Tuesday, October 30, 2018

St. George Tucker, Religion & the American Founding, Part IV

See parts I, IIand III

Paragraph breaks added for clarity.
The church establishment in England is one of the mildest sort. But even there what a snare has it been to integrity? And what a check to free inquiry? What dispositions favourable to despotism has it fostered? What a turn to pride and narrowness and domination has it given the clerical character?  
What struggles has it produced in its members to accommodate their opinions to the subscriptions and tests which it imposes? What a perversion of learning has it occasioned to defend obsolete creeds and absurdities? What a burthen is it on the consciences of some of its best clergy, who, in consequence of being bound down to a system they do not approve, and having no support except that which they derive from conforming to it, find themselves under the hard necessity of either prevaricating or starving? No one doubts but that the English clergy in general could with more truth declare that they do not, than that they do give their unfeigned assent to all and every thing contained in the thirty-nine articles, and the book of common prayer: and, yet, with a solemn declaration to this purpose, are they obliged to enter upon an office which above all offices requires those who exercise it to be examples of simplicity and sincerity . . . Who can help execrating the cause of such an evil? 
But what I wish most to urge is the tendency of religious establishments to impede the improvement of the world. They are boundaries prescribed by human folly to human investigation; and enclosures, which intercept the light, and confine the exertions of reason. Let any one imagine to himself what effects similar establishments would have in philosophy, navigation, metaphisics, medicine, or mathematics.  
Something like this, took place in logic and philosophy, while the ipse dixit of Aristotle, and the nonsense of the schools, maintained, an authority like that of the creeds of churchmen; and the effect was a longer continuance of the world in the ignorance and barbarity of the dark ages. But civil establishments of religion are more pernicious. So apt are mankind to misrepresent the character of the Deity, and to connect his favour with particular modes of faith, that it must be expected that a religion so settled will be what it has hitherto been . . . a gloomy and cruel superstition, bearing the name of religion. 
It has been long a subject of dispute, which is worse in it's effects on society, such a religion or speculative atheism. For my own part, I could almost give the preference to the latter . . . Atheism is so repugnant to every principle of common sense, that it is not possible it should ever gain much ground, or become very prevalent.  
On the contrary, there is a particular proneness in the human mind to superstition, and nothing is more likely to become prevalent . . . Atheism leaves us to the full influence of most of our natural feelings and social principles; and these are so strong in their operation, that, in general, they are a sufficient guard to the order of society. But superstition counteracts these principles, by holding forth men to one another as objects of divine hatred; and by putting them on harrassing, silenceing, imprissoning and burning one another, in order to do God service . . . Atheism is a sanctuary for vice, by taking away the motives to virtue arising from the will of God, and the fear of future judgment.  
But superstition is more a sanctuary for vice, by teaching men ways of pleasing God, without moral virtue; and by leading them even to compound for wickedness, by ritual services, by bodily penances and mortifications; by adoring shrines, going pilgrimages, saying many prayers, receiving absolution from the priests, exterminating heretics, &c. . . . Atheism destroys the sacredness and obligation of an oath. But is there not also a religion (so called) which does this, by teaching, that there is power which can dispense with the obligation of oaths; that pious frauds are right, and that faith is not to be kept with heretics.
We see here that Tucker has some bitter words of criticism for certain kinds of established Christianity. Roman Catholicism is obviously a target -- probably the biggest offender -- of this "superstitious" Christianity that Tucker apparently sees as worse than atheism.

However, it's an all to common error of the "Christian nationalist" types to think it's only Roman Catholicism. No it's other forms of orthodox Protestant Christianity too. Here Tucker names Anglicanism. Tucker also notes it's not just congregants, but ministers as well in the Anglican church who didn't necessarily believe in official doctrine and dogma.

That's why the rules of evidence by which I operate refuse to concede that merely being formally affiliated (and in some cases the affiliation is informal!) with a particular church means we get to impute said church's doctrines into the particular individual.

This is, for instance, the only way to make George Washington into an "orthodox Christian," by imputing specific Anglican/Episcopalian teachings into his beliefs. Even though GW systematically avoided communion in said church. (Something forbidden by "official" Anglican/Episcopalian doctrine and dogma).

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