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Theocentrism vs. Egocentrism

Deborah Tyler attempts to understand today's liberalism:

In recent weeks we have witnessed liberals in the highest level of government sanctimoniously defend terrorists who kill us, while persecuting those who defend us from murderous attacks. In an effort to understand this reversal of good and evil, it has become a cliché to call liberals crazy. But while supremely hypocritical, liberalism is not insane. It is a highly adaptive ego device that enables people to violate commitments, vilify those who are true to their faith, and avoid personal sacrifice while feeling great about themselves. The only defense against hypocrisy is self-knowledge; the politics, spirituality, and morality of liberalism are well-constructed firmaments of self-delusion.

The United States was founded in a Judeo-Christian theocentrism that is informed by scripture and assumes a personal God who hears prayers and grants forgiveness for sin. Theocentrism provides stable laws and settled moral codes.

In the mid-twentieth century, an unorganized, reactive spiritual orientation arose, egocentrism, which has become the dominant moral framework in our nation. This orientation says there may or may not be a God, so each individual must follow his or her own conscience and ethical values. Theocentrism has been promulgated by traditional religion. Egocentrism has mainly been introduced through mass media, educational power structures, and more recently by reoriented religions.

A theocentrist lives out the question, What does God say is best to do? An egocentrist lives out the question, What do I think is best to do? Here is the central difference between theocentrism and egocentrism: Living for God is a largely conscious, intentional process, informed by a written scripture that presupposes the need for repentance.

Egocentrism largely proceeds below the level of conscious awareness through a series of experiments in self-directed living. It presupposes constant change -- and who is there to repent to? The consciousness/unconsciousness dichotomy may be shown by a behavioral exemplar. Theocentrists are always praising and blessing God, saying things like, "Praise the Lord . . . so help me, God . . . Insh Allah." But for egocentrists, it's not so clear who to thank. They don't disclaim "Praise Me!" Me have Mercy!" or "May it please Myself!"

This difference explains the gratitude gap between liberals and conservatives. Thanking God is central to theocentrism; thanking oneself is more complicated, and that is why self-esteem is all important in egocentrist spirituality.

She goes deeper... might be good to go deep with her.

Via Larwyn in email.

Crossposted(*).


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Comments (55)

Color me unimpressed so far... (Below threshold)
James H:

Color me unimpressed so far. The problem with a theocentric worldview is that it assumes the existence of a god. But if there is no god, then the "theocentric" lifestyle is a lie.

The problem with a... (Below threshold)
Mac Lorry:
The problem with a theocentric worldview is that it assumes the existence of a god.

That supposes there are no self-evident truths or principles by which society can most successfully organize. The principle of written laws that apply to everyone within a society regardless of their status (not office) is one such principle. How about the principles of private property ownership, truth, and honesty? Which of these principles are lies if as you say "there is no god"?

Conservatism is the recognition that there are self-evident truths and also time tested principles that when followed produce the greatest benefits to a given society. Liberalism is the movement away from such principles often driven by the desires of human nature or emotion. History shows that liberalism destroys the environment it flourishes in. The U.S. is on that path.

James,So? Your 're... (Below threshold)
Jeff Blogworthy:

James,

So? Your 'reasoning' can easily be turned around.

"The problem with an ecocentric worldview is that it assumes the non-existence of a god. But if there is a God, then the "ecocentric" lifestyle is a lie."

This argument solves nothing and means nothing. At least, considering Pascal's wager, the consequences to you if your worldview is a lie are far greater than the consequences to me if my worldview is a lie. Follow?

Speaking for myself, I find... (Below threshold)
Upset Old Guy:

Speaking for myself, I find the redefining for words, these days most often engaged in by politically/socially liberal people, offensive. James, if there is no god how does that make a theocentric lifestyle a "lie?" I would have no objection to the use of a word such as baseless, but the use of the word lie is totally inappropriate and baseless.

Your use of the word lie here is as unsupportable as those who characterize GWB as having lied about WMDs in Iraq. Bush, along with most of the other leaders of the western world, accepted as true the intelligence information available stating that Iraq had WMDs. Those stockpiles did not exist when we got there, but that only made the intelligence information wrong and people who cited that information wrong in their belief that the stockpiles existed. Being wrong is not the same as lying.

I'm not sure I buy the clai... (Below threshold)
Mac S:

I'm not sure I buy the claims about egocentrism necessarily leading to hypocrisy and ingratitude. Certainly it could lead to that, if people simply wanted the easiest life for themselves. But the easiest life is usually a short one and never the best one. If people really wanted what was best for themselves, they would have to think hard about what that meant, and then act on it. And it seems clear to me that one of the things that is best is a healthy dose of respect and gratitude for the people who work to provide services to you that make your life better (like the military to use an example from the article).

The other problem that I have with the article is that it seems to have no place for rationality and thought when it comes to ethics. She claims that the egocentrist lives out the question "What do I think it is best to do?" But this is the fundamental ethical question regardless of who you are. True, the theocentrist will shortly follow up with "Well, since it is best to do what God says, now the question is what does God say it is best to do," but that is still an answer that he has given. But this is an answer that could easily be given thoughtlessly. Just as the bad egocentrist doesn't like the effort involved in taking charge of his own life and so leaves it up to his random whims, the bad theocentrist doesn't like taking charge of his life and so surrenders it to a book. I'm not saying that anyone who lives their life according to the Bible is wrong to do so, all I'm saying is that if real thought doesn't enter into the decision to do so, the theocentrist will be no better off than the egocentrist.

Ethical considerations are necessarily first-person considerations, no matter what philosophy or religion you follow, and ought to be properly treated as such.

That supposes ther... (Below threshold)
James H:
That supposes there are no self-evident truths or principles by which society can most successfully organize. The principle of written laws that apply to everyone within a society regardless of their status (not office) is one such principle. How about the principles of private property ownership, truth, and honesty? Which of these principles are lies if as you say "there is no god"?

None. I would argue that "self-evident: truths are not "self-evident" at all, but are rather precepts we embrace over time after testing them and finding them sound concepts.

This argument solves nothing and means nothing. At least, considering Pascal's wager, the consequences to you if your worldview is a lie are far greater than the consequences to me if my worldview is a lie. Follow?

Christians who base their belief on Pascal's wager are going to be in an extremely tight spot if they get to the afterlife and Ma'at is wating with a scale and a feather. Pascal's wager is a useless directive because it is merely binomial.

Speaking for myself, I find the redefining for words, these days most often engaged in by politically/socially liberal people, offensive. James, if there is no god how does that make a theocentric lifestyle a "lie?"

If there is no god, then the theocentric lifestyle becomes a lie because it is based on a grand delusion. If there is no god, then it follows that praises to that god are false, and so forth.

Furthermore, I don't particularly care if I offended you. What am I supposed to do? Apologize profusely for offending somebody's sensibilities? I'm not that kind of liberal.

To recap: Theocentrism is rooted in the idea that there is a supernatural entity, whether you call that entity God, Allah, or Jehovah. A theocentric lifestyle is built around honoring that entity and following its commandments. But if that entity does not exist, then the foundation of that lifestyle is rotten.

Not that there's nothing good there. Kindness, justice, and charity are certainly great virtues. But they lose nothing if you decouple them from theology and practice them on their own.

So, again, why is this "theocentric" lifestyle necessary? Why not simply be good without God?

"Why not simply be good wit... (Below threshold)
GarandFan:

"Why not simply be good without God?"

Then why not go for the gusto and grab everything you can while you are here? If you only 'go around once in life', make the most of it. "Goodness is it's own reward" sounds pretty lame.

Oh, I just love one sided t... (Below threshold)
ryan a:

Oh, I just love one sided treatments of history and politics that conveniently tell readers what they want to hear.

"The United States was founded in a Judeo-Christian theocentrism that is informed by scripture and assumes a personal God who hears prayers and grants forgiveness for sin. Theocentrism provides stable laws and settled moral codes."

Look, if you are going to start talking about history, ethics, and morality, then it makes sense to at least pay attention to all sides of the story. Yes, the US was founded, in part, on Judeo-Christian ethics. But it was also founded upon many principles of the European Enlightenment, among other things. So the philosophical and legal foundations of the US are a mixed bag. AND THERE IS A REASON for this. There is a reason why the US was not founded as a religious state. All you have to do is look into the religious wars in Europe during the 17th and 18th centuries to get some answers about why the Founding Fathers created the state system they did.

There is the reason why we have secular law, and why there is no state religion. Feel free to review European history to find out why this is the case.

Long story short, while many of the founders of the US did in fact come from Christian nations, they made a strong effort to avoid the sort of devastation that state-backed religions can engender. Hence, freedom of religion and secular law.

