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Guiding documents shaped by diverse opinions

Editor,

Today, people who identify themselves as conservatives (mostly they aren’t) like to believe that this country’s founding documents have a religious origin. They don’t.

At least two recent letters to the editor have expressed this position for the Declaration of Independence. A few years back, it was the practice of such “conservatives” to carry around copies of the Constitution, which they would hand out and recommend careful reading.

The Constitution, of course, institutionalized slavery, didn’t recognize the citizenship of the indigenous population and contained mechanisms for ensuring that rich, white males would continue to rule. Many of these “conservatives,” no doubt, are comfortable with these provisions, but defending them has become increasingly problematic. Therefore, they have switched to the Declaration of Independence, which leads to an even bigger problem that its politics are essentially the opposite of theirs.

To the 21st century reader, the Declaration appears to be referring to a divinity. The problem is in the terminology of the radical enlightenment philosophers, primarily Helvetius, Diderot and d’Holbach. To those philosophers, god and nature were one and the same. The terms were used interchangeably. We still have this terminology with physicists. The Higgs boson (a sub-atomic particle) is referred to as the “god particle”. Enlightenment brought us the entire idea of human rights, equality, freedom of religion, speech, peaceful assembly, etc. Also, the end of feudalism, slavery and monarchy can be traced to them.

Thomas Jefferson, who composed the Declaration, Ben Franklin, and to a lesser degree other founders were minor contributors to the radical enlightenment. It is also critically important to mention Tom Paine who did not have a hand in writing the Declaration, but without whose well-timed and brilliantly written publication (“Common Sense”), it is unlikely that there would have been a Declaration or a revolution. That is a document everyone should read.

None of these people who were instrumental in the Declaration or the enlightenment were Christians. Some were Deists and others atheists.

PS: Thanks to Gene Johnson for pointing out some of the errors of logic in these letters in the 4-20-19 issue letters.

Harold Young
St. Ignatius

 

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