Freethinkers, Deists, Atheists

Discussion in 'Politics' started by D_Ireonsyd_Colonrinse, Nov 18, 2009.

  1. D_Ireonsyd_Colonrinse

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    Many of our Founding Fathers considered themselves men of the Enlightenment.

    Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and Thomas Paine (and to a lesser degree, George Washington, John Adams, and Ben Franklin) were "freethinkers" or Deists. Evangelicals at the time called the Deists and freethinkers "atheists" (or "filthy dirty atheists!"... pretty much as they do today) because deists believed in the primacy of human reason and observation of the natural world - not on God or gods.

    Deists may believe in a general "God" (or the vague "Providence"), but it's not a personal God. There was not an omnipotent God that was thought of as a celestial "Father" that personally listened to prayers and interceded in wars and human affairs. To these thinking men, a God who listened to millions of prayers every night and took sides in battleground disputes was a fairy tale.

    These guys had no need for miracles or revelations or "faith".


    Thomas Jefferson was one of the fiercest advocates the United States has had for the firm separation of church and state (he wanted a WALL of separation) . I'm sure he would have been absolutely aghast at George W. Bush's "faith-based initiatives" which "W" instituted at the federal level.


    Thomas Paine was a revolutionary force behind the American War of Independence, contributing his much-read pamphlet "Common Sense". After the publication of his 1794 "The Age of Reason", he was the first American Freethinker to be publicly labeled an atheist. His entire reputation has suffered because he put forth the radical idea that Christianity was a man-made invention.


    Here's a sample of his thoughts on Jesus Christ and other prophets:


    "Every national church or religion has established itself by pretending some special mission from God, communicated to certain individuals. The Jews have their Moses; the Christians their Jesus Christ, their apostles and saints; and the Turks their Mahomet, as if the way to God was not open to every man alike.

    Each of those churches show certain books, which they call revelation, or the word of God. The Jews say, that their word of God was given by God to Moses, face to face; the Christians say, that their word of God came by divine inspiration: and the Turks say, that their word of God (the Koran) was brought by an angel from Heaven. Each of those churches accuse the other of unbelief; and for my own part, I disbelieve them all."


    You can almost hear modern social cons shouting Paine down and calling him "anti-american".


    Thomas Paine was not a big fan of the Virgin-Birth story:

    "When also I am told that a woman called the Virgin Mary, said, or gave out, that she was with child without any cohabitation with a man, and that her betrothed husband, Joseph, said that an angel told him so, I have a right to believe them or not; such a circumstance required a much stronger evidence than their bare word for it; but we have not even this - for neither Joseph nor Mary wrote any such matter themselves; it is only reported by others that they said so - it is hearsay upon hearsay, and I do not choose to rest my belief upon such evidence."

    "Jesus Christ wrote no account of himself, of his birth, parentage, or any thing else; not a line of what is called the New Testament is of his own writing. The history of him is altogether the work of other people; and as to the account given of his resurrection and ascension, it was the necessary counterpart to the story of his birth. His historians having brought him into the world in a supernatural manner, were obliged to take him out again in the same manner, or the first part of the story must have fallen to the ground."

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    It's extremely comforting for me that we had a handful of influencial, rational, non-religious men who fought to keep the word "God" out of the United States Constitution.

    It was harder to be a freethinker in the 18th-century than it is today. We are forever in their debt.


    Thomas Paine - The Age of Reason



    "Christianity neither is, nor ever was a part of the common law." -- Thomas Jefferson, in a letter to Dr. Thomas Cooper, February 10, 1814
     
  2. Calboner

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    I've been reading Susan Jacoby's book Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism; just finished chapter 2, "The Age of Reason and Unreason," which concerns Paine among others. According to Jacoby, Paine was widely celebrated in America as the author of the revolutionary tract Common Sense. He began to make enemies in the United States in 1791 with the publication of The Rights of Man, in which he defended the cause of revolution in France. He made even more enemies with the publication of The Age of Reason -- mostly among people who had never even read the work, but who bought into the denunciations of it.
     
  3. slurper_la

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    thanks for posting this!
     
  4. D_Ireonsyd_Colonrinse

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    Calboner: I have that book. It's extremely detailed and beautifully written. Christopher Hitchens recommends it.

    Many religious factions of the original 13 colonies lobbied long and hard to get the word "God" put into our founding document, the U.S. Constitution. We should all be grateful that they lost that battle. Of course, some Founding Fathers were called "godless" and "atheists" for this omission.

    The Massachusetts state constitution of 1780 extended equal protection of its laws and the right to hold office to Christians only. And Catholics were forced to take a special oath renouncing papal authority.

    The 1777 New York state constitution extended political equality to Jews but not to Catholics.

    Mayland guaranteed full civil rights to Protestants and Catholics but not to Jews, freethinkers, and deists.

    In Delaware, officeholders were required to take an oath affirming belief in the Holy Trinity.

    In South Carolina, Protestantism was specifically recognized as the state-established religion.


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    Massachusetts, with it's evangelical Protestants and it's long history of Puritanism, wanted to see "God" in the federal Constitution, right at the beginning, in the preamble. But no mention exists:


    We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.


     
  5. mynameisnobody

    mynameisnobody New Member

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    Separation of church and state was not a popular concept in the Founding era. As outlined in the First Amendment, it was intended to limit the federal government. It had nothing to do with official religions in the individual states.
     
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