Posted by: Blackiswhite, Imperial Consigliere | September 26, 2009

An Honest Discussion, Continued…

I think the real starting point is here:

“I am interested to hear why it is you scoff at the notion that the Constitution is Christian document….”

HP @ 537

 1) Admits that the Constitution incorporates Christian values; and

2) Derives some of its principals from Christian thinking.

Could he elaborate and provide examples?

And then later he says that the Constitution “is derived from Christian values, but also consistent with the values of other religions.”

I’m having some trouble grokking the point you are trying to make here, HP…

Are you implying that some of these Christian values could have been derived from other religions at the time the instrument was authored, or is that an after-the-fact observation by which you imply that because some of these as of yet unidentified Christian values are consistent with those of other religions, and because the document itself made no reference to the values it contained being Christian in origin, they were not intended to be or could not have been Christian?

I’m not trying to be a smartass; it is hard to know how to analyze some of the things you have said without knowing what values you identify as Christian and why.

Alfie @545

I think it might be helpful to the clarity of the discussion to make a distinction between the “Founders/Founding Fathers” and “Framers [of the Constitution]”, because while some of the same people belong to both groups, many more do not.

Founders may most aptly describe the men who signed the Declaration of Independence or who played a prominent role in the Revolutionary War.

Framers would be the men who attended the Constitutional Convention.

Only six of the signers of the Declaration of Independence attended the Constitutional Convention…you could also argue that Washington, and  Hamilton could be included in the dual grouping because of their prominent service during the war.

Having said that, I think the ‘deist’ tag for the Founders and Framers is wildly inaccurate, and I invite you and Gorilla to define for us what you mean when you use the term.


Responses

  1. I think it is pretty fair to say that Jefferson was a Deist, but you run into trouble parsing just what Deist means in that case.

    And Jefferson was the most prominent of the Deists. Most of the other Framers were mainline Protestants as we would recognize the term.

    And pretty obviously the aim of the Framers was not to suppress the Christian faith, but rather avoid the sectarian conflict that had riven the Continent for a couple hundred years, and England as well.

    • Well, the statement has already been made that Jefferson was a deist, although, Gorilla expanded that category to include Washington, Franklin, Madison, Adams, and Paine. Before we call that point “settled”, I’d truly like for the people applying the term to these men to define it for me, because I’m not so settled that it is the correct conclusion to make.

  2. BiW….

    You know, the more I think and research these questions, the more unclear it comes…..

    You (relatively accurately) summarized my earlier points by noting I

    1) Admits that the Constitution incorporates Christian values; and

    2) Derives some of its principals from Christian thinking.

    You then ask for examples…. and that is when it actually becomes difficult… Part of the problem is that the constitution itself says almost nothing about its own conceptual origins. One must then look to other sources – which in turn may conflict and which typically reflect the thinking of only one individual. These other sources also do not have the force of law, so even if some attendee of the constitutional convention was thinking a particular way does not mean that we are required to interpret the constitution in that way.

    I think the Declaration of Independence is perhaps the best non-constitutional document to use because it is somewhat explicit in defining the origins of its concepts and, with multiple signers, at least represents the opinion of more than a single individual.

    Lets start with the concept of rights. Certainly the Declaration states that these rights emanate from a Creator (though curiously it does not of specify the Christian god as the creator). The constitution is (as far as I can tell) is silent on the origin of rights – but it is probably a safe assumption that the origin of rights posited in the Declaration is passed on to the constitution. So, I suspect that is one area in which Christian values are incorporated into the Constitution – but the lineage isn’t exactly clear.

    Lets move to the concept of democratic government. Is this rooted in Christianity? It is a little tough to make that claim because the very government we were revolting against used Christianity as a justification for monarchy – as embodied in the divine right of kings. Democratic self-governance is thus in conflict with an existing interpretation of Christianity. The Declaration again serves as source here – stating that it is the role of government to secure said rights and that the government derives its power from the consent of the governed.

    The Constitution and Declaration are also based on a concept of Natural Law, which in turn has its initial origins with Hobbes. Interpreting Hobbes becomes quite tricky. On the one hand, he seems to posit a Christian god and perhaps derives his political philosophy from that. On the other hand he is a materialist and a mechanistic determinist, which is decidedly an un-Christian concept.