Finally, don't forget that during the colonization and early years of the US, many professed "Christians" behaved in ways that strongly contradicted the tenets of their faith. The same, of course, applied to secular folks who felt themselves "enlightened" by the strictures of pure rationality. Interesting how the knife cuts both ways, eh?

It's great to use history to tell lies about the present, but history isn't always as cooperative as we hope. Details matter.

"This difference explains the gratitude gap between liberals and conservatives. Thanking God is central to theocentrism; thanking oneself is more complicated, and that is why self-esteem is all important in egocentrist spirituality."

Right. I understand the fact that hearing yourself this nice, simple story makes you feel good. First of all, plenty of "liberals" are very religious people. So that kind of shoots down the simplistic equation of liberals as secular and conservatives as the faithful. Second, there is no guarantee that someone who is religious is somehow not an egocentric fool. Maybe, but maybe not. Finally, the assumption that secular people are automatically self-serving is just nonsense. Ego-centrism runs deep, and its certainly not just a problem of liberals.

But sure, you just keep on believing whatever makes you feel good about your political position.

James, you're personalizing... (Below threshold)
Upset Old Guy:

James, you're personalizing this. I didn't say you offend me. I said redefining words offends me.

A theocratic lifestyle is not a "lie" in the absence of god, it simply has no basis for its existance. The lack of a basis wouldn't make it a "lie."

Now, if the people teaching about god knew of the god's non-existance, that would be a lie. But in matters of faith that's going to be difficult to prove. For instance, there will always be people who cling to their belief in A.G.W. and Al Gore.

Good to see sarah Palin's w... (Below threshold)
Victory is Ours:

Good to see sarah Palin's water carriers busily at work laying the foundation for Palin's God-centric run for the Presidency.

Oops, did I let out a secret? Sorry....

In a video recorded on November 30, 2009 and released Friday by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, former half-term Alaska Governor Sarah Palin says that America must seek to rededicate itself to God and "seek his will" to solve "the great challenges" we face today.

Theocratic leadership in the churches, passing down the "gospel" to their congregations who in turn pulled the 'correct' switch in the voting booth. That's how Rove got Bush elected.

But why aren't the people who are doing "Sarah's Work" coming out of the closet and identifying this movement as a Palin movement?

Why are they pretending to discuss "God verus Ego" when in reality they are promoting "Sarah vs Obama"?

Easy. They paint the black man as being the devil and then Saintly Sarah comes to the rescue.

Those oil companies. What will they think of next?

Vic

None. I would argu... (Below threshold)
Mac Lorry:
None. I would argue that "self-evident: truths are not "self-evident" at all, but are rather precepts we embrace over time after testing them and finding them sound concepts.

In the animal kingdom you would be right. Among humans there are principles such as a person keeping the fruits of their own labor that are only possible when other members of society accept that principles in order to protect their own property. Thus, such principles are self-evident because individuals see how they benefit all members of a society.

Christians who base their belief on Pascal's wager are going to be in an extremely tight spot if they get to the afterlife and Ma'at is wating with a scale and a feather. Pascal's wager is a useless directive because it is merely binomial.

Your original post was based on a generic god, not the Christian God. What we can say for sure is that either we all pass into blissful non-existence or Atheists pass into judgment. As for other religions, there's always hope. Thus, Pascal's wager is more than binomial.

If there is no god, then the theocentric lifestyle becomes a lie because it is based on a grand delusion. If there is no god, then it follows that praises to that god are false, and so forth.

You missed the point. The word lie means a deliberate deception, and thus, only someone who knows the truth can lie about it. Being wrong or believing something that's not true is not the same as being a liar. No one can know the truth about the existence of the Christian God because it's His purpose that people accept Him by faith; something every human has the ability to do. What experiment or test can you perform that an omnipotent God can't frustrate? If no human can know the truth about the existence of the Christian God then no human can lie about His existence. Liberals like to redefine words, which was the commenter's point and of which you are an example of.

So, again, why is this "theocentric" lifestyle necessary? Why not simply be good without God?

Without God there is no "good", only the self-evident principles that ultimately flow from self-interest. Self-denying love toward strangers who can never pay you back is the root of all good and that root springs from God alone. Claiming you are "good" without God is in fact a lie.

Irrelevance, thy name is Vi... (Below threshold)
James H:

Irrelevance, thy name is Vic.

James wrote:"To re... (Below threshold)
ryan a:

James wrote:

"To recap: Theocentrism is rooted in the idea that there is a supernatural entity, whether you call that entity God, Allah, or Jehovah. A theocentric lifestyle is built around honoring that entity and following its commandments. But if that entity does not exist, then the foundation of that lifestyle is rotten."

Ok, so let's say that you have an atheist who believes in secular thought, law, and philosophy. For them there is no god. So they die, and it turns out that in fact George Burns is god and the atheist was wrong. Now, this person lived life according to secular law and moral codes, and did the best they could. They tried to be a good person according to the strictures they followed. Was the foundation of their life rotten? Hardly. And maybe George Burns has retained a sense of humor.

On the flip side, your question about the existence of god kind of makes your whole question impossible to answer. It's pure conjecture. Since the existence of god can't really be proven one way or another, it's all a matter of faith and belief. Besides, I think far too many people focus on being right about this sort of thing, rather than respectful, open-minded, and fair.

Mac,"Without God t... (Below threshold)
ryan a:

Mac,

"Without God there is no "good", only the self-evident principles that ultimately flow from self-interest. Self-denying love toward strangers who can never pay you back is the root of all good and that root springs from God alone. Claiming you are "good" without God is in fact a lie."

Of course, this is your opinion. I can respect that, but I think there are more than likely several different views about this.

Is Vic Lee Ward, or what?</... (Below threshold)
ryan a:

Is Vic Lee Ward, or what?

Baaaaaa. Palin herding the ... (Below threshold)
Victory is Ours:

Baaaaaa. Palin herding the dummies towards her camp.

Link.

Vic

Type from #8 above. SHOULD... (Below threshold)
ryan a:

Type from #8 above. SHOULD READ:

Right. I understand the fact that hearing this nice, simple story makes you feel good.

ryan,Ther... (Below threshold)
Mac Lorry:

ryan,

There is a reason why the US was not founded as a religious state. All you have to do is look into the religious wars in Europe during the 17th and 18th centuries to get some answers about why the Founding Fathers created the state system they did.

The founders relied not on the dirty current affairs of Europe in founding the US, but on more ancient principles found both in Biblical sources and Greek philosophy.

Finally, don't forget that during the colonization and early years of the US, many professed "Christians" behaved in ways that strongly contradicted the tenets of their faith. The same, of course, applied to secular folks who felt themselves "enlightened" by the strictures of pure rationality. Interesting how the knife cuts both ways, eh?

What's interesting is that you think the two are equivalent. Someone failing to live up to a principle they accept as true is different than someone making up their own principles as they go. Considering the latter as an exercise in pure rationality is the height of self-delusion as evidenced by thinking themselves "enlightened".

It's great to use history to tell lies about the present, but history isn't always as cooperative as we hope. Details matter.

All history is a story told from one perspective. Early American history told from the perspective of Europeans is different than Early American history told from the perspective of Native Americans. Neither history is a lie, however.

Right. I understand the fact that hearing yourself this nice, simple story makes you feel good. First of all, plenty of "liberals" are very religious people.

It's not about religion, it's about believing God exists and has reviled Himself and that we have a written testimony to what God reviled. In that testimony we find that God is immutable and cannot lie. If you accept that premise than from pure rationality it follows that the reviled principles of how we are to live are optimal and that any deviation from them is damaging. You can reject that premise and go through the motions of being religious, but what's the point?

Finally, the assumption that secular people are automatically self-serving is just nonsense.

So you say, but given the lack of understanding you have thus displayed I'll go out on a limb and say you are wrong.

The founders relie... (Below threshold)
ryan a:
The founders relied not on the dirty current affairs of Europe in founding the US, but on more ancient principles found both in Biblical sources and Greek philosophy.

Right. They paid no attention to what was happening around them, and based all of their ideas on ancient philosophy (sarcasm, just in case you miss it). So much for paying attention to history, Mac. MY POINT, if you take the time to read before jumping the gun, is that the US was founded amidst an admixture of ideas. This includes Judeo-Christian, Enlightenment, and yes, Greek thought.

Your argument that the founders of the US paid no attention to the "dirty current affairs of Europe" holds zero water, Mac. Ever heard of England? The US was certainly not founded in a political vacuum.

What's interesting is that you think the two are equivalent. Someone failing to live up to a principle they accept as true is different than someone making up their own principles as they go.

Look Mac, religious systems of belief AND philosophical systems are open to manipulation by people. At least, that's how I see it.

