Inclusion of a resource/presentation does not indicate endorsement of the contents. Provided for educational purposes regarding perspectives in the fields of theology and religious studies. Issachar Bible Church is conservative Trinitarian not affiliated with any organized denomination at this time.

Wednesday, November 17

Scanners Set To Discernment: Highlight History Of The Contemporary UFO Phenomena

When Christians approach the contemporary UFO and extraterrestrial phenomena, they would be best advised to keep two things in mind that are distinct yet interrelated. Firstly, irrespective of whether UFO's exist or not as an objective or verifiable phenomena, they do in terms of the minds of those that believe in them and draw from them an inspiration as a mechanism for understanding man's place in the broader universe. Secondly, if what those claiming to have contact with does indeed have an existence apart from the internalized structures of perception and belief of those advocating the actuality of such beings, the Christian needs to provide some kind of explanation for them as well in terms of this faith's own comprehensive worldview if Christianity wishes to retain a place of socio-cultural credibility rather than to be regarded as a philosophical relic of the left behind past. The church cannot afford to ignore this issue as today we are already living with the consequences and repercussions of other issues that were allowed to fester by being ignored rather than grappled with head on.

Within their respective contexts, all religions and systems of belief posses at their core a mythology or historical events that the adherents hold to be true and around which subsequent doctrines are derived from or inspired by. For example, Christians view the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus as the seminal event of their faith. Muslims trace the founding of their religion back to the revelation of the Koran to their prophet Muhammad. Likewise, though they may differ ultimately as to other details and implications (as could be said of any belief system with competing schools of thought and denominations), even casual observers of ufology and UFO movements know of certain key events sparking interest in the question of life from beyond the Earth and its repercussions for man’s place in the larger universe.

One of what is now one of the most prominent events looked to by even the most casual of ufological enthusiasts is the incident claimed to have occurred in Roswell, New Mexcio in July 1947. At that time, the military observed on radar over the course of several days an unidentified flying object. Following a thunderstorm, area rancher Mack Brazel went to check his holdings. During the survey, Brazel discovered a unique variety of metallic debris scattered across a sizable area and a trench several hundred feet in length gouged into the earth as if by some manner of impact.

Brazel talked over what he had seen with his neighbors, the Proctors, who suggested that he might have discovered a crashed UFO or a downed government project. As a result of this discussion, Brazel went into town to notify the sheriff. The sheriff in turn reported the incident to military intelligence officer Jesse Marcel.

It is unlikely public interest in this account and speculation about it would have continued to increase to this very day if not for a variety of circumstances surrounding the incident. On July 8, 1947, a press release was issued by the Public Information Office under the orders of the 509th Bomb Group at Roswell that the wreckage of a cashed disk had been retrieved. A second press release was issued the next day that the mysterious debris was actually nothing more than that of a weather balloon.

However, as the years went by, those whose curiosity was roused by the incident could not let it rest as a case of the imagination initially getting ahead of the calmer, more rational explanation of what might have happened. There were simply too many circumstances surrounding the event that later bubbled into public view because those involved did not feel comfortable or even safe in revealing until the passage of time and a number of those involved were themselves nearing the point when they, shall we say, were about ready to leave this planet.

Even if nothing happened any more exotic or of cosmic ramification than the official explanation of a downed weather balloon, the way in which the government is accused of handling the situation must bear some of the responsibility for the legendary status this case has acquired. For example, mortician Glenn Dennis was contacted by base officials inquiring about obtaining small coffins. Upon taking these to the military hospital and visiting with a nurse on staff that he knew, Dennis claims he was threatened by military police and escorted from the premises. Even more disturbing, according to Dennis’ affidavit as posted online by the Burlington UFO & Paranormal Research Center, the nurse that is alleged to have drawn pictures of crash victims of a nonstandard human appearance was abruptly transferred to England a few days later.

These two, however, were not the only ones to endure mistreatment less than forthright at the hands of those higher up the chain of command dealing with the aftermath of whatever it was that might have crashed. Brazel was escorted by military police to the offices of the Roswell Daily Record where he changed his story to that of having found the debris of a weather observation device earlier in June rather than during the period of July under question. It has been insinuated that, while in military custody for several days, Brazel was threatened with violence if he did not agree to alter his story.

In another intriguing incident, Major Marcel took along some of the debris to show General Ramey when he made his report to the Commanding Officer of the Eighth Air Force. Marcel placed the debris, which consisted of items such as shards of metal the thickness of tin foil and unbreakable I-beam structures that were three-eighths of an inch by one-fourth of an inch with indecipherable markings, on the General’s desk. To get a better idea of where the material had been gathered, Marcel and Ramey went to the map room down the hall. When the two returned, the contents Marcel had brought to show the general had already been taken and replaced by a weather balloon draped over the floor.

Though the Roswell incident may now be one of the public windows into the world of UFO’s and speculation into whether or not intelligent life other than and beyond our own might exist, it is by no means the only. In fact, if it was so, it might rather be an example of bureaucratic bungling rather than a conspiracy that has achieved interstellar proportions. However, it is because of the considerable number of occurrences transpiring around that time and ever since that has caused belief in the possibility of extraterrestrial life to grow from being a philosophical possibility embraced only by those of questionable mental stability or those educated beyond reasonable practicality into one of the common cultural assumptions at least assented to (not unlike belief in at least a nominal God) by overwhelming percentages of the population.

Synonymous with the term “UFO” or “unidentified flying object” is that of “flying saucer“. An interesting historical coincidence is that this particular way of categorizing this phenomena was coined nearly around the same time as the events at Roswell were transpiring.

