Sunday, January 12, 2014

Government, Deism, and the Establishment of Religion: A Postscript to Theistic Reemphasis


    I argued in the blog Theistic Reemphasis that atheistic criticisms of religion do not warrant belief in atheism. I justified this claim by suggesting that God can be a religiously neutral term due to the inherent nature of deism as a non 'revelation' (religious) based belief in a god of the universe. It follows that not only do criticisms of religion not warrant belief in atheism, but that they could also beg the question. The reason why miracles are 'unrealistic' to them is because they already don't believe in a god that can perform them*. I argued that Atheism must, in order to be taken seriously, give a reason to suggest why the substance called 'god' (a transcendent, non physical, timeless, all-powerful, all-knowing, all-present, and necessary being) does not exist or is highly unlikely to exist** rather than the mere personal, or religious specific, properties. If they ignore the former, then atheism is synonymous with words like 'nonChristian', 'nonMuslim', and 'nonJewish', which tell us absolutely nothing useful in discussions. This blog, however, will explore the consequences of my conclusion, that God does not always equal 'religion', and relate it to the political debate concerning the separation of church and state.

    As my previous blog mentioned, atheism has strangely become 'religion-centric', and this has spilled over into the political sphere. It is now common for 'freethought' communities (whatever that truly means at this point) to protest any inclusion of God on government property or in oaths. The debate has traditionally been centered around a phrase in the 1st Amendment:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
Therefore, says the atheist, there is a serious breach of their 1st Amendment right when phrases like "In God we trust" or "One nation under God" are included on government property.

    However, if what I said is true, and I believe I have argued for it properly, then the mere presence of the word 'God', absence of a religious context, does not entail any religious belief or ideology that can be 'established' on "We the People." Since deism is the simplest form of theism and lacks any religious connotations inherently, then it is deism to which we interpret 'God' (absence a religious context) in these situations.

    To clarify, the difference between a 'philosophy of life' and a religion hangs on the word 'revelation'. If I, through my various observations of the world, formulate a worldview (i.e. a web of interconnecting beliefs about reality), then I have developed a 'philosophy'. If, however, I receive knowledge that does not originate from within me, and transcends the limits of reason, then I have a religious belief. For example, through a philosophy I can establish the existence of nonphysical substances, eternal things, and self-evident 'moral truths'. I may even learn this from other people, but as long as it originated from 'within the limits of human reason', then it is a philosophy. For example, there is no rational argument that can show that there is a loving God,  that Jesus Christ is His son, and that we need to worship Him and have our sins forgiven through Him, without revelation.  The 'limits of reason' are also the limits of deism, and it is for this very reason that deists should not be considered 'religious'.

    No one would take seriously the claim that "In God we Trust" is synonymous to "In Jesus Christ we Trust". The former is religiously neutral while the latter isn't. Until the atheist assumes the burden of proof and demonstrates that the context of such phrases are inherently religious, then they lose all basis for objecting to the inclusion of God on government property.


* It's question begging to suggest that you don't believe in God because you find the idea of miracles 'silly' when this criticism presupposes a belief that God doesn't exist in the first place.

** [a point I take issue with since no scientific or probabilistic argument could reasonably be offered without a methodological bias in favor of naturalism, which consequently begs the question]