Considering the latter as an exercise in pure rationality is the height of self-delusion as evidenced by thinking themselves "enlightened".

Looks like you missed the sarcasm in what I wrote. There was most definitely a lot of self-delusion among many rationalists who felt they had all the answers. No doubt about that.

All history is a story told from one perspective. Early American history told from the perspective of Europeans is different than Early American history told from the perspective of Native Americans. Neither history is a lie, however.

History is definitely a matter of perspective. And it is definitely open to manipulation in the present, for various reasons.

So you say, but given the lack of understanding you have thus displayed I'll go out on a limb and say you are wrong.

Feel free to go out on a limb, Mac.

By the way Mac, if you want... (Below threshold)
ryan a:

By the way Mac, if you want to look into some of the Enlightenment influences upon the philosophical foundations of the US, then have a look at the ideas of John Locke, for starters. Jefferson thought pretty highly of him.

The push for freedom of religion also came from Enlightenment thought. Read up on some of the ideas of Jefferson and Thomas Paine, for starters, to learn more about that. This idea came about, primarily, because of a long history of state-based religious persecution in Europe and elsewhere.

Your argument that... (Below threshold)
Mac Lorry:
Your argument that the founders of the US paid no attention to the "dirty current affairs of Europe" holds zero water, Mac. Ever heard of England? The US was certainly not founded in a political vacuum.

Paying attention to what was going on in Europe is different than founding a new nation upon solid principles. The principles embodied in our founding documents can all be traced back to ancient Biblical and Greek principles and philosophical. The main input from Europe was as an example of what happens when governments are not founded on such principles.

Look Mac, religious systems of belief AND philosophical systems are open to manipulation by people. At least, that's how I see it.

Knowing the corrupting nature of humankind the early church fathers "canonized" the Bible. Human pride and lust for wealth and power resulted in some medieval churches banning the translation of the Bible into the language of the common people because they knew that doing so would expose their corruption. Similar to today's church of climatology opposing the posting raw data.

There was most definitely a lot of self-delusion among many rationalists who felt they had all the answers. No doubt about that.

Today we call them progressives or liberals.

History is definitely a matter of perspective. And it is definitely open to manipulation in the present, for various reasons.

That's why society needs to be founded on principles, not just history. It seems to me that the ones manipulating history are the ones trying to undermine and change the principles.

Feel free to go out on a limb, Mac.

I do so often, but at least I also recognize where I am.

Christians who base thei... (Below threshold)
Jeff Blogworthy:

Christians who base their belief on Pascal's wager are going to be in an extremely tight spot...

Actually, I do not think there are any Christians who base their belief on Pascal's wager. It is simply a logical exercise. One cannot be argued or debated into the kingdom of God.

Our text for church this morning was Micah 5

"But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me One who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times."

The birth of Christ in Bethlehem was prophesied some 700 years before it happened. He changed the world. This is an historical fact. This is only one of hundreds of similar prophesies in the Bible. It is one of many reasons for my strong faith in God. You can choose to ignore it, explain it way, scoff at it -- or you can believe it. It is entirely up to you.

Victimy,Palin's Go... (Below threshold)
Jeff Blogworthy:

Victimy,

Palin's God-centrism, empowering the individual vs. Obama's Marx-centrism, empowering the state. Hmm. Tough choice. Your right, it's absolutely scandalous.

Paying attention t... (Below threshold)
ryan a:
Paying attention to what was going on in Europe is different than founding a new nation upon solid principles. The principles embodied in our founding documents can all be traced back to ancient Biblical and Greek principles and philosophical. The main input from Europe was as an example of what happens when governments are not founded on such principles.

So let me get this straight. Are you arguing that the United States was not highly influenced by Enlightenment thought from Europe?

Take, for example, the Declaration. Are you arguing that this document is based primarily upon ancient Greek and Judeo-Christian thought, and not on ideas from Europe and the Americas during the 17th and 18th centuries???

"Today we call them progres... (Below threshold)
ryan a:

"Today we call them progressives or liberals."

Ha. Witty. But my argument is that delusion knows few political boundaries. Plenty of them, left, right, center, religious, non-religious, conservative, liberal, etc.

Christianity as a lie.... (Below threshold)
Jeff Blogworthy:

Christianity as a lie.

I have no problem with the Christian faith being called a "lie" if it were ever found to be untrue. Not that followers of Christ would be liars, any more than followers of Islam are necessarily liars. But clearly SOMEONE would have to be lying, namely Jesus Christ, and all the prophets from Moses and Abraham downward. Likewise, if Islam is a lie - and I believe it is - then Muhammad is the chief liar.

So, just to be clear, one who calls Christianity a lie is not calling me or other followers of Christ liars - they accuse Christ Himself, his apostles, and all the prophets of lying, and we are merely their dupes.

I, for one, find that to be a weighty proposition.

I just can't parody Victory... (Below threshold)
Victory is Mao's:

I just can't parody Victory is Ours anymore. I just can't compete with the self parody.

So let me get this... (Below threshold)
Mac Lorry:
So let me get this straight. Are you arguing that the United States was not highly influenced by Enlightenment thought from Europe?

I know liberals like to claim many things for Enlightenment, but it's like Al Gore claiming he invented the internet. It turns out Enlightenment in Europe was old news having been long practiced in ancient Greece. It's like claiming the U.S. numbering system was based on European mathematical Enlightenment even thought the founders knew at the time it was really based on Al-Khwarizmi's book on arithmetic, which was introduced into Europe in the 12th century. It's just as likely that the founding of the United States had more influence on European Enlightenment then the other way around.

Take, for example, the Declaration. Are you arguing that this document is based primarily upon ancient Greek and Judeo-Christian thought, and not on ideas from Europe and the Americas during the 17th and 18th centuries

If you're talking about the concept of all men being created equal (under the law) and endowed with certain inalienable rights, then yes, that's a biblical principle that one can find in the teachings of the New Testament and from Greek philosophy. As important as the Declaration of Independence is, it has no legal standing or significance in the U.S. Thus, it's not really a founding document in the sense of giving us our system of government.

But my argument is that delusion knows few political boundaries. Plenty of them, left, right, center, religious, non-religious, conservative, liberal, etc.

To abandon time tested principles in favor of new ones a parson has to endow themselves with a quality they assume didn't exist when those principles were established. The term "Enlightenment" is often used for that mysterious quality, however, history shows such self-endowment is really self-delusion. Conservatives don't risk self-delusion in embracing time tested principles.

I'm not saying change driven by good reasons is bad. Certainly the American revolution was change and there were many conservatives (loyalists) on the wrong side of history. I'm saying that change for the sake of change is destructive. The 20th century institutiont of communism in many parts of the world was change and there were many liberals on the wrong side of that history.

Ultimately, the problem with human society is that it's run by humans. Those who find the will to break from ternary and oppression and form a nation founded on the best principles known up to their time get old and die and the next generation comes in and implements a few changes, and the next a few more, and so on until the very foundations of that nation are crumbling.

It's as I said before, liberalism destroys the environment it flourishes in. Liberalism is like an RNA virus (flu), constantly changing and requiring ongoing vigilance to protect the host. Without that vigilance the host dies.

I know liberals li... (Below threshold)
ryan a:
I know liberals like to claim many things for Enlightenment, but it's like Al Gore claiming he invented the internet. It turns out Enlightenment in Europe was old news having been long practiced in ancient Greece.

Huh? When I am talking about "The Enlightenment," I am referring to a specific historical time period:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Age_of_Enlightenment

What do you mean when you say that "Enlightenment in Europe was old news having been long practiced in ancient Greece"??? I am not sure I follow you there. It was old news? What do you mean by that? The printing press was just a fad? The rise of modern nation-states was nothing new? Adam Smith had no original ideas? Newton was just rehashing Greek inventions?

As important as the Declaration of Independence is, it has no legal standing or significance in the U.S.

Ok, so you don't count the Declaration as a founding document. What about the US Constitution? Some of the basic influences on the US Constitution include:

1. The English Bill of Rights (1689)
2. The Magna Carta
3. Aristotle
4. John Locke
5. Montesquieu

Or do you deny that some European thinkers had any influence on the constitution? From what I have read, Locke was pretty influential throughout both the Constitution & the Declaration.

The term "Enlightenment" is often used for that mysterious quality, however, history shows such self-endowment is really self-delusion.

Again, I am not referring to the term, but the historical time period. Roughly between 1650 and 1789.

"Irrelevance, thy name i... (Below threshold)
914:

"Irrelevance, thy name is Vic"

Ha ha ha ha ha ha


"Is Vic Lee Ward, or what?"

No, but He plays a pretty mean SAUD.

