What has atheism contributed to ‘artistic creation’?

H.G. Wells

Dear Dave,

In your review of the Julian Huxley quotation, you asked, “What has atheism contributed to ‘artistic creation?’ What are atheismʼs great gifts to ‘philosophic thought?’” In reply to such a question, I would like to say that I have run across a few books over the years that list famous atheist/agnostic artists, writers, actors, and philosophers. One such book that comes to mind is

2000 Years of Disbelief: Famous People With the Courage to Doubt by James A. Haught

and

Whoʼs Who in Hell: A Handbook and International Directory for Humanists, Freethinkers, Naturalists, Rationalists and Non-Theists, edited by Warren Allen Smith

One famous atheist novelist in particular was close friends with the famous Catholic Christian novelist and apologist, G. K. Chesteron. I am speaking of H.G. Wells. When Wells had taken seriously ill, he wrote Chesterton: “If after all my Atheology turns out wrong and your Theology right I feel I shall always be able to pass into Heaven (if I want to) as a friend of G.K.C.ʼs. Bless you.”

And Chesterton replied: “If I turn out to be right, you will triumph, not by being a friend of mine, but by being a friend of Man, by having done a thousand things for men like me in every way from imagination to criticism. The thought of the vast variety of that work, and how it ranges from towering visions to tiny pricks of humor, overwhelmed me suddenly in retrospect; and I felt we have none of us ever said enough…Yours always, G. K. Chesterton.” [Dec. 10, 1933, letter from H.G. Wells to G.K. Chesterton. Undated reply from G.K. Chesterton to H.G. Wells. Letters, quoted in full in Maise Ward, Gilbert Keith Chesterton (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1943), pp. 604-605.] Note that Chesterton in his reply said Wells would “triumph” after death by “being a friend of Man.”

But perhaps the main question an Evangelical Christian should keep in mind is not only what gifts “atheists& have brought mankind, but…What Gifts Have Non-Evangelical Christian Peoples Of All Sorts Given To Mankind? If it was not for a host of scientists who happened to be either lapsed churchgoers, unorthodox Christians, heretics, apostates, infidels, freethinkers, agnostics, or atheists, and their successes in the fields of agricultural and medical science, hundreds of millions would have starved to death or suffered innumerable diseases this past century. Those agricultural and medical scientists “multiplied more loaves of bread” and “prevented/healed more diseases” in the past hundred years than Christianity has in the past two thousand.

Also, it has not always been the most orthodox of Christians who have changed the face of charity worldwide for the better. Florence Nightingale (the lady who helped make nursing a legitimate profession, and taught that no one should be refused admittance to a hospital based on their religious affiliation, and no patient should be proselytized in a hospital, but instead they should be allowed to see whichever clergyperson they preferred) was not an orthodox Christian, but instead a freethinking universalist Christian. (Ms. Nightingale also wrote some steamy letters that suggest she may have been bi-sexual or a lesbian.)

The founder of the International Red Cross (now called the International Red Cross and Red Crescent), Andre Dunant, was gay.

Clara Barton, founder of the American Red Cross, was another freethinking universalist Christian.

Dr. Albert Schweitzer, who spend years in Africa as a doctor and helped to publicize the plight of suffering Africans, was a liberal Christian and author of the The Search of the Historical Jesus in which he concluded that Jesus was a man who preached that the world was going to end soon.

And, Helen Keller (the woman who lost her sight and hearing to a bout with Scarlet Fever when she was very young, but who learned how to communicate via touch, and who proved an inspiration to several generations of folks suffering from severe disabilities) was both a Swedenborgian, and a member of the American Humanist Society.


Tale Of Yet Another Spurious Quotation

By the way, Caleb at Dr. Kennedyʼs “Creation Studies” organization, in his final response to me, cited Yet Another Spurious Quotation that Kennedy is currently bandying about in his books and sermons. But this time it is a quotation attributed to John Quincy Adams. See below…

“Creation.Studies.Correspondence” writes:

Hi Ed,

Thank you for contacting us with your comments.

“Christianity first set people free from the shackles of sin. Then, having experienced spiritual liberty, there was set in motion an inevitable quest for civil liberty as well. In the United States, where Christianity had its greatest impact, we have experienced civil liberties of a form and degree that had never been seen in any other country of the world. As John Quincy Adams once put it, ‘The highest glory of the American Revolution was this: it connected in one indissoluble bond, the principles of civil government with the principles of Christianity.’ This is light-years away from the so-called ‘separation of church and state.’”

— D. James Kennedy, What If Jesus Had Never Been Born?, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1994, p. 82.

