Acts 17 & General Principles

I knew someone would mention Acts 17 when I noted Presidents Washington, Jefferson and Madison repeatedly spoke of God as “The Great Spirit” suggesting unconverted Natives worshipped the same God Jews and Christians do.

Biblical interpretation has similarities to constitutional interpretation. Neither text says “read this provision broadly, read that one narrowly.” If there is a doctrine which you are “worried” about, you try to limit its effects, not make a general principle out of it. On the other hand, if there is a doctrine that sounds nice you make it as generally applicable as possible. “Love your neighbor” and “do unto others” are the nice things which we want to apply as broadly and generally as possible.

Likewise, the Bible says nothing about unalienable rights (and yes, to be fair it doesn’t mention “The Trinity” or original sin either, which are also doctrines constructed from interpretations of the Bible’s text) but you may be able to get there by taking a leap from the general principle of Imago Dei.

On the other hand, all non-psychopaths (hopefully) want to limit the parts of the Bible where God commands genocide against certain tribes. They were, after all, human beings, created in the image of God, but that didn’t stop God from commanding Moses et al. to wipe them out. So we say they applied to specific times and circumstances only (how convenient).

We could, as with other parts of the Bible, apply the genocidal texts as general “principles” to grant believers the general power to wipe out all “enemies of God.” Scary stuff, yes.

What about the principle of folks who worship the “true God” — the God of the Bible — without knowing more about Him?

One thing that always struck me about that provision was how it anticipated the merging of the noble pagan Greco-Roman with the Judeo-Christian. It was Rome, after all, which globalized Christianity. And then, of course, we had Thomas Aquinas’ fuller incorporation of Aristotle and Greco-Roman philosophy into Christianity. The Acts 17 example resonates.

The example of the “Great Spirit” on the other hand, seems different in its non-Westerness. Though certain Mormons or any folks who believed Natives are lost tribes of Israeli would be spoken to by the narrative that holds Act 17/TGS as the same God Jews and Christians worship.

But how far does this reasoning extend? Who else worships the true God of the universe dressed up in pagan garb? Who are the false gods which the First Commandment says not to worship?

As far I can tell the only gods the first four Presidents and many other Founders considered false were those who supported the Tories and those who were illiberal in not respecting the freedom of folks to worship Him according to the dictates of their conscience. As long as those two requirements were meant God could call Himself Jehovah, Allah, Vishnu or The Great Spirit and still be the One True God of the Universe.

Is this what Acts 17 teaches?

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41 Responses to Acts 17 & General Principles

  1. OFT says:

    Jon wrote: Likewise, the Bible says nothing about unalienable rights (and yes, to be fair it doesn’t mention “The Trinity” or original sin either, which are also doctrines constructed from interpretations of the Bible’s text) but you may be able to get there by taking a leap from the general principle of Imago Dei.

    Just because the word “Trinity or Original Sin” is not specifically enumerated in the Scriptures, does not mean the doctrine is not specifically expounded.

    Jon wrote: On the other hand, all non-psychopaths (hopefully) want to limit the parts of the Bible where God commands genocide against certain tribes.

    You can’t read the Old Testament prophets without a sense of God’s profound care for the poor, the oppressed, the down-trodden, the orphaned, and so on. God demands just laws and just rulers. He literally pleads with people to repent of their unjust ways that He might not judge them. “As I live, says the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live” (Ez. 33.11).

    The fact the Israelites had disobeyed God and inter-married the Canaanites, brought the Israelites into idolatry, which would have destroyed them.

    In commanding complete destruction of the Canaanites, the Lord says, “You shall not intermarry with them, giving your daughters to their sons, or taking their daughters for your sons, for they would turn away your sons from following me, to serve other gods” (Deut 7.3-4). Little philly grows up to be big philly.

    The genocide that God commanded was against the Canaanites, who were guilty of the worst crimes imaginable. Since the Canaanites aren’t around anymore, it is another evidence the God of the Bible is God. God has no moral duties to fulfill, he can violate the laws of nature, as he pleases. He is certainly not subject to the same moral obligations and prohibitions that we are. God can take and give life whenever he wants. God is under no obligation whatsoever to extend my life for another second. If He wanted to strike me dead right now, that’s His prerogative.