    Perhaps the clearest Christian influence on the constitution is in terms of property rights. Forbidding the government from seizing property without due compensation is a legal statement of “though shall not steal….” However, this is one area in which the constitution is certainly not uniquely Christian. Similar concepts of property rights, and similar admonitions against stealing, are found in all major religions.

    When I said that the Constitution was consistent with other religions I was not meaning to suggest that the framers necessarily had other religions in mind at the time. They had relatively little experience or knowledge of other religions compared to what we have today. There were only about 2000 Jews in the colonies at the time of the revolution – and I suspect the number of Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists would round down to zero.

    Still, it is interesting to note that the establishment clause does not specify Christianity. Gorilla has argued (and I have seen it elsewhere) that the framers were thinking only in terms of Christian sects when they wrote that clause – but you have to admit that the clause contains no specification of Christianity. If you are going to be a strict constructionist I think you are bound by that language and you must assume that it includes all religions and not just Christian sects.

    I am still curious how all of this makes a difference in the end. In particular, how does one view or another have an impact on the constitutionality of any particular law in today’s world?

    That is enough for now….

    — hippieprof

    • You then ask for examples…. and that is when it actually becomes difficult… Part of the problem is that the constitution itself says almost nothing about its own conceptual origins. One must then look to other sources – which in turn may conflict and which typically reflect the thinking of only one individual.

      Except that there are more than enough sources which examine what the Framers themselves had to say on the subject, the events which transpired at the convention, the lineage of the our succession of governing documents themselves, the various state constitutions of that period. If you look at that way, I think you can see around being caught by the thinking of only one individual.

      These other sources also do not have the force of law, so even if some attendee of the constitutional convention was thinking a particular way does not mean that we are required to interpret the constitution in that way.

      You are correct. However, as some legal arguments and rulings are predicated upon the ‘intent of the framers’ (remember our discussion of the Hamiltonian vs. Madisonian interpretation of the ‘General Welfare Clause’?), any analysis that does not try to understand the world the Framers existed in, the predominant political thought of the time as embodied in other documents, and the basis for our legal framework at the time gives short shrift to the very idea of the ‘intent of the framers’ and should be suspect.

      -more later. I have some things to take care of.

  3. Lets start with the concept of rights. Certainly the Declaration states that these rights emanate from a Creator (though curiously it does not of specify the Christian god as the creator). The constitution is (as far as I can tell) is silent on the origin of rights – but it is probably a safe assumption that the origin of rights posited in the Declaration is passed on to the constitution. So, I suspect that is one area in which Christian values are incorporated into the Constitution – but the lineage isn’t exactly clear.

    I agree that The Declaration is also absent a specific reference to Christianity and a Christian God, but given the fact that many of the universities at the time were in fact schools that exisited to train the Christian clergy, and that looking at the other foundational documents that served as examples, such as the Mayflower Compact, and the various state constitutions which did cite God and his providence, and the lack of other religions present to present an alternate prism through which to view the world, it would seem silly to say that they didn’t consciously or unconsciously have Christian precepts in mind when they drafted it. In fact, parts of the Federalist Papers refer to the lack of any religious qualification for office as a safeguard against the divisions that would arise from conflict between the sects. This wasn’t an unusual concern as one of the chief motivations in immgrating from England to here was freedom of worship. However, while it is not unfair to say that the thirteen colonies were Christian in character and culture, they were not homogenous in the brand of Christianity to which they prescribed, and in some cases, had favored one sect to the exclusion of others.

    Even the Articles of Confederation gave a nod to God

    “And Whereas it hath pleased the Great Governor of the World to incline the hearts of the legislatures we respectively represent in Congress, to approve of, and to authorize us to ratify the said Articles of Confederation and perpetual Union.”

    And in the list of reasons why the Consititutional Convention saw fit to replace, rather than repair the Articles, the need to recognize God was not listed among them, not in the private papers of the framers, and not in the Federalist Papers, in which the authors and strongest proponents made their sales pitch to the American people for ratification.
    Based on this evidence, it is hard to come to any conclusion other than the idea that the framers were trying to prevent needless sectarian conflict between the different camps of Christianity.

    Still, it is interesting to note that the establishment clause does not specify Christianity. Gorilla has argued (and I have seen it elsewhere) that the framers were thinking only in terms of Christian sects when they wrote that clause – but you have to admit that the clause contains no specification of Christianity. If you are going to be a strict constructionist I think you are bound by that language and you must assume that it includes all religions and not just Christian sects.