The term was coined in reference to a sighting on June 24, 1947 when pilot Ken Arnold flying at 9200 feet spotted near Mt. Rainier, Washington a series of blue flashes, emanating from what he initially thought must have been a squadron of military fighter jets. However, thanks to his background in aviation, Arnold would conclude that the squadron was anything but conventional. He estimated that the craft were traveling well over 1500 miles per hour (Yenne, 27).

After discussing the incident with friends in Yakima, by the time Arnold completed the next leg of his journey to Pendelton, Oregon, news of his encounter had spread so quickly that a throng of reporters had assembled to record Arnold’s account. When pressed for a description of what he had seen, Arnold replied that the objects looked "like a saucer would if you skipped it across the water (Larson, 26)." From there, the press shortened the phrase to "flying saucer", the description that has been with us ever since.

These incidents no doubt rank among those that establish an awareness of UFO's in the mind of the general public. However, these merely represent the bubbling to the surface of a conceptual undercurrent that stretched back prior to those iconic incidents where man had to grapple with an understanding of the universe expanding as a result of advances in technology and where exactly he would look to provide context and meaning to this newly acquired awareness.

Skeptics might counter that, in a sense, people create their own reality. In this case, that would mean people encountered aliens because they wanted to or were at least suggestible to that possibility. One could not refute that in its entirety. For since at least the early 20th century, Americans have had a fascination with the possibility of extraterrestrial life that went beyond an afternoon's entertainment in the form of a movie, printed story, or broadcast drama. Even if most approached the topic with a rational maturity insisting that aliens were just creatures in comics and pulp magazines geared primarily towards children, there was one incident in particular where it was discovered that the clever in the media could prod the otherwise unsuspecting into becoming quite exercised as to the existence of life from beyond the Earth.

In 1938, Orson Welles staged a radio dramatization of the novel by H.G. Wells titled The War Of The Worlds. The story was adapted in the form of a news broadcast covering an alien invasion from Mars. Despite the proviso that the broadcast was a fictionalized dramatic presentation, a number either tuning in after the disclaimer or as a result of getting caught up in the compelling nature of the narrative were convinced that the Earth was actually under attack. A small-scale panic ensued. Some even barricaded themselves in their homes with guns drawn as a last line of defense to prevent any bug eyed monsters from inflicting harm.

Granted, the UFO phenomena has attracted considerable attention over the decades from those of questionable sanity or lacking in compliance to adherence to social norms and conformity. However, these incidents have also been witnessed and experienced by a number whose credentials and sobriety were beyond impeccability. Among these have ranked the frontline personnel of the United States armed forces. Before gaining the name that would make them a household word (“flying saucers”), UFO’s went by another moniker bestowed upon them by Allied pilots during World War II. Referred to as “foo fighters” by bomber crews, these mysterious lights would come startlingly close to the aircraft but were not necessarily thought to be any kind of ultrasecret German weapon since they never inflicted any harm (North, 294).

Though sightings would ebb and flow over time, they were more than a passing fad and would become a fixture of the public consciousness even if for a while on the periphery of respectability. Government authorities might have had a vested interest in publicly downplaying encounters with UFO’s. However, the institution charged with overseeing the nation’s safety would not have the opportunity to stick its head in the sand in the hopes that these objects would simply float away.

When something unexplained happens in an out of the way place such as Roswell, New Mexico, the highly credentialed and esteemed in government office can cast aspersion and doubt on the credibility of those claiming to have witnessed such things. It is insinuated that, even if such individuals mean well, in terms of mental acuity and especially education such people do not necessarily make the most reliable of witnesses. However, it is much more difficult to level such allegations when these kinds of events literally take place on the doorstep and in the backyard (or at least over top of it) of some of the most powerful people in the country.

In July 1952 on two occasions that month, UFO’s entered Washington, DC airspace not far from and over the White House, Pentagon, and Capitol building. These objects were spotted on radar screens at both Washington National Airport and Andrews Air Force Base. These enigmas were estimated to be traveling at speeds of 100 to over 7,000 miles per hour, which, according to About.com UFO Guide Billy Booth, was beyond the technological capabilities of the time.

Such an objective threat to Washington DC and thus national security could not go unchallenged. A defensive response was required. Fighters were scrambled to investigate the objects. However, in a manner that almost seemed deliberately taunting if one were inclined to believe some kind of deliberative intelligence was behind the fast moving lights, the objects vanished from radar when approached by the jets only to reappear when the interceptors needed to return to base as a result of low fuel. The five disks departed by 5:30 AM.

Had that been the only incident, an official explanation of either meteorites or an atmospheric phenomena known as a temperature inversion where a denser layer of cold air becomes trapped under warmer air that bends radar waves capable of producing false images might have seemed plausible. However, the objects returned approximately a week later and were once again detected both visually and on radars at National Airport as well as Andrews Air Force Base. Once again, fighters were dispatched to investigate.

During this encounter, however, the objects did not always uniformly flee from the jets giving chase. In one instance, a group of four turned and surrounded their pursuers in a gesture almost playfully flirtatious to convey how it felt to be the hunted rather than the hunter. The pilots’ pleas for instructions on how to handle this turn of events were met with silence on the part of the control tower. Fortunately, other than the likely need to change their underpants, no physical harm came to anyone involved as the lights then sped away.

The response of high government officials to this incident was classically textbook. To either calm public apprehension or lull the masses into a sense of complacency, the Air Force announced at a Pentagon press conference held July 29, 1952 that the sightings could be explained in terms of misidentified aerial phenomena such as shooting stars or temperature inversions causing false radar images. However, such a state of objective detachment hardly characterized the government’s response during the heat of the crisis. It has been claimed that the Truman White House was so worked up over the matter that pilots were ordered to shoot down any flying saucers that refused orders to land. Of this particular incident, Bill Yenne concludes in UFO: Evaluating The Evidence, “...the evidence shows that the Washington incidents are among the largest and strongest series of UFO sightings ever reported (80).”