    So the problem isn’t that God ended the Canaanites’ lives. The problem is that He commanded the Israeli soldiers to end their lives. Since our moral duties are determined by God’s commands, the extermination is morally obligatory in virtue of that command.

    God’s mercy is great:

    “Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. . . . And they shall come back here in the fourth generation, for the iniquity of the Amorites [one of the Canaanite clans] is not yet complete” (Gen. 15. 13, 16).

    God stays His judgment of the Canaanite clans 400 years because their wickedness had not reached the point of intolerability! This is the long-suffering God we know in the Hebrew Scriptures. He even allows his own chosen people to languish in slavery for four centuries before determining that the Canaanite peoples are ripe for judgment and calling His people forth from Egypt.

  2. D.A. Ridgely says:

    “God stays His judgment of the Canaanite clans 400 years because their wickedness had not reached the point of intolerability! This is the long-suffering God we know in the Hebrew Scriptures. He even allows his own chosen people to languish in slavery for four centuries before determining that the Canaanite peoples are ripe for judgment and calling His people forth from Egypt.”

    What a Guy!

  3. James Hanley says:

    You can’t read the Old Testament prophets without a sense of God’s profound care for the poor, the oppressed, the down-trodden, the orphaned, and so on.

    Yeah, he didn’t want to leave orphans to take care of themselves, so he commanded the Israelites to kill all the children of the cities they conquered, too. Hell of a guy.

  4. tom van dyke says:

    The sincere attempt at understanding is marked by what some call a “sympathetic reading,” or as one fellow put it, to read an author “as he understands himself.”

    It’s fun to bash the fundies, but OFT does read the Torah here as it understands itself—Israel is only the instrument of God’s justice for the wicked peoples of the area: “the chosen people” are not given carte blanche for genocide, and indeed, if you read further, they do not carry out the genocide, which leads to yet another complex theological point. The Torah is not to be read lightly even if one rejects it as divine revelation. That would be a brutality.

    I must admit I found the bloodthirsty portions of the Bible problematic. It was only by consulting with [especially] those trained in the rabbinic tradition that I started making head or tail of it.

    OFT gets it right here. Permit me to add, at the risk of greater understanding, “the chosen people” are in turn ordered to surrender themselves into the “Babylonian captivity” for their own sins. It’s all of a fabric, a novel, not an anthology of short stories.

    Most interesting to me is that David, the man “after God’s own heart,” loves God more than anyone else in the Old Testament, as evidenced by the Psalms, which gentled even the hard-headed Thomas Jefferson’s heart. But David is the most flawed, the most venal, the most human.

    For one, he is a murderer, many times over. And for that reason, the man after God’s own heart is not permitted to build the Temple because there is too much blood on David’s hands. [That task falls to his son. Neither does David quite get away with the arranged death of Ukiah.]

    To read the Bible unsympathetically is to do an injustice to it, and to oneself. It’s a damned interesting book, worthy of a Dostoevsky.

  5. James K says:

    OFT:

    God has no moral duties to fulfill, he can violate the laws of nature, as he pleases. He is certainly not subject to the same moral obligations and prohibitions that we are. God can take and give life whenever he wants. God is under no obligation whatsoever to extend my life for another second. If He wanted to strike me dead right now, that’s His prerogative.

    Since our moral duties are determined by God’s commands, the extermination is morally obligatory in virtue of that command.

    These two passages sum up for me the deficiencies of Biblical morality. There have been many atrocities committed in human history, both by those that believed in gods and those that did not. To my eyes the commonality between them is an ethical system that states that morality is synonymous with obedience to an authority; whether its a god, a prophet, a party or a leader. Once you get to that point you’re pushing people to stop using their own moral sentiments, and subordinate than to someone else’s. That’s when atrocities can occur, people stop thinking about what they’re doing and then they can be convinced to do the most heinous of things: the sleep of reason produces nightmares.

    As to God’s exemption from morality: why? I could entertain an argument that as a non-human a moral code fit for humans would not be fit for gods, but that would also imply that any moral code developed by a god would most likely be unfit for humans. I don’t think it’s tenable to allow a moral authority to be exempt from the morality they’re demanding others adhere to.

  6. Michael Enquist says:

    I agree. Parts of the collected books of the Bible are high art indeed. As are passages in the other major religious texts, and are the works inspired by an artist’s devotion to her god.

