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Why Is "religion" Important


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This is a hit and run post, time is limited. There's not a political forum so I guess this is the best place for it.

 

Someone, I can't remember who, was wondering why all this religious, spiritual stuff was that important. This, a post I made on another forum, is a partial answer. And since I'm a deist, I was especially gratified to read it. I feel sure the Revolution wouldn't have happened if they had not been sons of the Enlightenment. But I do wonder what would have happened if they had been atheists. No difference, what?

 

(I realize there will be those who think the American experiment has failed, and it may be failing, but only because individual freedom is being slowly surpressed, at our acquiesce. I'm very afraid we may loose for a long time what we've gained.)

 

I'm now reading Faiths of the Founding Fathers by David Holmes, and it's a great piece of advocacy for Deism, at least so far.

 

I've always known that deism was a considerable catalyst for the American Revolution, but Holmes points out in so many words, that it wouldn't have happened without desim and the Enlightenment. I might have thought that was something of an overstatement at one time, but that was before he went into how concurrently the deist founders, particularly from Virgiania, came of age and were influenced by the Enlightenment. If it hadn't been for the Age of Reason, they almost certainly would have continued the traditional relationships between the church and government, and a monarchy we almost had anyway, arguably if Washinton weren't a deist, would have become reality.

 

The point is that reasoned philosophy/religion is inextricably intertwined with politics. The same objective reasoning applied to one must be applied to the other, especially at the place where they overlap--morality. Following what you want to believe in the one, leads you to believe what you want in the other, with disorder or chaos as the result of trying to follow everyone's subjective desires.

 

This is by no means an argument against, rather it is one for, the organizational and legal separation of church and state. The morality reasonably determined by the one, should be reasonably yet independently applied by the other. This in turn should not limit the religious from voicing their individual political opinions in churches or elsewhere, nor government officials from expressing their individual religious opinions.

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One minor nit-pick.

 

I was of the understanding that Washington was actually a Christian of some stripe--though by no means a fundamentalist, and (as with all great figures of the englightenment) much more indulgent of his reason than his faith.

 

I don't really know either way, and it's not something we're like to ever be able to empirically rule on since the individual in question is long dead and there's easily as much myth and legend surrounding his life as truth. I do remember reading once that he attended a Presbyterian (I believe) congregation with his wife, though again whether that was of his own violition or indulgence of her wishes I don't know.

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Washington was nominally a Congregationalist, although he didn't want to impose that belief system on America, and it's unknown exactly what his true beliefs were.

 

Religion is important just like any other powerful force is important. It is a tool, and just like any other tool, it can be used for both good and evil purposes. Like a hammer - on its own, just a "thing", what really matters is what happens when you take it in your hands - do you build a house or bash someone's brains in?

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Er... bit of a historical correction there. Christianity--particularly the populist kind spread by firebrand hell-and-brimstone preachers--played a huge role in the Revolutionary War. Go read Thomas Paine's Common Sense sometime. Most of its arguments are based on the Old Testament. (Thomas Paine later changed his tune, of course, which put him on the outs with... everybody.) It wasn't until a few years after the war was over that cooler heads began to prevail and more Enlightenment-minded men took the reigns. Of course, it was that bunch that wrote the Constitution...

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Yes, there was the Great Awakening in the 1750's, driven in part as a reaction to the Enlightenment, but church religion was still mostly in the cities and patronized by the upper class until the end of the century.

 

As for knowing the private beliefs vs. the public ones of the founders, Holmes does a good job of explaining it. One hundred years ago, John Remsburg wrote a book, 6 Historic Americans, which has been a primary sourcebook for this study (it's online at http://www.infidels.org/library/historical...cans/index.html).

In it, the best evidence for Washington's deism comes from the pastors of the churches he attended. They were much more honest, it appears, than the ones who invented so many stories after Washington's death about his supposed Chrisitanity. He did attend church, but when it came time for communion, he got up and left. When the pastor called him on it, he just stopped coming on communion Sundays. There's been nothing found in Washington's own words about whether he was or wasn't a Christian or a deist.

 

And HadouKen, there were several who participated in the Declaration as well as the Constitutional Convention, or supported it, most notably, Franklin and Washington.

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