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Thomas Paine on Calvinism and Sophistry

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  • Thomas Paine on Calvinism and Sophistry

    One thing that strikes me about religion is that it sometimes purports to answer questions when the answer is actually just emptiness. Job is a classic example. We read about his intense afflictions and want to know the "why" of it, just like Job did. Then God comes out of the whirlwind and basically says "where were you when I made the earth?" It's a non answer.

    I always felt the same way about Paul's writings. Many of Paul's arguments have a patina of logic but no substance behind them. One of the emptiest arguments he used is a favorite passage of Calvinists to justify predestination of souls. It never seemed like anything more than a "might makes right" argument to me, which is no argument at all.

    I recently read Thomas Paine's essay on Romans 9 and was encouraged that Paine felt the same way. He describes in much more detail why Paul's argument is nonsensical.

    Here's a link to Paine's essay:

    http://www.deism.com/paine_essay_pre..._calvinism.htm

    His essay is all the more powerful considering the small religious minds he was addressing. At that time, preachers tended to overuse fear as a means to convert people.
    Last edited by whag; 02-20-2014, 12:05 PM.

  • #2
    Originally posted by whag View Post
    At that time, preachers tended to overuse fear as a means to convert people.
    This always gets me -- if they sincerely believed that people would spend an eternity in torment, how much "fear" is sufficient to motivate people to avoid the horrors?
    "Neighbor, how long has it been since you’ve had a big, thick, steaming bowl of Wolf Brand Chili?”

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    • #3
      Originally posted by Cow Poke View Post
      This always gets me -- if they sincerely believed that people would spend an eternity in torment, how much "fear" is sufficient to motivate people to avoid the horrors?
      Moreover, didn't these Jonathan Edwards types consider they were dangling the prospect of salvation to dishonorable clumps of clay? How immensely cruel.

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      • #4
        Originally posted by Whag, blessedly free of perspective as always
        One thing that strikes me about scientists and science fiction writers is that they sometimes purports to answer questions when the answer is actually just emptiness.
        It's almost like the most notable humans are motivated to find any patterns they can in the unknown, who'da thunk it?

        We read about his intense afflictions and want to know the "why" of it, just like Job did. Then God comes out of the whirlwind and basically says "where we're you when I made the earth?" It's a non answer.
        Fairly certain those parts at the beginning and the end covered the whole 'why' issue. Job is less about why the Lord may do things than why you probably won't ever know the full extent of motivations behind any terrible events in your life, which is exactly the type of lesson that people who continually obsess over things like, say, government, business, and other political conspiracies would do well to take to heart.

        I always felt the same way about Paul's writings. Many of Paul's arguments have a patina of logic but no substance behind them. One of the emptiest arguments he used is a favorite passage of Calvinists to justify predestination of souls. It never seemed like anything more than a "might makes right" argument to me, which is no argument at all.
        Circumspection and solemnity in the face of the unknown, especially in the face of an unknown that knows more about you than you do, is generally always a good attitude to take. (For instance, the lack of any real circumspection or solemnity, scientific or religious, on the part of almost anybody in the Prometheus movie, was one of the biggest reasons it struck most audiences as false and forced.) And recognizing that one's life is actually in imminent danger has a number of salutary effects on a very large fraction of the people, but Paine never struck me as a guy with much on-the-ground military experience, despite his pamphleteering for two bloody revolutions.

        His essay is all the more powerful considering the small religious minds he was addressing. At that time, preachers tended to overuse fear as a means to convert people.
        Damn those narrow-minded religious folks for thinking that preaching to everyone means preaching to EVERYONE, including the small religious minds which respond only to fear, and who learn only from direct experience! The Enlightened write them all off properly!

        The deist website says "In Nature's God We Trust", but "A new Cycle of the Ages" described their philosophy far better-that the only real thing worth worshiping is the Infinite Loop, the Great Chain, the Business Cycle, the Worm Ouroboros, the Eternal Recurrence, and (when they're being most honest) the Spirit of the Age.

        The Timeless, the Transcendent, and the Divine have no meaning for them, for they see nothing real but the social milieu of the day. Amazing that Paine should cleave so readily to a philosophy befitting 99% of idle rich men and their marketeers throughout history, who generally leave off questioning the motivations they encourage once the sale is made, and so tend to make fortunes but not great works that have perspective beyond the narrow band of the present age's motivations.

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        • #5
          Originally posted by Epoetker View Post
          It's almost like the most notable humans are motivated to find any patterns they can in the unknown, who'da thunk it?



          Fairly certain those parts at the beginning and the end covered the whole 'why' issue. Job is less about why the Lord may do things than why you probably won't ever know the full extent of motivations behind any terrible events in your life, which is exactly the type of lesson that people who continually obsess over things like, say, government, business, and other political conspiracies would do well to take to heart.



          Circumspection and solemnity in the face of the unknown, especially in the face of an unknown that knows more about you than you do, is generally always a good attitude to take. (For instance, the lack of any real circumspection or solemnity, scientific or religious, on the part of almost anybody in the Prometheus movie, was one of the biggest reasons it struck most audiences as false and forced.) And recognizing that one's life is actually in imminent danger has a number of salutary effects on a very large fraction of the people, but Paine never struck me as a guy with much on-the-ground military experience, despite his pamphleteering for two bloody revolutions.



          Damn those narrow-minded religious folks for thinking that preaching to everyone means preaching to EVERYONE, including the small religious minds which respond only to fear, and who learn only from direct experience! The Enlightened write them all off properly!

