Wednesday, March 07, 2007

That Being who sees, foresees, and directs all things

Michael and Jana Novak Britannica Blog - March 6th, 2007
First of all, Biblical religion holds that the Creator is intimately concerned with the inner conscience of human beings (the principle Jefferson draws on in his Statute for Religious Freedom); and also that in reply to our prayers (“ask and you shall receive”), the God of the Bible “interposes” his divine action into the affairs of men, the rise and fall of nations, and even the inner thoughts and inspirations of human individuals.
Secondly, the Biblical God “who gave us life, gave us liberty at the same time” (Jefferson). He invited us into friendship with Him–the friendship of free women and men, not slaves. As William Penn put it, if friendship, then freedom. From this insight flowed the Liberty Bell of Philadelphia. Thus, biblical religion conceived of history as a long-term effort to bring human freedom into fruition across this planet (“Go teach all nations”). As the historian Lord Acton wrote, the history of liberty is coincident with the history of Judaism/Christianity.
In other words, the Biblical God is “the god of liberty.” It was for liberty that the Creator made the world. It is by giving humans liberty that He made them “in His image.” Unlike the Greek Fates, the Biblical God is sovereign and free; unlike the Muslim Allah who is pure will (over-ruling reason and law), the Biblical God is the light that suffuses the intelligibility of all natural and human law, and all individuals and events. The Biblical God lives liberty through, not license, but self-government under law: “Confirm thy soul in self-control/ Thy liberty in law.”
In our book, Washington’s God, we list three full pages of the names of God (about 100 of them) used by Washington at numerous times and in many contexts. Many of these can only be understood in the light of the Biblical God, and the rest are at least consistent with earlier Christian traditions for speaking of God (often language adapted from the classical philosophy of Athens and Rome, such as some of the names by which Aquinas called the God reached by philosophy “The First Cause,” “Final Cause,” and “Pure Act,” “Great Governor,” “Disposer of All Events,” and the like).
Herewith 19 of the 102 names used by Washington, as we listed them in an appendix to Washington’s God: “Creator,” “Divine Author of our blessed Religion,” “God,” “Allwise disposer of events,” “All Wise, and all Powerfull [sic] Director of Human Events,” “Author of the Universe,” “That Being who sees, foresees, and directs all things,” “Benign Parent of the Human Race,” “God of Armies,” “Great Author of every public and private good,” “Great Creator,” “Great Disposer of Human Events,” “Great Searcher of human hearts,” “Jehovah,” “Jesus Christ” [found only once], “Overruling Providence,” “Supreme Arbiter of Human Events,” “Wise disposer of all Events,” and “Wonder-working Deity.” To use both philosophical and biblical names for God stands in a long tradition, indeed...
Diderot’s hideous boast of “strangling the last king with the entrails of the last priest” has always struck us as a signal of the bloodthirstiness of the French Enlightenment (in 1789), as compared with the calm appreciation for religion characteristic of the British Enlightenment. No Anglicans would have spoken so about strangling their king, the head of their church. Following Gertrude Himmelfarb, we systematically differentiate the Anglo-American Enlightenment from the German and, especially, the French.

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