In theory, Man ought be abl... (Below threshold)
Jim Addison:

In theory, Man ought be able to be and do "good" without the intervention of God.

In practice, it just doesn't happen.

In fact, Christianity is based upon it not happening. No amount of rewards, no severity of punishment could induce Man to do right. This is why Jesus had to become the Son of Man and suffer for our sins - there was just no hope of humanity ever earning grace through good works.

"Jesus had to become the... (Below threshold)
914:

"Jesus had to become the Son of Man and suffer for our sins - "

No, He chose to do so.

Your original point about t... (Below threshold)
Mac Lorry:

Your original point about the influence of Europe on the founding of the US is as follows:

There is a reason why the US was not founded as a religious state. All you have to do is look into the religious wars in Europe during the 17th and 18th centuries to get some answers about why the Founding Fathers created the state system they did.

Next you expanded it to include...

...the US was founded amidst an admixture of ideas. This includes Judeo-Christian, Enlightenment, and yes, Greek thought.

Enlightenment in Europe prior to 1796 involved a free exchange of ideas and the willingness to question orthodoxy. All of these concepts and democracy were practiced on a daily basis on Mars Hill in ancient Greece. If you think "Enlightenment" is a measure advancements in science and technology, then yes, Europe was more enlightened than ancient Greece, but then you also have to concede that we are far more enlightened today, and thus, anyone who talks about the age of enlightenment as if it peaked in the past is wrong. That would be the sources you cite.

So now you expand your argument to include everything that went on in Europe for a period of 140 years.

Again, I am not referring to the term, but the historical time period. Roughly between 1650 and 1789.

Your argument keeps expanding to be ever more inclusive as to why the U.S. was founded as a secular state. In the face of such an expanding argument I will concede that there was some European influence in the founding of this nation. The founding documents were written in English and the revolution was fought against and with the help of European powers. English common law is enshrined within our own law, but that can't be the reason the U.S. was founded as a secular state because England was not a secular state at the time.

The principle of a secular state is based on religious tolerance, and religious tolerance is found both in Biblical sources (everyone has a personal relationship with God) and in Greek philosophy. Unless you are now going to expand your time period to include the Protestant Reformation (1517-1648), the founding of the U.S. as a secular state had nothing to do with European thought or ideas, but rather as examples of mistakes to avoid. Yes, that's influence, but only in the way a law abiding person is influenced by the bad examples of Charles Manson.

If you think "Enli... (Below threshold)
ryan a:
If you think "Enlightenment" is a measure advancements in science and technology, then yes, Europe was more enlightened than ancient Greece, but then you also have to concede that we are far more enlightened today, and thus, anyone who talks about the age of enlightenment as if it peaked in the past is wrong.

Mac! I am NOT saying that I think one period of time was MORE ENLIGHTENED than another. You keep misunderstanding what I am saying. When I refer to "The Enlightenment" I am talking about the historical time period--that is the general name that is given to it. This does not mean that I think that this was a more "Enlightened" period of time, or that people were smarter then. "The Enlightenment" is a general term that refers to a specific historical period, kinda like when we say "The Middle Ages," or "The Renaissance".

Your argument keeps expanding to be ever more inclusive as to why the U.S. was founded as a secular state.

No Mac, my argument has not been expanding. I have been saying the same damn things the whole post--you have just misunderstood what I am referring to from the start. Read this:

Look, if you are going to start talking about history, ethics, and morality, then it makes sense to at least pay attention to all sides of the story. Yes, the US was founded, in part, on Judeo-Christian ethics. But it was also founded upon many principles of the European Enlightenment, among other things. So the philosophical and legal foundations of the US are a mixed bag. AND THERE IS A REASON for this. There is a reason why the US was not founded as a religious state. All you have to do is look into the religious wars in Europe during the 17th and 18th centuries to get some answers about why the Founding Fathers created the state system they did.

First of all, "The Enlightenment" refers to a historical time period between around 1650 and 1789, depending on what historian you talk to. And it refers to a TON of different thinkers and ideas that came about during that time. Jefferson and others were highly influenced by some thinkers from that period.

Second, notice how I put Judeo-Christian thought in there. Good.

Third, notice the part where I said, "Among other things"? My point, which challenges the main post by "Rick". The US was NOT founded solely upon theocentric ideas. It was founded upon a mixed set of ideas that included Judeo-Christian, 17th and 18th century European political philosophy (from the Enlightenment) and YES, Greek thought (among some other ideas).

Then, I argued that the founding fathers created the US the way they did because of the political and historical events that had occurred in Europe. Those events most definitely influenced the moral/legal system of the US. You don't think that the founding fathers took a look at all of the religious wars and persecution in Europe when they carefully drafted the foundational documents of the US? Really? You think they completely ignored the historical events that had just happened, and that were happening all around them, and instead ONLY looked at ancient Greek and Judeo-Christian thought? If you think that, then you're not paying attention.

My basic argument is that the founding fathers were well aware of the political moment in which they existed, and many of them were quite influenced by the political and ideological thinking that came out of 17th and 18th century Europe. This is, in part, why the US is founded upon a complex mix of secular, Judeo-Christian, and Greek ideas.

After reading and rereading... (Below threshold)
James H:

After reading and rereading the essay, I think my biggest problem doesn't lie with belief or non-belief in god or gods. Rather, a couple things stick out to me:

* A "theocentric" worldview skates perilously close to a situation where a person doesn't take his moral inspiration from the Ten Commandments or what have you, but instead reaches into the holy texts to validate his own patently immoral actions. I hate to dip into reducto ad absurdums, but people like Scott Roeder and Osama bin Laden illustrate this rather succinctly. In a less extreme context, you saw religious justifications offered for slavery in antebellum South.

* I notice that for every word that elevates the "theocentric" philosophy embraced by conservatives, the writer spends another word denigrating liberals and tagging them with the "egocentric" label. This makes the entire column less a meditation on the merits of theocentrism and more a tiresome rant on why liberals are not merely people you disagree with, but people who are utterly without morals as well.

James,"his makes t... (Below threshold)
ryan a:

James,

"his makes the entire column less a meditation on the merits of theocentrism and more a tiresome rant on why liberals are not merely people you disagree with, but people who are utterly without morals as well."

That's why the argument put forth in the column is not only factually handicapped, but also rhetorically inept. It is little more than a one-sided, oversimplified rant. Some people may buy into it because it affirms their POV, but that doesn't really mean very much.

The author of the column has a very shallow understanding of what the US was founded upon, and why.

So we both agree that your ... (Below threshold)
Mac Lorry:

So we both agree that your original argument is this. . .

Look, if you are going to start talking about history, ethics, and morality, then it makes sense to at least pay attention to all sides of the story. Yes, the US was founded, in part, on Judeo-Christian ethics. But it was also founded upon many principles of the European Enlightenment, among other things AND THERE IS A REASON for this. There is a reason why the US was not founded as a religious state. All you have to do is look into the religious wars in Europe during the 17th and 18th centuries to get some answers about why the Founding Fathers created the state system they did.

I can't argue against "among other things" and if you're using that as a door for inserting economic, geopolitical, and scientific principles then your argument is so broad as to be all inclusive and also diluted to the point of meaninglessness. It's like arguing about how much oil is left in the world and someone saying it's limited to no more than the mass of the Earth.

You are talking about founding principles, however, in your originl argument. There's a big difference in saying something influenced the formation of the US and saying the US was founded on something. The invention of gun powder had a great influence on the founding of the US, but the US was not founded on the invention of gun powder. So wherever you use the term "influence" I take that as a new or an expansion of your original argument. Here are some examples:

So let me get this straight. Are you arguing that the United States was not highly influenced by Enlightenment thought from Europe?
First of all, "The Enlightenment" refers to a historical time period between around 1650 and 1789, depending on what historian you talk to. And it refers to a TON of different thinkers and ideas that came about during that time. Jefferson and others were highly influenced by some thinkers from that period.
Then, I argued that the founding fathers created the US the way they did because of the political and historical events that had occurred in Europe. Those events most definitely influenced the moral/legal system of the US
My basic argument is that the founding fathers were well aware of the political moment in which they existed, and many of them were quite influenced by the political and ideological thinking that came out of 17th and 18th century Europe.

Rick's piece is about the principles of Theocentrism vs. Egocentrism, and I'm arguing about the principles the US was founded on, as you originally were. Arguing about what influenced the founders is a different argument. Yes, everything that happened in recorded history up to that point could have influenced the founders in some way. You only need to look at names of places on a map to see that Native Americas had a great influence in early America, but I don't think you can argue that the US was founded, in part, on Native American principles other than where they are the same as in Biblical and Greek sources.

This is a classic example of arguing about two different things, and thus, it's pointless.

