From: email@example.com (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 "firstname.lastname@example.org" 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
> 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 \ ^ /
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"Crucifixes are sexy because there's a naked man on them" -- Madonna