Saturday, March 26, 2011

Quote of the day: on faith and works

"It is in our lives and not our words that our religion must be read"

- Thomas Jefferson, quoted by Forrest Church in his introduction to The Jefferson Bible (Beacon Press:  1989).


Angie Van De Merwe said...

This is true when there is a judgment made about another's life and their "works" or lack thereof. What is a "world" that qualifies? Is it doing one's job effciently, being a good parent, volunteering, or WHAT?

Jefferson must have had a "tongue in cheek" when he said this, as I'm sure he didn't mean that others could demand another to do a certain service in the "name of God"....

Angie Van De Merwe said...

"world" should be "work"...

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Thomas Jefferson wrote a letter once to Thomas B. Parker in which he considers proper religion. He said:

Were I to be the founder of a new sect, I would call them Apriarians, and after the example of the bees advise them to extract the honey of every sect. My fundamental principle would be the reverse of Calvin’s that we are to be saved by our good works which are within our power, and not by our faith which is not within our power.

So Jefferson’s advice is to take what is meaningful from every religious sect, and to do good works. From this we can see another symbol of Deism coming apparent. A honeycomb or a bee.

In other words, Jefferson believed that nothing got done without man doing it. Evangelicals or those who believe in some form of "creation mandate" use similar terms to "co-creation".

But, I don't know what he meant by "saved", except that the nation or its citizens would be "saved"....since he wasn't a supernaturalist.

bpabbott said...

Angie, I think Jefferson was differentiating between "the walk" and "the talk". In the former, the individual passes judgement, in the latter the religious authority passes judgement.

Tom Van Dyke said...

"Justification by works" is the Christian theological term, I think, and is rejected by mainstream Protestantism, under the "faith alone saves" of Luther, or Calvin's notion of "the elect," i.e., predestination.

However, Ben Franklin, the other famous non-conformist "key" Founder, disagreed with Jefferson as well:

"You will see in this my notion of good works, that I am far from expecting to merit heaven by them. By heaven we understand a state of happiness, infinite in degree, and eternal in duration. I can do nothing to deserve such rewards. He that, for giving a draft of water to a thirsty person, should expect to be paid with a good plantation, would be modest in his demands, compared with those who think they deserve heaven for the little good they do on earth. Even the mixed, imperfect pleasures we enjoy in this world, are rather from God's goodness than our merit; how much more such happiness of heaven!"---1740

In the full quote, we see that Franklin believes good works are the proper form of worship for the Deity, but worship of any sort is not sufficient for salvation.

"FOR my own part, when I am employed in serving others, I do not look upon myself as conferring favors, but as paying debts. In my travels, and, since my settlement, I have received much kindness from men, to whom I shall never have any opportunity of making the least direct return; and numberless mercies from God, who is infinitely above being benefited by our services. Those kindnesses from men, I can therefore only return on their fellow men, and I can only show my gratitude for these mercies from God, by a readiness to help his other children and my brethren. For I do not think that thanks and compliments, though repeated weekly, can discharge our real obligations to each other, and much less those to our Creator."


"The faith you mention has certainly its use in the world. I do not desire to see it diminished, nor would I endeavor to lessen it in any man. But I wish it were more productive of good works, than I have generally seen it; I mean real good works; works of kindness, charity, mercy, and public spirit; not holiday-keeping, sermon-reading or hearing; performing church ceremonies, or making long prayers, filled with flatteries and compliments, despised even by wise men, and much less capable of pleasing the Deity. The worship of God is a duty; the hearing and reading of sermons may be useful; but if men rest in hearing and praying, as too many do, it is as if a tree should value itself on being watered and putting forth leaves, though it never produced any fruit."

Angie Van De Merwe said...

It becomes very cumbersome to use religious terminology to describe what performance meets the demands of thier own conscience. Therefore, cease trying to perform for another's opinion and serve your own conscience, do what you will to serve the interests of the 'greater good" by your own definition.

Authority is at issue here. Is one to "do what an authority" whether it be a religous text, or religious persona or religious authority? Or should they serve their own interests (happiness), which ends up prospering society in their very pursuit?

What one defines as "the good" is determined by various interests and pursuits in a free society. One cannot be determined, unless there is an abuse of power, which doesn't admit a "consent of the governed". Such power claims innocence by using the law to subvert another's interests in pursuit of their own personal/religious priorities.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Therefore, cease trying to perform for another's opinion and serve your own conscience, do what you will to serve the interests of the 'greater good" by your own definition.

The problem, Ms. Van De Merwe, of which the Founders were well aware, is that man---"fallen" as he is---has an unlimited ability to lie to himself, and to his conscience.

It's called "rationalization." Even David Hume saw reason as a slave to the passions.

Hey, if you can't lie to yourself, who CAN you lie to?

Daniel said...

That quote is not what I would have expected from Franklin. His logic seems indisputable, however.