Friday, October 24, 2008

John Adams and TJ waxin' skeptical

""""We think ourselves possessed, or, at least, we boast that we are so, of liberty of conscience on all subjects, and of the right of free inquiry and private judgment in all cases, and yet how far are we from these exalted privileges in fact! There exists, I believe, throughout the whole Christian world, a law which makes it blasphemy to deny or doubt the divine inspiration of all the books of the Old and New Testaments, from Genesis to Revelations. In most countries of Europe it is punished by fire at the stake, or the rack, or the wheel. In England itself it is punished by boring through the tongue with a red-hot poker. In America it is not better; even in our own Massachusetts, which I believe, upon the whole, is as temperate and moderate in religious zeal as most of the States, a law was made in the latter end of the last century, repealing the cruel punishments of the former laws, but substituting fine and imprisonment upon all those blasphemers upon any book of the Old Testament or New. Now, what free inquiry, when a writer must surely encounter the risk of fine or imprisonment for adducing any argument for investigating into the divine authority of those books? Who would run the risk of translating Dupuis? But I cannot enlarge upon this subject, though I have it much at heart. I think such laws a great embarrassment, great obstructions to the improvement of the human mind. Books that cannot bear examination, certainly ought not to be established as divine inspiration by penal laws. It is true, few persons appear desirous to put such laws in execution, and it is also true that some few persons are hardy enough to venture to depart from them. But as long as they continue in force as laws, the human mind must make an awkward and clumsy progress in its investigations. I wish they were repealed. The substance and essence of Christianity, as I understand it, is eternal and unchangeable, and will bear examination forever, but it has been mixed with extraneous ingredients, which I think will not bear examination, and they ought to be separated. Adieu."""""

-- John Adams, one of his last letters to Thomas Jefferson, January 23, 1825.

One particularly interesting bon mot: "Books that cannot bear examination, certainly ought not to be established as divine inspiration by penal laws." Which is to say, the law should be considered secular with no foundation in theological principles. Sounds good to us (and Thomas Hobbes, author of that secular masterpiece Leviathan--well-known to the Founders--agreed as well). Thus, the baptists (and other monotheistic clowns) barking for "yes on 8" because that's what "God's law" requires, or some biblical passage (most likely misunderstood) in effect stand in opposition to Adams, Jefferson, and nearly all the Founding Fathers.

Adams was also an early opponent to masonry (to his credit): which is to say, the authentic secularist does not advocate secret societies, or some ersatz mysticism as a replacement for Christianity or catholicism, or any religion. His son John Quincy also battled protestant zealots--especially the dixie, slaveholding sort, ala Jackson. Southern aristos such as TJ or even RE Lee are one thing; the lizardy prezbyterian Andy Jackson quite another. Many Americans might think of the Adamses as yankee-conservatives, but they were at least not biblethumpers or crypto-monarchist, and in political terms, came as close as any American politicians did to upholding the ideals of, say, Condorcet (who JQA met at one time). Ezra Pound, for one, admired JQ Adams' oratory--tho' not always agreeing to the content.

Contingencies recommends DFV on 8, as does the CA Liberty Caucus, which has recently shown some libertarian spine: "According to the RLC California Board, “We believe, in the spirit of free enterprise and freedom of religion, that private institutions have the right to maintain policies with which some of us might disagree and find discriminatory, while in the spirit of equal treatment under the law, public institutions should never be allowed to discriminate against any members of society.” Not bad. NRA (got that Bam Bam?? NRA, as in like twelve gauge), legalized drugs (for the intelligent at least), tasteful bordelloes, no taxes (at least until first million), and upholding civil liberties. Yay. Libertarianism may have certain shortcomings (i.e. laissez-faire econ. models); compared to theocracy or marxist-statism, those shortcomings should be considered mostly negligible.

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