    If the Bible (and the other majore religious texts) were studied as art and as an insight into the beliefs of people long dead, that would be fine. The trouble for all of us comes when some readers decide that the moral precepts included in the Bible apply, must apply to all of us now, because they are in the Bible, and being in the Bible is all that is necessary for those moral precepts to go unquestioned.

  7. Michael Enquist says:

    This blog has a lot of folks who understand law pretty well:

    When’s the last time a human in the Western nations got off from, say, murdering a few dozen of their neighbors, because they sat on the stand and honestly said in their defense, “God said I could”?

    If one of you folks could point to a recent case, then God would have precedence that He could use next time He’s on the stand and wants to tell us, “I said I could.”

  8. James Hanley says:

    To read the Bible unsympathetically is to do an injustice to it, and to oneself.

    Noticeably, a standard Mr. Van Dyke doesn’t apply when he reads judicial opinions reaching outcomes he doesn’t like.

    But I’m not sure what Mr. Van Dyke means about “they don’t carry out the genocide” (emphasis added). To which one is he referring? Certainly not any of these, where they did, according to the text, destroy everyone in the cities they defeated, men, women, children (and, especially, those perfidious donkey)?

    Josh. 6:21. “They devoted the city to the LORD and destroyed with the sword every living thing in it—men and women, young and old, cattle, sheep and donkeys.” (Jericho)

    Josh. 10:28. “That day Joshua took Makkedah. He put the city and its king to the sword and totally destroyed everyone in it. He left no survivors.”

    Josh. 10:29-39: Then Joshua and all Israel with him moved on from Makkedah to Libnah and attacked it. The LORD also gave that city and its king into Israel’s hand. The city and everyone in it Joshua put to the sword. He left no survivors there…. Then Joshua and all Israel with him moved on from Libnah to Lachish; he took up positions against it and attacked it… The city and everyone in it he put to the sword, just as he had done to Libnah. … Then Joshua and all Israel with him moved on from Lachish to Eglon; they took up positions against it and attacked it. They captured it that same day and put it to the sword and totally destroyed everyone in it, just as they had done to Lachish. Then Joshua and all Israel with him went up from Eglon to Hebron and attacked it. They took the city and put it to the sword, together with its king, its villages and everyone in it. They left no survivors. Just as at Eglon, they totally destroyed it and everyone in it. Then Joshua and all Israel with him turned around and attacked Debir. They took the city, its king and its villages, and put them to the sword. Everyone in it they totally destroyed. They left no survivors.

    It’s all of a fabric, a novel,

    I agree, although I had expected that you’d see it as historical non-fiction. Still, even to write such fantasies of genocide, even if they never actually committed them, is hardly admirable. But of course they were not substantively different than anyone else in the region, which was my original point to OFT.

  9. James Hanley says:

    Actually, this is worth responding to as well.

    read the Torah here as it understands itself—Israel is only the instrument of God’s justice for the wicked peoples of the area:

    There’s no doubt that’s how the Torah/OT tells the story. But on what basis do we treat that as anything other than self-justification? A sympathetic reading itself doesn’t provide grounds for accepting that the Israelites view of themselves ought to be privileged over other ways of reading it.

  10. OFT says:

    Atrocities can only occur by violating God’s Commandments. Jesus said to love even your enemies. For me, Jesus Christ is the authority, and morality, since He backed up all His claims, and fulfilled every prophecy written on paper in the Septuagint, before He was born; His authority is Supreme. Biblical Christianity is different than every other religion that tries to gain God’s approval by works. Salvation is not from following rules, rituals, rites, etc. but simple faith in a real person, the God-man, Jesus Christ, who lived in space, time, history. As God told us in Isaiah 1, “Let us reason together.”

    The foundation of your post is Sin, man’s pathetic actions against other creatures; always has, but one day will stop. The wages of Sin is death, but God has provided a way to escape Judgment that violates a Holy God’s Law’s. If God did not punish sin, He wouldn’t and couldn’t be God. The penalty must be eternal, because He is eternal. This point about perfect justice, John Adams did not understand. So, God paid the penalty Himself, and that penalty is paid by Blood. Since the beginning in Genesis, blood took care of sin.

    Do you think God will let Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, et al. into His permanent home? No, but not just their sins, every single sin must be judged, and Jesus nailed it to the cross.

    I have no problem with God’s laws of nature, neither did the Founding Fathers.