          The deist website says "In Nature's God We Trust", but "A new Cycle of the Ages" described their philosophy far better-that the only real thing worth worshiping is the Infinite Loop, the Great Chain, the Business Cycle, the Worm Ouroboros, the Eternal Recurrence, and (when they're being most honest) the Spirit of the Age.

          The Timeless, the Transcendent, and the Divine have no meaning for them, for they see nothing real but the social milieu of the day. Amazing that Paine should cleave so readily to a philosophy befitting 99% of idle rich men and their marketeers throughout history, who generally leave off questioning the motivations they encourage once the sale is made, and so tend to make fortunes but not great works that have perspective beyond the narrow band of the present age's motivations.
          I would think God more admires actual thought than forced solemnity. When I read Romans 9, I think.

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          • #6
            Originally posted by whag View Post
            i would think god more admires actual thought than forced solemnity. When i read romans 9, i think.
            ecree
            ~Formerly known as Chrawnus~

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            • #7
              Originally posted by Chrawnus View Post
              ecree
              Ouch.

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              • #8
                Originally posted by whag View Post
                One thing that strikes me about religion is that it sometimes purports to answer questions when the answer is actually just emptiness. Job is a classic example. We read about his intense afflictions and want to know the "why" of it, just like Job did. Then God comes out of the whirlwind and basically says "where were you when I made the earth?" It's a non answer.
                When one judges ancient literature (not to mention ancient culture) by modern standards, one frequently fails in understanding, therefore in judgment. It's called ethnocentrism, and it's frequently warned against in sociology and history classes for a reason.

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                • #9
                  Originally posted by Cow Poke View Post
                  This always gets me -- if they sincerely believed that people would spend an eternity in torment, how much "fear" is sufficient to motivate people to avoid the horrors?
                  Such is the power of false beliefs about God and the end of the lost.
                  For Neo-Remonstration (Arminian/Remonstrant ruminations): <https://theremonstrant.blogspot.com>

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                  • #10
                    Originally posted by whag View Post
                    Moreover, didn't these Jonathan Edwards types consider they were dangling the prospect of salvation to dishonorable clumps of clay? How immensely cruel.
                    Yes. Unconditional reprobation and everlasting torment are not likely to make one think well of God (especially when held in tandem), even under the pretense that the "holiness" of God requires unending torment as the payment for sin. In my judgement, exhaustive divine determinism and endless conscious torment are two unnecessary impediments to Christ.
                    Last edited by The Remonstrant; 02-20-2014, 02:15 PM.
                    For Neo-Remonstration (Arminian/Remonstrant ruminations): <https://theremonstrant.blogspot.com>

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                    • #11
                      Originally posted by Outis View Post
                      When one judges ancient literature (not to mention ancient culture) by modern standards, one frequently fails in understanding, therefore in judgment. It's called ethnocentrism, and it's frequently warned against in sociology and history classes for a reason.
                      You realize people in the 18 century had much more in common with people in the ANE.

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                      • #12
                        It also should occur to us that Paul's epistles are read by a largely uneducated audience. So when Paul personifies the clay, he's appealing more to emotion than logic.

                        On another point, how do Armenians interpret Paul's potter/clay metaphor?

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                        • #13
                          Originally posted by whag View Post
                          You realize people in the 18 century had much more in common with people in the ANE.
                          Not really. The modern concept of individual rights is one that did not exist in the ANE--they had their equivalents, and their own thoughts on the issue, but our modern understanding of "rights" is post-Renaissance. The concept of the absolute monarchy, ubiquitous in the ANE (and influential to their understanding of Deity) was long dead in the 17th century, and the concept of the "divine right of kings" (a more recent concept, not even present in the ANE) was in its last stages of decay. The differences in views between humanism, deism, and theism was absent in the ANE, and "rational theism" utterly unheard of.

                          In the ANE, deity was seen as immediate, present, and willing to act. In the stricter 17th century communities, Deity was seen as distant, foreboding, and ready to condemn.

                          The people of the 17th century, though not identical culturally to us today, are far closer to us than to the ANE.

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                          • #14
                            Originally posted by whag View Post
                            It also should occur to us that Paul's epistles are read by a largely uneducated audience. So when Paul personifies the clay, he's appealing more to emotion than logic.

                            On another point, how do Armenians [sic] interpret Paul's potter/clay metaphor?
                            If you are interested in a solid rebuttal to the strict Calvinist understanding of Romans 9 as a biblical text definitively teaching unconditional election to salvation and unconditional reprobation, I'd recommend obtaining a copy of Gregory A. Boyd's, Is God to Blame? Moving Beyond Pat Answers to the Problem of Suffering (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003).1 In chapter 8, "Mercy and Hardening", Boyd provides a good, quick overview of the passage and how it is best understood apart from a deterministic theological framework (pp.165-176). The whole book is a very worthwhile read. (Though Boyd is an open theist, his arguments fall within the Arminian/free-will theistic camp.)


                            Note

                            1 http://www.amazon.com/Moving-Beyond-...y+gregory+boyd
                            Last edited by The Remonstrant; 02-20-2014, 03:38 PM.
                            For Neo-Remonstration (Arminian/Remonstrant ruminations): <https://theremonstrant.blogspot.com>

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                            • #15
                              Originally posted by whag View Post
                              It also should occur to us that Paul's epistles are read by a largely uneducated audience.
                              Again, you err. The early Church was a mixture of the well-educated and the poorly educated, and those who were well-educated instructed those who were less so.

                              Is it an appeal to emotion? Certainly--just as much as your accusation is. More accurately, both you and Paul make an appeal to _rhetoric_.

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