Were Founders Deists?

Posted: July 20, 2009 in Category - Founding Fathers, Were the Founders Deists?

Were the Founders Deists?

Gary DeMar Jul 02, 2009

July 4th brings out the historical revisionists. One of the more kooky revisionist  claims is that our Founding Fathers were Deists. Deism is a philosophical belief system that claims that God exists but is not involved in the world. While God created all things and set the universe in motion, He is no longer involved in its operation. Given this definition of deism, which of the founding fathers were Deists? Which documents express the fundamental tenets of Deism? Official congressional documents, written before and after the drafting of the Declaration of Independence, mention Jesus Christ, sin, the need for forgiveness, and the justice of God. These are hardly Deist documents.

Benjamin Franklin was certainly no Deist based on his remarks at the Constitutional Convention. I don’t know how you get Deism out of “God governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without His notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without His aid?,” and “without His concurring aid, we shall succeed in this political building no better than the builders of Babel.” This is one of the most anti-Deistic statements ever made. The Declaration of Independence is hardly Deistic with phrase like “the Supreme Judge of the world” and “with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence.” The Deist argument is bogus.

But it’s Thomas Paine who is singled out as America’s true philosophical Deistic founder. Paine’s Common Sense did put forth arguments for independence from Great Britain, but how did Paine argue his case? What were his sources? Did he follow deistic lines of argumentation similar to those of the French revolutionaries? “He constructed his arguments from materials that were familiar to the average colonist, favoring allusions to popular history, nature, and scripture rather than Montesquieu, Tacitus, and Cicero.”[1] There is no hint of Deism in Common Sense.

A. J. Ayer remarks that “the first argument that Paine brings against the institution of kingship is scriptural.”[2]Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s’ is the scriptural doctrine of courts, yet it is no support of monarchical government, for the Jews at that time were without a king, and in a state of vassalage to the Romans.” Paine declared that “government by kings was first introduced into the world by the Heathens, from which the children of Israel copied the custom. . . . As the exalting of one man so greatly above the rest cannot be justified on the equal rights of nature, so neither can it be defended on the authority of scripture; for the will of the Almighty, as declared by Gideon and the prophet Samuel, expressly disapproves of government by kings. All anti-monarchical parts of scripture have been smoothly glossed over in monarchical governments, but they undoubtedly merit the attention of countries which have their governments yet to form. ‘

Paine has an extended discussion of Judges 8:22–23 where he describes “the King of Heaven” to be Israel’s “proper sovereign.” He then spends several pages quoting, discussing, and making application of the importance of 1 Samuel 8 to the then modern situation. He concludes this section of Common Sense with these words: “In short, monarchy and succession have laid (not this or that kingdom only) by the world in blood and ashes. ’Tis a form of government which the word of God bears testimony against, and blood will attend it.”

It’s the later Paine, the author of The Age of Reason, that secularists turn to in support of their claim that he was a Deist and an ardent critic of Christianity and organized religion in general. While Common Sense was written in 1776, The Age of Reason was published in early 1790, more than 15 years later and after the drafting of the Constitution in 1787. While Americans in general embraced Common Sense—“fifty-six editions had been printed and 150,000 copies sold by the end of 1776”[3]—there was no support for The Age of Reason by Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Rush, John Jay, and Benjamin Franklin:

As for the supposition that the other Founders embraced “The Age of Reason” or its mindset: Jefferson advised Paine never to publish the book. Benjamin Franklin, Paine’s patron and friend, gave his protégé the same advice. After reading a draft, Franklin noted: “He who spits against the wind spits in his own face. If men are wicked with religion, what would they be without it?”

* * * * *

John Adams, once a fan of Paine, having received his copy, called Paine a “blackguard”[4] who wrote out of the depths of “a malignant heart.” And Washington, previously one of Paine’s fiercest advocates, attacked Paine’s principles in his Farewell Address (without referring to his name)[5] as unpatriotic and subversive.[6]

Paine’s later views were so opposed by the public that he spent his last years in New York in relative obscurity. “Paine had expressed a wish to be buried in a Quaker cemetery, but the Society of Friends denied his request. In attendance at his graveside on his farm were his Quaker friend Wilbert Hicks, “Madame Bonneville, her son Benjamin, and two black men who wished to pay tribute to Paine for his efforts to put an end to slavery. It is probable that a few others persons were there but no one who officially represented either France or the United States.”[7] Stokes and Pfeffer, writing in Church and State in the United States, state that “For a long time Paine, notwithstanding his great contributions to the Revolutionary cause, was held low in American public opinion.”[8][9] of him at the time. Although Paine was not an atheist—he believed in God and immortality—the expression of his religious views in The Age of Reason put him outside the religious mainstream which was generally Christian. Theodore Roosevelt’s description of Thomas Paine “as a ‘filthy little atheist’ represented all too accurately the public estimate”