Despite the credibility of a number of those coming forward with eyewitness reports, since these kinds of encounters run counter to what has been deemed normal particularly from a modernistic technocratic perspective, it can still be difficult to perceive of them as anything other than the flights of fancy or delusions of those deciding to step forward. If they were nothing more, then why has the federal government expended taxpayer resources on what could be called the “Extraterrestrial Question”?

One could argue that the extent of government involvement in extraterrestrial affairs is open to debate. Some that contend that the involvement is extensive probably could not legitimately verify their claims and it is not like the government would offer the kind of confirmation that would settle the issue once and for all. However, the researcher can utilize history as a guide as to what the government might be doing today.

Project Blue Book commenced in 1952 and ceased in 1970. The purpose of the program was to evaluate data collected regarding UFO's primarily for the purposes of determining whether these objects were a threat to national security. Of the over 12,000 reports collected by Project Blue Book, analysts concluded that the majority were misidentified aircraft or natural phenomena. However, nearly six percent of the total sightings defied explanation.

Because the overwhelming majority of the cases investigated by Project Blue Book were resolved with perfectly terrestrial explanations, officials decreed that the program would officially conclude in January 1970. However, its findings issued in the Condon Report did not provide any explanation regarding the outstanding controversies. In fact, this division within the United States Air Force charged with shedding light on some of the most baffling mysteries of the twentieth century ended up raising a number of additional conundrums.

For example, it is argued that Project Blue Book did not so much simply gather intelligence dispassionately regarding UFO phenomena and issue a report with motivations primarily scientific in nature. Rather it has been accused that Blue Book was itself concealing evidence pertinent to any conclusion that would ultimately be reached. Granted, there has not yet been a decisive moment such as in the television series "V" where a number of alien craft appear overhead or land on the Mall in Washington DC with a little green man emerging and making the iconic request of "Take me to your leader." However, another kind of intervention might be of greater existential significance for the time being in the lives of those believing they have encountered non-human intelligences than the more traditional flying saucer described in classic UFO encounters. This is none other than the so-called "alien abductions".

More will be said about this phenomena in a later chapter since these traumatic encounters often play a significant role in shaping the worldviews of those whom perceived extraterrestrials hold a central place in their respective belief systems. However, in highlighting a number of iconic moments in this introductory chapter, attention for now will be focused on the case of Barney and Betty Hill. In 1961, married New Hampshire couple Betty and Barney Hill were on their way home from vacation in Canada. Both remember seeing a traveling light like a bright star that became progressively brighter as it hovered over the trees (Kettlekamp, 50).

Out of curiosity, the Hills parked to get a better look at the luminous anomaly, with Barney getting out of the vehicle for a closer examination with a pair of binoculars. Through the spyglasses, Mr. Hill ascertained what he perceived to be approximately five individuals walking around inside the object. As would be the reaction of most to such an encounter, Mr. Hill promptly returned to his vehicle in order to continue his journey home.

However, that would not be the end of the Hills' encounter with the unexplained. As the couple proceeded down the highway, they heard noises similar to a tuning fork which caused them both to feel tingly and sleepy (Kettlekamp, 51). When the Hills emerged from their state of somnolent discombobulation, they were startled to discover that they were 35 miles farther south than when they had last noticed and could not account for the preceding two hours.

One might chalk up the entire episode to extreme fatigue and as a reason why to be extremely cautious about driving late at night when one is at less than one’s mental and physical optimum. However, it seemed the Hills were unable to shake off the effects of the experience or shrug it off as one of those life lessons learned. Both Barney and Betty were profoundly impacted. Barney developed a rash on his stomach and was plagued by chronic health problems following the incident. Betty was haunted thereafter by recurrent nightmares so intense that she eventually sought psychiatric counseling.

Evidence pointing towards an encounter went beyond symptoms that could possibly be explained as psychosomatic no matter how sincerely credible the Hills might have happened to be. Barney’s shoes were visibly scuffed. Even more bizarre, when a compass needle was placed over mysterious metallic spots in the trunk of their vehicle, the needle within the device would spin (Kettlekamp, 51). Unidentified objects were detected by the radar at Peasc Air Force Base around the time of the encounter as reported by the Hills.

However, the Hills are remembered even more so for something that would add yet another level to the UFO phenomena, and in the minds of some shed light as to perhaps why these entities have allegedly traveled all the way to the planet earth as well as deepen that mystery all at the same time. Some insist that Barney and Betty Hill were abducted by non-human entities. Skeptics are often quick to conjecture that those claiming to have encounters --- especially to the point of claiming to be either victims of or in confederation with these beings from beyond the normal --- are desperately seeking attention. And that is certainly a concern to keep in mind. However, initially Barney and Betty Hill were not aware to the full extent of what may have taken place.

As part of their therapeutic counseling, the Hills were separately placed under hypnosis. Their respective accounts, not given in the presence of or to the knowledge of the other, displayed a degree of similarity worthy of note. Not revealed previously, the Hills now insisted that, upon hearing the beeping tones, they were taken aboard the craft and each taken into a separate chamber. According to the account provided by the Hills, their abductors possessed a countenance eerily not quite human as the creatures lacked distinctive lips and seemed to communicate telepathically. The beings were particularly interested in the differences between Barney and Betty since they were an interracial couple and that Barney wore dentures while Betty’s teeth were natural.

