Politics and Religion

It is often said that one should avoid the subjects of politics and religion in polite conversation.  But one of our most revered founding fathers, Thomas Jefferson, certainly didn’t avoid either subject.  He wrote the following letter to Dr. George Logan who was a medical doctor and great friend.  I won’t comment on it at this time, but would certainly welcome any comments that our readers might have.

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To George Logan J. MSS. Poplar Forest Near Lynchburg, Nov. 12. 16.

Dear Sir,

I received your favor of Oct. 16, at this place where I pass much of my time, very distant from Monticello. I am quite astonished at the idea which seems to have got abroad; and this is said to have arisen from a letter of mine to my friend Charles Thompson, in which certainly there is no trace of such an idea. When we see religion split into so many thousand of sects, and I may say Christianity itself divided into it’s thousands also, who are disputing, anathematizing and where the laws permit burning and torturing one another for abstractions which no one of them understand, and which are indeed beyond the comprehension of the human mind, into which of the chambers of this Bedlam would a [torn] man wish to thrust himself. The sum of all religion as expressed by it’s best preacher, ‘fear god and love thy neighbor’ contains no mystery, needs no explanation. But this wont do. It gives no scope to make dupes ; priests could not live by it.

Your idea of the moral obligations of governments are perfectly correct. The man who is dishonest as a statesman would be a dishonest man in any station. It is strangely absurd to suppose that a million of human beings collected together are not under the same moral laws which bind each of the separately.

It is a great consolation to me that our government, as it cherishes most it’s duties to its own citizens, so is it the most exact in it’s moral conduct towards other nations. I do not believe that in the four administrations which have taken place, there has been a single instance of departure from good faith towards other nations. We may sometimes have mistaken our rights, or made an erroneous estimate of the actions of others, but no voluntary wrong can be imputed to us.

In this respect England exhibits the most remarkable phaenomenon in the universe in the contrast between the profligacy of it’s government and the probity of it’s citizens. And accordingly it is now exhibiting an example of the truth of the maxim that virtue & interest are inseparable. It ends, as might have been expected, in the ruin of it’s people, but this ruin will fall heaviest, as it ought to fall on it’s people, but this ruin will fall heaviest, as it ought to fall on that hereditary aristocracy which has for generations been preparing the catastrophe. I hope we shall take warning from the example and crush in it’s birth the aristocracy of our monied corporations which dare already to challenge our government to a trial of strength and bid defiance to the laws of our country. Present me respectfully to Mrs. Logan and accept yourself my friendly and respectful salutations.

The Rules

I read recently about a Christian woman who asked her unbelieving friend what she had against Jesus.  The friend replied “Oh, I have no problem with Jesus.  It’s just everthing SINCE Jesus that I have a problem with!”  I think this is true for a lot of people.  Faith in Christ is one thing.  The religion that has developed in Christ’s name is something else again.

To me, a formal religion is defined by two things:  To Whom do you pray?  and What are your rules?  As we look at the history of the church, we can see that many different rules have come into play that have little if anything to do with Jesus.  Oftentimes these rules have done more to drive people away from faith than to strengthen their spiritual lives.

Rules were a major part of church experience when I was a child.  I’m sure they weren’t written down anywhere, but they were certainly prominent and consistent in the little fundamentalist church I attended.  They didn’t make much sense to me then, and even less sense today.  Here are some of the rules that were enforced in my church and my home:

1-      No card playing.  No game that used the classic playing cards (aces, clubs, hearts, and diamonds) was acceptable.  However, if we played the same games with cards that looked different (e.g., Rook) that was OK.

2-      No movies at the theaters.  But most of us watched a lot of TV.

3-      No drinking alcohol.  I remember hearing sermons that said that Jesus drank only unfermented grape juice.  Of course, there is no historical or translational basis for that assertion.

4-      No dancing.  But the church actually sponsored roller skating parties where it was fine to skate with a partner.

Just when I thought I had heard all the rules, a high school friend declined my invitation to play a game of chess.  She said her church had a rule against that.  That one really baffles me.

Those rules that I experienced as a child were really pretty harmless.  However, in the history of the church there have been some rules and practices that were much more damaging.  The rules that led to the Inquisition and the witch burnings are probably the most egregious.

Jesus gave us only the simplest of rules:  Love God, and love our neighbors.  I’m sure that most of  the rules that the church has added to Christian faith and practice since then have been intended to help us in our spiritual walk.  But the rules themselves can easily become the primary focus in our lives.  People can even fool themselves into thinking that adherence to a given set of rules is what saves us.  I believe that Christianity would be much more vibrant today if there were less focus on The Rules, and more focus on The Ruler.