The Thomas Paine of Common Sense and the Thomas Paine of The Age of Reason must be kept separate, both by time and philosophy. The later Paine cannot be superimposed on the earlier Paine. Without Paine’s biblical arguments in Common Sense the book would have been studied with great suspicion and might have sunk without a trace. Mark A. Noll, Francis A. McAnaney Professor of History at the University of Notre Dame, makes a similar argument:

If Paine’s Age of Reason (with its dismissive attitude toward the Old Testament) had been published before Common Sense (with its full deployment of Scripture in support of republican freedom), the quarrel with Britain may have taken a different course. It is also likely that the allegiance of traditional Christian believers to republican liberty might not have been so thoroughly cemented. And it is possible that the intimate relation between republican reasoning and trust in traditional Scripture, which became so important after the turn of the new century, would not have occurred as it did.[10]

The Blogsters who perpetuate the Deism myth are ignorant of history. They rarely read original source documents. They parrot the party line from notes they took in their freshman Western Civilization class by professors who haven’t read an original source document since they completed their doctorate.

Endnotes:

[1]Scott Liell, 46 Pages: Thomas Paine, Common Sense, and the Turning Point to American Independence
[2]A.J. Ayer, Thomas Paine (New York: Atheneum, 1988), 40. Ayer remarks that that his appeal to the Old Testament is curious “in view of the want of respect he was later to show for the Old Testament” (40).
[3]Ayer, Thomas Paine, 35
[4]
“The Christian religion is, above all the Religions that ever prevailed or existed in ancient or modern Times, the Religion of Wisdom, Virtue, Equity, and humanity, let the Blackguard [scoundrel] Paine say what he will; it is Resignation to God, it is Goodness itself to Man.” (John Adams, The Diary and Autobiography of John Adams, ed. L.H. Butterfield [Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1962], 3:233–234).
[5]“Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports . . . And let us indulge with caution the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion . . . . Reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail to the exclusion of religious principle.”
[6]Steve Farrell, “Paine’s Christianity”—Part 1: http://www.newsmax.com/archives/articles/2003/9/4/212340.shtml
[7]Ayer, Thomas Paine, 180.
[8]Anson Phelps Stokes and Leo Pfeffer, Church and State in the United States, one-volume ed. (New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1964), 50
[9]Stokes and Pfeffer, Church and State in the United States, 50.
[10]
Mark A. Noll, America’s God: From Jonathan Edwards to Abraham Lincoln (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002), 84.

(Philadelphia Press, 2003), 20.

www.AmericanVision.org

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Comments
  1. Dave Archer says:

    “Some books against Deism fell into my hands; they happened that they wrought an effect on me quite contrary to what was intended by them; for the arguments of the Deists, which were quoted to be refuted, appeared to me much stronger than the refutations; in short, I soon became a thorough Deist.”
    Benjamin Franklin, The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin (page 43) – Dover Thrift Edition

    • Bo Perrin says:

      Hello Dave. Thank you for visiting my website and responding. Dave, I may be off base in my response to your post because you did not leave any indication as to your beliefs. I will assume that you have swallowed the Progressives’ tales that the founding fathers were either atheists, agnostics or Deists. If I am wrong, please let me know, nevertheless what I have to say is appropriate to such a response. Based on the above assumption, I have to say I find your response a little disingenuous for the following reasons.

      1) You rip a statement out of its context, post it and assume the mere statement itself provides evidence that, at the least, Franklin was a Deist.
      2) You do not provide the entire quotation.
      3) You do not provide any statements Franklin makes later in his life which shows he grew out of the beliefs in the statement you quote.

      Lets examine the quote a bit more throughly. Franklin actually stated, “My Parents had early given me religious Impressions, and brought me through my Childhood piously in the Dissenting Way. But I was scarce 15 when, after doubting by turns of several points as I found them disputed in different books I read, I began to doubt of Revelation at all. Some books of Deism fell into my Hands; they were said to be the substance of Sermons preached at Boyle’s Lectures. It happened that they wrought an Effect on me quite contrary to what was intended by them; For the Arguments of the Deists which were quoted and to be refuted, appeared to me much Stronger than the refutations. In short I soon became a throrough Deist.”

      Franklin was raised in the Puritan religion. Obviously, he dissented and becomes a thorough going Deist when he was 15. You failed to mention Franklin’s age when he became a Deist. Yet, Franklin’s age is crucial to understanding the context. Leaving that bit of information out is disingenuous at the least and dishonest at the most. You quoted the statement, it seems, to refute the article’s goal which is to show that the founders were not Deists. Franklin’s statement would make it seem as if at least one founder was a Deist but the problem is that by leaving out his age you attempted to mislead people into thinking Franklin made this statement about himself when he was a grown man. You also failed to mention that Franklin did not put much stock in this new religion. Franklin came to the conclusion early on that Deism (Freethinkerism) was and is a morally bankrupt religion. On pages 56 and 57, he mentions a number of Deists who wronged him without compunction as well as his own moral standard at this time. Franklin’s conclusion was “I began to suspect that this Doctrine tho’ it might be true, was not very useful.” So, even if Franklin accepted Deism, he concluded it was a morally bankrupt philosophy and not very useful in the real world.

