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Coffee & Wisdom 02.59: The Wobbly Wall: Separation of Religion and State Part 5

David Breeden is speaking all week about Church/State Separation.


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Hello, I’m David Breeden, I’m the senior minister at First Unitarian Society of Minneapolis, a historically humanist congregation. And this is coffee and Wisdom, where this week we’ve been looking at the separation of religion and state kind of worldwide, comparing some nations as a quick review, but then talking about here in the US and how secularism has shaken out over the years. It’s important in all of this, I think, to discuss what the founders were actually thinking, not what we wish they were thinking and what that many of them were thinking about anyway was something called Diesem. I want to look a little bit about that today to kind of trace the idea of Diesem what it actually was, not what it is now or perceived of is now. And look at how this informs the documents that we talk about. So, you know, this this is the beginning of the Declaration of Independence, the unanimous declaration of the thirteen United States of America, when in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation. So the first paragraph tells us exactly where the head of the people who are writing this is, and that is the laws of nature and of nature’s God.

Now, what the heck are the laws of nature? And what’s this God of nature is what we mean by Deism remembering that the Declaration of Independence was chiefly written by Thomas Jefferson with the input of John Adams and Benjamin Franklin. We hold these truths to be self-evident. Self-evident is a term that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. Several things there. First off, Self-evident Truths refers back to that idea of nature and nature’s God that we can read the laws of nature to discover what it means, what human existence means on this earth. Creator is there with a capital C doesn’t say God. It is a much larger concept in this indicus terms and deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. Notice that this is making an assertion of the what’s at that time was known as social contract. The idea that people are the ones who form governments, not God, because this refers back to the European fight over whether or not the monarchies were blessed by God, chosen by God to rule over people justly or unjustly didn’t matter because God said so.

This is a declaration that the powers that we have as a government are by the consent of the governed, not through the powers of a God. And this is Deism. There’s a symbol of deism there. There are contemporary ideas today. Most of them don’t know that they are, I would argue. But there is a capital D ism that stretches back into late fifteen hundreds, mostly in the sixteen hundreds. And it was beginning to go out of fashion in Europe at the time that the American Revolution was occurring. But the ISM is based on the Latin Dales, meaning God, the Greek word for that is Theos. So we have Davis and Theos D ism and the ISM were used interchangeably in the Middle Ages. You’ll see this in documents if you look at the originals, but it takes on this new meaning. In the late 50s and early 60s, hundreds in Europe. Diesem rejects revelation as in revealed truth. This is absolutely central to what Deeds were saying. Again, we have to get our minds back to where they were in the sixteen hundreds. Revelation means that God has spoken to people and told them things so God reveals truth to Moses on Mount Sinai. That’s where the Ten Commandments come from. God reveals the Christ to Saint Paul. That’s where the revelation comes from. It’s where the. Truth is based, Deursen says that doesn’t happen, that doesn’t happen when you say that, then what you’re saying is that scripture is just a human invention, which is a very radical idea for the time.

Then revelation of truth is through according to the deepest reason and evidence as revealed in the natural world. Now, they are not atheist in the way that we use the term atheist nowadays, although the way they used atheist in the sixteen hundreds, they were atheists because they were not Orthodox Christians. But that’s a little beside the point, although you’re going to see the term atheist thrown around if you start looking especially into the French philosopher from the time. So revelation of truth is the reason and evidence. Now, this is coming out of a time when people were very enamored of Isaac Newton is discoveries of how the universe works. And the idea is that we can find out the truths of God’s will by looking at God’s creation. God has created a watch, and the watchmaker was very much a part of the metaphor of Diesem. But that watch now runs by itself and God doesn’t get involved in the world anymore. It’s our job then to look at what we see on Earth. Now, this does go back into natural law theory in Roman Catholicism of that in the early Middle Ages. But it’s really coming to a very different conclusion as it’s being used by the state of France and England, especially during this time. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, says Diesem, is the form of religion most associated with the Enlightenment.

Really, diesem and enlightenment essentially mean the same thing because you could not have what we call the Enlightenment without these ideas of D.M.. According to Deism, we can know by the natural light of reason that the universe is created and governed by a supreme intelligence. However, although the Supreme being has a plan for creation from the beginning, the being does not interfere with creation. The deist typically rejects miracles and reliance on special revelation as a source of religious doctrine and belief in favor of the natural light of reason. So you don’t know it in your heart rather than in. You don’t hear a voice of God or angels, but rather you must discover truth through evidence, by studying the natural world that this grand creator created the prime mover really from Aristotle, basically, and then left and moved away. All right. Thomas Paine, a central figure in the American revolutionary idea. The deist needs none of those tricks and shows called miracles to confirm his faith for what can be a greater miracle than the creation itself and his own existence. Classic diesem at work. We don’t need tricks and shows called miracles. Very often, desists are a little bit guilty of denigrating conventional orthodox Christianity. This is in a Christian context, we must remember, because it is French, then British, then it moves over to the US where it kind of lasted a little bit longer than it did in Europe, where the European thinkers anyway moved on to another kind of thinking so that Jesus needs none of those tricks and shows called miracles to confirm his faith for what can be a greater miracle than the creation itself and his own existence.

