Thomas Paine
Thomas Paine Age of Reason

Also see Jefferson Bible

Who is Nature's God 2?

Deists embrace natural law. An understanding of this is essential to an understanding the American Founding Fathers, who incorporated many of these ideas into American Law. Deist authors were generally well familiar with the moral writings of these ancient authors, particularly the works of Cicero, whose work "De Officiis" is an excellent statement of Natural Law ethics. See http://www.stoics.com/. Religious fundamentalists revile natural law as a threat to their own authority.

It is a serious mistake to think natural law alone is the foundation of the Constitution. Natural law predates Christianity and is on many points just plain vague. It's a good system of government but vague and open-ended on many moral issues. This must be used within religious traditions or we risk having a ship without a rudder.

Extracting several points from Who is Nature's God? by Voelker will best illustrate my point. The Declaration of Independence, by Thomas Jefferson mentions "nature's God." In the tradition of deism, Jefferson based his God on reason and rejected revealed religion. Jefferson believed that the various sects of Christianity had corrupted the original message of Jesus.

Without supporting revealed religion, Jefferson subscribed to the moral teachings of Jesus. He spoke of Jesus as "the most sublime and benevolent code of morals which has ever been offered to man." He used this collection as an ethical guide to his own life but rejected church manufactured dogma. (Trinity) Jesus was just a great man and teacher.

God to Jefferson is the source of moral values and wrote that "He who made us would have been a pitiful bungler, if He had made the rules of our moral conduct a matter of science." Rather, God made man "with a sense of right and wrong." People were responsible for their actions on earth and would be rewarded or punished in some kind of afterlife. Jefferson put morals over dogma: "for it is in our lives and not from our words, that our religion must be read."

Jefferson's ideas are consistent with the ideas of traditional deism, a general religious orientation developed during the Enlightenment. Deism was not actually a formal religion, but rather was a label used loosely to describe certain religious views. The label was often applied to freethinkers like Jefferson as a slander rather than as a precise description. Deists were characterized by a belief in God as a creator and "believed only those Christian doctrines that could meet the test of reason." Deists did not believe in miracles, revealed religion, the authority of the clergy, or the divinity of Jesus. Like Jefferson they "regarded ethics, not faith, as the essence of religion."

"Nature's God" was clearly the God of deism in all important ways. That Jefferson included God in the "Declaration of Independence" is very significant because it helped lay the foundation for a civil religion in America. The United States is unique because all religious beliefs were respected. People were more concerned with "moral conduct rather than dogma."

But in the 19th based on Voltaire's closet atheism all traditional religious morals and guidance would be silenced and the use of natural law alone would prevail with horrible effect. Quoting Turgut Özal in Philosophies of Islam, Greece, and the West on the Jewish Holocaust: During the era of the Enlightenment, which is characterized together with Christianity as the basis of Western civilisation...the outburst of reason did not only destroy the irrational elements in the religion, but partly the religion itself... primitive religion has been revived...as a result of which hostility was generated towards target groups in the form of persecution and ultimately genocide along with the increase in wars between nation states.

The American Deists of the Republican period abhorred both atheism and religious fanaticism. The Age of Reason was written to dispute atheism and the evil trends Paine saw in France and Europe. To summarize, traditional Deism emphasized reason over revelation and that God/Allah is non-controlling. Human rights are based on Natural Law but morality, to Jefferson, on God/Allah. As Thomas Paine wrote: religion has two principal enemies, fanaticism and infidelity, or that which is called atheism. The first requires to be combated by reason and morality, the other by natural philosophy.

From: The Existence of God, A Discourse at the Society of Theophilanthropists, Paris, circa 1810

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