      So, Franklin was an unsatisfied Deist at 15 years old. So, what? Did Franklin continue to believe in European Deism? The answer is no and again, Dave, you decided to leave this information out as well. There are very few if any founders who held to the basic tenet of Deism which is an absentee Deity who created the heavens and earth and no longer interferes. Franklin did not.

      1753: Franklin also claims that he is the beneficiary of God’s blessings in a letter to George Whitefield in Philadelphia dated June 6, 1753. Franklin states, “I have received much kindness from men to whom I shall never have an opportunity of making the least direct return, and numberless mercies from God, who is infinitely above benefitting by our services.” He continues saying, “For my part, I have not the vanity to think I deserve it, the folly to expect, or the ambition to desire it, but content myself in submitting to the disposal of that God who made me, who has hitherto preserved and blessed me, . . . “ Again, the words Franklin uses to describe God does not fit the Deist mold. He has received numberless mercies. Biblically, God’s mercies are always acts of God’s activity in this world. Deism cannot speak of mercies because God does not interfere in the on goings of this world. In addition, if Franklin was truly a Deist to what and why would he submit to being at the disposal of a God who is not active in this world? Clearly, Franklin believes God is active in this world. Finally, Franklin claims God has preserved him which again is mainstream Christian language describing how God protects us through the scraps of this life for his own purpose. Again, not very Deistic.

      1730: Franklin also lectured on the Providence of God in the government of the world in 1730. His first sentence is “I propose at this time to discourse on the providence of God in the government of the world.” During Franklin’s day the term Providence was indicative of God’s activity in the world. This is the only in which it is used by those founding fathers who did use it. Some of these men are John Adams and George Washington. This is not very Deistic. In addition, Franklin offers four possible explanations of the natural state of things as existing in his day. He second possible explanation is “2. Without decreeing any thing, he left all to general nature and the events of free agency in his creatures, which never alters or interrupts; or, . . .” Clearly, point two is referring to European Deism. Does Franklin believe this is a possible explanation of the reality of nature? He goes on to say, “I shall endeavor to show that the first three suppositions to be inconsistent with the common light of reason, and that the fourth is most agreeable to it, and therefore most probably true.” Franklin clearly rejects an absentee God. But what is the fourth possibility? “4. He sometimes interferes by particular providence, and sets aside the effects which would otherwise have been produced by any of the above causes.” Simply put Franklin believed that God was active in this world. This is not very Deistic. But this is not all, as if we need any more nails to seal the lid on the coffin of this argument. Franklin also states, “I say there can be no reason to imagine he would make so glorious a universe merely to abandon it.” In other words, there is no absentee God.

      1790: In a letter to Dr. Stiles, President of Yale College (1790), Franklin, while speaking of Jesus’ Deity, stated, “I shall only add, respecting myself, that, having experienced the goodness of that Being in conducting me prosperously through a long life, I have no doubt of its continuance in the next, though without the smallest conceit of meriting such goodness.” Franklin believed that God conducted him prosperously in his long life. These are not the words or beliefs of a Deist but an individual who believes God is still active in his creation and the lives of men. In fact, Franklin calls God a governor. He states, “You desire to know something of my religion. Here is my creed. I believe in one God, the Creator of the universe. That he governs it by his Providence. That he ought to be worshipped. That the most acceptable service we render him is doing good to his other children. That the soul of man is immortal, and will be treated with justice in another life respecting its conduct in this . . . As to Jesus of Nazareth, my opinion of whom you particularly desire, I think the system of morals, and his religion, as he left them to us, is the best the world ever saw, or is likely to see.” In this letter Franklin destroys the attempts modern Progressives make to label him a Deist. God is a governor. Seriously, does anyone really believe that Franklin believed in an absentee governor. A governor is very active in the lives of those in his care spiritually and politically. In addition, God governs by his providence which as I mentioned early was used in Franklin’s time to refer to God’s activity in this world. Finally, Franklin has thrown off Deistic morality which he found wanting very early in his young life. He now claims near the end of his life that the best moral system is the one Jesus has left us. Jesus’ moral system is what we call Judeo-Christian principles.

      I agree with you, Dave, that at the least Franklin was not a New Testament Christian but this not the point to be proven. The point to be proven is that Franklin was a thorough going Deist all his life. A person does not have to be a mainstream Christian to believe that God is active in this world but he cannot be a Deist and believe God is active in this world. The failure to understand this simple distinction is what drives the Progressives’ agenda to Deistify, if that is a word at all, the founding fathers especially Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson. Franklin unsuccessfully dabbled in Deism when he was 15. But the evidence that has been presented here clearly shows that he eventually rejected Deism in its European form as well as its moral philosophy. When Franklin was at least near the end of his life he believed God was active in this world and Judeo-Christian principles are the best moral system man has been given.

