July 4th, the day in which American’s celebrate something. Independence was approved on the 2nd, but the text was not approved until the 4th, although the last signatures came months later, and actual freedom still years later. It is a beautiful document, produced by the intellectual giants of the time, and one which promoted the ideals of the time, and with a few modifications, the ideals of today. Yet, it is a deeply theological argument. It is the product of the Enlightenment, moving from Jefferson backwards to Locke, to Hobbes, but first to Spinoza, ironically renamed Benedict.
As Roy A. Harrisville and Walter Sundberg note, “Spinoza’s intent is clear, if indirect: false Christianity is dogmatic Christianity of an stripe. It is a child of unreason. For the sake of reason, dogmatic Christianity must be overcome.” Harrisville and Sundberg then explain why biblical criticism came to serve as Spinoza’s major proposal for removing the threat of dogmatic Christianity. “What is needed is something to direct the passion of the multitude from false religion to true religion . . . . Since the Christian Bible is the authoritative source for the Christian religion, its understanding must be reshaped by rational criticism. Spinoza’s political program of reform, then, is established in the exercise of biblical criticism.” Most modern persons would doubtless be surprised to know that the main ambition behind the emergence of biblical criticism was political—to transform the society by removing the obstacle of orthodox Christianity.
With Spinoza attacking the authority of the Scriptures, he started a trend which removed the sacred role of the King in the life of the State (which, since Judges, was the only form of Government actually found in the Text). Until then, the King derived his rights from God through the Scriptures, but with the advent of Enlightened thinking, the rulers of the day were suddenly deriving their right to govern from the consent of the governed without reliance upon the Scriptures. I thank God for the way history has acted to bring about a country such as this, not perfect, but it is founded upon a theological argument, one in which the first point is that the Scriptures aren’t central to governing a State. The right to govern never comes from the consent of the Governed, but from God. The public trust is not existent in the bible (as is private property, actually, as we do not even own ourselves). Once the Scriptures were removed as sacrosanct to our State, Kings were then able to be removed. As a side note, Jefferson and other founders downplayed the role of Government in protecting private property and would say that ‘happiness‘ was actually about uplifting our fellow human creature.
At least for one day, we are all having a theological discussion.