Psychoanalysts and counselors might point out that the fact that these hypnotic trances brought out such details instead point to the stresses the Hills may have been under. For at that time such marriages were not that common and would be replete with a number of challenges that would be below the surface even if the love between the couple was strong enough to endure them. However, there was one aspect of what Betty recalled that would be difficult to fabricate or dissemble about.

According to Betty, a needle was inserted into her naval as part of what her captors informed her was a pregnancy test. Today, such procedures are so commonplace that mention of them would not raise the eyebrows of a therapist transcribing this kind of testimony. However, Larry Kettlekamp points out in UFO’s & ET’s: Are They Real? that needle examinations like that described by Betty Hill were not conducted in 1961.

The chronicle detailed in this chapter should in no way be considered comprehensive. Rather, it has endeavored to list a number of highlights to suggest that accounts of contact with beings from beyond this earth or at least belief that one has had contact with beings from beyond this earth should not be dismissed outright as signs of questionable sanity. Those mentioned in these pages span the breadth of the ways of life found in contemporary America from the humblest of trailer park paupers all the way into the deepest corridors of power. In the chapters that follow, we will explore a number of belief systems that incorporate non-terrestrial intelligences as fundamental concepts into their perceptions of reality, how the concept of life from beyond the Earth is used to mold culture or society itself, and (most importantly) provide an Evangelical perspective to the perennial question if we human beings are alone in the cosmos.

By Frederick Meekins 

Bibliography

Booth, Billy. “1952: Washington DC Buzzed by UFO's.” About.com. 20 Oct. 2010.

Kettlekamp, Larry. UFO's and ET's: Are They Real?. New York: Harper Collins, 1996.

Larson, Bob. UFO's And The Alien Agenda: Uncovering The Mystery Behind UFO's And The Paranormal. Nashville: Tennessee: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1997.

North, Gary. Unholy Spirits: Occultism and New Age Humanism. Fort Worth, Texas: Dominion Press, 1986.

Yenne, Bill. UFO: Evaluating The Evidence. New York: Gramercy Books, 2007.


Monday, November 8

The Principles & Ideas Of Deism

One of the perplexities of philosophical and religious research is that it can be easy to misconstrue the personalities and movements one is attempting to study through the prism of one's own respective worldview. This tendency, if one is not careful to adjust for it, can be compounded when decades and even centuries separate those seeking to understand the past and those events, personalities, or ideas one is attempting to learn more about. This is especially true if the undertaking is of a more casual nature.

Often with the passage of such considerable lengths of time, entire ways of conceptualizing and categorizing the universe can come into existence, gain in popularity, and then recede from prominence long before an individual seeking to know more about them even comes into existence. One such system the contemporary enthusiast of the past might stumble upon is Deism. And if one is not cautious in the encounter, one could easily come away thinking that little of consequence separates this seemingly antiquarian perspective from more orthodox or Biblical expressions of Christianity. To get a better grasp on this worldview that one is not very likely to encounter from the standpoint of meeting in the flesh a professed adherent of it, it would perhaps be best to first examine the background of the world giving rise to Deism, to elaborate upon a number of basic Deistic beliefs so that they might be easier to spot if encountered in today's world under another name, and the divergent paths Deism took in the respective cultural settings in which the viewpoint manifested itself.

Contrary to popular conception, religion in some form or the other is one of the primary motivating forces of history. It is just that at times either man as an overall social organism is either moving towards or away from a particular understanding of this particular epistemological structure. As such, it might be best to think of Deism as a path away from one way of comprehending the world toward another or as a kind of inn or tavern at which a great epoch stopped to catch its breath as the popular perception looked back towards what it once professed but was not quite fully ready to openly embrace the outright or deliberately conscientious secularism set out before it.

Christians weary of the cultural rot brought about by the licentiousness and the permissiveness resulting from an expansive secularism that keeps claiming additional areas of life and endeavor as part of its purview might long for a time when there was little formally delineating religious authority and the administrative reach of the kingdom or the state. However, such romantics might think differently had they been alive during the waning years of the Middle Ages or even in lands where certain brands of Protestantism held sway or were struggling to establish themselves. For even though it was an era where courageous believers lived and died for their convictions, it was also an age where in pursuit of an idealized Christian order less than Christian means were at times utilized in the attempt to realize a theonomically proper milieu.

The episode that in many ways broke the camel's back of a political system not recognizing the distinction between the life of the mind and that of socioal obligation was the Thirty Years War. Fought between 1618 and 1648, the Thirty Years War was a conflict waged across significant portions of Europe that was sparked as a result of not only a complex series of international alliances and rival monarchs jockeying for position but also intense animosities as to which side professed the superior form of Christianity. Of the war, Glenn Sunshine writes in Why You Think The Way You Do: The Story Of Western Worldviews From Rome To Home, "To this day, the Thirty Years' War is still remembered in Germany as the most devastating war ever fought there (including World Wars I and II). Almost every territorial unit within the Holy Roman Empire lost 30% or more of its population...people were exhausted by the war (107-108)."

Such hardship and desolation would naturally cause the educated of a reflective inclination to stop and ponder. Was such a price really worth it to see that one form of the Christian faith prevailed over another where those beaten on the battlefield were not necessarily convinced of the matter in the depths of the heart? And was such a God requiring His followers to spread His truth in such a manner to such an extent in order to prove their devotion to Him really all that worthy of devotion? More importantly, was such a God the God that actually existed?

The Thirty Years' War was not the only development going on in Europe in the middle centuries of that particular millennium to shake the continent’s foundations of establishmentarian Christian orthodoxy. After all, it was not like the vast swaths of humanity had not had an acquaintance with suffering. With an average life expectancy of about 35 years and conditions such as malnutrition and disease quite common, part of the allure of the Church that allowed the institution to acquire and maintain a pervasive influence for so long was no doubt the promise of a blissful afterlife for its members in good standing.