      Just some thoughts

  2. Dave Archer says:

    Dear Gary, was up late last night reading Franklin and haven’t finished the book. When I found the quote I Googled Deism “defined” or some such, and clicked on your site. I added the comment, sat there very tired and thought, “jeeze … I should add more about what I think about it, but was too tired and went to bed. For that, I apologize. I’m no Progressive for sure. I think for myself and am fascinated (nearing 70) to read the Founders in their own writings. I started with Thomas Paine’s Age of Reason where I found a man that was deeply spiritual, believed in God, yet obviously did not like a lot of scripture. This clicked with me, and so I became interested in Deism. All I know is, from my studies so far (quite limited) that Paine was surely no Atheist. I found an exchange of letters between Paine and Samuel Adams that I found extremely interesting as Paine laid out his beliefs in the letters in a way that was very clear. I hear people call him an Atheist, but from my reading he was anything but. I am very busy in my career and don’t have much time to be writing at any length, but I want to assure you that I very much appreciate your comments. From my limited exploration into Deism it appears to me that people still think Deists believe God created the world and universe, then left it and went off somewhere. I am not a Deist in any religious sense, just interested in all these writings and making my own understand from that pursuit. From what I have gleaned so far, in Deism it’s every believer for his/her self. That morality is a reasoned necessity. Also, from reading Jefferson, and others, I can see where they rejected much of the Old Testament, yet very much honored the teachings of Jesus, considering them to be as you state above, the greatest moral teaching of all time, and all religions. Some Deists may still believe God left, but others do not, believing that through prayer, etc., God hears them and responds. I am intimately connected to fundamentalism in my own family, which has never answered my questions. It seems to me there are as many different Deists as there are Christians, but as I say, I have only begun my study of all of this, and am limited by that. I guess at this point one could say, I am part Deist, without ever realizing it. Deism is just a label for me for something I have practiced for decades. I pray, live a moral life, and my prayers are answered at times. I honor anyone’s religion or path, believing it is none of my business, and if it is helpful to them, and they hurt no one, then I honor their way. I do not honor people like Fred Phelps showing up at our brave soldiers funerals. I do honor the religion and beliefs of my own fundamentalist family, even though I do not agree with them. Thank you again for your comments. I must get back to work. Oh, I have learned over the decades to not argue, just share, honestly, from the heart. I don’t have time to engage in such, but I enjoy the exchange of ideas. Once again, please forgive me for not writing more when I posted last night. I felt a little guilty as I pushed the submit button because I thought it might sound like I was trying to prove some point, which I’m not interested in doing at all. I had just read the Franklin quote, wondered what the heck Deism actually is (as in “doctrine”) and Googled “Deism / beliefs” or some such, and found your site and decided to send you the quote. I did not include the full paragraph because I was tired. I also had not finished reading Franklin’s autobiography, but had come only to that quote when I posted. We all have paths to God and make our own understanding along the way. Thanks again. Dave Archer

    • Bo Perrin says:

      Hi Dave. This is Bo Perrin. Let me clear something up. Gary DeMar runs American Vision. I run the American Heritage Project to which you responded. He is kind enough to allow me to post articles he pens on my site when the focus of the article fits the focus of my blog. So, sorry to disappoint you, my friend, but you have been talking with Bo not Gary. Dave, I do encourage you to visit his site. He has some great articles.

      With that said, I want to say thank you. I really appreciate you clarifying the background to your post. As you might imagine oftentimes a response on a blog like The American Heritage Project is totally either for or against whatever the subject matter might be at that time and often when the response is negative it is combative. I appreciate that you did not take offense to my assumptions and if you want I can rewrite my response if you desire although these responses will be posted for everyone to read.

      I agree than in religion as well as in politics there are many shades and degrees of this or that. What I have found in my studies of this subject is that a person is labeled a Deist because European Deism of the 1700s accepted the God of the Bible but reduced him to an absentee landlord. Deists also rejected Biblical inspiration deifying philosophical rationalism. In addition, Deism rejected Jesus’ Deity reducing him to a mere man. Of course what Deism reduced God, Scripture and Jesus to is not mainstream Christianity. I have concluded that the primary purpose of these attempts to relabel the founding fathers are to remove the Judeo-Christian principles upon which the nation was built from the public square and instead create a secular political and national foundation void of any operating moral restraints other than those which the participants create for themselves. The founding fathers called these moral operating restraints virtue and argued that virtue is the foundation of the Declaration, Constitution and freedom. This virtue they argued is grounded in the Judeo-Christian principles as revealed in Scripture. A secular society, on the other hand, always leads to human rights not individual rights and human rights always leads to slavery and oppression.

      Again, Dave, thanks for your clarification and if there is anything I can do to be of service let me know. Hope you got some good sleep.

      Just some thoughts.