    If God is limited in any way, He wouldn’t be omnipotent, thus he couldn’t be perfect justice, meaning He could not judge the wicked, and presents many other problems with His nature.

  11. James Hanley says:

    I’m not sure if OFT understands that some of us reject his whole frame of reference. It’s as if a Chinese Japanese* apologist for the rape of Nanking came here and said, “It was ok, because we are civilized and they are not, and we have an ancient and legitimate claim to the dragon throne of China.” It certainly works within its own frame of reference, but to anyone outside that frame it’s just bizarre self-justification, and merely reasserting it fails to persuade.

    Anyway, if God is truly omnipotent, can’t he obviously be perfectly unjust if he so chooses? If we say he couldn’t, are we not limiting him?

    *Corrected in response to Chris’s entirely correct pedantry. Actually, given that the Chinese were the victims, such a correction may rise well above mere pedantry.

  12. Chris says:

    Just to be pedantic, I don’t think there are many Chinese apologists for the rape of Nanking, since the perpetrators were Japanese.

  13. James K says:

    OFT:

    For me, Jesus Christ is the authority, and morality, since He backed up all His claims, and fulfilled every prophecy written on paper in the Septuagint, before He was born; His authority is Supreme.

    So you claim, but a single book from 2000 years ago of questionable provenance is not high quality evidence, from where I’m sitting. And even if true it would only prove God was powerful, not that he was just.

    Biblical Christianity is different than every other religion that tries to gain God’s approval by works.

    I’m not actually an adherent of any religion, so this just sounds like a “Can Batman beat up Wolverine? type question to me. In any case, I would consider an ethical system that states that believing in a particular proposition is the supreme moral precept is badly flawed. I can at least see where the “redemption through works” people are coming from, it suggest a god (or gods) that care about people, rather than the (apparently) narcissistic tyrant that you worship.

    The foundation of your post is Sin, man’s pathetic actions against other creatures; always has, but one day will stop.

    What other creatures? My statement concerns a god I have no reason to believe exists. It doesn’t harm anyone. That’s why I reject the whole concept of sin. Morality should be about codes of behaviour that foster beneficial cooperation and prevent (as much as feasible) destructive actions such as violence, fraud and other causes of suffering. That’s an oversimplification of course, but then real morality is rather more complicated than reading one book.

    If God did not punish sin, He wouldn’t and couldn’t be God. The penalty must be eternal, because He is eternal.

    If God is limited in any way, He wouldn’t be omnipotent, thus he couldn’t be perfect justice, meaning He could not judge the wicked, and presents many other problems with His nature.

    Compare and contrast. On the one hand you say God can’t be constrained. On the other, you say that God must do X and Y? In what sense is that not a constraint? In any case all of this is theological wankery. Unless you can provide sufficient evidence to indicate there is reason to believe in any kind of god, let alone your God, any effort to discuss the nature of your God is pointless.

  14. OFT says:

    James K wrote: So you claim, but a single book from 2000 years ago of questionable provenance is not high quality evidence, from where I’m sitting. And even if true it would only prove God was powerful, not that he was just.

    It is many books written over 1600 years, by sixty authors, written about one person, and the redemption of mankind, with not one contradiction; although secularists don’t stop presenting ones already refuted. God is just in that He became a man, paid our penalty that we couldn’t pay, thereby satisfying His justice His own nature requires.

    I can at least see where the “redemption through works” people are coming from, it suggest a god (or gods) that care about people.

    Salvation by works is an easily proven flawed system. How many works are required by God? Which ones? Who makes the determination? What work can atone for sin? Who makes the rules for salvation, God or flawed man?

    Man is so corrupt in his nature, God has to do everything for us, including saving us, which is why He paid the penalty for us. Blood is what atones sin, our blood is tainted by sin, so a sinless man had to pay the penalty; God Himself. Man could never make up something like that. Man always has to show himself worthy to God, which is what religion is. You can trust Jesus.

    In what sense is that not a constraint?

    God cannot violate His nature. For example, God cannot lie. The telelogical argument is evidence of God’s existence, and God telling the future accurately, with no contradictions is another evidence.

    There are three-hundred prophecies about one person; Jesus Christ fulfilled every one. For 50 prophecies, multiply 1,024 times 1,099,343,411,976 – the answer is more than One Quadrillion.

    For 60 prophecies, multiply that answer by 1,024 – the answer is more than One Quintillion.

