Saturday, October 30, 2010

James Madison Against State Religion

Before the Virgina Legislator Jame Madison challenged the Assembly with a thought-provoking question, "What is Christianity?" Did they want the courts of the State to be interpreting this question?

Which edition of the Bible would the civil courts use, Madison asked, "What copy, what translation? Hebrew, Septuagint, or Vulgate?"
Would the law be based on the Old Testament or the New Testament?

Madison continued to question the assembly, would the Bible be interpreted literally, "as dictated every letter by inspiration, or the essential parts only?" Or, would the Bible be interpreted "in general not the words?"

"The Religion then of every man must be left to the conviction and conscience of every man; and it is the right of every man to exercise it as these may dictate. This right is in its nature an unalienable right. It is unalienable, because the opinions of men, depending only on the evidence contemplated by their own minds cannot follow the dictates of other men."

The Constitution would help defend the rights of every citizen. As Madison explained, "A federal government is formed for the protection of its individual members."

Madison wrote, "The civil rights of none shall be abridged on account of religious belief or worship, nor shall any national religion be established, nor shall the full and equal rights of conscience be in any manner, or on any pretext, infringed."
June 8, 1789

Source - US Constitution & Bill of Rights Series (Gregory Schaaf, Ph.D.)

Monday, October 18, 2010

Voltaire - All is Well?

I am a puny part of the great whole.
Yes; but all animals condemned to live,
All sentient things, born by the same stern law,
Suffer like me, and like me also die.

The vulture fastens on his timid prey,
And stabs with bloody beak the quivering limbs:
All ’s well, it seems, for it. But in a while
An eagle tears the vulture into shreds;
The eagle is transfixed by shaft of man;
The man, prone in the dust of battlefield,
Mingling his blood with dying fellow-men,
Becomes in turn the food of ravenous birds.
Thus the whole world in every member groans:
All born for torment and for mutual death.
And o’er this ghastly chaos you would say
The ills of each make up the good of all!
What blessedness! And as, with quaking voice,
Mortal and pitiful, ye cry, “All ’s well,”
The universe belies you, and your heart
Refutes a hundred times your mind’s conceit.

Man crawls and dies: all is but born to die:
The world ’s the empire of destructiveness.
This frail construction of quick nerves and bones
Cannot sustain the shock of elements;
This temporary blend of blood and dust
Was put together only to dissolve;
This prompt and vivid sentiment of nerve
Was made for pain, the minister of death:
Thus in my ear does nature’s message run.
Plato and Epicurus I reject,
And turn more hopefully to learned Bayle*.
With even poised scale Bayle bids me doubt.
He, wise and great enough to need no creed,
Has slain all systems—combats even himself:
Like that blind conqueror of Philistines,
He sinks beneath the ruin he has wrought.
What is the verdict of the vastest mind?
Silence: the book of fate is closed to us.
Man is a stranger to his own research;
He knows not whence he comes, nor whither goes.
Tormented atoms in a bed of mud,
Devoured by death, a mockery of fate.
But thinking atoms, whose far-seeing eyes,
Guided by thought, have measured the faint stars,
Our being mingles with the infinite;
Ourselves we never see, or come to know.
Excerpts from Voltaire's Poem on the Lisbon Tragedy/an Examination of the Axiom
"All is Well"

*Pierre Bayle (1647-1706) was a Huguenot, i.e., a French Protestant, who spent almost the whole of his productive life as a refugee in Holland. His life was devoted entirely to scholarship, and his erudition was second to none in his, or perhaps any, period.
There is no philosophical issue closer to the core of Bayle's thought than the problem of evil. Evidence of his concern with it appears repeatedly throughout his work. Moreover, such was Bayle's pessimistic view of life that it was no merely theoretical issue. As he put it in the Manichean article, “man is wicked and unhappy; everywhere prisons, hospitals, gibbets and beggars; history, properly speaking, is nothing but a collection of the crimes and misfortunes of mankind.” No question for him, therefore, of taking the Augustinian line of denying the reality of evil. In fact, if there were a rational solution to the problem it would be the utterly terrifying one of denying the goodness of God. In the event, however, Bayle denied that there is any rational solution, arguing against three notable attempts thereat. Throughout these arguments Bayle emphasizes not only the intractability of the problem, but the horrendous nature of the evil generating it.
(Standford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

Friday, October 15, 2010

Que sais-je?

Does Life make right? Is life inherently good?
Does God exist outside the minds of humans?

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Dare to Doubt

"Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blind-folded fear."
-Thomas Jefferson

"And if there were a God, I think it very unlikely that He would have such an uneasy vanity as to be offended by those who doubt His existence."
-Bertrand Russell

"A general problem with much of Western theology in my view is that the god portrayed is too small. It is a god of a tiny world and not a god of a galaxy much less of a universe."
-Carl Sagan

"I have met some highly intelligent believers, but history has no record to say that [s]he knew or understood the mind of god. Yet this is precisely the qualification which the godly must claim--so modestly and so humbly--to possess. It is time to withdraw our "respect" from such fantastic claims, all of them aimed at the exertion of power over other humans in the real and material world."
-Christopher Hitchens

If there is such a thing as a God it is more likely that it would value courage not fear, wisdom not credulity, love not hate, truth not lies...it would respect the person who desires to know not just believe. And if this God instead desires fear, ignorance, guilt, cowardice and credulity then it is honorable to contend with such a being. To treat a possible God with respect one must start with courage and skepticism not fear and faith.