      • Dave Archer says:

        Hi Bo, ha! Oh well, my heart was in the right place. Here’s what happened. I spent the entire day yesterday working with my computer expert on setting up a top of the line IMac which I truly love. I feel like a kid at Christmas with a new red bike. The wide screen feels like I’m on the Starship Enterprise!!! So, like a new bike, I couldn’t stay away from the computer and kept going back to it thinking, “wow … this works like magic!” I Google and bingo, I click, and bingo, whereas my old computer had to “think” about everything until I was going mad. I hadn’t realized how good these amazing machines had become, with DSL, etc., and was trying to read Franklin, but couldn’t stay off the computer, smiling all the way. So I read the quote, and looking for any excuse to Google something I got up and Googled “Deism / tenants” and got a list of ten “tenants” or so and resonated with a few of them. Not wanting only one opinion, and as another excuse to click on something, I clicked and got American Heritage. So I added the quote, (which I had to squint at to see, as the light was bad, and the book wouldn’t stay open, and then I had to check to make sure I got it right) then felt tired after a long day (I think that was around 2:00 am) and crashed. I thought I was just adding to the “blog” … not even sure what a “blog” actually is … just for the sake of it, (truth … I was playing with my new toy). I’ve actually never posted anything before except Facebook. I did feel like if I was sending the quote I should say more but crashed. Man, these computers are amazing now. Just utterly amazing. I have so much to accomplish in my career, I have no business sitting here for hours, but I guess that “new toy” aspect will fade in time, hopefully soon, as my duty list is long.

        Let me say this. I was a seeker from the gate. What happened to me as a boy at the hands of a Christian minister from the Moody Bible Institute both ruined my life, and eventually led me to seeking with a passion. I just had to have answers and didn’t even realize it, but I was a kid, then man, with passionate seeking in my core. A child of the 40’s and 50’s, no one had answers, and if they did they wouldn’t tell us. No one spoke of anything “real”. Us kids never asked questions because we could get cuffed. I was on my own then, haunting libraries, etc. I did not know that I had PTSD from the trauma inflicted on me at all. I knew I was angry but didn’t know why. I tried for decades to make peace with Christianity, (attended church until high school graduation) read the Bible until the pages nearly fell out, but I know now, due to fundamentalism in my family, and not agreeing their narrow beliefs were right (for me) I never could find peace there. My brother and I fought for fifty years, argued, angry, and never convinced each other of one single argument. Ha! Two years ago we shook hands and agreed never to speak to each other of religion and politics again. Huge healing. Beautiful. And from that, I gave up arguing with anyone, as we both realized we had never convinced each other of one thing, and the world was much the same. What a relief! What a healing! I’m free! I still have PTSD at times, tho better, but sometimes if I happen to see something on TV where a priest, or minister has hurt a child I can have crippling autonomic responses that I have learned to ride out.

        Now, I pursue a quiet life of contemplation, prayer and meditation, wishing well for all. I have retired from the “debating society” and feel it the dubious pleasure of better men and women. All I know is, when I read Paine’s Age of Reason, half way through I lay on the bed weeping for joy, that I had found something that finally, after decades, allowed me too, to find a deep personal belief in the Creator. Since I cannot have anyone (minister, etc.) be an intermediary, this was a direct approach to the wonder of the universe I sensed, and knew, would deeply effect my remaining years. I found Paine to be deeply spiritual in his own way, which is what I needed. I couldn’t believe a book written in the 1700’s could effect me so deeply. I see God everywhere and in everything. My prayers are ACTIONS, not words, although I do pray in words too, for help with right actions. I am a changed man. I do not hanker to any sort of religion, but think the philosophy of Jesus is the best ever devised. Deism is a religion, therefore I take what I can use and walk on. It’s just that it resonated in a way that answered questions I had with me from the gate, in a deeply personal way.

        I find that many Christians (in my family and neighborhood here in Oregon) are intensely angry, as I used to be. I don’t think it’s helping them and I wish them well in finding what I found, that angry words, accusations, and arguments lead no where good. I truly hate (ha!) so-called Progressive thought and action. Progressives, they’re just people I avoid. I sure ain’t going to convince a single one of anything, and I’m too old to try anymore. This country is a GRAND argument, and has been from the conception. It takes two wings to fly an airplane and I don’t want to be out on either wing so far I fall off. I like it in the tube. These arguments are all what makes a democracy what it is for me. Let’s hope the good guys win the debate. Wish I could join in, but I have neither the will nor energy, as just for me, I have found peace, love and kindness among my friends and neighbors. If they enjoy arguing (and I suspect they do) it is none of my business. It is hard enough in today’s world to live a simple, sane day and thank the Creator on my pillow for another beautiful experience of life, 24 hours at a time.

        I knew I had changed the other day, when walking the dog we were hit with intense sleet. Scruffy loved it, barking at the sleet. I started to cuss our fate, then stopped in my tracks and called out, “thank you Creator for SLEET!”. And meant it. It was beautiful. Even as I prayed and sleet stung my tongue I called, “THANK YOU! THANK YOU!”