    Again, based on the historical evidence, I don’t think the framers and the founders could seriously countenance a time when Christianity would ever share a noticable portion of the people’s faith, or that such a thing would be good for the country. Even so, while it is one thing to strictly construe the language and apply it neutrally, it is another thing altogether to take a line from the private correspondence of a brilliant man who was not present at the convention, and make it the basis for a series of court rulings that do not neutrally apply the Establishment Clause, but instead pursue the public practice of Christianity with unusual zeal.

    I am still curious how all of this makes a difference in the end. In particular, how does one view or another have an impact on the constitutionality of any particular law in today’s world?

    Now you’ve wandered into the mire of a particular philosophy of law question that I have been struggling with for awhile.

    If you accept the premise that our law is the product of judeo-christian philophies, then you also have to conclude that as such, it is a reflection of judeo-christian morals. So if you have a society with this basis, and you have a legal system that is being used to continually push the underlying religion and practice thereof out of the public square and consciousness, then what happens?

    Do laws that were designed to make society function a certain way still have the same impact? Does society still function in the manner expected? Or do you find that the more you separate the reasons underlying the law from the public discourse and consciousness, the easier it is to conclude that the law is no longer relevant, or perhaps even discriminatory, and you replace it with something that meets new subjective benchmarks for equality? Is it easier to do this as you separate the moral component from the letter of the law? Does a society do this to avoid the judgment of a moral code it wishes to invalidate or soften up? If we find it easy to change the law as we continue to push the teaching and practice of the source for the ‘old’ moral code away, are we still a nation of laws, or do we become a nation of men, with laws subjected to the whims of the human heart, which that moral code teaches is inherently wicked and destructive when left unrestrained?

    But then, maybe that’s just me, pondering some of the things I have had occaision to witness “on the inside”, and things I have read in the words of some of these wise men.

  4. BiW – before I respond to the larger post can you clarify what you mean by the passage below? What “line from the private correspondence” of what “brilliant man” are you referring to?

    Even so, while it is one thing to strictly construe the language and apply it neutrally, it is another thing altogether to take a line from the private correspondence of a brilliant man who was not present at the convention, and make it the basis for a series of court rulings that do not neutrally apply the Establishment Clause, but instead pursue the public practice of Christianity with unusual zeal.

  5. He’s referring to the line “… separation of Church and State.”

  6. At BiW’s request, re: parsing the Deism of Jefferson, et al.

    It’s clear that the vast, vast majority of the population at the time of the founding was Christian. Even Jefferson was nominally a Christian, but he was adamant about avoiding the sectarian issues that had plagued Europe.

    Did Jefferson believe in the Trinity? Was his Creator the God of Abraham? I can’t say I’ve delved too much into those waters, but there’s any number of levels we could posit.

    Was it a deeply felt conviction that there was one true God, Creator of the Universe?

    Was it just a nod to the conventions of the day that demanded fealty to the Christian God?

    I don’t know. And it is awfully hard to attempt with any clarity to judge just how faithful any man is.

    But that doesn’t stop all sorts of folks, on all sides of the issue, from claiming to know.

  7. What “line from the private correspondence” of what “brilliant man” are you referring to?

    Brad nailed it. Jefferson’s line to the Danbury Baptists about a separation of church and state.

  8. Fair enough, Brad. And it was where I thought you were going with it, but its nice to have these things clarified.

    As far as defining ‘deism’ goes, as with all things I do not feel 100% sure of, I started with my Webster’s Encylopedic Dictionary of the English Language, (which is always a challenge, because I have to get into my forklift to pick it up, and set it on something so I can open it…) and looked it up;

    1. belief in the existence of a God on the evidence of reason and nature only, with the rejection of supernatural revelation;

    2. belief in a God who created the world but has since remained indifferent.

    Then I opened my copy of ‘The Christian Character of the Civil Institutions of the United States’, and read some of the things Jefferson actually said.

    (to be continued…)

  9. Brad & BiW – thanks for the clarification on Jefferson and the Danbury Baptists. As I have said before, I am a rank amateur at all of this – and though I was aware that Jefferson was credited with advocating for separation of church and state, I couldn’t have told you where that idea originated.

