Protestantism in England / Humanism, Deism & Atheistic Contributions to Civilization

On Wednesday, September 29, 2004, aabaho wrote:
Protestantism in England
Thanks so much for your website. It actually leaves most history students with questions like who were the leading elites in the spread of protestantismin England and what contributions did they ever make?
While studying the reformation,one would probably think that only Luther and Calvin are the founders of this religion and indeed the leading elites in whatever parts it spread to which assumption seems wrong. If i may ask,who were the leading elites in the spread of the protestantism and their contributions?
Protestantism in England

Edward: Hi Aabaho! Thanks for writing. I am unsure why you would NOT consider Calvin and Luther two leading elites whose works helped spread Protestantism throughout Europe, including parts of Great Britain. For instance, John Knox helped spread Calvinism in Scotland, which today remains mainly Presbyterian I believe. English Christianity of course is mainly Anglican, the Anglical Church being a spin-off of the Catholic church. King Henry the VIII who was Catholic, made his country break with the Pope and break with Catholicism since it wouldnʼt allow the king to divorce and marry other women to seek to produce a male heir to his throne. English Christians also enjoyed the Geneva Bible, originally produced in Calvinʼs Geneva and translated into English by Knox and other Calvinists staying there at the time. King James however, wanted his own Bible, and had one produced that is still renowned for its use of Shakespearian-sounding Elizabeethan English. The Protestant Christians known as “Puritans” didnʼt see eye to eye with the religious majority in England, and many Puritans sailed to America as a result. Though soon after getting to America the Puritans began quarrelling with one another and forming rival sects, and banishing their fellow Christians. Roger Williams was banished I seem to recall, and helped found Maryland or Pennsylvania was it? Anglicans also sailed across the sea from England to the New World. Humanists and Deists also sailed to the New World.

Concerning the modern world, I am less concerned with which elites spread Protestantism in England, than I am with…

The Contributions of Non-Christians and Non-Evangelical Christians

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.

Also, the “quest for civil liberty” in the United States owes at least as much to the ideals of the ancient Greeks and Romans, the Rennaisance 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 at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia did consider, and did decisively reject, any such reference. They also considered and voted to rejected Benjamin Franklinʼs suggestion that they open with a public prayer.) 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: Washington Post

“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 rievously 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 — ‘Sir, 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).
Source: Six Historic Americas, Chapter 3


Or consider 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)]

Falsity Of John Quincy Adams Quotation Cited Often By Evangelical Christians

Did John Quincy Adams ever say that the American Revolution “connected in one indissoluable 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.

On A Lighter Note, Here Is The Story Of An Atheist And Christian Who Were Fast Friends

Speaking of atheist and Christian friendships, one famous atheist novelist in particular was close friends with the famous Catholic Christian novelist and apologist, G. K. Chesteron. The atheist I am speaking of was 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.”

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 & Ward, 1943), pp. 604-605.] Note that Chesterton in his reply said Wells would “triumph” after death by “being a friend of Man.”

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