        Hope you have a great day, and if you should encounter sleet, hey, it’s cool too. Man, that wasn’t me in the past. Something is moving in my heart. Best, Dave

      • Bo Perrin says:

        Hi Dave. Yeah, its weird when you find out that the person you thought you were talking with is not that person. Ha, ha! But as you said, your heart is in the right place. Listen, from my heart, as a minister, I am very sorry for the pain you were caused. The God I believe in is many things but he is definitely kind, merciful and caring and expects his people to be the same. As for computers, they unfortunately have a way of growing on you and demanding more of your time. Vicious little things, to say the least.

        I am curious. You have mentioned Paine a couple of times. I am glad that you have found something to help in your seeking and can see the transformation. I agree that what God has provided us is a blessing. A couple of months ago we had to put our American Eskimo down because he bit into and tore up my wife’s hand. We loved that dog. We replaced him with a Siberian Husky and called her Aashka. Asshka is Indian and means blessing. I will admit that sometimes it is difficult to remember she is God’s blessing for us when I have to take her outside six or seven times in a hour. Nevertheless, the opportunity to take care of part of God’s creation is what makes her the blessing she is. So, it is with everything.

        Would you share with me the passage to which you are referring?

        I have enjoyed our discussion and if there is anything I can do or any information I might be able to provide please feel free to contact me.

  3. Dave Archer says:

    Hi Bo, do you mean a passage from Paine? It was the whole book that stunned me to the core and changed me forever. Mostly, his comments on realizing the magnificence of the Universe, and how we haven’t made anything, that it was all made my something other than us. I’m paraphrasing here. I would have to go back and find some quotes, which I would be glad to do. Just in case you mean Paine, I do have this at my fingertips, which I very much enjoyed finding.

    Correspondence Between Thomas Paine and
    Samuel Adams Regarding Religion and Deism

    CORRESPONDENCE WITH

    THE HON. SAMUEL ADAMS

    To the Editor of the National Intelligencer,

    Federal City

    By Thomas Paine

    Toward the latter end of last December I received a letter from a venerable patriot, Samuel Adams, dated Boston, November thirtieth. It came by a private hand, which I suppose was the cause of the delay. I wrote Mr. Adams an answer, dated January first, and that I might be certain of his receiving it, and also that I might know of that reception, I desired a friend of mine at Washington to put it under cover to some friend of his at Boston, and desire him to present it to Mr. Adams.

    The letter was accordingly put under cover while I was present, and given to one of the clerks of the post-office to seal and put in the mail. The clerk put it in his pocket-book, and either forgot to put it into the mail, or supposed he had done so among other letters. The postmaster- general, on learning this mistake, informed me of it last Saturday, and as the cover was then out of date, the letter was put under a new cover, with the same request, and forwarded by the post.

    I felt concern at this accident, lest Mr. Adams should conclude I was unmindful of his attention to me; and therefore, lest any further accident should prevent or delay his receiving it, as well as to relieve myself from that concern, I give the letter an opportunity of reaching him by the newspapers.

    I am the more induced to do this, because some manuscript copies have been taken of both letters, and therefore there is a possibility of imperfect copies getting into print; and besides this, if some of the Federalists printers (for I hope they are not all base alike) could get hold of a copy, they would make no scruple of altering it, and publishing it as mine. I therefore send you the original letter of Mr. Adams, and my own copy of the answer.

    Thomas Paine

    Federal City

    Boston, November 30, 1802

    Sir:

    I have frequently with pleasure reflected on your services to my native and your adopted country. Your “Common Sense” and your “Crisis” unquestionably awakened the public mind, and led the people loudly to call for a declaration of our national independence. I therefore esteemed you as a warm friend to the liberty and lasting welfare of the human race. But when I heard that you had turned your mind to a defense of infidelity, I felt myself much astonished and more grieved that you had attempted a measure so injurious to the feelings and so repugnant to the true interest of so great a part of the citizens of the United States.

    The people of New England, if you will allow me to use a Scripture phrase, are fast returning to their first love. Will you excite among them the spirit of angry controversy, at a time when they are hastening to unity and peace? I am told that some of our newspapers have announced your intention to publish an additional pamphlet upon the principles of your “Age of Reason.”

    Do you think that your pen, or the pen of any other man can unchristianize the mass of our citizens, or have you hopes of converting a few of them to assist you in so bad a cause? We ought to think ourselves happy in the enjoyment of opinion without the danger of persecution by civil or ecclesiastical law.

    Our friend, the President of the United States, has been calumniated for his liberal sentiments, by men who have attributed that liberality to a latent design to promote the cause of infidelity. This and all other slanders have been made without a shadow of proof. Neither religion nor liberty can long subsist in the tumult of altercation, and amidst the noise and violence of faction.

    Felix qui cautus.

    Adieu. SAMUEL ADAMS.

    MR. THOMAS PAINE.