    And there are 240 prophecies to go. What is that 1 x 10 to the 1000th power? That number doesn’t exist. That’s countless more than all the electrons in the universe!

    Give Jesus a shot with an objective mind.

  15. OFT says:

    I meant “How many works does God require?

  16. tom van dyke says:

    Dr. Hanley, clearly you did not read the Book of Judges, where the same peoples “destroyed” in the Book of Joshua are still there. And in 1Sam15, the “donkey” story, Saul does not go through with God’s commands.

    This is pointless, discussing theology with someone who holds such contempt for it. Mt 7:7. For those honestly interested in understanding, one could start here.

    http://philreligion.nd.edu/conferences/video/my_ways/wolterstorff1.htm

    I must say, James, for someone who works for or with an Islamic-oriented think tank, your open scorn for the Jewish religion seems quite untoward.

    And since you dragged in the other discussion, Dr. Hanley, were you just being obtuse with OFT, or are you honestly unaware of James Madison’s views on constitutional interpretation?

  17. ppnl says:

    James K.

    So you claim, but a single book from 2000 years ago of questionable provenance is not high quality evidence, from where I’m sitting. And even if true it would only prove God was powerful, not that he was just.

    My favorite theory around Christians is that the bible is the work of the devil. It contains enough of interest to lure the unsuspecting yet it is mixed with so much crap as to do far more harm than good. Mix that with the need for absolute faith and the truly evil nature of the bible is revealed.

    Either that or it’s just anther ancient book of mythology. In that case the true nature of evil is revealed…

  18. James K says:

    OFT:

    It is many books written over 1600 years, by sixty authors, written about one person, and the redemption of mankind, with not one contradiction

    Meaningless. Even if what you say is true it doesn’t matter. I don’t care how well it hangs together, I care how well it correlates with reality. Human parthenogenesis? Water to Wine? Raising the dead? The Romans were enthusiastic historians, but only your favourite book mentions these wholly implausible events. There so little in the way of plausible accounts the Bible that it would take a colossal amount of special pleading to make it worthy of investigation, much less belief.

    Salvation by works is an easily proven flawed system.

    Of course it is, the whole concept of salvation is flawed. There is no justice but what we can make ourselves. But the notion of a god that judges you by what you do for others rather than by how much of a sycophant you are sounds closer to the idea of a moral god than the notion you are espousing.

    Man is so corrupt in his nature, God has to do everything for us, including saving us

    Oh, really? In the past 200 years humanity has made massive economic, scientific and moral progress. We have eliminated slavery, famine (in the West), and the rule of tyrants (again, in the West). There have been terrible mistakes (communism, WWI), and there is still much to do, especially in the 3rd world. But year on year we isolate the darker parts of our nature and push them further down. This didn’t happen because of God, in fact it was only once people started to reject Christianity as the source of all wisdom that progress occurred. Not only can we thrive without your God, but human moral and scientific progress has long outgrown the folk tales of a Bronze Age tribe, and their genocidal tyrant of a god.

    ppnl:
    Well, Shakespeare did say the Devil can quote scripture so maybe he wrote it too 🙂

  19. Chris says:

    James, I’d remind Tom that Saul did kill the people, but spared the best sheep and cattle. And God was rather pissed at him for disobeying his orders. This doesn’t make God look better.

    Oh, and criticizing fictional historical tales from a few thousand years ago is hardly a sign of antisemitism.

  20. Heidegger says:

    “This didn’t happen because of God, in fact it was only once people started to reject Christianity as the source of all wisdom that progress occurred. Not only can we thrive without your God, but human moral and scientific progress has long outgrown the folk tales of a Bronze Age tribe, and their genocidal tyrant of a god.”

    JamesK, what in the world could you be thinking? Are you denying, entirely, the last 400 years of human history? The extraordinary achievements in music, art, architecture, literature, science–pretty much all human achievement–Christianity has done more to civilize and inspire humanity than anything, or any “ism” that has ever existed. It sounds like you have a massive chip on your shoulder regarding Christianity.

  21. Michael Enquist says:

    Oh, noes! Not the “Christianity caused all the greatness of civilization” gambit! I death-stroke to non-theists in any argument.

    Not.

    My Chinese relatives always laugh when ethnocentric Christians try this one.