First of all, are you clear... (Below threshold)
ryan a:

First of all, are you clear on what I mean when I refer to "The European Enlightenment"? Just wanted to make sure we are on the same page now.

I can't argue against "among other things" and if you're using that as a door for inserting economic, geopolitical, and scientific principles then your argument is so broad as to be all inclusive and also diluted to the point of meaninglessness.

I used that term to indicate that there were some other influences, but that I did not want to list them all at that point, since I do not want to write a book in the comments sections here at Wizbang.

"Among other things" translates to: "English Common Law, The English Bill of Rights (1689), ideas from the Magna Carta". Happy now?

If you want some specific people who influenced the founding fathers, here you go: Locke, Hobbes, Rousseau, Adam Smith, Montesquieu.

There's a big difference in saying something influenced the formation of the US and saying the US was founded on something.

That's your argument? If so, then your argument has slipped into pure semantics. Let's try to get back to the substance, eh?

Look Mac, my argument is that the United States was founded upon principles derived from Ancient Greece, Judeo-Christian philosophy, and ideas from the European Enlightenment. Therefore, the US was directly influenced by these strains of thought. It's pretty straightforward. It's not a complicated argument.

You seem to be arguing that the US was not founded upon, or influenced by, any principles or ideas that came from the European Enlightenment, and that, instead, the US was founded solely upon ideas from Judeo-Christian thought and the Ancient Greeks. Is that right?

Just to clear things up for you, the point of contention between our arguments is clearly whether or not the US was founded upon (or influenced by) any ideas from the European Enlightenment (a.k.a. the "Age of Reason). Do you agree, or not?

So wherever you use the term "influence" I take that as a new or an expansion of your original argument.

No Mac, I have been making pretty much the same argument the whole time, and you're getting lost for some reason or another. First, you misunderstood what I meant when I referred to "the Enlightenment" and now you are caught up on the word "influence". Meanwhile, you seem to consistently miss the primary point.

I'm arguing about the principles the US was founded on, as you originally were. Arguing about what influenced the founders is a different argument.

I think your line of argument has run out of steam, Mac, if this is all you have.

If the US was founded upon certain ideas, then it is fair to say that those ideas INFLUENCED the founding fathers, who created the basic structure of the US system of governance. Simple. Not really very complicated. Please stop getting caught up in semantics.

Here is a direct question: In your opinion, were the founding fathers influenced by ideas, philosophies, or principles that came the historical period known as the European Enlightenment (circa 1650-1789 or so)???

Question two: Why was the US not created as a theocratic state by the founding fathers, and what ideas or events influenced that decision?

My answer is YES, they were.

This is a classic example of arguing about two different things, and thus, it's pointless.

No, I think you're just skirting the issue and resorting to nitpicking instead of answering the basic question at hand.

Typo:The first lin... (Below threshold)
ryan a:

Typo:

The first line in the above post should read:

"First of all, are you clear on what I mean when I refer to "The Enlightenment"? Just wanted to make sure we are on the same page now."

No Mac, I have bee... (Below threshold)
Mac Lorry:
No Mac, I have been making pretty much the same argument the whole time, and you're getting lost for some reason or another.

I disagree. You first used the term "influence" in post #20 after you had responded to two of my posts and I had responded to two of your posts. As late a post #34 you say "No Mac, my argument has not been expanding. I have been saying the same damn things the whole post--you have just misunderstood what I am referring to from the start. Read this:" which you then put in bold print.

Look, if you are going to start talking about history, ethics, and morality, then it makes sense to at least pay attention to all sides of the story. Yes, the US was founded, in part, on Judeo-Christian ethics. But it was also founded upon many principles of the European Enlightenment, among other things. So the philosophical and legal foundations of the US are a mixed bag. AND THERE IS A REASON for this. There is a reason why the US was not founded as a religious state. All you have to do is look into the religious wars in Europe during the 17th and 18th centuries to get some answers about why the Founding Fathers created the state system they did.

That's your original argument and it's about the founding principles, and specifically about the US being founded as a secular state. That argument also fits in with the theme of Rick's piece. Founding principles are different than influences upon the founders, and thus, they are not the same argument. I've already conceded that everything in recorded history up to that time could have had an influence on the founding fathers. I then illustrated the difference between founding principles and influences upon the founders using the invention of gun powder and the Native American culture as examples.

You may feel you have been arguing about one thing, but that's not what I get from your posts.

Now we are arguing about what were are arguing about, so I think it's time to quite.

Mac,Ok then, let's... (Below threshold)
ryan a:

Mac,

Ok then, let's just ditch the word "influence," since that seems to be the big hangup for you:

Question ONE: In your opinion, was the United States founded upon any principles that came from the historical period known as the Enlightenment?

MY POSITION: Yes, the United States was founded, in part, upon principles directly derived from Enlightenment thinkers such as John Locke, Montesquieu, and Hobbes.

Question TWO: Was the United States founded on secular or religious principles? Did ideas from the Enlightenment have anything to do with this?

MY POSITION: The US was founded upon a combination of secular and religious principles. This avoided the creation of a religious state, thereby allowing multiple churches to coexist in the newly formed nation. Yes, ideas from the Enlightenment played a role in the formation of the relationship between church and state in the US. Also important was the fact that the founding fathers wanted to avoid the sorts of religious wars that had plagued Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries.

That should clear things up.

Way back in post #21 I said... (Below threshold)
Mac Lorry:

Way back in post #21 I said this:

Paying attention to what was going on in Europe is different than founding a new nation upon solid principles. The principles embodied in our founding documents can all be traced back to ancient Biblical and Greek principles and philosophical. The main input from Europe was as an example of what happens when governments are not founded on such principles

In post #33 I said this:

The principle of a secular state is based on religious tolerance, and religious tolerance is found both in Biblical sources (everyone has a personal relationship with God) and in Greek philosophy.

So the concept of a secular state and the principle such a state must be based on, religious tolerance, were already ancient ideas by the time of the European Enlightenment. It seems that when Europe emerged from long ages in darkness and saw the light, their next inclination was to claim the discovery of such light. Or maybe today's liberals are claiming that discovery for them when they themselves knew otherwise.

It comes down to you enumerating some principles developed in Europe during the Enlightenment that can't be shown to exist in or flow from Biblical or Greek sources, and upon which the US was founded as a secular state. The argument is and has been Theocentrism vs. Egocentrism, so I'm not willing to expand the argument to "any principles that came from the historical period known as the Enlightenment". Also, we are, or should be, arguing about specific principles and the Magna Carta, nor Aristotle are specific principles. Also, Aristotle is an ancient Greek philosopher and I've already said the US was founded, in part, on Greek philosophy.

So what principles are you claiming?

Well, it appears that some ... (Below threshold)
ryan a:

Well, it appears that some primary principles came from Locke (primarily through Jefferson and Madison from what I have read so far):

1. The Contract of Society
2. Locke's version of "Natural Law"
3. The role of government: to protect "Life, Liberty, and estates" (private property as something the govt should protect; this was a principle that was absolutely foundational to the US).

Quote time:

John Locke's doctrines were already the basis of American provincial documents, but Thomas Jefferson and the Second Continental Congress embedded them in the nation's founding document, the Declaration of Independence, and he is used here to represent the Founders, as their intellectual leader. Jefferson was thoroughly versed in Locke and included him with Newton and Bacon in his "trinity of immortals." In the Declaration are nearly verbatim quotations, and he followed the philosopher's principles of government throughout his political career.

-from Locke, Jefferson, and the Justices by George M. Stephens.

And, I understand the fact that YOU don't see the Declaration of Independence as a founding document, but since the US Government does, I think it counts. From the Library of Congress:

http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/help/constRedir.html

One more quote:

The human right in property was meant by Locke and understood by the Framers of the Constitution to be the fundamental liberty. Obviously, it was not necessary to organize government to protect free speech from government or to protect freedom of assembly against government. It was only necessary to organize it to protect property and life (one's life was his property), and once organized other freedoms had to be protected against government's power. He wrote in the Second Treatise that men unite in a society "for the mutual preservation of their lives, liberties, and estates, which I call by the general name 'property'." He said that the supreme power (the legislative) "cannot take from any man any part of his property without his own consent. For the preservation of property being the end of government and that for which men enter into society . . . " He noted that for the protection of government everyone should pay his share (a small, flat tax), but only with the consent of the majority.

-From the John Locke Foundation (a political think tank)


The Contract of Society, or... (Below threshold)
Mac Lorry:

The Contract of Society, or a government run by the same people that are governed by it flows from the Greek democracy.

Natural Law is traced back to Socrates, Plato and Aristotle. In the Declaration of Independents the phrase "endowed by their Creater" is seen by some as natural law and others as God's law. Either way, the principle is from ancient times.