May God Bless,

Caleb

www.CreationStudies.org

Did John Quincy Adams ever say that the American Revolution “connected in one indissoluble bond the principles of civil government with the principles of Christianity?”

Research by Jim Allison.

In the first edition of his videotape, Americaʼs Godly Heritage, David Barton quotes John Quincy Adams as follows:

The highest glory of the American Revolution is this; it connected in one indissoluble bond the principles of civil government with the principles of Christianity.

While the quote doesnʼt appear in any of Bartonʼs later works, it does turn up in another popular Christian book, William J. Federerʼs, Americaʼs God and Country: Encyclopedia of Quotations, p. 18. Federer provides a date for the quotation (July 4, 1821), and gives the source as follows: John Wingate Thornton, The Pulpit of the American Revolution 1860 (reprinted NY: Burt Franklin, 1860; 1970), p. XXIX.

We recently located this source and now suspect that John Quincy Adams never uttered these words. Hereʼs what we found:

Pages X through XXXVIII of the Thornton book are a historical introduction to the subject of religion in the New England States, with a special focus on the state of Massachusetts. Throughout this introduction, Thornton quotes various early Americans on the subject of religion. At least some of the quotations are footnoted, and all of them appear to be enclosed in quotation marks. Sometimes portions of the quotations are italicized for emphasis.

The words attributed to John Quincy Adams appear on page XXIX. None of these words are placed in quotation marks. Rather, the sentence reads as if Thornton is making his own conclusion about what John Quincy Adams believed. Thorntonʼs sentence reads as follows:
The highest glory of the American Revolution, said John Quincy Adams, was this: it connected, in one indissoluble bond, the principles of civil government with the principle of Christianity (italics in the original). No footnote for these words is given. Nor are the words attached to a date. Hence, if these words are a quotation from Adams, it is impossible to trace them back from Thorntonʼs book to an original source. Elsewhere in the book Adamsʼ father (John Adams) is quoted properly, i.e., with footnotes and quotation marks.

It appears, in other words, that somewhere down the line Thorntonʼs conclusions about John Quincy Adams were passed off as Adamʼs own remarks. In Federerʼs case, his reproduction of the quotation doesnʼt edit out the words “said John Quincy Adams” and replace them with ellipses; either he knowingly misreports Thorntonʼs words, or he didnʼt check his sources for accuracy. It is, of course, possible, that the printer made a mistake and forgot the quotation marks but, until somebody can locate the original source of the quote, there is no ground whatsoever to treat these words and Adamsʼ own. The quote should be regarded as bogus.

Please note: even if Adams did say these words it wouldnʼt bolster the accomodationistʼs case; as we suggest elsewhere, Adams would simply be wrong to argue that the federal Constitution embodies the principles of Christianity. It doesnʼt, and Adamsʼ saying so doesnʼt prove a thing. Rather, the real importance of this quote is as a demonstration of just how far some popular Christian authors will go to prove their case. Nothing in the Thornton book justifies taking the “indissoluble bond” quote as John Quincy Adamsʼ own words, but because it says something the right wants to hear, the words are pressed into service anyway. This isnʼt good scholarship, and the consumers of Barton and Federerʼs work should be aware of just how poor their research is.

Edʼs Further Comments To Caleb

John Quincy Adams was a Unitarian/Deist, and, the “principles of Christianity” as he understood them did NOT include the modern Evangelical notions of the inerrancy of the Bible nor the necessity of being “born again,” but principles of brotherhood and loving your neighbor. Kennedy and many Evangelicals also overlook the fact that the “quest for civil liberty” in the United States owes at least as much to the ideals of the ancient Greeks and Romans, the Renaissance and the Age of Reason: “Secularism, agnosticism and atheism are as American as cherry pie. Indeed, ours was the first and only country to adopt a Constitution that specifically excluded all reference to a higher power. (I say “specifically” because those meeting in Philadelphia did consider, and did decisively reject, any such reference.) Many were the bishops and preachers of the time who warned that God would punish such profanity, but many were the preachers who said the same about the Virginia Statute on Religious Freedom, which did no more than state that no citizen could be obliged to pay for the upkeep of a church in which he did not believe.”
Source: April 22, 2004, Washington Post


More Info On The Leading Individuals Who Helped Found America

“The Rev. Dr. Wilson, who was almost a contemporary of our earlier statesmen and presidents, and who thoroughly investigated the subject of their religious beliefs, in his sermon already mentioned affirmed that the founders of our nation were nearly all Infidels, and that of the presidents who had thus far been elected — George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, John Quincy Adams, and Andrew Jackson — not one had professed a belief in Christianity. From this sermon I quote the following:

‘When the war was over and the victory over our enemies won, and the blessings and happiness of liberty and peace were secured, the Constitution was framed and God was neglected. He was not merely forgotten. He was absolutely voted out of the Constitution. The proceedings, as published by Thompson, the secretary, and the history of the day, show that the question was gravely debated whether God should be in the Constitution or not, and, after a solemn debate he was deliberately voted out of it. … There is not only in the theory of our government no recognition of Godʼs laws and sovereignty, but its practical operation, its administration, has been conformable to its theory. Those who have been called to administer the government have not been men making any public profession of Christianity. … Washington was a man of valor and wisdom. He was esteemed by the whole world as a great and good man; but he was not a professing Christian.’