    MY DEAR AND VENERABLE FRIEND SAMUEL ADAMS:

    I received with great pleasure your friendly and affectionate letter of November thirtieth, and I thank you also for the frankness of it. Between men in pursuit of truth, and whose object is the happiness of man both here and hereafter, there ought to be no reserve. Even error has a claim to indulgence, if not respect, when it is believed to be truth.

    I am obliged to you for your affectionate remembrance of what you style my services in awakening the public mind to a declaration of independence, and supporting it after it was declared. I also, like you, have often looked back on those times and have thought that if independence had not been declared at the time it was, the public mind could not have been brought up to it afterwards.

    It will immediately occur to you, who were so intimately acquainted with the situation of things at that time, that I allude to the black times of Seventy-six; for though I know, and you my friend also know, they were no other than the natural consequence of the military blunders of that campaign, the country might have viewed them as proceeding from a natural inability to support its cause against the enemy, and have sunk under the despondency of that misconceived idea. This was the impression against which it was necessary the country should be strongly animated.

    I come now to the second part of your letter, on which I shall be as frank with you as you are with me.

    “But (say you), when I heard you had turned your mind to a defense of Infidelity I felt myself much astonished, etc.” – What, my good friend, do you call believing in God infidelity? for that is the great point maintained in the “Age of Reason” against all divided beliefs and allegorical divinities. The Bishop of Llandaff (Doctor Watson) not only acknowledges this, but pays me some compliments upon it (in his answer to the second part of that work). “There is (says he) a philosophical sublimity in some of your ideas when speaking of the Creator of the Universe.”

    What then (my much esteemed friend, for I do not respect you the less because we differ, and that perhaps not much in religious sentiments), what, I ask, is this thing called infidelity? If we go back to your ancestors and mine three or four hundred years ago, for we must have had fathers and grandfathers or we should not be here, we shall find them praying to Saints and Virgins, and believing in purgatory and transubstantiation; and therefore all of us are infidels according to our forefathers’ belief. If we go back to times more ancient we shall again be infidels according to the belief of some other forefathers.

    The case, my friend is, that the world has been over-run with fable and creeds of human invention, with sectaries of whole nations against all other nations, and sectaries of those sectaries in each of them against each other. Every sectary, except the Quakers, has been a persecutor. Those who fled from persecution persecuted in their turn, and it is this confusion of creeds that has filled the world with persecution and deluged it with blood.

    Even the depredation on your commerce by the Barbary powers sprang from the crusades of the Church against those powers. It was a war of creed against creed, each boasting of God for its author, and reviling each other with the name of infidel. If I do not believe as you believe, it proves that you do not believe as I believe, and this is all that it proves.

    There is however one point of union wherein all religions meet, and that is in the first article of every man’s creed, and of every nation’s creed, that has any creed at all: I believe in God. Those who rest here, and there are millions who do, cannot be wrong as far as their creed goes. Those who choose to go further may be wrong, for it is impossible that all can be right, since there is so much contradiction among them. The first therefore are, in my opinion, on the safest side.

    I presume you are so far acquainted with ecclesiastical history as to know, and the bishop who has answered me has been obliged to acknowledge the fact, that the books that compose the New Testament were voted by yeas and nays to be the Word of God, as you now vote a law, by the popish Councils of Nice and Laodicea about one thousand four hundred and fifty years ago. With respect to the fact there is no dispute, neither do I mention it for the sake of controversy. This vote may appear authority enough to some, and not authority enough to others. It is proper however that everybody should know the fact.

    With respect to the “Age of Reason,” which you so much condemn, and that I believe without having read it, for you say only that you heard of it, I will inform you of a circumstance, because you cannot know it by other means.

    I have said in the first page of the first part of that work that it had long been my intention to publish my thoughts upon religion, but that I had reserved it to a later time of life. I have now to inform you why I wrote it and published it at the time I did.

    In the first place, I saw my life in continual danger. My friends were falling as fast as the guillotine could cut their heads off, and as I every day expected the same fate, I resolved to begin my work. I appeared to myself to be on my death-bed, for death was on every side of me, and I had no time to lose. This accounts for my writing it at the time I did; and so nicely did the time and the intention meet, that I had not finished the first part of that work more than six hours before I was arrested and taken to prison. Joel Barlow was with me and knows the fact.

    In the second place, the people of France were running headlong into atheism, and I had the work translated and published in their own language to stop them in that career, and fix them to the first article (as I have before said) of every man’s creed who has any creed at all, I believe in God.

    I endangered my own life, in the first place, by opposing in the Convention the execution of the King, and by laboring to show they were trying the monarchy and not the man, and that the crimes imputed to him were the crimes of the monarchical system; and I endangered it a second time by opposing atheism; and yet some of your priests, for I do not believe that all are perverse, cry out, in the war-whoop of monarchical priestcraft, “What an infidel, what a wicked man, is Thomas Paine!” They might as well add, “for he believes in God and is against shedding blood.”