The role of government: to protect "Life, Liberty, and estates" can be found in the Bible along with many other principles such as workers having a right to the wages they earned.

The European Enlightenment can be characterized as a place and time in which a society began to rediscover and ponder ancient knowledge at an accelerated pace. It was all the buzz in high society.

Discoveries about the natural world were new, such as the Earth orbiting the sun, or the mathematical description of gravity, or the invention of Calculus. But the US is not founded on these things, it's founded on the principles of God or nature given rights, human nature and human interactions within a society. These are concepts and principles that were observed, pondered, and tested for thousands of years by people who were every bit as smart as those living during the European Enlightenment. Do you think they found something new? If you claim you discovered something that's been long known should you get credit for it?

The Declaration of Independents may be considered one of the "Primary Documents in American History", but it has no legal standing in US law and it never did. Thus, the US is not founded on the Declaration of Independents. It's a letter written to the King of England explaining why the colonies are breaking away even if it means war. If it were a legally binding document there could be no Federal government.

The role of govern... (Below threshold)
ryan a:
The role of government: to protect "Life, Liberty, and estates" can be found in the Bible

Interesting. I don't remember that one from the Old or New Testament. What verse are you referring to?

So, if people like Thomas Jefferson and James Madison thought they were basing their ideas on principles from Locke, are you then saying that they were delusional? Are you telling me that YOU know more about what went into the founding of this national than almost every historical source I can find??? Are you saying that you know more about what Jefferson and Madison used as bases than they did THEMSELVES???

Feel free to provide a source that claims that the US was NOT founded, in part, on principles from the Enlightenment.

The word of Mac isn't really cutting it anymore, since you just keep denying a pretty basic aspect of US History. I would like to know who else is in this Enlightenment-denial camp.

Also, you might want to get busy re-writing every encyclopedia you can get your hands on. And you should probably reformulate every intro to US Government text while you're at it. Oh, and you should also edit every wikipedia entry that pertains to the US Government and the Enlightenment. Lastly, you should call the US government and tell the truth as well. All of these sources generally claim that the US was founded upon a combination of Enlightenment, Ancient Greek, and Judeo-Christian principles.

Read this:

Drafted by Thomas Jefferson between June 11 and June 28, 1776, the Declaration of Independence is at once the nation's most cherished symbol of liberty and Jefferson's most enduring monument. Here, in exalted and unforgettable phrases, Jefferson expressed the convictions in the minds and hearts of the American people. The political philosophy of the Declaration was not new; its ideals of individual liberty had already been expressed by John Locke and the Continental philosophers. What Jefferson did was to summarize this philosophy in "self-evident truths" and set forth a list of grievances against the King in order to justify before the world the breaking of ties between the colonies and the mother country.

Source: http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/charters/declaration.html

(US GOVT)

Notice the part where it mentions John Locke and the "Continental philosophers"? That translates to "Enlightenment", Mac.

The Declaration of Independents may be considered one of the "Primary Documents in American History", but it has no legal standing in US law and it never did. Thus, the US is not founded on the Declaration of Independents. It's a letter written to the King of England explaining why the colonies are breaking away even if it means war. If it were a legally binding document there could be no Federal government.

More US History according to Mac Lorry. Yes, the US was founded in part on the ideas and philosophies that were expressed in the Declaration. I never said it was a LEGAL document, I said it was a founding document. Meaning that the US was founded in part on the principles in that document. The very creation of the Declaration was foundational to the formation of the US.

I am not sure if I have ever heard ANYONE claim that the Declaration was not a founding doc for the US. Wow.

Mac, you are one stubborn person! You are going to great lengths to avoid admitting that Enlightenment ideas had anything to do with the foundation of the US.

Read this:

The Declaration announced to the world the separation of the thirteen colonies from Great Britain and the establishment of the United States of America. It explained the causes of this radical move with a long list of charges against the King. In justifying the Revolution, it asserted a universal truth about human rights in words that have inspired downtrodden people through the ages and throughout the world to rise up against their oppressors.

From here: http://archives.gov/exhibits/charters/charters_of_freedom_3.html

(US GOVT)

Sounds like a founding document to me.

The European Enlightenment can be characterized as a place and time in which a society began to rediscover and ponder ancient knowledge at an accelerated pace. It was all the buzz in high society.

Here is what I don't get. What's with the bias against admitting that the Enlightenment was foundational to the US? I mean, the founding fathers were, for all intents and purposes, culturally and politically enmeshed in European thought. They basically WERE European. So where do you think they got all their ideas from? Why do you think that--for some reason--they were MORE influenced by Ancient Greek thought and Biblical thought than they were the contemporary moment in which they lived? Are you suggesting that the founding fathers were disinterested in the philosophies that were all around them? Were they just lying and being deceitful when they mentioned Hume, Locke, Paine, Rousseau, and Hobbes???

Mac, the evidence is overwhelming and yet you still will not admit a damn thing. And it's not like this is some groundbreaking argument or claim that I am making--and it's certainly not a liberal vs. conservative issue. It's supported by pretty much everything I have seen out there. Hell, Newt G. clearly acknowledges the role that Locke played in the thinking of the founding fathers.

Once again, I would love to see your sources that argue that the US was not founded on Enlightenment principles. And I look forward to your groundbreaking book on US History, in which you tell Americans what the founding fathers were REALLY thinking when they drafted the Declaration and the US Constitution.

Should be a shocker...

Interesting. I don... (Below threshold)
Mac Lorry:
Interesting. I don't remember that one from the Old or New Testament. What verse are you referring to?

Maybe it's been too long since you read it. The founding documents of the ancient state of Israel are in the old testament and these include detailed rules about property, inheritance, servitude, worker's rights, and many more. There's a reason the Ten Commandments are printed on the inside of the Supreme Court building.

So, if people like Thomas Jefferson and James Madison thought they were basing their ideas on principles from Locke, are you then saying that they were delusional? Are you telling me that YOU know more about what went into the founding of this national than almost every historical source I can find??? Are you saying that you know more about what Jefferson and Madison used as bases than they did THEMSELVES???

If someone named Tom believed Al Gore when he said he invented the internet and then founded an internet company, someone else might say that that company was founded on Al Gore's invention. You are arguing that it must be true because Tom believed Al Gore's claim, and that I can't dispute it because others who know more about Tom than I do say Tom believed Al Gore's claim. Maybe that passes for logic and reason where you live, but not where I live.

Feel free to provide a source that claims that the US was NOT founded, in part, on principles from the Enlightenment.

First, It's your assertion, not mine. Second, the burden of proof never falls to the one having to prove the negative. You have to show the Enlightenment produced concepts and principles that were unknown in Biblical and ancient Greek sources and that the US is founded as a secular nation on those concepts or principles. Remember, being founded as a secular nation was your argument.

The word of Mac isn't really cutting it anymore, since you just keep denying a pretty basic aspect of US History. I would like to know who else is in this Enlightenment-denial camp.

I see, you are now making the consensus argument. Let's all eat manure because a trillion flies can't be wrong.

Yes, the US was founded in part on the ideas and philosophies that were expressed in the Declaration. I never said it was a LEGAL document, I said it was a founding document.

So enumerate the ideas and philosophies you think were brought over from the Declaration into the Constitution and which cannot be found in Biblical and ancient Greek sources.

Mac, you are one stubborn person! You are going to great lengths to avoid admitting that Enlightenment ideas had anything to do with the foundation of the US.

I've figured it out yesterday that you were just testing me to see how far I would go do this road. It's been fun :-)

The founding docum... (Below threshold)
ryan a:
The founding documents of the ancient state of Israel are in the old testament and these include detailed rules about property, inheritance, servitude, worker's rights, and many more. There's a reason the Ten Commandments are printed on the inside of the Supreme Court building.

What???

Just because the Bible mentions the word "property" does not mean that it is talking about the same things that Locke meant when he talked about the right of the government to protect private property. Your argument is like saying that since the Bible has the word "power" in it, all of Michel Foucault's ideas about power and society were just rehashes of what Matthew, Mark, Luke and John already said 2000 years before.

Again, you are just playing semantic ping pong right now.

It doesn't matter WHAT evidence I give you Mac. You are just going to claim that it's all in the Bible. For you, no matter what, all roads lead to the Greeks and the Bible. At this point, it's a matter of your beliefs, and not a matter of evidence, especially if you can just constantly use the "well, that's from the Bible too" response.

You are arguing that it must be true because Tom believed Al Gore's claim, and that I can't dispute it because others who know more about Tom than I do say Tom believed Al Gore's claim. Maybe that passes for logic and reason where you live, but not where I live.