“Dr. Wilsonʼs sermon was published in the Albany Daily Advertiser in 1831, and attracted the attention of Robert Dale Owen, then a young man, who called to see its author in regard to his statement concerning Washingtonʼs belief. The result of his visit is given in a letter to Amos Gilbert. The letter is dated Albany, November 13, 1831., and was published in New York a fortnight later. He says:

“I called last evening on Dr. Wilson, as I told you I should, and I have seldom derived more pleasure from a short interview with anyone. Unless my discernment of character has been grievously at fault, I met an honest man and sincere Christian. But you shall have the particulars. A gentleman of this city accompanied me to the Doctorʼs residence. We were very courteously received. I found him a tall, commanding figure, with a countenance of much benevolence, and a brow indicative of deep thought, apparently approaching fifty years of age. I opened the interview by stating that though personally a stranger to him, I had taken the liberty of calling in consequence of having perused an interesting sermon of his, which had been reported in the Daily Advertiser of this city, and regarding which, as he probably knew, a variety of opinions prevailed. In a discussion, in which I had taken a part, some of the facts as there reported had been questioned; and I wished to know from him whether the reporter had fairly given his words or not… I then read to him from a copy of the Daily Advertiser the paragraph which regards Washington, beginning, ‘Washington was a man,’ etc., and ending, ‘absented himself altogether from the church.’ ‘I indorse,’ said Dr. Wilson, with emphasis, ‘every word of that. Nay, I do not wish to conceal from you any part of the truth, even what I have not given to the public. Dr. Abercrombie said more than I have repeated. At the close of our conversation on the subject his emphatic expression was — for I well remember the very words — ʼsir, Washington was a Deist.’”

“In concluding the interview, Dr. Wilson said: ‘I have diligently perused every line that Washington ever gave to the public, and I do not find one expression in which he pledges himself as a believer in Christianity. I think anyone who will candidly do as I have done, will come to the conclusion that he was a Deist and nothing more.’ In February, 1800, a few weeks after. Washingtonʼs death, Jefferson made the following entry in his journal: ‘Dr. Rush told me (he had it from Asa Green) that when the clergy addressed General Washington, on his departure from the government, it was observed in their consultation that he had never, on any occasion, said a word to the public which showed a belief in the Christian religion, and they thought they should so pen their address as to force him at length to disclose publicly whether he was a Christian or not. However, he observed, the old fox was too cunning for them. He answered every article of their address particularly, except that, which he passed over without notice.’” (Jeffersonʼs Works, Vol. iv., p. 572).

Six Historic Americans

And please compare Kennedyʼs statement, above, with the view of another Evangelical Christian, Luke Timothy Johnson, who Praises ancient moral philosophy in his college course (available from The Teaching Company), “Practical Philosophy: The Greco-Roman Moralists.” “Imagine a course that teaches you not only how to think like the great philosophers, but how to live. Greeks and Romans of the early imperial period are often overlooked in the annals of philosophical study, but provided down-to-earth advice on how to live a solid, happy life.” A friend of mine listened to Johnsonʼs tapes and said, “I would challenge any fundamentalist to listen to this course, but Iʼm sure they would say ‘Itʼs a tool of the Devil!’”

Which also reminds me of something that Dr. Albert Schweitzer (the liberal Christian theologian who focused on “reverence for life,” and who worked as a medical missionary in Africa for decades) pointed out: “For centuries Christianity treasured the great commandment of love and mercy as traditional truth without recognizing it as a reason for opposing slavery, witch burning and all the other ancient and medieval forms of inhumanity. It was only when Christianity experienced the influence of the thinking of the Age of Enlightenment that it was stirred into entering the struggle for humanity. The remembrance of this ought to preserve it forever from assuming any air of superiority in comparison with thought.” Also in the same book, Schweitzer cautioned against “the crooked and fragile thinking of Christian apologetics.” [Albert Schweitzer, Out of My Life and Thought: An Autobiography (New York: The New American Library, 1963)]

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