Thank you for the post you did about the May 1778 correspondence between Gouverneur Morris and GW; it was new to me (one of the problems of working with Washington materials is that there are so many things to go through)....
Anyway, my reading of the correspondence is based on a second definition of the word “unavailing,” which can mean, as you indicated, “useless,” but it can also mean “futile.” If I was reading you correctly, you were saying that Washington thought any information Jesus might have written to rulers would have been useless. As I understand Washington’s response, I think he was saying that, even if Jesus had written a chapter of instructions for rulers, it would have been futile, given the sinful nature of man (those rulers would have just ignored it or deliberately decided to violate what he’d required of them). Just a thought.
A group blog to promote discussion, debate and insight into the history, particularly religious, of America's founding. Any observations, questions, or comments relating to the blog's theme are welcomed.
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
Mary Thompson on the Washington/G. Morris Exchange on Political Rulers
Mary V. Thompson, Research Historian, Mount Vernon and author of In the Hands of a Good Providence: Religion in the Life of George Washington (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2008) wrote me the following in an email, which she gave me permission to reproduce:
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I can go with the futile wording but I think it may have been more a sectarian frustration that Washington was feeling about how each sect had a different reading of what was said in the Bible. I think it was more that they were overcomplicating a simple concepts with dogmatism.
Surely debatable but that is my take.
It seems to me that George Washington was saying that men are men, meaning their limitations, and various values will be debated in the public square, and those that "win" the debate will decide policy. And those that loose, need not be defeated by complaining...knowing that one has re-course in our land...Therefore, since men cannot know everything absolutely, we do the best we can.
The political realm is where faith is played out. And faith is defined in different ways, within that realm. Those that think that faith, as defined by one type of understanding, is what should determine the policial are "off-base", because idealism is disconnected from the real world...of politics.
That's not what Washington's saying atall, Angie. Mary Thompson's take satisfies Occam's razor.
The subject of Morris' letter was a military matter of regimental arrangements, presumably of interest to Washington, that was being held up in Congress, for which Morris blamed
"But our superior abilities, or the desire of appearing to possess them, lead us to such exquisite tediousness of debate, that the most precious moments pass unheeded away like vulgar things."
There's really no overarching philosophical theme of the Bible's role in government.
I didn't say the Bible has any role in government. The separation of Church and State is the issue that would meet Ockam's razor.
Gov. Morris had an agenda that he felt compelled to blame someone...as we all do when things don't go the way we want. But, our government should represent all people under its auspices, therefore, we should not have a particularly religious government that excludes those who are not religious.
Washington and Morris are discussing nothing remotely related to that.
Okay, Tom. It must be my ADD or my ignorance.
Nah, it's your agenda, Angie.
We all have a POV here as human persons, but you gotta pick your spots. "There is no God" is unnecessary. Our discussions of religion and the Founding are about their perceptions of God, and the Founding was built on the Founders' perceptions of God, of what is right or wrong, of what is good and what is not-good.
Those that think that faith, as defined by one type of understanding, is what should determine the policial are "off-base", because idealism is disconnected from the real world...of politics.
Idealism is very much part of the real world of politics, in fact, it defines the world of politics.
That is our starting point, religion and the Founding. Or not-religion and the Founding, which is also an idealism of a different sort. This is where you're not in the zone here. Yet.
Today's science and religion debate is the ideological debate that breeds our culture wars.
The scientist uses the religious' perception of God to form society for his own interests. This is where we are today, as it concerns religion.
The religious person, then ceases to have a right to his own life, because he is useful for "other ends" of understanding the human being. I find this is unethical.
So, in our government, we should allow freedom of individuals in regards to their life choices or values within the confines of the law.
The government is to protect from abuse of power. That was the whole reason for the Founding in the first place..
Though science investigating man or using him as a commodity for science's ends is unethical, I have still to understand the foundation of the defense of the ethical. That is my quandary. I have believed in the value of the human being as a rational and free (within reason) being....religion does not "see" or understand that God is not superintended upon history, or intervening within history. Leaders do the planning and carrying out of what constitutes history.
" I have believed in the value of the human being as a rational and free (within reason) being."
What do you base your value of the human being on? During the founding it was because humans were made in the image or God and most of them believed in neighborly love. The former is a Judean concept and the latter is Christian. Thus Judeo-Christian.
What does Science have to offer that is better than that is the question? It by definition cannot even comment on the first in that Science only measures the natural and has nothing to say about the supernatural. Just food for thought?
i thought our constitution was an ethical document, because it upheld the rights of the individual, in opposition to power, even the Romans 13 power...living one's life under the guise of another's religious conviction is oppressive indeed. but some would think this would be what tolerance would demand...I just want everyone to live their lives freely...
My husband even suggested that i volunteer at the ACLU when we were in D.C., but I hadn't thought out my convictions enough to commit...at that point. I don't respect religious people, for the most part and it has to do with what they think is of importance...
What does your response have to do with my question? The Constitution is based on ideas expressed in the Declaration that I am saying are based on Judeo-Christian ideas. Does Science has a foundation for value of the human being? If so, what is it. Everyone is so quick to want to crown Science king and claim human rights at the same time. What does Science have to say about the foundations necessary for human rights to exist?
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