Then you are arguing that Thomas Jefferson did not know what the hell he was talking about. Sorry Mac, but I am going to have to take the opinion of Jefferson and a whole slew of historians over yours. But again, I can't wait for your book.

First, It's your assertion, not mine. Second, the burden of proof never falls to the one having to prove the negative.

HA! Pure nonsense. This means that you have no evidence and no counter argument, that's what it means.

Mac, I have provided plenty of evidence that connects the Enlightenment clearly to the US Constitution, the Declaration, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison.

There is no way to provide you with evidence, because this is about your beliefs. I am not basing my argument upon what I believe, but what I am able to find information about. If I were to start using your methods and logic, I would just start claiming that everything actually comes from the ancient Mesopotamians.

So enumerate the ideas and philosophies you think were brought over from the Declaration into the Constitution and which cannot be found in Biblical and ancient Greek sources.

I already have, about 50 times. And then you just say that it's all in the Bible and pretend you do not have to hold up any sort of argument. I am going to have to call bullshit on you Mac. You are absolutely unreasonable. The same thing happened the last time I debated with you. But let's not bring that up.

I've figured it out yesterday that you were just testing me to see how far I would go do this road. It's been fun :-)

It's a waste of time. I try to be respectful, and actually engage in some kind of discussion, and all you do is play stupid semantic games and evade directly talking about issues. It's great if that's what you like to do with your time. I actually enjoy debating with people, but when another person is absolutely unwilling to listen to ANYTHING, it's pointless. I already agree with you on 66 percent of the issue, and I have said that. The original post, as is the case with many of the writers here, was pure bullshit that readers love to believe because of their politics.

The US is not some theocentric state, and a quick reading of the first amendment makes that clear. The US IS an interesting and complicated combination of ideas and principles. These principles derive, according to EVERY PIECE OF HISTORICAL EVIDENCE THAT I HAVE COME ACROSS, from a combination of Judeo-Christian, Ancient Greek, and Enlightenment Era principles. Until I find evidence otherwise that's where I have to stand. I have yet to read a historical document that claims that the Enlightenment had nothing to do with the foundation of the US; therefore, I base my opinion upon the evidence at hand. I am, of course, open to looking at any and all evidence, and reserve the right to change my opinion based upon that evidence.

Good luck, Mac.

Just because the B... (Below threshold)
Mac Lorry:
Just because the Bible mentions the word "property" does not mean that it is talking about the same things that Locke meant when he talked about the right of the government to protect private property. Your argument is like saying that since the Bible has the word "power" in it, all of Michel Foucault's ideas about power and society were just rehashes of what Matthew, Mark, Luke and John already said 2000 years before.

Locke expands the term "property" to mean nearly everything including a person's life. The founding US law doesn't use Locke's definition of property, so the US isn't founded on some principle Locke invented, and it certainly wasn't founded as a secular nation due to Locke's ideas. Remember, the US being founded, in part, on principles from the Enlightenment as a secular nation is your original argument.

Certainly Michel Foucault's ideas about sexuality are not found in the Bible, but of course, the US is not founded as a secular nation based on any of Michel Foucault's ideas.

Again, you are just playing semantic ping pong right now.

No I'm not. From the start you only needed to enumerate those principles from the Enlightenment upon which the US was founded as a secular state. My only caveat is that those principles must have actually been created during the Enlightenment and not just a rehash of ancient Biblical or Greek ideas.

Failing that specific task you've been all over the place, first by trying to claim any influence from the Enlightenment proved your point and when that didn't work you tried the "consensus" argument citing numerous sources on the simple criteria that they included the term Enlightenment in the same paragraph that mentions anything about the founding of the US or its founders. As if typing "founding of the US Enlightenment" into Google and getting 1.7 million hits proved your point. It doesn't.

Mac, I have provided plenty of evidence that connects the Enlightenment clearly to the US Constitution, the Declaration, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison.

Yes you have, but you haven't provided a single principle that originated from the Enlightenment and upon which the US was founded as a secular state, and that's your burden of proof. The likely reason you haven't been able to do so is that none exist and that frustrates you.

I am going to have to call bullshit on you Mac. You are absolutely unreasonable. The same thing happened the last time I debated with you. But let's not bring that up.

I can do the same, but what's the point? We don't agree even on what the parameters of the argument are. In my view you keep expanding the parameters and get frustrated that I don't go along. I learned long ago that it's pointless to expand the parameters of an argument without first coming to some agreement within those parameters. I've carried on such arguments for months with learned folks who understand the rules of debate.

The US is not some theocentric state, and a quick reading of the first amendment makes that clear.

I agree. The point of this entire debate is upon which principles is the US founded as a secular state and where did those principles originate. I claimed many posts ago that that principle is "religious tolerance" and you either missed it or agreed with it. I also said that the principle of religious tolerance originated in ancient Biblical and Greek source, and you did not dispute that clime.

I have yet to read a historical document that claims that the Enlightenment had nothing to do with the foundation of the US; therefore, I base my opinion upon the evidence at hand.

This illustrates what I mean about you expanding the parameters of the debate. It's not about the Enlightenment having nothing to do with the foundation of the US, it's about the Enlightenment being the original source of principles by which the US was founded as a secular state. Now if you could just learn to focus we could have come to some conclusion about 25 comments ago.

Mac, you have continually r... (Below threshold)
ryan a:

Mac, you have continually redefined the boundaries of the argument to fit them to your needs.

First of all, you should at least admit the fact that you misunderstood what I meant when I referred to "The Enlightenment" from the start. Clearly, you did. There is nothing wrong with that, but you fundamentally misinterpreted one of the primary things that I was referring to.

Locke expands the term "property" to mean nearly everything including a person's life. The founding US law doesn't use Locke's definition of property, so the US isn't founded on some principle Locke invented, and it certainly wasn't founded as a secular nation due to Locke's ideas.

Jefferson took Locke's ideas almost verbatim and put them into the Declaration of Independence. The Declaration, according to my understanding, is a founding document for the United States, therefore, principles derived from Locke are directly relevant to the founding of this nation.

From the start I have argued that the US was founded as a secular nation due to various factors. One of those is the fact that the founding fathers were strongly enmeshed in Enlightenment thought, which focused not only on separation of powers but also freedom of religion and religious tolerance. Locke wrote extensively about tolerance in regards to religion, mostly because he was looking for a way to avoid open conflict. The founding fathers faced some serious issues because of the fact that there were already multiple denominations in the colonies. Therefore, they needed to find a way to avoid putting one religion ahead of any other. Ideas from Locke played a role in how they figured this out. I am not saying they were the only ideas, but according to everything I have ever read Locke was an important figure.

That does not mean that I think Locke invented everything anew; that's pretty rare. I am saying that the founding fathers were clearly, and directly, drawing upon Enlightenment principles--such as those of Locke--when drafting the founding documents.

The existence of similar or corollary ideas in the Bible or Ancient Greek time DOES NOT invalidate the fact that the founding fathers were pulling from Locke. That was your caveat, and it was a way for you to avoid budging on your position.

By your logic, people cannot claim to be influenced by someone like Martin Luther King, Jr because he was actually using a lot of ideas from Jesus. That argument makes no sense. The existence of an earlier influence does not simply mean that the latter influence was only superficial.

Granted, Ancient Greek and Biblical ideas played a role in the formation of the US. These two philosophical systems are HUGE foundations for all of western thought. But they are not the only foundations. And the founding fathers drew not only from those ideas, but also from the ides that came about in later historical periods. Jefferson, Madison, and others drew DIRECTLY from Enlightenment thinkers. Directly.

My only caveat is that those principles must have actually been created during the Enlightenment and not just a rehash of ancient Biblical or Greek ideas.

EXACTLY. This is YOUR caveat, not mine. And I was never sure where this came from, or why you were so hung up on it. The whole idea behind this is based upon faulty logic--that there can be no valid influence if there was some similar or corollary form in an earlier age. And thsi "caveat" is merely a means for you to shift the goal posts and not admit that you were wrong.

I made the mistake of not calling you out on this dumb caveat earlier. I also made the mistake of assuming that you would come around based upon a series of clear evidence. I was wrong. You don't really seem interested in evidence, and you have a funny way of playing the referee and pretending that you can simply dismiss sources and evidence on your own spurious "caveats".

My argument was that principles from the Enlightenment were critical in the formation of the US, along with Judeo Christian and Ancient Greek principles. THAT was my argument, from the start. You then started putting a series of conditions on everything, and started dodging and weaving in order to avoid the evidence flying at your face.

Look:

Yes, the US was founded, in part, on Judeo-Christian ethics. But it was also founded upon many principles of the European Enlightenment, among other things. So the philosophical and legal foundations of the US are a mixed bag. AND THERE IS A REASON for this. There is a reason why the US was not founded as a religious state. All you have to do is look into the religious wars in Europe during the 17th and 18th centuries to get some answers about why the Founding Fathers created the state system they did.