    I am still a bit confused though – you seem to be implying that the particular quote from Jefferson is the only reference to the concept. I had thought that others (Madison in particular?) also advocated for that separation? I remember reading this fairly recently but of course I can’t place my finger on it now.

    — hp

  10. I am still a bit confused though – you seem to be implying that the particular quote from Jefferson is the only reference to the concept. I had thought that others (Madison in particular?) also advocated for that separation? I remember reading this fairly recently but of course I can’t place my finger on it now.

    Madison saw to it that the Constitution specifically did not require subscription to any religion to be a requirement to hold office.

    The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the members of the several state legislatures, and all executive and judicial officers, both of the United States and of the several states, shall be bound by oath or affirmation, to support this Constitution;but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.

    • BiW – what I am thinking of is more that just that – it was something to the effect that religion and government both flourish best when kept separate. I have done lot of constitution-related reading in the last week – I will try to remember where I saw it.

      — hp

  11. BiW –

    Here is part of what I am talking about from Madison. This is in the context of a specific bill in Virginia – but as you can see he very strongly advocates for separation on broad philosophical grounds.

    http://press-pubs.uchicago.edu/founders/documents/amendI_religions43.html

    There is also some stuff in his private writings, I think – I will have to run those down.

    — hp

  12. Oh Oh!

    Just noticed this in the Madison document I just posted –

    Who does not see that the same authority which can establish Christianity, in exclusion of all other Religions, may establish with the same ease any particular sect of Christians, in exclusion of all other Sects?

    I certainly read this to indicate that Madison is talking about establishment of any religion (Christian or otherwise) and is not merely talking about differing Christian sects….

  13. hp, I think it would be a stretch to imagine the Founders had in mind providing the religious freedom for Muslims or Bhuddists (they managed to tolerate Jews, but not by much).

    Having said that, I don’t think any of us, or any serious voice in politics today, is calling for the exclusion of any religion in the public sphere. But it is hard not to notice that there is a hostility to Christianity in many aspects of life that could be interpreted as infringing on our freedoms.

  14. Brad – you may be correct – though I just noticed this interesting item in the Madison piece I noted earlier….

    “12. Because the policy of the Bill is adverse to the diffusion of the light of Christianity. The first wish of those who enjoy this precious gift ought to be that it may be imparted to the whole race of mankind. Compare the number of those who have as yet received it with the number still remaining under the dominion of false Religions; and how small is the former! Does the policy of the Bill tend to lessen the disproportion? No; it at once discourages those who are strangers to the light of revelation from coming into the Region of it; ”

    It seems that he is arguing against religious restrictions in order that we might attract “false” religions – so that we might in turn convert them. It is almost a reverse missionary concept.

    😉

    — hp

  15. I just found this- I’m such a slacker!

    Just a quick echo on Brad’s comments, I think he makes an excellent point here- the hostility towards Christianity is significant.

    No one is calling for the exclusion of other faiths (again an echo of Brad), but just the acceptance of our fundamental philosophy. By accepting this, I think it clarifies a lot of the legal ambiguity that is applied- right or wrong- to the founding documents and the Constitution in particular.

  16. http://citizentom.com/2008/09/10/deism-and-the-founding-fathers/

    Linked is a blog I stumbled upon looking at the very question of diesm and the founders. I think it makes some pretty strong cases (sourced) for Jefferson and Franklin as well as Paine. As for Washington, well, one can only surmise.

    I think a couple points are important in context for the founders. One reason people came to the new world was to escape religious persecution, this was between differing sects of Christianity, so it is sound to think that this philosophy would be carried through the generations. Secondly, you had a group of men heavily focused on the exercise of reason and particularly focused on the reason of man. Finally, there was their focus of the sciences.

    So, we have a society, based in part on the tribulations of religious dogma, a heavy study on the natural sciences and an emphasis on reason- all essential elements of diesm.

  17. HP- pulled the document you cite, along with a few related items, had a chance to read them and still digesting…will have some comment and citations soon.

    Gorilla- will check link today, and try to address in the next day or so, but do the definitions I cited for deism track with your understanding of it?

  18. Gorilla said No one is calling for the exclusion of other faiths (again an echo of Brad), but just the acceptance of our fundamental philosophy. By accepting this, I think it clarifies a lot of the legal ambiguity that is applied- right or wrong- to the founding documents and the Constitution in particular.