  22. James Hanley says:

    Tom,

    I have no more scorn for the Jewish religion than for any other religion. All I was really scorning was OFT’s efforts to pretend that a) either the Israelites were distinctly different and less warlike than the other nations around them, or b) if they did do something nasty it was just because God told them. Many Jews are troubled by these texts, as are many Christians. I’m simply scorning those who aren’t, or who would say–as you seem to have–“if you just read it this way, it’s all good.”

    And I actually do not have contempt for theology–I have contempt for those who use it to reach the conclusions they set out with the goal of reaching.

    As to the Madison quote. I actually did know he’d said that (although I couldn’t remember where, and would have had to look it up). But I do get annoyed with people who make factual claims that are not common knowldge without providing a cite. It’s just good practice, and I wish Mr. OFT would figure that out.

  23. James Hanley says:

    Chris,

    The last time I attended church, while visiting my mother, that was the text the minister used. His whole point was how bad Saul was for not following God’s word and sparing the best animals. Not once did he give any indication of acknowledging that maybe, just maybe, we ought to have some moral qualms about this killing. Nope. God ordered it, and the only disturbing thing was that they didn’t do enough killing.

  24. James Hanley says:

    Wait, so 1600 years of Christianity pass without any significant achievements in music, art, architecture, literature, and science, then–just as scholars are beginning to seriously question Christianity and look beyond scripture to the natural world for answers to their questions, then Christianity suddenly ups its game and manages to accomplish “pretty much all human achievement”?* And the enlightenment had nothing to do with it?

    If it was some sort of effort to head secularism off at the pass, it failed miserably.

    ____________________
    *Not all human achievement. Christianity had absolutely nothing to do with punk rock.

  25. Heidegger says:

    No, not all, James. The 1600 years were but the building blocks for the greatest 400 years in human history. They gave us, mercifully, Bach–music, and Sir Issac Newton–everything else. I’m speaking of human “summits”, gods in their own right, and very deeply Christian in their thoughts and passions. Newton was the greatest genius to ever live. His accomplishments in physics, optics, chronology, mechanics, , chemistry, mathematics, are so legendary and stupendous–his Principia is virtually the Holy Bible of science. But of great interest is his lifelong obsession with the Bible–he believed every single word, literally. Yes, that not one word in the Bible contained a single contradiction! And Bach is nothing less than the eternal nucleus of the musical universe–all composers rotate around his musical sphere, in utter glorious gratitude and ecstasy. Or as he himself signed every single piece of music he ever wrote, “Soli Deo Gloria–To God, all the glory!
    Might it be possible that God gave humanity more than one of his beloved sons?

  26. James Hanley says:

    Well, Heidegger, this time you’ve convinced me.

  27. D.A. Ridgely says:

    Was it his encyclopedic knowledge of the subject matter, his penetrating insight or his masterful command of logic that made the difference?

  28. James Hanley says:

    D.A.R.,

    Yes.

    And how can anyone so certain possibly be wrong?

  29. James K says:

    Heidegger:

    they gave us, mercifully, Bach–music, and Sir Issac Newton–everything else.

    Everything else? Sir Isaac was a remarkable thinker (and the deadliest son of a bitch in space 😉 ) but his contributions were to but a single aspect of human knowledge.

    Over the course of about 25 years we had Adam Smith, Hume, Jefferson, Madison, Franklin, Voltaire, Paine, Ricardo and probably half a dozen I missed. Massive advances occurred through the social sciences (indeed this is about when economics branched off from philosophy) and the seeds for the Industrial Revolution were sown (Smith was the one who first gave Watt the opportunity he needed to work on his steam engine).

    And yet none of this had much of anything to do with Christianity. Smith was about the most Christian of the thinkers I mentioned above (he was an orthodox Anglican) and yet his moral philosophy doesn’t mention deities at all, it’s all about sympathy and holds together perfectly well even if one is an atheist. Equally his economic theories don’t advocate for religion as a source of economic growth. The other thinkers on my list were hardly Christians as understood in the modern sense (in fact Hume was an atheist, and I think Paine was as well), though I’m not sure about Ricardo. To my eyes it seems that these advances only took place once religion had lost much of its grip on society, allowing new ideas to flourish. Hell, with the exception of Smith pretty much every person on my list would have been burned at the stake 200 years earlier.