Notice how I included Judeo-Christian, Greek, AND Enlightenment principles??? Notice how I called the US a mixed bag? Nowhere did I make the argument that ideas from the Enlightenment were created in a vacuum, or that they were no possible correlations in other periods of time. That was your qualifier, and I made the mistake of playing along and assuming that you would at least come around somewhat.

The founding fathers CLEARLY based some of the founding principles on principles that came from Enlightenment thinkers. There is a substantial amount of evidence to confirm this. Your caveat holds no water, and I should have called you out earlier on that as well. Reminder: it was your caveat, not mine, therefore THAT is your argument.

If I came across convincing evidence that stated the Enlightenment had nothing to do with the foundation of the US, I would of course have to seriously consider it and possibly revise my opinions on this matter. As of yet--and I have looked--I have not been able to find any historical documents, articles, sites, entries, or books that attempt to make this claim.

I claimed many posts ago that that principle is "religious tolerance" and you either missed it or agreed with it. I also said that the principle of religious tolerance originated in ancient Biblical and Greek source, and you did not dispute that clime.

Ideas about religious tolerance can certainly be found in multiple sources. This includes the two you have mentioned, and Enlightenment thinkers such as John Locke, who directly influenced certain founding fathers. The fact that the ancient Greeks and Christians also dealt with this issue does NOT invalidate the fact that founding principles of the US were ALSO directly derived from Locke and others. Again, directly. The existence of antecedents or similar political issues in Ancient Greece times DOES NOT INVALIDATE this.

It's not about the Enlightenment having nothing to do with the foundation of the US, it's about the Enlightenment being the original source of principles by which the US was founded as a secular state.

I NEVER SAID IT WAS THE ORIGINAL SOURCE MAC!!! I said it was ONE of the sources for the ways in which the US was formed. I said this from the start. You countered by saying that the Enlightenment had NOTHING to do with the foundation of the US (and you misunderstood what I meant by Enlightenment from the start). Enlightenment ideas, such as those from Locke, are some of the bases that were used.

Ultimately, the US was a new creation that came about in a specific historical and political moment. The influences run deep, and are many. There are many sources for the principles that went into the foundation of the US. There is no single source Mac, and maybe that's the point that you have been missing. History is a continual renegotiation of the past in very specific contexts.

Mac, you have cont... (Below threshold)
Mac Lorry:
Mac, you have continually redefined the boundaries of the argument to fit them to your needs.

I disagree. I drew them in tighter once I figured out what your underlying argument was, but nowhere near to the extent that you expanded them.

From the start I have argued that the US was founded as a secular nation due to various factors. One of those is the fact that the founding fathers were strongly enmeshed in Enlightenment thought, which focused not only on separation of powers but also freedom of religion and religious tolerance. Locke wrote extensively about tolerance in regards to religion, mostly because he was looking for a way to avoid open conflict.

And from the start I have argued that the principle of religious tolerance is found both in Biblical sources and in Greek philosophy and that religious tolerance was practiced in ancient Greece. The founding fathers were well aware of this principle as it had been practiced in Colonial America long before Locke or the founders were born. Locke argued about the correctness and even the necessity for religious tolerance, but it's not his idea that the First Amendment is based on.

To me that means the founding of the US as a secular nation is based on ancient Biblical and Greek sources. If you concede that much then I'll concede that the Enlightenment contributed, in part, to other aspects of the founding of the US. If not, then we see who's stubbornly clinging to their position.

And from the start... (Below threshold)
ryan a:
And from the start I have argued that the principle of religious tolerance is found both in Biblical sources and in Greek philosophy and that religious tolerance was practiced in ancient Greece.

Sounds plausible to me. I just can't find anything that directly makes this argument. Are you basing this upon something that you read or inference? What specific sources did the founding fathers use? And how do you know that they pulled from those sources when they were writing drafting the constitution, etc?

The founding fathers were well aware of this principle as it had been practiced in Colonial America long before Locke or the founders were born. Locke argued about the correctness and even the necessity for religious tolerance, but it's not his idea that the First Amendment is based on.

I just ran into something about Roger Williams, which links him with the first amendment. Williams was a pretty interesting guy who advocated for religious tolerance in the 1600s.

To me that means the founding of the US as a secular nation is based on ancient Biblical and Greek sources.

Again, that's fine by me. But all I have been asking for the last two days is where you get this from. What aspects of the Bible or Ancient Greece are you referring to? This is not some ideological position I have, Mac. I am just basing my views upon the information that I am able to obtain. If you have some sources, histories, or ANYTHING that explains your position, I am not sure how it benefits you to hold them back according to some debate or rhetorical tactic.

After I gave up all other p... (Below threshold)
Mac Lorry:

After I gave up all other points the fact that you still want me to prove that the founding of the US as a secular nation is based on ancient Biblical and Greek sources demonstrates conclusively that that has been the point of this debate from the start. It has to be because there's nothing left to argue about.

There are a number of sources I could site, but there is one source that was known to be in the hands of the founders as well as in the hands of Europeans during the Enlightenment. That source is the Bible, which the founders read and meditated upon.

There are numerous passages that teach religious tolerance, but the one that combines both the Biblical account with Greek religious tolerance is the Apostle Paul's speech on Mars Hill (the Areopagus), which I mentioned back in post #33. You'll find this in Acts 17:16-32.

Obviously, the Greek rulers, who were themselves subjects of Rome, practiced religious tolerance to the degree that even a new religion that made, what some even to this day think are, outrageous claims, could be openly preached in the market place and to elite debaters of that society. The founders only needed to encode that example into US law.

After I gave up al... (Below threshold)
ryan a:
After I gave up all other points the fact that you still want me to prove that the founding of the US as a secular nation is based on ancient Biblical and Greek sources demonstrates conclusively that that has been the point of this debate from the start. It has to be because there's nothing left to argue about.

No...I'm not looking for you to prove anything. Maybe I should have worded that differently. I just want to know what sources you are referring to so that I can look into them. I like to read, and have to admit that my knowledge of the classics--Greek and Roman--could be a lot better. Especially specific philosophical and political issues, etc. My area of focus is definitely NOT the classics.

So I am not wanting you to prove anything, just share the sources that you know of.

There are a number of sources I could site, but there is one source that was known to be in the hands of the founders as well as in the hands of Europeans during the Enlightenment. That source is the Bible, which the founders read and meditated upon.

True, indeed.

There are numerous passages that teach religious tolerance, but the one that combines both the Biblical account with Greek religious tolerance is the Apostle Paul's speech on Mars Hill (the Areopagus), which I mentioned back in post #33. You'll find this in Acts 17:16-32.

Thanks, Mac.

Obviously, the Greek rulers, who were themselves subjects of Rome, practiced religious tolerance to the degree that even a new religion that made, what some even to this day think are, outrageous claims, could be openly preached in the market place and to elite debaters of that society. The founders only needed to encode that example into US law.

You know, I do have a good amount of material on Rome, but very little on ancient Greece. Another excuse to buy more damn books from Amazon...

Anyway, I apologize if the last post looked like I was still keeping the argument going. I only meant to ask you where your ideas come from, not to challenge you on them, but instead so that I can locate them myself.

From one stubborn bastard to another: it's been fun.

From one stubborn ... (Below threshold)
Mac Lorry:
From one stubborn bastard to another: it's been fun.

I agree. If we get into another discussion in the future I hope we both do better at defining the parameters at the beginning. That's not as easy as it sounds, but it's something I'll try to keep in mind.

Mac

There is no need to refer t... (Below threshold)
Norman Gauss:

There is no need to refer to God in the application of a moral code. Buddhists strive to improve one's karma by practicing compassion. No reference to God is necessary. Confucianists have a powerful moral code without reference to God. In Hinduism, Brahman is the all pervasive essence or chief God, which is not responsive to anyone's prayers. None of these religions refers to the unique God as a personal entity responsive to prayer.

These traditions are more oriented to thinking of the world as a whole rather than individuals. Thus egocentrism is not characteristic.

Contrasted with this is the egocentric Judeo/Christian/Islamic tradition which focuses on the relationship between the unique God and the individual or tribe. The cosmos and the earth don't matter when one is concerned with having one's prayers answered and preparing to go to heaven. Being saved from the original sin of Adam and Eve is highly egocentric. Insisting on evicting the Arabs from Palestine is less compassionate and more strident in entitlements of God's chosen people. The Koran talks about exclusivity of Muslims vis-a-vis heathens. Compassion does not exist here. Selfish goals occupy people's thoughts and emotions. This is egotism to the utmost.




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