Blog or Not?

A statistically improbable polymath's views on politics and culture.

Thursday, September 16, 2004
Presidential Prayer Team Endorses Deist
Following the lead of a commentor at Jesus's General, I visited the Presidential Prayer Team website, a site devoted to making sure that God influences our leaders through divine intervention. So imagine my surprise when, as this week's focus on "Our Godly Heritage", the Editors turned to Thomas Paine's Common Sense:

Thomas Paine was an early American patriot--an author whose writings helped to fan the flames of the American Revolution. Though some of his later writings questioned God and His existence, causing Paine to fall out of popularity with Colonial leaders, his influence on the movers and shakers of the Revolution was no less significant. In his document Common Sense, Paine acknowledged God's hand in the Revolution. It hit the streets shortly after King George declared that the Colonies were in rebellion to the Crown of England and rode a great wave of popularity with common people and revolutionary leaders alike. So stirring were his words that George Washington ordered that Common Sense be read aloud to the troops at Valley Forge. Paine's words, excerpted below, convey the absolute faith in God and reliance on His providence that was demonstrated by so many of America's early leaders:

Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheaply, we esteem too lightly; 'tis dearness only that gives everything its value. Heaven knows how to put a price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as freedom should not be highly rated.

The cause of America is in a great measure the cause of all mankind. Where, say some, is the king of America? I'll tell you, friend, He reigns above!
--Thomas Paine

I wasn't sure if the editors of the site had read one of Thomas Paine's later works, the anticlerical The Age of Reason, which is definitely not a favorite work of the Christian Right. So I called up their hotline and spoke with one of their staffers, noting that Paine's views on religion didn't seem to mesh with the PPT's views. She told me that she'd get back with the editors.

It's odd, though, how the phrase, "The only king of America is God" can be interpreted in two different ways. One way, a rather theocratic way, is that God is in charge of America in a way that God isn't in charge of other countries; I believe this interpretation is the one which the Presidential Prayer Team would like to push. The other interpretation, which is based upon the Deist views of God popular among most of the Founding Fathers, is that God was the Grand Architect and Rulemaker of the Universe; God is the only absolute power which has dominion over America. But as God's manifestation on Earth is limited (in Deist eyes) to Nature and Nature's laws, the only laws by which the American public are absolutely bound are the laws of nature. Unfortunately, the "laws of nature" is a rather muddled-up concept, with some claiming that the "laws of nature" forbid homosexuality (even though we've seen gay penguins) while those of a more scientific worldview point to "laws of nature" such as gravity's inverse square law.

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