Monday, September 10, 2007

Common Reason

As I begin this little project, I suppose it would be a good idea to make a few things clear. My goal is not to enter in to a dialogue with Paine, Hobbes, Jefferson, Washington, or whomever. My goal is to neither prove nor disprove their theories or argue for or against their statements. My goal is, instead, to look at their words and thoughts and place them in context with the grand mythology of a "Christian Nation." Whether or not I agree with them doesn't matter, since my exploration is one of intention. If a Founding Father's philosophy points towards theocracy, then, we can say the intention was for a "Christian Nation" as we're told today. If that philosophy doesn't, then we can only presume the idea is nothing but a fiction. Thereby, it makes sense to begin with Thomas Paine. "I do not believe in the creed professed by the Jewish church, by the Roman church, by the Greek church, by the Turkish church, by the Protestant church, nor by any church that I know of. My own mind is my own church. "All national institutions of churches, whether Jewish, Christian or Turkish, appear to me no other than human inventions, set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolize power and profit." --Thomas Paine, from The Age of Reason Really, I can't figure out a way to state things more succinctly than this. In rejecting the creed of any church, Paine implicitly rejects the idea that a church should hold sway over the human mind. This, in turn, implicitly rejects the "Christian Nation." It shouldn't have to be said, but by rejecting the creed, of the church, he rejects the church. Furthermore, the following though explicitly rejects the notion of the "Christian Nation." Claiming "national institutions of churches" as "set up to terrify and enslave mankind" is pretty damning for the entire enterprise. Thomas Paine was eventually hated for what he wrote in The Age of Reason. From whence, however, did the idea come? Paine was a Deist, a concept that gets thrown around a lot when discussion the Age of Enlightenment and the founding of the United States. It's one of those words that gets tossed around but rarely understood. Deism, it must be understood, started as an attempt to correct perceived stupidity, selfishness, and destructiveness in the Christian church. It basically said that there is a god who was the prime mover of the universe, but once everything came in to being that god disappeared. It was basically Paley's Watchmaker, just conceived of before Paley showed up to articulate the idea. Deism was one step away from atheism. It was also not organized, nor was it believed in by those who wished to start a church. Most Deists, however, weren't interested in replacing religion with Deism, or even atheism. That's because the Deists were the elite and they realized that religion is incredibly useful for maintaining social status. That is, until Thomas Paine showed up and made the idea accessible to the hoi polloi. As far as I can tell, it's that which caused Paine to be rejected by everyone by the time of his death, not the philosophy itself. This ends part of a thought, but takes me back around to the start: Jonathan Miller's "A Brief History of Disbelief." I transcribed the following from a conversation between Jonathan Miller and Arthur Miller that appeared in full on part 3 of "The Atheism Tapes," J. Miller's full-length recording of a half-dozen conversations he had while preparing the series. A. Miller: There are a lot of Americans, I think they're a minority, but they're very vocal, that are really aching for an Ayatollah. I think they would love to have a department of religion. We go back to the early 17th Century perhaps and have a church, an official church, but, they've convinced a lot of people to forget that this country was founded by people who were really escaping the domination of a governmental religion and who breathed freely here with gratitude that they didn't have to obey a church government. J. Miller: But they then became as theocratic as the people they left. A. Miller: It seems to me something that has to be resisted on principle from one generation to the other. At the moment, it's tougher than ever because the government itself is blatantly on the side of an official religion, I think. Arthur Miller, it seems to me, appreciates Thomas Paine's way of looking at the world...

1 comment:

Kelly Reed said...

Yes, we have truly forgotten what Separation of Church and State really is, and Why so many fought and died for it. It makes us yearn for things that are dreams and thus vulnerable to manipulation and creation of the thing we claim to be against.

When I think of America being a "Christian Nation" I don't think of it as an institutionalized church, but the underlying assumptions of existence that formed the foundation of thinking for most Americans at the time. The kind of things that separate American "democracy" from similar attempts in France or India.

Things like the moral freedom & accountability of humanity, like the dignity and rights that all human beings have in common due to the endowment by the Creator. Things like the difference btw. Religious Tolerance (we the gov't will grant you the privilege of recognition so long as it suits us) and Religious Liberty (you have the right of conscience/assembly not because gov't grants it but b/c it recognizes that the right is beyond their power to deny, it is inherent in you as a human being.)

Not every freedom movement had these ideals as a foundation which is why I believe the experiment failed in France (initially) and it can look so different in India.

Does that make sense at all???

Glad to see you're back up and running.

Pursuing Answers to Questions of Faith & Life,