For around the same era in which the unity and hegemony of so-called Christendom was beginning to be rest asunder, a number of other cultural forces were at play that would forever alter what has come to be categorized as the Western tradition. For better or worse, the prevailing orientation throughout much of the Middle Ages up until the cusp of the Modern Era was markedly other worldly in terms of its underlying nature. The importance of the material and physical aspects of reality were downplayed. Starting with the Renaissance where European scholars became reacquainted with the Greek and Roman literary works of classical antiquity, focus began to subtly shift away from God to a more earthly emphasis as embodied by those pagan empires that have now swayed the imagination for numerous centuries.

It could be argued that such a corrective was not without benefits when kept in check by Christian presuppositions. Francis Schaeffer writes in How Should We Then Live: The Rise And Decline Of Western Thought And Culture , "The men of the Reformation did learn from the new knowledge and attitudes brought forth by the Renaissance. A critical outlook, for example, toward what had previously been accepted without question was helpful (81)."

For example, early practitioners of science often undertook their research and studies with motivations that could broadly be categorized as Christians. These natural philosophers realized that, though marred by sin, the created world still possessed a degree of worth as the handiwork of God. As itself a form of revelation in accord with Psalm 19:1 that assures that the heavens declare the glory of God, it was hoped that learning about such natural phenomena would assist mortal man in the attempt to think God’s thoughts after Him. Often in today’s climate of censorial secularism, such religious motivations of a traditional nature longing to better understand the material universe are conveniently overlooked or deliberately downplayed. However, they were confirmed by some of the foremost scientific minds of the twentieth century such as Alfred North Whitehead and J. Robert Oppenhiemer who both admitted that Christianity was the “mother of science” even if neither of these men were themselves professed believers in Jesus as Lord and Savior (Schaffer, 132).

It has been said that history is like a drunken man reeling his head from one wall into the next. By this, it is meant that once one extremity of thought is corrected, the seeds of the next great philosophical imbalance can often be found taking root in the very same insight or innovation dragging the culture back from the abyss of desolation. Eventually, this tendency to value observation as a source of valid knowledge would eventually come to be seen more as an end in itself rather than simply as a tool for better understanding the overarching higher truth of God’s revelation.

The approach utilized by many Christian academics up until early modern times was known as scholasticism. In the method, according to Earle E. Cairns in Christianity Through The Centuries: A History Of The Christian Church , a scholar linked an authoritative general principle to a fact and from that drew a conclusion without necessarily pursuing experimental verification rather than relying upon the reputation of the source cited to support the assertion being made (377). However, in Novum Organum , Francis Bacon popularized an alternative approach known as the inductive method where, instead of accepting a premise on the basis of the authority invoked to support it, the researcher developed a hypothesis, made observations, checked them against experimental verification, and then developed a generalized conclusion. The thing of it was not so much that this inductive method would be used to learn about the natural world and the established deductive method used in theology as the so-called Queen of the Sciences ruling atop the other fields of inquiry. Rather, Bacon called for an inversion of the intellectual order with the physical sciences assuming a position of superiority over topics deemed speculative such as religion and metaphysics along the branches on the tree of knowledge (Currid, 141).

Thus, rather than continuing to derive religious and philosophical truth from the authoritative revelation of God's Holy Word and interpreting the data collected through investigation through such a prism, these thinkers began to critique the veracity of divine writ in light of their empirical research. And their conclusions were impacted significantly by developments taking place during the Age of Exploration.

Europeans had long known of the existence of the Muslim world as evidenced by the Crusades where armies in the name of Christ and Church attempted to retake the Holy Land by force of arms and the Battle of Poitiers where Charles Martel repelled invading Islamic forces. However, it was during the Age of Exploration that Europeans were confronted in a bold new manner with the idea that entire civilizations and cultures existed beyond the frontiers of their own. And despite the vast differences between cultures separated by considerable distances, those enthused by the influx of knowledge often concluded that humanity as a whole shared a great deal in common in terms of the underlying religious nature of the species.

Herbert of Cherbury is credited as the Father of English Deism. In his work On Truth, he set down the following principles: (1.) There is one Supreme God (2.) He ought to be worshipped (3.) Virtue and piety are the chief parts of worship (4.) We are to be sorry for our sins and repent of them (5.) God dispenses rewards and punishments (Geisler, 153). On the surface, there is little on that list that the traditional Biblical Christian would disagree with and most of these principles could in fact be incorporated as part of one's own personal statement of faith or as part of a church's formalized doctrinal creed. However, as Norman Geisler points out in Christian Apologetics, Herbert of Cherbury insisted that these ideas available to all mankind through what is often referred to as natural religion were not simply a prompt to set the individual soul in search of the true and perfect salvation found only in Jesus Christ, but that these principles were enough to achieve a blissful afterlife for all of humanity. Without necessarily attacking the Bible directly, Herbert of Cherbury asserted that dogmatic accoutrements such as sacred texts, sacrifices, and miracles were not essential components of valid religious experience and knowledge.

This initial attack upon orthodox Christian theism was somewhat subtle. However, as Deism gained ground and momentum, the assaults of its exponents grew increasingly bold and blatant. For example, in The Reasonableness Of Christianity, John Locke embraced the unitarian view of God that denied the deity of Christ (Geisler, 155). Other deists such as Matthew Tindal in Christianity As Old As The Creation attempted to undermine the Christian faith by broadening the attack on the Bible itself. The perspective taken was that the revelation of nature was itself sufficient for all and that any book attempting to add to such was either redundant or in fact detracted from the sublime message of the natural world with fables and myths that either contradicted what we know by reason or addressed a time mankind had since advanced beyond.