  30. Matty says:

    Hume was an atheist, and I think Paine was as well

    Paine appears to have been quite clear in arguing in favour of deism. Are you saying this was a smokescreen for his real beliefs, or rather lack of belief?

  31. Mark Boggs says:

    Yeah, except even Paine exempts himself from the scrutiny he places on the other religions by making the leap that because we have been “created”, there must be a “creator”. No more proof necessary, nor is there any need to ask who creates the creator.

    If it was a smokescreen, it was only because of the huge blindspot he had towards the logic of his own beliefs.

  32. James Hanley says:

    I’m not sure if Ricardo was an atheist, but he damn sure wasn’t a Christian!

  33. tom van dyke says:

    Dudes, if you honestly want to understand the Torah, go chat up somebody educated in the rabbinical tradition. They been working on this stuff for 2500 years or so. And I’m sure you’ll mind your manners a bit more than here. The Amalekites were thoroughly wicked, and eventually got theirs, much later in the Bible. Just mocking the fundies is too cheap.

    Theology is tough, the Torah tougher. It’s not like picking up the morning paper and making judgments. It’s a history of God, but more so, it’s a history of man.

    And I sincerely doubt that any of you would mock a Muslim’s faith and scripture face to face or even on the internet. Just to get real here for a moment.
    _____________

    JamesK cites the usual pantheon of Enlightenment heroes:

    Adam Smith, Hume, Jefferson, Madison, Franklin, Voltaire, Paine, Ricardo and probably half a dozen I missed.

    JamesK, you might be surprised at the people the academy delete from the pantheon. I don’t blame you for the lacunae. There are tons of [gasp!] calvinists who fought for and established religious freedom. Go figure. Hume didn’t do shit.

    I like Adam Smith a lot and I think you refer to his greatest work,

    http://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/smith-adam/works/moral/index.htm

    Adam Smith 1759
    The Theory of Moral Sentiments—available free at that link

    Such a wise man. And as the readers of this blog well know, no mere “capitalist” either. But in his way, he believed all men are created equal.

    “The difference between the most dissimilar characters, between a philosopher and a common street porter, for example, seems to arise not so much from nature, as from habit, custom, and education…”

    Not exactly correct, I think, but I agree with the sentiment. The common street porter can easily be wiser than the so-called philosopher. It’s proved every day on this blog.

  34. Heidegger says:

    Oh my, such praise and compliments from none other than the Enigmatic One, Mr. DAR, resident philosopher, genius, and all-around Renaissance man! I’m humbled and heartened and thoroughly undeserving of such accolades, but thank you, nonetheless. Okay, enough of the sarcasm meeting sarcasm. The reality is, I suspect you fell in love with your shadow quite a while ago. Your ostentatious, haughty arrogance is, at times, most unbecoming–you just ooze scorn, ridicule, condescension and your flock of acolytes and sycophants at this website who seem to just worship at your feet, is puzzling and a bit, sickening. You are, unquestionably, a very clever wordsmith, and at times, quite funny. Why the need to be such an insufferable wise ass about Christians and Christianity? Perhaps you think you can get your cheap chuckles in with your adoring crowd at this site. So, in the meantime, please enlighten us with your encyclopedic knowledge, penetrating insight, and command of logic on….anything, everything. How about if you start with Sir Issac Newton and J.S. Bach….the world breathlessly awaits your every inspired word.

  35. Matty says:

    Your ostentatious, haughty arrogance is, at times, most unbecoming–you just ooze scorn, ridicule, condescension and your flock of acolytes and sycophants at this website who seem to just worship at your feet, is puzzling and a bit, sickening.

    Sothat’s where the thesaurus went

  36. James Hanley says:

    Theology is tough, the Torah tougher. It’s not like picking up the morning paper and making judgments. It’s a history of God, but more so, it’s a history of man.

    It’s only a history of man, and only of one small tribe of men. You don’t get that we don’t take it seriously because there’s no evidence that it’s central claim–the Israelites were God’s chosen people–is true. The only evidence is its own claim to truth, and that’s no evidence at all. The best a sympathetic reading–which I grew up doing, believe me, a far too sympathetic reading–will get for those who don’t accept that ridiculous premise, is a better understanding of how the Israelites understood themselves. But their understanding of themselves has no bearing on the truth value of their claim.

    By the way, do you give the Koran a sympathetic reading? Or does only the Bible get that considerate treatment?

