Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Puritans and Deists

Okay, blogging now...

I'm teaching an introductory course in American Lit this semester, and it struck me, as I was doing the prep work for the course, that we're still fighting the battle that was being fought right back there on the edge of the country, before it was the United States: between the Theists and the Deists.

The Theists (in this corner! in the white trunks! the Puritans!) want a theocracy, a God-centered government, life, and country. They believe in a world in which God is right here, immanent, involved in every little breath we take, and believe the country should be set up according to that God's laws. Further, they believe that God is running things -- he is intimately involved with the world's events, constantly making this and that and everything happen. God at the helm.

Deists (in this corner! in the blue trunks! Thomas Jefferson et al!) believe God exists, but he's not immanent - God created the world and left it in our hands. We need to find a way to run it correctly. If it isn't being run right -- if things are going wrong (like if, for instance, terrorism happens) we need to figure out why and fix it. Deists believe things happen because humans make them happen, or because they happened according to natural law.

Deists mixed with the Enlightenment doctrine, which is what happened in America, believe that the world can and should be made better, if not perfect; and that the way to do that is to examine this world empiracally: find out what's wrong by studying it. Once we know what's wrong, we can fix what's wrong.

The problem with the Theist position become obvious pretty much at once, in America -- whose God? The Puritans begin having trouble, at first, with their own members (Anne Hutchinson ) as well as with non-members (Thomas Merton) -- and then the Quakers, and the Catholics, and the Jews show up, and Katie bar the door!

Not to mention the Native Americans who were there all along, and the slaves who the Puritans kept importing -- what to do about all those dissident voices?

Quash them, was the Puritan answer. (One big reason the Puritan Sewall was against slavery, for instance, was because it brought black people into America -- and you know black people can never be like us, he pointed out.) One God, one voice, one way, one right answer.

Well, what else is the Religious Right -- not to mention other large segments of the Right -- arguing but that, right now?


zelda1 said...

Those puritans. They came here to build their own little religious world and seeing the men, women, and children native to this land as one step above buffalo, they took what they wanted and in the process felt no guilt or remorse for their actions. Now here it is 2004 and we are still suffereing from their teachings. Parents look for the evil in their own lives when their children become ill or die, the good get blessed and the poor must either be living wrong or be under some grand test to make them stronger (or have the wicked force behind them). The people who are different are either persecuted as in the witch hunt type of persecution or verbally condemed. Have we come any further from those self-righteous men and women of old? I think not. The way I see it, the Republicans are a chip off the old puritan's block. In looking at history, you'd think the Republicans would see their ever-so-wicked roots and quickly reform. But that might mean they would have to see those others as humans.

elenscher said...

But doesn't the Deist's argument in effect seek to quash the Theists view? They seem to be mutually exclusive theories of God's existence and the purpose of man on this earth.

If that is the case, How does the Deists argument carry any more weight that the Theist? They both want to exclude that portion of society that doesn't agree with their viewpoint.

Of course we should probably also consider the fact that the Theist model for God could be the correct one. I don't think it is, that doesn't seem like God to me, but then I do not know the mind of God very well.

If they are correct, however, isn't their view a logical progression from that premise?

zelda1 said...

The idea that God is sitting up there on a throne watching our every move and putting us through these awful trials as a way to prove our love for him or make us stronger or punish us doesn't seem like a God I want to seek. But, a God that made everything and put us here to live and learn and run things does appeal more to my ideas of a benevolent God. The Theists, in my view, are total self worshippers. It's all about me. If I get sick, God is punishing me. If I win a grammy for my crappy rap song, God is rewarding me. If there is a drought and hundreds of people starve as they made long trips to get a bowl of soup and while they sit and drink that soup the flies devour their faces, well that too is God punishing the wicked. My son was sick and it was to make me a stronger person. Those Theists have a reason for every good or bad thing that happens. Our country has prospered and we are right so it's up to us to invade other countries and convert them to Christianity and destroy their culture and religious beliefs of thousands of years because God told our ignorant president to do it. Do you really think God talks to Bush? If God is there and is looking down on us, how in the hell can he keep up with everyone's little cries and begs and thanks. Some might say magic, but I still rather believe the Deists. God puts us here and lets us run things and if we mess up the rivers with pollution then we clean it up. If we create weapons that can wipe out the world, we better learn to control our tempers and get along with other countries. We are responsible for the good and the bad and it's our job to take care of things. That is what he said to Adam in the beginning. Take care of these animals, name them, ect. He didn't say, kill them, put their faces on your walls, or torture them to see how they react to stress, or fill them with chemicals or disease to see how they react to that and if they live, we can do it to humans. The Theists can justify anything they do simply by putting God as their reasoning and they can do what ever they want provided the people they are doing it to are in their view truly wicked.