^2: Fundy juries) Date: 3 May 90 01:57:18 GMT I think that "btiffany@pbs.uucp" has been unfair to Thomas Jefferson and some others of our Founding Fathers. Jefferson was a sort of Unitarian/Deist; he believed that the Universe had a creator/designer, but he believed that Jesus Christ was a great man, yet still a man. He even came up with the "Jefferson Bible", a life of Jesus composed from the four Gospels, from which all the miracles had been edited out. This peculiar rationalist bowdlerization was never published during Jefferson's lifetime; he had been repeatedly attacked for his unorthodox religious views, and he didn't want to stick his neck out any further. So be careful in judging him from what he did in public. In private, he stated that he was sure that the virgin birth of Jesus Christ would someday be regarded on the level of the birth of Athena (fully grown -- and clothed in her favorite outfit, a suit of armor) from the head of Zeus, for example. Thomas Paine, who had wrote the "Common Sense" pamphlets and wanted the Declaration of Independence to condemn slavery, had beliefs similar to Jefferson. Though he believed that the Universe had a creator/designer, he believed that said being had had NOTHING to do with the Bible, which he severely criticized on a variety of grounds, pointing out numerous contradictions and discrepancies, as well as an abundance of things that one would consider very wicked. He published his views in the "Age of Reason" (certainly not "Faith"), and was blasted by the clergy. One of them conceded that parts of the first five books were not written by Moses (he's always in the third person, and Deuteronomy refers to his death) and some of the Psalms were not written by David (Psalm 137 describes the misery of being in exile in Babylon, something that happened well after David's reign). For that, he got in deep trouble with his church. Another clergyman was indignant at Paine's interpretation of the selective massacre of the Midianites, in which the men and the married women were to be killed, but not the unmarried women who have never gone to bed with any man. They were not turned into concubines at all, but into slaves, something to which there could be no moral objection. All in all, the "Age of Reason" was one of my predecessors in the fine art of collecting "Satanic Verses". George Washington spoke of a vague "Providence", but avoided mention of Jesus Christ or the Bible, or even the word "God". He may not quite have been a Deist, but he was probably close. And where did the idea of democracy come from? Where the word itself came from -- ancient Greece. Though ancient Greek "democracy" was imperfect -- slaves and women had no votes, for example -- the ideal was still there. (Check out I.F. Stone's _The Trial of Socrates_ for an interesting view of the subject) There is no mention of democracy _anywhere_ in the Bible. Indeed, the only theory of government mentioned is the Divine Right of Kings. The supporters of absolute monarchy of a couple centuries back had certainly had the Bible on their side. Citing the examples of Solzhenitsyn and Martin Luther King in favor of Christianity is interesting. But there is more to be said. King had been inspired by Mohandas Gandhi, a Hindu, who had followed Jesus Christ's ideal of turning the other cheek much better than the vast majority of those who consider themselves Christians (who would probably laugh that teaching away if it appeared outside the Bible). And let us not forget that King's opponents also considered themselves Christians, and that they considered racial segregation a "fundamental Christian principle of morality". Solzhenitsyn? Though he has done valuable work on Stalin's persecutions, he seems to hanker for a Tsar-like leader. Somehow, I suspect that the authoritarian government that he craves will have exactly the vices that he complains about in Communists. For example, he liked dictator Francisco Franco of Spain. >> What I do not accept is that belief in a Christian God is necessary to >>have a moral people. I agree. The large numbers of virtuous non-Christians is convincing evidence. Consider that Christianity has been around only for the last 2000 years, while our species has been around for about 150,000 -- 200,000 years. If humanity is so fundamentally depraved that we could not be virtuous unless we believed that traditional Christian dogma is ABSOLUTE TRUTH, then humanity would have gone extinct long ago. Our existence almost certainly disproves that claim. And how many self-proclaimed Christians have not been "true Christians"? > > Here is where our fundamental disagreement is. There are basically >two views of man: (1) as fallen, sinful, in need of God's redemption, and >(2) as basically good, perfectable. You spoke of replacing faith in God >with a "humanistic faith", a faith in humanity. That is, of course, the >only alternative: faith in a higher God, or faith in ourselves as god(s). >Your statement implies that man is good, and can be his own savior (If we >could just get our act together! Don't hold your breath ...). There is a third theory, the elitist theory, that states that the vast majority of people are incapable of handling their own affairs, and that it is up to some appropriate elite with the appropriate knowledge to do this handling. In practice, theory (1) reduces to this theory, with the clergy as the elite, since it is the clergy who has the most detailed knowledge of God (at least, so they assure us). Interestingly, Communism, though having (2) as an ideal, follows the elitist theory to the letter -- it is the Communist Party that knows what's best for humanity, at least according to Communists. As to "if there was no God, there would be no rights or law" -- I think that that is naive. Why is God supposed to be obeyed? What if he ought to be disobeyed? After all, if the Universe has a creator, then said being might be a very wicked being, by our standards, or (as I sometimes suspect) a being that regards humanity the same way I regarded pillbugs in my childhood -- something interesting and amusing. For my part, I think that the idea of "rights" is a convenient legal fiction. It is also a concept totally absent from the Bible. ^ Loren Petrich, the Master Blaster \ ^ / loren@sunlight.llnl.gov \ ^ / One may need to route through any of: \^/ <<<<<<<<+>>>>>>>> lll-lcc.llnl.gov /v\ lll-crg.llnl.gov / v \ star.stanford.edu / v \ v "Crucifixes are sexy because there's a naked man on them" -- Madonna

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