Now, we can watch that going back. We’ve talked about Spinoza over time, very much in this in this vein of thinking about what the natural God is. The term Deus was first used in English in its contemporary meaning in sixteen twenty one in a very famous book by Robert Burton called The Anatomy of Melancholy, people still read it today. It was a way of looking at the poetic soul before we go into the romantic age and start talking more about that. Here we have Voltaire in France. I cannot imagine how the clockwork of the universe can exist without a clock maker and very much a part of the thinking of the time that we live in a mechanical universe. Of course they don’t. They didn’t have metaphors of software and computers. They were using what they understood as the more complex machines of their time, like watches. The center of this idea as it comes into the United States is from John Locke. Sixteen thirty two. Seventeen for Locke. Was accused of secessionism, Arianism, diesem and polygonal giantism, all things that Unitarians are also accused of through time, that is making Jesus into just a human being, believing that God there is a God, but it is so abstracted that we really can’t know anything about it.

And plagiarism is original. Sin does not exist. We can save ourselves. His essay concerning human understanding came out in seventeen hundred and it had a profound effect on traditional belief. Again, Locke was being very canny. He was trying to avoid being called any of those things. He didn’t want to be seen as somehow anti Christian, but his philosophical writings definitely point in a way of diesem or maybe even beyond. The central idea here is the idea of the tabula rasa, the blank slate. If we have no inborn ideas and supernatural revelation cannot exist, we are left with observation and reason only. Now we know nowadays that there are genetic things that figure into human thinking. But Bloch was arguing something very, very different. And part of what he was arguing here with the tabula rasa said that we’re born with a blank slate and then knowledge and human culture create our ideas. What he’s doing is separating off human thought from any talk of revelatory ideas from God. And that is absolutely central to the scientific process. But it also figures into the American democratic idea of how to form a government. The founding people had definitely been reading that particular essay on human understanding. Thomas Paine. Again, there is a happiness in Diesem when rightly understood that is not to be found in any other system of religion.

All other systems have something in them that that either shock or reason or are repugnant to it. And man, if he thinks it all must stifle his reason in order to force himself to believe them. So supernatural ideas are against reasons, as Thomas Paine and therefore Diesem is the logical way to have a faith tradition and find out the truth of the universe. Thomas Jefferson says the question with boldness, even the existence of a God, because if there be one, he must more approve of the image of reason than that of blindfolded fear. Classic deist way of looking at these things, because reason is a gift from this clockmaker God. And we must use it. That’s what it’s there for. And we must discover the laws of the universe, including the fact that human beings form human governments. Benjamin Franklin, one of the advisors on the Declaration of Independence, says this. I cannot conceive otherwise then that he big H. He, the infinite father expects or requires no worship or praise from us, but that he is even infinitely above it. So Deist often say this kind of thing. If God wants to be worshiped, that’s not really a God you want to worship. You want to have a God that would not be stoop so low as to want to be worshiped by human beings.

They need to row is one of the more famous of the philosophes from that time period adds to someone who has not lived long enough to become an atheist. Yeah, he is much closer to the way that we see the atheist skeptic these days. But it wasn’t that idea wasn’t real popular during the time period when Disney was alive. Classic. This is a contemporary deistic statement. God loves you. He just doesn’t want to get involved. That’s not exactly what the Beatles were saying, but it definitely goes in that direction. So the founding document of the United States is very much permeated with this idea of diesem. God is not going to get involved. God has created what God created. We are to look at it and then derive our own ways of being from our reason by looking at the laws of nature. And that is Diesem. Thanks for listening this week. I’ll be speaking on Sunday at 2:00 p.m. Central Time, 3:00 p.m. Eastern about does humanism have a future in Unitarian Universalism? The respondent is Leca Lewis Cornwell, an up and coming you minister humanist, who is also the president of the Unitarian Universalist. Humanist Association also due to tune in on Sunday morning at Ten Thirty Central Time, Reverend Jim Foti will be talking about ideas of commitment and what that means with people who totally disagree with this. Thanks a lot for listening this week, and I’ll see you next week and on Sunday. Thanks.

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