    OK – I will accept that.

    Brad mentioned that Christians feel that freedoms are being infringed upon…. so I need to know what this means. I think the issue now becomes “what constitutes establishment?” I would claim, for example, that using public money to erect is Nativity scene is de fact establishment. This does not mean I have anything against religious freedom or Nativity scenes or Christians or anything else. It simply means that such activities should be loft to private citizens and not the government.

    Thoughts?

    — hp

  19. BiW, I believe you are correct in your definitions.

    Wiki provides this, which is essentially what I believe:

    Deism is a religious and philosophical belief that a supreme being created the universe, and that this (and religious truth in general) can be determined using reason and observation of the natural world alone, without a need for either faith or organized religion. Deists tend to, but do not necessarily, reject the notion of divine interventions in human affairs, such as by miracles and revelations. These views contrast with a dependence on revelations, miracles, and faith found in many Judeo-Christian, Islamic and other theistic teachings.

    Deists typically reject most supernatural events (prophecy, miracles) and tend to assert that God (or “The Supreme Architect”) has a plan for the universe that is not altered either by God intervening in the affairs of human life or by suspending the natural laws of the universe. What organized religions see as divine revelation and holy books, most deists see as interpretations made by other humans, rather than as authoritative sources.” — http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deism

    From the same Wiki page, “Deism became prominent in the 17th and 18th centuries during the Age of Enlightenment, especially in what is now the United Kingdom, France, United States and Ireland, mostly among those raised as Christians who found they could not believe in either a triune God, the divinity of Jesus, miracles, or the inerrancy of scriptures, but who did believe in one god.

    When I put this all together, in context with who the founders were (read Free Masons) and what Diesm is, then I think it makes a lot more sense. Jefferson and Franklin were certainly Enlightenment thinkers, so this soldifies for me there somewhat cryptic comments about their personal beliefs.

    I think it also clarifies the Danbury comment by Jefferson. If we accept the Diest influence- particularly in Jefferson- then the context of this statement on diesm, “What organized religions see as divine revelation and holy books, most deists see as interpretations made by other humans, rather than as authoritative sources” makes perfect sense. The Framers were working towards creating a document that would be a gaurd on the government, and likely (my assumption) viewed religion as a trojan horse to that effect.

    • Gorilla said Wiki provides this, which is essentially what I believe

      Very interesting post….

      I am curious – when you say “essentially what I believe” are you referring to your personal religious beliefs or your beliefs about what constitutes deism?

      If you mean the former – saying essentially that you are a deist in your own beliefs – I find it very interesting.

      I have said in other places that I am essentially an agnostic in the honest sense (as opposed to the chickenshit sense). I don’t see a lot of “divine evidence” for a god, but I certainly believe that there is enough mystery in the universe to accommodate some sort of a god. I just can’t believe in the type of god described by a strict interpretation of the bible. Going by your definition, that would probably but me pretty close to deism.

      — hp

  20. Thank you for helping to clarify that, Gorilla.

    However, if we have agreed on a definition of deism, then I have to propose that Jefferson was not a deist, or if he was, he wasn’t a good one.

    “I shall need the favor of the Being in whose hands we are, who lead our fathers, as Israel of old, from their native land, and planted them in a Country flowing with the necessaries and Comforts of life; who has covered our infancy with his providence, and our riper years with his wisdom and power; and to whose goodness I ask you to join with me in supplecations that he will enlighten the minds of your servants, guide their counsels, and prosper their measures, that whatsoever they do shall result in your good and shall secure you the friendship and approbation of all nations.”–Thomas Jefferson, from his first message as President

    Now maybe its just me, but that does not sound like a person who “believes in a God who created the world but has since remained indifferent.” He is stating he needs the favor of the Creator, he notes the Creator’s providence, he’s asking for supplications to this Creator so that we might have him guide our decision making. Now maybe its just me, but that doesn’t sound like someone who “tends to assert that God has a plan for the universe that is not altered either by God intervening in the affairs of human life .”

    I’ll concede that Paine was a deist.