Having summarized to an extent the background giving rise to deism, it might be best to describe somewhat broadly what a majority of deists believed. As James Sire points out in The Universe Next Door: A Basic Worldview Catalog , an important thing to remember is that “...deism historically is not really a school of thought...These men held a number of related views, but not all held every doctrine in common (44).”

As noted in the comments regarding Herbert of Cherbury, as in the case of Christianity, Deism held that God created the universe. In so doing, deists believed that, in the spirit of the Scientific Revolution, God created the world to operate in accord with rational principles or laws. These laws were moral as well as physical and man could learn about the nature of the Creator and His intentions as thinkers reflected upon the grandeur and intricacy of the world at large.

It is after this point that Deism and traditional Christianity part ways. Influenced by the Newtonianism of the day consisting of seemingly irrefutable aphorisms such as for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, deists postulated that God created a universe so perfect in its complexities of cause and effect that He did not need nor desire to intervene in the cosmos or on the behalf of its inhabitants. Detached and disinterested from the workings of creation and the machinations of those occupying it, God does not relate personally to what He has made. It also flows from this notion of an absolutarian conception of cause and effect that deists denied the possibility or necessity of miracles.

This was a polar opposite of what Christianity believed. Christianity did, indeed, share the assumption with Deism that God created the universe and established it in accord with a system of laws noted for considerable regularity. However, Biblical theism held that, in accordance with John 3:16, that not only did God so love the world but that He entered into that world physically in the person of His only begotten Son Jesus Christ. And that was not a trip undertaken like some wildlife safari to enjoy a vacation among the natives. Jesus came not into the world to be ministered unto but to minister and to give His life as a ransom for many, according to Matthew 20:28. John 15:12 insists no man can possess a love greater than to lay his life down for his brother. That is exactly what the lowly Jesus did for each person and that is about as far as one can get from the God of pure reason as expounded by the Deistic intelligentsia.

Throughout history irrespective of era, one of the undeniable truths that man as a creature stained by sin recoils from is the fact that Jesus came primarily into the world to die in our place for our sins. Elaborate alternative explanations have been provided as to his significance such as the one provided in our own day by John Dominic Crossan that Jesus was actually a revolutionary out to topple the prevailing political order. And more in keeping with the theme of this analysis, Thomas Jefferson, heavily influenced by deist assumptions, edited his own version of the Bible redacting the miraculous events such as the Resurrection of the life of Christ emphasizing instead how the Galilean handyman (though no more spectacular than anyone else in terms of cosmic powers and deity) still set a sterling moral example for everyone else to follow.

Apostates across the millennia have attempted to deny mankind’s need for a savior. Those of the deist persuasion were no different. To those initially shocked by the deist claim that there are no miracles and that the fundamental nature of Jesus was really no different than the rest of us, deist’s would assure that humanity really did not need a savior after all because there is really nothing wrong with man. In his points summarizing Deism, James Sire writes, “The cosmos is understood to be in its normal state; it is not fallen or abnormal (46).” Since people are as much a part of nature as the planets themselves or physical forces such as gravity, anything we do cannot really be said to be going against our nature.

Try as sophisticates might to convince themselves and to manipulate those around them that there really is not anything flawed about the world, the human heart retains enough sensitivity to long for a better world even if the individual is not fully aware of what it will actually take for the transformation each soul longs for to come about. Thus, in the deist worldview, the shortcomings observable in the world and within the individual are the result of man failing to realize just how splendid and excellent he really is. Many of the deists borrowed or endorsed the Platonic notion that to know the right would be all that was necessary to prompt the individual to do the right.

As with nearly all other worldviews, Deism did not merely promulgate isolated notions about God and the underlying nature of the universe bearing no implications for other areas of thought and existence. Inevitably, one’s anthropology or ideas about man flow from one’s theology or what one believes about God.

Whereas Christianity believed that the primary flaw that needed to be overcome which Jesus died for was the sin nature of each individual, deists believed that, if the environment could be perfected or idealized, man would be living large and on easy street. At the heart of the conception of man held by those sympathetic to the Deistic viewpoint was the notion of progress. Similar to what would be popularized under the banner of evolution in the 19th and 20th centuries, the notion of progress expounded by thinkers such as Bacon, contended that because of the innate goodness of man and the superiority of the scientific method for acquiring knowledge, humanity was on an inevitably upward path that would only accelerate with the triumph of reason over baser instincts and superstitions (Smith, 166). Just as they had crafted entire ways in which it was claimed to know all that could be known about God apart from divine revelation, Deistic thinkers were no less ambitious in their plans for mankind.

Inspired as they were by Greek thought and myth, a number of these thinkers were drawn to the legend of Atlantis, Plato's account of an idealized kingdom believed to be beyond the Pillars of Hercules that was ultimately brought to ruin through a great cataclysm that to Christian ears rings with a number of elements similar to those in the Genesis narrative of Noah's Flood. With the discovery of the New World, the desire to reestablish this fabled utopia in either these newly discovered lands or even in the familiar environs of the European Old World were kindled afresh. Where these thinkers differed to an extent was what were the best means to such ends and what exactly would things look like once civilization had reached the metaphorical and sometimes even literal shores of this brave new world. For among the deists, these journeys began to diverge largely in relation to what the particular deist in question believed regarding traditional religious belief and the value of the individual.

