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Christopherhays

Why aren’t there many Atheist Republicans?

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15 hours ago, Bhim said:

 

Well Thomas Paine wasn't even a politician, as far as I'm aware. But he was pretty influencial as a thought leader. Two important thoughts here:

 

1.) I wouldn't stipulate that the Constitutional Convention wholly encompasses "the founding," or that it even plays the majority role. Clearly a more general enlightenment thinking was responsible for the revolution and the various state/colony-level institutions of representative democracy which culminated in the Constitution. Also, the original Constitution prior to the Bill of Rights was merely a set of rules concerning governance. The philosophy of invididual liberty that the Constitution presumes clearly predates the document itself.

 

2.) It would be intellectually dishonest for us to deny that the founders lived in a wholly Christian cultural context. Again, this is why I cite Thomas Paine referring to "churches" despite clearly not believing in the Christian god. I would love for several of the founders to explicitly profess belief in deism, but this is far too strict a criterion. I believe it is sufficient to demonstrate that the philosophy espoused by the founders is something that cannot be logically deduced from orthodox, Biblical Christianity.

 

1. The popular idea of "the founding" revolves around the Convention of 1787, though the concept of "the founding" is deliberately vague so it can be inclusive of everything that happened between 1774 and 1800 when it suits someone's argument. And since this is vague, the concept of "the founders" as a group of individuals is equally vague. 

 

2. People can twist the Bible to say anything they want it to say. Millions of people both in the 1780s and today cite verses from the Bible to support American Constitutionalism. I read somewhere that the Book of Deuteronomy was one of, if not the most cited sources for law and governance during the so-called "founding" period. 

 

 

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2 hours ago, Bhim said:

Regarding Deism more generally, I feel that this "faith" is somewhat obsolete in our time. I haven't familiarized myself sufficiently with the writings of the founders or their contemporaries on religion (save for Thomas Paine), so I can't speak to their individual motivations. But it seems that a person might be a Deist if they disagree with the moral teachings of the Christian religion. However, it is still necessary to explain the origin of the universe and human life. As I mentioned earlier, people living in the late 18th century were unaware of modern cosmology, geology, or biological evolution, which provide these explanations. Without a specific alternative, it would be hard for a human mind, raised in a wholly Christian context, to independently come to the conclusion that there is no God. Deism provides this explanation without requiring one to believe in Jesus.

 

Imagine if someone like Thomas Paine had lived in an era when knowledge of the geologic record and of biological evolution was more readily available. Would such a person bother with Deism, when a purely atheistic explanation of human origins is available?

 

Keep in mind that people in France like Denis Diderot embraced atheism as early as the 1750s, so it was not as if this position required 19th-century science in order to be comprehensible, or defensible. Atheism had become fairly mainstream, I believe, among the philosophes in France by the 1790s. 

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     @Bhim @Blood

 

     Here's a passage from "The Faiths of the Founding Fathers" (David Holmes) p.46:



Though technically not a Deist, Edward Herbert, first Lord Herbert of Cherbury, formulated the classic five points of Deism in the seventeenth century. Herbert stated that (1) there is a God; (2) he ought to be worshiped; (3) virtue is the principal element in this worship; (4) humans should repent of their sins; and (5) there is a life after death, where the evil will be punished, and the good rewarded. Herbert's reduction of the essence of religion to these five points as well as his rejection of revelation causes many historians to view him as the forerunner, or father, of the movement.

 

This five-point program is far from atheism. For that reason, Theodore Roosevelt's later description of Paine as "a filthy little atheist" was incorrect. Paine was far more certain of the existence of God than some practicing Jews, Christians, or Muslims may be today. He wrote The Age of Reason as an antidote to the atheism that was sweeping revolutionary France.

          mwc

 

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19 hours ago, mwc said:

     @Bhim @Blood

 

     Here's a passage from "The Faiths of the Founding Fathers" (David Holmes) p.46:

 

 

          mwc

 

 

Thanks. I'm well-aware of Paine's religious views, but since he wasn't present at the 1787 Convention, he is outside the scope of my question. 

 

The Edward Herbert quote I was unaware of. I like that. 

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1 hour ago, Blood said:

 

Thanks. I'm well-aware of Paine's religious views, but since he wasn't present at the 1787 Convention, he is outside the scope of my question. 

 

The Edward Herbert quote I was unaware of. I like that. 

     I posted more in response to what Bhim had said about deism a couple posts back and the tangent that launched.  It wasn't to say that Paine was at the convention.  It helps to shine some light on what folks of the time who engaged in deism likely believed and, that being the case, it also shows that it is different from how we tend to think of deism.  It would seem that, depending on the person and their interpretation, you could wind up with both xian and non-xian deists.  Paine, of course, disliked xianity, so he would be non-xian deist but not atheist as some believed (as was pointed out in what I quoted).

 

          mwc

 

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