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May 17, 2002

Those annoying Deists

I keep hearing Atheists, Agnostics and Liberal "Christians" claim that our Founding Fathers were all Deists, and that any "religious" stuff they wrote was because they were masons. I thought I'd take the time to address this misconception for a different angle. First of all only a hand full were actually Deists, most were very devout Christians. The angle I wanted to approach this misconception from is how modern day people perceive Deists. Typically we assume by Deists, it is meant more or less like modern day Agnostics, who think there might be a God, but assume he is unknowable, or at least that's the twist they give what's really just plain old fashion apathy.

Lets look at Thomas Paine. I've recently heard people go so far as to call him an atheist. I guess if you call Christians Deists, real Deists would have to be Atheists. In reality not only was he not an Atheist, but his Deism was as different as night and day from modern day Agnosticism. 

Paine should be given credit as one of the great thinker behind the general philosophy of the American form of a Constitutional Democratic Republic (note that Democratic is a adjective, modifying Republic. America has never been a democracy, it is a Republic). On the other hand Sun Yat Tzen is considered as one of the, if not the great thinkers behind the Chinese form of democracy (first mistake they made, attempting a democracy rather than a democratic republic) SunYat Tzen was an atheist, and therefore took a completely naturalistic approach to his philosophy of government and politics. In doing so he was forced to admit that a Democracy is against nature, and is not something that would result from the natural process, but, he implores, it's a good idea and should therefore be accepted.

Paine's argument took a different route. In "The Crisis" he write:

I have as little superstition in me as any man living, but my secret opinion has ever been, and still is, that God Almighty will not give up a people to military destruction, or leave them unsupportedly to perish, who have so earnestly and so repeatedly sought to avoid the calamities of war, by every decent method which wisdom could invent. Neither have I so much of the infidel in me, as to suppose that He has relinquished the government of the world, and given us up to the care of devils; and as I do not, I cannot see on what grounds the king of Britain can look up to heaven for help against us: a common murderer, a highwayman, or a house-breaker, has as good a pretence as he.

So obviously he had no hesitation in acknowledging God's existence, not to mention God's participation in the lives of men. 

In his pamphlet "Common Sense" he uses the following argument against a monarchy as a legitimate form of government:

In short, monarchy and succession have laid (not this or that kingdom only) but the world in blood and ashes. Tis a form of government which the word of God bears testimony against, and blood will attend it.

This of course was after a rather lengthy discourse using quite a bit of scripture as proof of his conclusion. Imagine a modern day Agnostic using scripture as proof of anything other than his own disbelief.

In an appendix to "Common Sense" he addressed the Quakers he wrote:

The Writer of this, is one of those few, who never dishonours religion either by ridiculing, or cavilling at any denomination whatsoever. To God, and not to man, are all men accountable on the score of religion. Wherefore, this epistle is not so properly addressed to you as a religious, but as a political body, dabbling in matters, which the professed Quietude of your Principles instruct you not to meddle with. As you have, without a proper authority for so doing, put yourselves in the place of the whole body of the Quakers, so, the writer of this, in order to be on an equal rank with yourselves, is under the necessity, of putting himself in the place of all those, who, approve the very writings and principles, against which, your testimony is directed: And he hath chosen this singular situation, in order, that you might discover in him that presumption of character which you cannot see in yourselves. For neither he nor you can have any claim or title to political representation.

Not only does he acknowledge God, and God's importance, he also calls the Quakers a political body, equal to himself in the rights of political action. Kinda puts a cramp in all those medern day Liberals who say religion has no place in politics, eh.

It seems to me if those who detest religion, especially any sort of political action on the part of the religious, wanted to find a historical figure to be an icon for their opinions, Paine would be one of the last they should choose. It's obvious that if alive today he would give all religious groups (including the Christian Coalition) the same respect he gave the Quakers.

For a little background, the Quakers opposed any sort of warfare or taking up of arms. Rather than saying they had no right to an opinion or a voice in politics, Paine simply pointed out that they were only part of the those who had a legitimate voice in the decision. A far cry from today's cries of all religious people to be removed from politics. His criticism of the Quakers' participation in the political process was of their own teachings of non-involvement, which he saw as something they violated when they spoke against war, not of any law or ideas common to all that religious people should never be involved in politics.


Posted by Jack Lewis at May 17, 2002 12:46 PM