Wednesday, July 05, 2006

The Lightning Rod

Over the holiday weekend I was flipping stations and came across a PBS or History Channel special on Benjamin Franklin. They were talking about his famous lightning experiment with the kite and key and all. This lead to Franklin's creation of lightning rods to protect buildings from the destruction of lightning. It was so simple yet so revolutionary all at the same time. And it quickly became apparent the magnitude of this discovery, as buildings with lightning rods stood untouched while buildings without lightning rods were destroyed after an electrical storm.

Anyway, as weird as it sounds, there existed a very vocal opposition by the leading religious organizations/leaders of the day. They were concerned that by installing the lightning rods the people were messing with God's will. Over time, this opposition died down - it was hard to argue against ceilings to protect from rain, snow, and hail.

I point this out as a lesson to the religious right. For I'm sure the religious opposition in Franklin's time had the same fervor and moral certitude that the religious right has today about abortion, birth control, and homosexuality. Only time will tell whether today's religious issues go the way of the lightning rod. Or better yet, the issue of divorce, which I understand to have been a very contentious issues in the past but is generally accepted today.

On the surface lightning rods and homosexuality seems world's apart. I'm just pointing out that 200+ years ago there was a legitimate battle waged over the religious implications of lightning rods. It's possible that today's religious issues will also be laughed upon as non-issues 200+ years from now. Then again, they might not. In general, murder is not condoned. And even though divorce is accepted (meaning you are not restricted), it is still frowned upon. Just something to think about whenever arguments exist solely off of how one interprets God's will.

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Anonymous Joe said...

Many people think of America as being founded by Puritans and imaging that however religious America is today, the firther back in American history we go, the more religious we would find the nation. Some might be surprised to learn that (Salem witch trials and Puritans at Plymouth Rock not withstanding) this is generally NOT the case; Christian fundamentalism in America has its origins in the late 19th century.

Though often claimed as 'fellow travellers in the one true faith' by contemporary holy rollers of the relgious right, the founding fathers were almost to a man enlightenment era Deists (a position philosophically more in line with modern day atheism than any organized religious sect) and highly critical of organized religion in general and Christianity in particular.

Some Jefferson quotes:

"It does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg."

-Thomas Jefferson, Notes on Virginia, 1782

"Question with boldness even the existence of a god; because if there be one he must approve of the homage of reason more than that of blindfolded fear."

-Thomas Jefferson, Letter to Peter Carr, August 10, 1787

"Where the preamble declares, that coercion is a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, an amendment was proposed by inserting "Jesus Christ," so that it would read "A departure from the plan of Jesus Christ, the holy author of our religion;" the insertion was rejected by the great majority, in proof that they meant to comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mohammedan, the Hindoo and Infidel of every denomination."

-Thomas Jefferson, Autobiography, in reference to the Virginia Act for Religious Freedom

"I concur with you strictly in your opinion of the comparative merits of atheism and demonism, and really see nothing but the latter in the being worshipped by many who think themselves Christians."

-Thomas Jefferson, letter to Richard Price, Jan. 8, 1789 (Richard Price had written to TJ on Oct. 26. about the harm done by religion and wrote "Would not Society be better without Such religions? Is Atheism less pernicious than Demonism?")

"To talk of immaterial existences is to talk of nothings. To say that the human soul, angels, god, are immaterial, is to say they are nothings, or that there is no god, no angels, no soul. I cannot reason otherwise: but I believe I am supported in my creed of materialism by Locke, Tracy, and Stewart."
-Thomas Jefferson, letter to John Adams, Aug. 15, 1820

John Adams:

"God is an essence that we know nothing of. Until this awful blasphemy is got rid of, there never will be any liberal science in the world."

-- John Adams, "this awful blashpemy" that he refers to is the myth of the Incarnation of Christ, from Ira D. Cardiff, What Great Men Think of Religion, quoted from James A. Haught, ed., 2000 Years of Disbelief

"As I understand the Christian religion, it was, and is, a revelation. But how has it happened that millions of fables, tales, legends, have been blended with both Jewish and Christian revelation that have made them the most bloody religion that ever existed?"
-- John Adams, letter to F.A. Van der Kamp, December 27, 1816

"I almost shudder at the thought of alluding to the most fatal example of the abuses of grief which the history of mankind has preserved -- the Cross. Consider what calamities that engine of grief has produced!
-- John Adams, letter to Thomas Jefferson, from George Seldes, The Great Quotations, also from James A. Haught, ed., 2000 Years of Disbelief

Tehre are many more quotes such as these, but this is a post, not a book, so I will stop here - you get the point!...

7/06/2006 06:44:00 AM  

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