    And I sincerely doubt that any of you would mock a Muslim’s faith and scripture face to face or even on the internet. Just to get real here for a moment.

    Ah, the old, “you’re too cowardly to criticize Muslims” gambit. Grow up. It’s the price Christians pay for being so damned dominant.

    * By the way, do you give the Koran a sympathetic reading? Or is it only the Bible that gets such considerate treatment.

  37. Mark Boggs says:

    Dudes, if you honestly want to understand the Torah, go chat up somebody educated in the rabbinical tradition.

    Just mocking the fundies is too cheap.

    It’s not like picking up the morning paper and making judgments.

    Hume didn’t do shit.

    And I sincerely doubt that any of you would mock a Muslim’s faith and scripture face to face or even on the internet. Just to get real here for a moment.

    The common street porter can easily be wiser than the so-called philosopher. It’s proved every day on this blog.

    Too much loaded language.

    mocking
    chat up
    educated
    judgments
    shit
    mock a Muslim

    Real people don’t talk that way to each other, Tom. You get 2 mebbe, not 6. Dude.

    As for your rhetorical style, I have found it largely peculiar to regular readers of Free Republic and viewers of FOX. Just an observation.

  38. Mark Boggs says:

    See how easy that was? Don’t address your point, just critique your language.

  39. James K says:

    No, an error on my part. I knew he wasn’t an orthodox Christian, but everything else was hazy.

  40. James K says:

    tom van dyke:

    Theology is tough, the Torah tougher. It’s not like picking up the morning paper and making judgments.

    Theology isn’t merely tough, it’s impossible. You can’t create knowledge without data of some kind: when all you have to play with are unsubstantiated assertions, you cannot learn new things no matter how heroically you grapple with the text. They might be able to understand the book’s authors a bit better, but that’s it. To understand the nature of a god, the god has to actually exist.

    JamesK, you might be surprised at the people the academy delete from the pantheon. I don’t blame you for the lacunae. There are tons of [gasp!] calvinists who fought for and established religious freedom. Go figure. Hume didn’t do shit.

    You can’t blame the academy in this case. I’m an economist, not a historian so I didn’t learn this stuff at university. In any case I’m not talking about social activism here (though I salute those who advanced the cause of secularism, including those who were religious) but rather the advancement of knowledge. There was a massive boom in the social sciences in a narrow window and it led to massive expansion in quality of life for a great many people. And it had nothing to do with Christianity.

    But in his way, (Smith) believed all men are created equal.

    He certainly did. Most of the early economists were opponents of slavery back before it was cool. In fact is was the abolitionist sentiment of the discipline that led Thomas Carlyle to call it “the dismal science”.

    Oh, and one more thing:

    And I sincerely doubt that any of you would mock a Muslim’s faith and scripture face to face or even on the internet. Just to get real here for a moment.

    Islam is as much of a living absurdity as any religion, and the treatment of women, gays and apostates in most officially Muslim countries is barbaric and evil.

    Satisfied?

  41. Chris says:

    I actually agree with Tom: we should take theology seriously. And, contra JamesK, I recognize that theology has data (even if it’s not the narrowly-defined sort of data that science deals with), and that it has some powerful arguments. Still, it’s hard to take someone seriously about theology when they demand that we take theology seriously in a discussion of hermeneutics, and then link to a philosophy of religion page as an example of the theology we should be taking seriously. It’s almost as if the one demanding seriousness has exercised none himself.

    I might point out to Tom that theological arguments concerning the doctrine of God generally require, if they’re going to have any meaning in a discussion, that we agree on certain fundamental assumptions, not the least of which, in a Christian context, is the revealed nature of scripture, since this is where much of our doctrine of God is going to come from. Hell, it presupposes a belief in the existence of God (hard to have revealed scripture without something to reveal it). Since, I suspect, those who Tom’s railing against in this case don’t share those assumptions with him, his chastising them is silly at best. Again, I might point this out, but I’m not sure these subtleties are within his… purview.

    Also, Tom’s point about Islam is just annoyingly stupid. First off, we’re having a discussion about Christianity, so a criticism of Islam in this context would have been a non sequitur. Second, atheists, new and old alike, have been vocal critics of Islam and its practices, particularly with respect to violence and human rights, for quite some time now. I’m sure Tom doesn’t hear these people very often, because they don’t show up on Fox News or the 700 Club, but still.

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