For example, though he believed in a God as a first cause stripped of any Christian understanding which might have imbued that concept, Thomas Hobbes did not believe that this God had any relationship with man or nature other than getting the ball rolling. As such, man is nothing more than a composite of matter moving through time and space disconnected from any higher spiritual realm (Currid, 142). Stranded in such a reality, life in such a state of nature is (as Hobbes famously mused) nasty, brutish, and short.

The best that man can hope for is to extend that brief existence for as long as possible and to ameliorate as many of these deprivations as possible. In Leviathan, Hobbes proposed this would be best accomplished through an arrangement known as a social contract. Though most Americans look favorably upon that phraseology from the way it would be utilized by later authors to limit what the state could do in favor of the individual, in the sense used by deists inclined to look less favorably upon the role played by traditional religion, the term “social contract” was used just as much and perhaps even more so to curtail the liberties of the average subject or citizen.

In the Hobbesian understanding, for protection and the opportunity to lead a life above the level of a war of all against all, the individual swore a high degree of authoritarian allegiance to a sovereign. Though not uncharacteristic for Hobbes’ day, nearly no area of life was left untouched or unscrutinized. In the system advocated by Hobbes, the sovereign could decide which opinions would be deemed inimical to public wellbeing, who could speak before multitudes, and what books were fit to be published. No act perpetrated by the sovereign in pursuit of his duties could be considered unjust; thus the figure could theoretically rule with an impunity that would make a 20th century dictator envious.

As the Age of Enlightenment progressed, notions such as the social contract took on an increasingly democratic veneer. However, in the minds more blatantly eager to undermine God's intended order, the concept could still be invoked to curtail the liberties of the individual rather than as a tool to protect them. Another Deistic figure in the more authoritarian branch of that worldview was Jean Jacques Rousseau.

Rousseau elaborated his ideas on these concepts in a book titled, of course, The Social Contract . Whereas many thinkers of his day believed scientific advancement and increasingly sophisticated forms of social organization were the means through which man would achieve his fullest potential through unleashing the innate goodness within, Rousseau believed these accoutrements led to enslavement. Instead, man was at his most pure in a blissful state of nature. In a manner not unlike the Emergent Church theologians of our own day with their deliberate affectation of unkempt Bohemianism, Rousseau contended the path to utopia did not lie necessarily through a multilayered bureaucracy but rather through the organic voice of the community known as the general will. Once this alleged consensus that sounds quite similar to mob rule had been reached, the individual would not be allowed to disobey this authoritative voice even if that meant the force of the community compelled the individual to be free against his own will. As Francis Schaeffer observed in How Should We Then Live, “The utopianism of this concept was shown by the French Revolution’s Reign of Terror, during which the purification of the general will not only meant not only the loss of freedom for the individual but the reign of the guillotine (155).” Schaeffer emphasized of Rousseau’s insistence that those failing to obey the collective wisdom should be forced to be free, “Once more a humanistic utopianism ends in tyranny...(155).”

Deists not quite as hostile towards traditional religious belief did not veer as closely towards homicidal anarchy and dictatorship. The system’s more balanced thinkers tended to promote were more grounded in protecting many of those rights that had been hard-won over the course of history rather than upending nearly every last social institution on the spot with the hopes that doing so might usher in heaven on earth. It also helped that the milieu in which such a variety of Deism did exert some influence was one in which the population was itself sufficiently grounded in the Bible and sound theology that believers would only allow things to go so far and not much further.

One figure giving inspiration to this more subtle form of Deism was none other than John Locke. In works such as The Reasonableness Of Christianity, Locke did not exhibit as much vehemence against the Christian faith as would later deists such as Rousseau or Voltaire. Nor did Locke believe as Thomas Hobbes did that a centralized sovereign ought to exercise considerable authority and curtailment in matters of religious opinion. According to Francis Schaeffer, rather than destroy an established social order and weave an entirely new fabric, Locke attempted to preserve what had been or had the potential to be right but seldom adhered to in the political order by secularizing the principles found in Lex Rex by Samuel Rutherford. These included inalienable rights, the separation of powers, and right of revolution or resistance to unlawful authority (109). The synthesis of Locke's own internal spiritual struggle would result in the development of a system that, when delicately and precariously balanced, rested upon the necessity of public virtue but not necessarily upon the need to bring the wrath of civil authorities down upon those that lived their lives within the parameters of a broadly Biblical morality. John Locke would go on to play a profound role in influencing the Founding Fathers, especially Thomas Jefferson. In fact, the Declaration of Independence's phrase "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" is a reflection of Locke's own emphasis on the ideals of life, liberty, and property.

In the rush to counter a secularist fanaticism bent on removing any acknowledgment of religion in American public life, for the purposes of drumming up support for assorted causes and public awareness campaigns there has been the temptation to paint a number of the Founding Fathers of the era of the American Revolution as so undeniably in the born again camp that these figures in terms of their theology and applied Christian living differed little from the rigorous independent Fundamentalism of today. The truth, as well as these men themselves, is much more complicated than that.

Probably the most undeniably deist among those honored for giving voice to a number of ideals considered intrinsically American was none other than Thomas Jefferson. Serving as a testament to Jefferson’s beliefs is the so-called “Jefferson Bible”. In this document, the Sage of Monticello retained the ethical and moral teachings of Jesus while expunging those passages pertaining to miracles such as the Resurrection of Christ. This tendency to view Jesus as nothing more than a good man was a constant throughout Jefferson’s religious life. In The Shaping Of America, John Warwick Montgomery quotes from a letter in which Jefferson gleefully predicted, “I trust that there is not a young man now living in the United States who will not die a Unitarian (53).”