    But all this war-whoop of the pulpit has some concealed object. Religion is not the cause, but is the stalking horse. They put it forward to conceal themselves behind it. It is not a secret that there has been a party composed of the leaders of the Federalists, for I do not include all Federalists with their leaders, who have been working by various means for several years past to overturn the Federal Constitution established on the representative system, and place government in the New World on the corrupt system of the Old.

    To accomplish this, a large standing army was necessary, and as a pretense for such an army, the danger of a foreign invasion must be bellowed forth from the pulpit, from the press, and by their public orators.

    I am not of a disposition inclined to suspicion. It is in its nature a mean and cowardly passion, and upon the whole, even admitting error into the case, it is better, I am sure, it is more generous, to be wrong on the side of confidence than on the side of suspicion. But I know as a fact that the English Government distributes annually fifteen hundred pounds sterling among the Presbyterian ministers in England and one thousand among those in Ireland; and when I hear of the strange discourses of some of your ministers and professors of colleges, I cannot, as the Quakers say, find freedom in my mind to acquit them. Their anti-revolutionary doctrines invite suspicion even against one’s will, and in spite of one’s charity to believe well of them.

    As you have given me one Scripture phrase I will give you another for those ministers. It is said in Exodus xxii, 28, “Thou shalt not revile the Gods nor curse the ruler of thy people.” But those ministers, such I mean as Dr. Emmons, curse ruler and people both, for the majority are, politically, the people, and it is those who have chosen the ruler whom they curse. As to the first part of the verse, that of not reviling the Gods, it makes no part of my scripture. I have but one God.

    Since I began this letter, for I write it by piece-meal as I have leisure, I have seen the four letters that passed between you and John Adams. In your first letter you say, “Let divines and philosophers, statesmen and patriots, unite their endeavors to renovate the age by inculcating in the minds of youth the fear and love of the Deity and universal philanthropy.”

    Why, my dear friend, this is exactly my religion, and is the whole of it. That you may have an idea that the “Age of Reason” (for I believe you have not read it) inculcates this reverential fear and love of the Deity I will give you a paragraph from it.

    “Do we want to contemplate His power? We see it in the immensity of the creation. Do we want to contemplate His wisdom: We see it in the unchangeable order by which the incomprehensible whole is governed. Do we want to contemplate His munificence? We see it in the abundance with which He fills the earth. Do we want to contemplate His mercy? We see it in His not withholding that abundance even from the unthankful.”

    As I am fully with you in your first part, that respecting the Deity, so am I in your second, that of universal philanthropy; by which I do not mean merely the sentimental benevolence of wishing well, but the practical benevolence of doing good. We cannot serve the Deity in the manner we serve those who cannot do without that service. He needs no service from us. We can add nothing to eternity. But it is in our power to render a service acceptable to Him, and that is not by praying, but by endeavoring to make his creatures happy.

    A man does not serve God when he prays, for it is himself he is trying to serve; and as to hiring or paying men to pray, as if the Deity needed instruction, it is, in my opinion, an abomination. One good schoolmaster is of more use and of more value than a load of such persons as Dr. Emmons and some others.

    You, my dear and much respected friend, are now far in the vale of years; I have yet , I believe, some years in store, for I have a good state of health and a happy mind, and I take care of both, by nourishing the first with temperance and the latter with abundance. This, I believe, you will allow to be the true philosophy of life.

    You will see by my third letter to the citizens of the United States that I have been exposed to, and preserved through, many dangers; but instead of buffeting the Deity with prayers as if I distrusted Him, or must dictate to Him, I reposed myself on His protection; and you, my friend, will find, even in your last moments, more consolation in the silence of resignation than in the murmuring wish of a prayer.

    In everything which you say in your second letter to John Adams, respecting our rights as men and citizens in this world, I am perfectly with you. On other points we have to answer to our Creator and not to each other. The key of heaven is not in the keeping of any sect, nor ought the road to it be obstructed by any.

    Our relation to each other in this world is as men, and the man who is a friend to man and to his rights, let his religious opinions be what they may, is a good citizen, to whom I can give, as I ought to do, and as every other ought, the right hand of fellowship, and to none with more hearty good will, my dear friend, than to you.

    Thomas Paine

    Federal City, January 1, 1803.

    • Bo Perrin says:

      Hi Dave. I apologize for cutting our conversation off in the middle but a few things came up. Thank you for sharing Paine’s correspondence with Samuel Adams. I believe Paine is correct that the intricacy of the creation does demand a master who has the knowledge and ability to put together such a wondrous masterpiece. Although, I have to say that unlike Paine I prefer Franklin’s observation ““I say there can be no reason to imagine he would make so glorious a universe merely to abandon it.” Franklin’s observation fits more in line with my understanding of the Bible. I believe God created the universe as well as us and has remained engaged in our plight ever since. Thanks to God’s immanence, I have the opportunity to have a relationship with my Creator not through a priesthood or preacher but through Jesus, his son. Thanks for sharing your thoughts with me.

      If there is anything I can do let me know.

      Just some thoughts.

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