    As for Franklin:

    Your desire to know something of my religion. Here is my creed. I believe in one God, the Creator of the universe. That he governs it by his Providence. That he ought to be worshipped. That the most acceptable service we render him is in doing good to his other children. That the soul of man is immortal, and will be treated with justice in another life respecting its conduct in this. As to Jesus of Nazareth, ny opinion of whom you particularly desire, I think the system of morals, and his religion, as he left them to us, is the best the world ever saw or is likely to see. I apprehend it has recieved various corrupting changes; and I have, with most of the present dissenters in England, some doubt as to his divinity, though it is a question I do not dogmatize upon, having never studied it, and think it needless to busy myself with it now, when I will soon have an opportunity of knowing the truth, with less trouble. I see no harm, however, in it being believed, if that belief has the good consequence, as probably it has, of making his docrtines more respected and observed, especially as I do not perceive that the Supreme takes it amiss, by distinguishing the believers in his government of the world with any particular marks of his displeasure. I shall only add, respecting myself, that, having experienced the goodness of that Being in conducting me prosperously through a long life, I have no doubt of its continuance in the next, though without the smallest conceit of meriting such goodness. My sentiments on the subject you will see in the copy of an old letter enclosed, which I wrote in answer to an old religionist [The Reverend George Whitefield] whom I had relieved in a paralytic case by electricity, and who, beling afraid I should grow proud upon it, sent me his serious though rather impertinent caution. With great and sincere esteem and affection, I am & c., Benjamin Franklin.—Letter to Dr. Stiles, President of Yale College, 1790

  21. HP-

    Those are my personal beliefs. I look at religion through two prisms, one of the individual and the other as an institution. On a personal level, I think religion is important in that it provides a structure for introspection. As an institution, I see it as a means to control the population. Obviously, the later is a bit extreme, but I’ve been dealing with religious extremism (Islamists) for many years now, and history supports this premise I think.

    BiW-

    I would argue that it is not a disqualifier. These are my opinions, so take them with a grain of salt, but consider this- I think that religious tolerance is inversely proportional to religious ritual. In other words, the more rigid and ritualistic a religion is, the less tolerant it is. I mention this because I think that it defines the left and right limits of belief a bit. Deism is very unstructured, so the spectrum of individual belief in God is much more broad. I don’t think that Christianity and Deism are incompatible in the sense of belief in God- or even the divinity of Jesus- but the structure of Christianity as it revolves around the Bible, and particularly the Roman Catholic Church, is an issue. Consider how many revisions have been done of the Bible, or even the Bible’s initial formation.

    There are at least 36 different authors, who wrote in three continents, in many countries, in three languages, and from every possible human standpoint. Among these authors were kings, farmers, mechanics, scientific men, lawyers, generals, fishermen, ministers, and priests, a tax-collector, a doctor, some rich, some poor, some city bred, some country born – thus touching all the experiences of men – extending over 1500 years.” Smith’s Bible Dictionary,” Revised and edited by F.N. and M.A. Peloubet, Thomas Nelson Publishers, p. 91

    For some reading on the canonization of the Bible, check this site http://freethought.mbdojo.com/canon.html out- very interesting.

    As for the Catholic Church, history has documented well the political manipulations that the Church has engaged in to grow its influence, congregations and its wealth. The Protestant offshoots differ- as far as I’m concerned- only in their level of success as compared to the Roman Catholic Church.

    So, with regards to Jefferson, I believe him to be a Deist and a Christian, with his issue being not the divinity of Christ per se but rather the legitimacy of the Church- both Protestant and Catholic.

    I should proceed to a view of the life, character, and doctrines of Jesus, who sensible of incorrectness of their ideas of the Deity, and of morality, endeavored to bring them to the principles of a pure deism, and juster notions of the attributes of God, to reform their moral doctrines to the standard of reason, justice and philanthropy, and to inculcate the belief of a future state. This view would purposely omit the question of his divinity, and even his inspiration. To do him justice, it would be necessary to remark the disadvantages his doctrines had to encounter, not having been committed to writing by himself, but by the most unlettered of men, by memory, long after they had heard them from him ; when much was forgotten, much misunderstood, and presented in every paradoxical shape. Yet such are the fragments remaining as to show a master workman, and that his system of morality was the most benevolent and sublime probably that has been ever taught, and consequently more perfect than those of any of the ancient philosophers. His character and doctrines have received still greater injury from those who pretend to be his special disciples, and who have disfigured and sophisticated his actions and precepts, from views of personal interest, so as to induce the unthinking part of mankind to throw off the whole system in disgust, and to pass sentence as an impostor on the most innocent, the most benevolent, the most eloquent and sublime character that ever has been exhibited to man. ” Thomas Jefferson Letter to Priestley http://www.yamaguchy.netfirms.com/7897401/jefferson/1803.html

