by “Guest-Blogger” Rob Grace
What kind of mood are you in today?
I'm in the mood to resurrect Thomas Paine and Soren Kierkegaard, lock them in a room together for a week, and see what happens.
Both men spent the later years of their lives engaged in failed attempts to battle the current state of Christianity. Every time I hear George W. Bush reference his devotion this religion, I sense both Paine and Kierkegaard rolling over in their graves, or at least banging on their coffins to try to get out and shut him up.
Paine authored the brilliant piece, "The Age of Reason", which quite intelligently rails against the absurdity of The Bible. He must have known it would be a controversial work, since he purposefully waited until the end of his life to write it. He was living in Europe at the time and most certainly underestimated the extent of the negative reactions he would elicit. He returned to America, which promptly turned its back on him, slandered him, and called him an atheist. The backlash sent him spiraling into obscurity and poverty, where he died, and his bones were shipped to England where they disappeared forever.
"My mind is my own church," he wrote.
He argued that man could find God through science, through observing and studying the works God created, rather than by studying ancient outdated texts written under false pretenses. He criticized people for blindly following The Bible when so much contradictory material seems to question its authenticity. In one of his more clever passages, he says of the Gospels, "The originals are not in possession of any Christian church existing, any more than the tablets of stone written on, they pretend, by the finger of God, upon Mount Sinai, and given to Moses, are in the possession of the Jews. And even if they were, there is no possibility of proving the handwriting in either case."
He argues that even those who claim to abide by The Bible do not actually abide by The Bible when he writes, "The church has set up a system of religion very contradictory to the character of the person whose name it bears."
Fifty years later and halfway around the globe, Kierkegaard fought against this same hypocrisy. He differed from Paine in that he was a faithful Christian, a man of The Bible, and he made a name for himself by spending entire chapters analyzing a single passage. However, he too was deeply discouraged by the disparity between what The Bible teaches and what was preached and followed by the so-called Christians of his day. You can watch his ideological battle unfold over the course of hundreds of pages in his brilliant book, "Works of Love".
He says, "By foolish and ingratiating Sunday-talk, Christianity has been deceptively transformed into an illusion and we have even been tricked into the fancy that we, just as we are, are Christians."
Christianity, in its truest form, is a quiet religion that risks preaching its own destruction by teaching that we should not only let our enemies harm us, but allow them to harm us more than they initially desire. For this reason, a true Christian will never be an effective political leader. One cannot very well love his enemy and turn the other cheek and at the same time, defend his nation from people who wish to attack it. It cannot be done. This is why, in colonial America, the Quakers were removed from power in Pennsylvania. They refused to defend their citizens against Indian raids, allowing countless civilians to die under their leadership.
George W. Bush claims to be strong on defense, but it is not because he is Christian, but because he is blatantly unchristian. He blatantly ignores those very tenets that the Quakers of Pennsylvania held close to their hearts.
Soren Kierkegaard. Thomas Paine. I am in the mood to resurrect you. Be glad that I lack the technology to do so. Even if I could resurrect you, perhaps I would not, to spare you, so you wouldn't have to see that the battles you fought against hypocrisy and foolishness are still being fought today, and will most likely be fought until the end of mankind. In fact, they will most likely lead to the end of mankind.