Jefferson’s unconventional religious viewpoints were such a widespread concern among sincere Christians that Richard Hofstader suggests in The Paranoid Style Of American Politics that Jefferson’s ascent to high office sparked considerable alarm as to what extent the Illuminati had penetrated American society and whether or not violent upheaval like that in France could break out in the United States if vigilance was not maintained. However, even if Jefferson himself did not have a personal relationship with Christ as Lord and Savior, he did recognize the role or providence in the rise and fall of nations. Engraved on the Jefferson Memorial is the following quote from his Notes On The State Of Virginia: “God who gave us life gave us liberty. Can the liberties of a nation be secure when we have removed a conviction that these liberties are the gift of God? Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just, that his justice cannot sleep forever (Gingrich, 46).” Other support Jefferson extended towards religion in the United States included the use of public buildings for church services, a $100 per year donation to a Catholic priest laboring among the Kaskaskia Indians, and including the Bible and Watt’s hymnal as part of the curriculum he formulated for the schools of the District of Columbia.

The next enigmatic figure in terms of religion who is beloved or at least respected by a vast majority of Americans is Benjamin Franklin. As in the case of Jefferson, the objective historian must admit that there is little conclusive proof that Franklin threw himself on the mercy of Christ for the forgiveness of his sins. There were also a number of things in the life of this monumental founder that the Christian could not endorse.

To his credit, Franklin believed the following: "That there is one God, who made all things. That he governs the world by his providence. That he ought to be worshiped by adoration, prayer, and thanksgiving. But that the most acceptable service of God is doing good to men (Montgomery, 57).” Though Franklin's personal creed might have been a point or two above standard Deism as he at least believed God governed the world rather than relate to it through a sense of disinterested detachment, like the earlier formulations of Deism described in this analysis, the problem was not so much with what Franklin positively affirmed but rather with what he omitted.

In the friendly correspondence that developed between two giants of colonial America, revivalist George Whitefield pleaded with this renowned early American renaissance man to turn his formidable intellect to a serious consideration of the claims of Christ. But as in the case of Jefferson, one can catch glimpses of the internal struggle for Franklin's soul. For the very same statesman who observed at the Constitutional Convention that how he had grown convinced that Providence governed in the affairs of men himself never formally married the mother of his children. Franklin was also believed to have frequented the Hellfire Club, a secret society that was essentially a sex club that took particular delight in mocking traditional religion and virtue.

Devout patriots that love both God and country, though unsettled by these claims, are no doubt thinking that they will not be similarly disappointed by George Washington, the father of our country. Alas, as with these two previously mentioned Founding Luminaries, debate is no less settled regarding the first President of the United States.

To his credit, Washington was a member in good standing with the Episcopal Church. He was also said to be motivated by deep religious convictions. It was Washington that added the phrase "So help me God" to the presidential inaugural oath (Gingrich, 34). During his service in the Revolutionary War, Washington promoted a code of conduct that encouraged soldiers to attend worship services and to refrain from coarse behavior such as cursing. And Washington’s Farwell Address suggesting that the habits of morality and religion are indispensable to the continuation of a free republic is a cornerstone of American political theory and philosophy.

But as in the case of Franklin and Jefferson, things in Washington's own background prompt the Christian to pause despite all of the contributions Washington made to establish the nation on what appears to be a steady course and foundation irrespective of whether or not George Washington's name really will be heard up yonder. For you see, George Washington was a member of the Free Masons.

Some might respond such a thing is not really that big of a deal as many join that fraternal order for the purposes of networking and status, not fully comprehending what exactly the organization professes. Especially in the past, members on the lower rungs of these kinds of brotherhoods would simply remain on their periphery in order to, as is said, succeed in business without really trying since membership has often been seen as the route to enviable careers in commerce and government. However, Washington was more than a mere member.

Washington served as Master of the Alexandria, Virginia lodge in the late 1780's. In that town just outside the nation's capital, the George Washington Masonic National Memorial was erected to commemorate publicly his affiliation with the secret society. Holding such a position of honor and distinction among the organization’s ranks, Washington would have known that Free Masonry held to what John Warwick Montgomery described in The Shaping Of America as a kind of liturgical Deism (56). Like Deism, Free Masonry holds that God is the Great Architect of the universe that set up the world to run on its own without interference on His behalf to keep it going. Rather than salvation being found alone through faith in the person and work of Christ, the individual is responsible for his own spiritual advancement with each of the world's religions simply expressing its own unique set of truths and viewpoints on essentially the same cosmic deity.

Learning that the Founders they had so admired might not have had a walk as close to God as initially assumed, some Christians might be inclined to so radically separate from the federal constitutional system established in the late 1700's as to call for something entirely new all together in terms of sociopolitical organization. Such a call might be too hasty and might play more into the hands of those seeking to establish a New World Order than one might suspect. John Warwick Montgomery points out in The Shaping Of America, "The single most paradoxical aspect of American history is that though the country's Founding Fathers were Deists and not Christians, the nation got off to a Christian start nonetheless. Both the American Revolution and the founding documents arising from it turned out to be --- often in spite of the motives of their creators --- fully compatible with the historic Christian faith (57).”

In the coming years ahead, to prevent the land that we love from descending into either the abyss of anarchy or tyranny, the Christian will be required to exercise the utmost discernment. Since one of the best ways to proceed forward is to look back at from where we have come, that will require each of us to grapple with the founding of this nation as it actually was rather than how we might like it to be. The Founding Fathers were by no means perfect and a number fell short in a number of areas such as perhaps in ideas regarding the person and nature of Christ. However, what they did grant to the nation was a system that would allow for a public recognition of God while allowing the individual to work out the specifics of their respective walks with the Almighty on their own in fear and trembling.

by Frederick Meekins 

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