    In summary, then, Jefferson was a deist because he believed in one God, in divine providence, in the divine moral law, and in rewards and punishments after death; but did not believe in supernatural revelation. He was a Christian deist because he saw Christianity as the highest expression of natural religion and Jesus as an incomparably great moral teacher. He was not an orthodox Christian because he rejected, among other things, the doctrines that Jesus was the promised Messiah and the incarnate Son of God. Jefferson’s religion is fairly typical of the American form of deism in his day.” Avery Dulles, “The Deist Minimum”, First Things: A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life Issue: 149. (January 2005), pp 25+

    Millions of innocent men, women and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burned, tortured, fined and imprisoned. What has been the effect of this coercion? To make one half the world fools and the other half hypocrites; to support roguery and error all over the earth… Our sister states of Pennsylvania and New York, however, have long subsisted without any establishment at all. The experiment was new and doubtful when they made it. It has answered beyond conception. They flourish infinitely. Religion is well supported; of various kinds, indeed, but all good enough; all sufficient to preserve peace and order: or if a sect arises, whose tenets would subvert morals, good sense has fair play, and reasons and laughs it out of doors, without suffering the state to be troubled with it. They do not hang more malefactors than we do. They are not more disturbed with religious dissensions. On the contrary, their harmony is unparalleled, and can be ascribed to nothing but their unbounded tolerance, because there is no other circumstance in which they differ from every nation on earth. They have made the happy discovery, that the way to silence religious disputes, is to take no notice of them. Let us too give this experiment fair play, and get rid, while we may, of those tyrannical laws. ” Thomas Jefferson http://www.lva.virginia.gov/lib-edu/education/psd/colony/tjnotes.htm

    Fix reason firmly in her seat, and call to her tribunal every fact, every opinion. Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blindfolded fear. You will naturally examine first, the religion of your own country. Read the Bible, then as you would read Livy or Tacitus. The facts which are within the ordinary course of nature, you will believe on the authority of the writer, as you do those of the same kind in Livy & Tacitus. The testimony of the writer weighs in their favor, in one scale, and their not being against the laws of nature, does not weigh against them. But those facts in the Bible which contradict the laws of nature, must be examined with more care, and under a variety of faces. Here you must recur to the pretensions of the writer to inspiration from God.” Thomas Jefferson http://www.stephenjaygould.org/ctrl/jefferson_carr.html

  22. I’m not sure this posted earlier, so here it is again…

    HP-

    Those are my personal beliefs. I look at religion through two prisms, one of the individual and the other as an institution. On a personal level, I think religion is important in that it provides a structure for introspection. As an institution, I see it as a means to control the population. Obviously, the later is a bit extreme, but I’ve been dealing with religious extremism (Islamists) for many years now, and history supports this premise I think.

    BiW-

    I would argue that it is not a disqualifier. These are my opinions, so take them with a grain of salt, but consider this- I think that religious tolerance is inversely proportional to religious ritual. In other words, the more rigid and ritualistic a religion is, the less tolerant it is. I mention this because I think that it defines the left and right limits of belief a bit. Deism is very unstructured, so the spectrum of individual belief in God is much more broad. I don’t think that Christianity and Deism are incompatible in the sense of belief in God- or even the divinity of Jesus- but the structure of Christianity as it revolves around the Bible, and particularly the Roman Catholic Church, is an issue. Consider how many revisions have been done of the Bible, or even the Bible’s initial formation.

    There are at least 36 different authors, who wrote in three continents, in many countries, in three languages, and from every possible human standpoint. Among these authors were kings, farmers, mechanics, scientific men, lawyers, generals, fishermen, ministers, and priests, a tax-collector, a doctor, some rich, some poor, some city bred, some country born – thus touching all the experiences of men – extending over 1500 years.” Smith’s Bible Dictionary,” Revised and edited by F.N. and M.A. Peloubet, Thomas Nelson Publishers, p. 91

    For some reading on the canonization of the Bible, check this site http://freethought.mbdojo.com/canon.html out- very interesting.

    As for the Catholic Church, history has documented well the political manipulations that the Church has engaged in to grow its influence, congregations and its wealth. The Protestant offshoots differ- as far as I’m concerned- only in their level of success as compared to the Roman Catholic Church.

    So, with regards to Jefferson, I believe him to be a Deist and a Christian, with his issue being not the divinity of Christ per se but rather the legitimacy of the Church- both Protestant and Catholic.

    I should proceed to a view of the life, character, and doctrines of Jesus, who sensible of incorrectness of their ideas of the Deity, and of morality, endeavored to bring them to the principles of a pure deism, and juster notions of the attributes of God, to reform their moral doctrines to the standard of reason, justice and philanthropy, and to inculcate the belief of a future state. This view would purposely omit the question of his divinity, and even his inspiration. To do him justice, it would be necessary to remark the disadvantages his doctrines had to encounter, not having been committed to writing by himself, but by the most unlettered of men, by memory, long after they had heard them from him ; when much was forgotten, much misunderstood, and presented in every paradoxical shape. Yet such are the fragments remaining as to show a master workman, and that his system of morality was the most benevolent and sublime probably that has been ever taught, and consequently more perfect than those of any of the ancient philosophers. His character and doctrines have received still greater injury from those who pretend to be his special disciples, and who have disfigured and sophisticated his actions and precepts, from views of personal interest, so as to induce the unthinking part of mankind to throw off the whole system in disgust, and to pass sentence as an impostor on the most innocent, the most benevolent, the most eloquent and sublime character that ever has been exhibited to man. ” Thomas Jefferson Letter to Priestley http://www.yamaguchy.netfirms.com/7897401/jefferson/1803.html

    In summary, then, Jefferson was a deist because he believed in one God, in divine providence, in the divine moral law, and in rewards and punishments after death; but did not believe in supernatural revelation. He was a Christian deist because he saw Christianity as the highest expression of natural religion and Jesus as an incomparably great moral teacher. He was not an orthodox Christian because he rejected, among other things, the doctrines that Jesus was the promised Messiah and the incarnate Son of God. Jefferson’s religion is fairly typical of the American form of deism in his day.” Avery Dulles, “The Deist Minimum”, First Things: A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life Issue: 149. (January 2005), pp 25+

    Millions of innocent men, women and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burned, tortured, fined and imprisoned. What has been the effect of this coercion? To make one half the world fools and the other half hypocrites; to support roguery and error all over the earth… Our sister states of Pennsylvania and New York, however, have long subsisted without any establishment at all. The experiment was new and doubtful when they made it. It has answered beyond conception. They flourish infinitely. Religion is well supported; of various kinds, indeed, but all good enough; all sufficient to preserve peace and order: or if a sect arises, whose tenets would subvert morals, good sense has fair play, and reasons and laughs it out of doors, without suffering the state to be troubled with it. They do not hang more malefactors than we do. They are not more disturbed with religious dissensions. On the contrary, their harmony is unparalleled, and can be ascribed to nothing but their unbounded tolerance, because there is no other circumstance in which they differ from every nation on earth. They have made the happy discovery, that the way to silence religious disputes, is to take no notice of them. Let us too give this experiment fair play, and get rid, while we may, of those tyrannical laws. ” Thomas Jefferson http://www.lva.virginia.gov/lib-edu/education/psd/colony/tjnotes.htm

    Fix reason firmly in her seat, and call to her tribunal every fact, every opinion. Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blindfolded fear. You will naturally examine first, the religion of your own country. Read the Bible, then as you would read Livy or Tacitus. The facts which are within the ordinary course of nature, you will believe on the authority of the writer, as you do those of the same kind in Livy & Tacitus. The testimony of the writer weighs in their favor, in one scale, and their not being against the laws of nature, does not weigh against them. But those facts in the Bible which contradict the laws of nature, must be examined with more care, and under a variety of faces. Here you must recur to the pretensions of the writer to inspiration from God.” Thomas Jefferson http://www.stephenjaygould.org/ctrl/jefferson_carr.html

  23. I left a long post and its not showing up… Man, tell me I don’t have to type that again…

  24. […] A few months back, I participated in a discussion with a few other people at another site regarding whether or not the Constitution is a Christian document. To my surprise, the one person in the discussion who I thought would object to the idea actually […]


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