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congressman bob barr, philosophers of the enlightenment, plato aristotle, pagan philosophy

Everything you always wanted to know about the beliefs of the Founding Fathers that your Congressman will never tell you!

Author: Robin Woodsong
Connections Journal

Through the Dark Ages, civilization and learning languished under the iron rule of the church. Finally, through the rediscovery of the Pagan Classics, Plato, Aristotle, Epictetus, Plotinus and many other philosophers, the west began to see a glimmer of the rich traditions that it had once attempted to suppress and abolish.

In the renaissance the classic Pagan writings captured men’s imaginations, setting their minds free from the superstitions of the Dark Ages. In the Enlightenment men’s emotions began to experience the subtle beauty of Pagan philosophy and gave them the courage to begin new experiments in freedom and democracy. Now, in the new millennium, Paganism has enraptured the spirit of humanity, birthing new forms of religion, honoring both the Old Gods and modern sensibilities.

But the rebirth of Paganism is not universally acclaimed. Andrew Stuttaford writes in National Review: "Citing an image of George Washington at prayer, the Congressman [Bob Barr] managed to suggest that witchcraft was somehow un-American. He could not be more wrong. For if ever a religion was tailor-made for a contemporary America in full flight from the Enlightenment and the Founding Fathers, it is Wicca."

Could Mr. Stuttaford possibly be correct? Is Paganism "in full flight from the Enlightenment and the Founding Fathers." No. Absolutely not. In fact, Paganism, Wicca, WitchCraft and Earth-Centered spirituality are the culmination of the path we began in the renaissance and is in near perfect harmony with the Deist beliefs of many of the founding fathers.

I apologize to the readers for the vast quantity of quoted material. I felt it was better to give full quotes and sources rather than leave any room for question or interpretation.

The Enlightenment was the springboard from which the founding fathers derived their philosophies. The Pagan character of the Enlightenment cannot be overstated.

"Yet often the philosophes [philosophers of the Enlightenment] are not less but more pagan than they appear to be: their writings swarm with invisible quotations. When Diderot praises Seneca for "reasoning with Socrates, doubting with Carneades, fighting against nature with Zeno, seeking to conform to it with Epicurus, or trying to raise himself above it with Diogenes," he is also obliquely praising the Enlightenment’s own eclectricism…" –The Enlightenment by Peter Gay

Freedom from the superstitions of the church allowed the philosophers of the Enlightenment to devise a model of the universe that had much in common with ancient and modern Pagan philosophies.

First and foremost Pagans believe that there is a first cause in the universe. The old saying "you can’t get something from nothing" equally applies to the universe. But whatever that first cause is, it is up to the individual to discover how to regard it.

"Religion is a matter which lies solely between Man and his God, … he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship" –Thomas Jefferson, Writings, 16:281

"The Religion then of every man must be left to the conviction and conscience of every man" –James Madison, Papers, 8:299

"Every man conducting himself as a good citizen and being accountable to God alone for his religious opinions, ought to be protected in worshipping the Deity according to the dictates of his own conscience." –George Washington, Writings, 30:321

"The priesthood have, in all ancient nations, nearly monopolized learning. And ever since the Reformation, when or where has existed a Protestant or dissenting sect who would tolerate A FREE INQUIRY? The blackest billingsgate, the most ungentlemanly insolence, the most yahooish brutality, is patiently endured, countenanced, propagated, and applauded. But touch a solemn truth in collision with a dogma of a sect, though capable of the clearest proof, and you will find you have disturbed a nest, and the hornets will swarm about your eyes and hand, and fly into your face and eyes." –John Adams, letter to John Taylor

The beliefs of the founding fathers flew in the face of the common attitudes of the time. The many Christian churches established in the colonies were unable to see inherent worth in any other religious path. Torture and executions were common methods in trying to preserve the purity of religious expression. In colonial Virginia it was a crime not to be a Christian, or at least to say so publicly. Here are a few examples of early Virginia laws.

1609 - Instructions from the Council. Indian medicine men were to be seized in order to destroy their heathen ceremonies.

1610 - Dale’s Code. The penalty for blasphemy was to push a "bodkin" through the blasphemer’s tongue. Whipping was the penalty for working on Sunday. Protesting the doctrine of the Trinity or the Christian religion was punishable by death.

1617 - Governor Argall’s decree. "Every Person should go to church, Sundays and Holidays, or lye Neck and Heels that Night, and be a Slave to the Colony the following Week; for the second Offense, he should be a Slave for a Month; and for the third, a Year and a Day."

1642 - Act of the Assembly. "All nonconformists upon notice of them shall be compelled to depart the colony with all convenience."

1660 - Act of the Assembly. The captain of any ship bringing Quakers into the colony was fined 100 pounds, and all Quakers who did enter were to be expelled.

Founding Principles Rejected: Colonial Virginia by Gene Garman

These Christian laws were common and were a bar to human decency, and a bar for uniting the colonies into a nation. The founders removed religion from the rule of law thus placing all religions on the same footing in regards to the government. Their solution was reminiscent of Pagan Rome where all religions competed with each other for converts and government only stepped in when the public peace was disturbed.

...David Hume came to the startling and sardonic conclusion that polytheism, for all its vulgar absurdities, was by nature tolerant, while monotheism, with all it sublimity, gave rise to rancor and religious fury. It thus became possible to argue – and the philosophers did not hesitate to argue it – that pagan philosopher and statesmen had been tolerant, whether from conviction or policy, while Christians had been intolerant both from conviction and policy. The Roman Pantheon has been a hospitable Pantheon. –The Enlightenment by Peter Gay

Pagans also believe that every religion is seeking truth in their own way and as long as they "harm none" should be free from government interference.

"The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury to 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

"If we look back into history for the character of the present sects in Christianity, we shall find few that have not in their turns been persecutors, and complainers of persecution. The primitive Christians thought persecution extremely wrong in the Pagans, but practiced it on one another. The first Protestants of the Church of England blamed persecution in the Romish Church, but practiced it upon the Puritans. They found it wrong in Bishops, but fell into the practice themselves both here (England) and in New England." –Benjamin Franklin, Works, Vol. ii., p. 112

"The intellectual part of religion is a private affair between every man and his Maker, and in which no third party has any right to interfere. The practical part consists in our doing good to each other." –Thomas Paine, Letter to Camille Jordan.

In almost every Pagan belief system, there is a belief that we can know Deity by looking at the world around us. We don’t need books or prophets to guide us. The universe, and everything in it is an expression of the First Cause.

"The word of God is the creation we behold ... It is only in the creation that all our ideals and conceptions of a word of God can unite. The creation speaketh an universal language, independently of human speech, or human language, multiplied and various as they be. It is an ever-existing original, which every man can read. It cannot be forged; it cannot be counterfeited; it cannot be lost; it cannot be altered; it cannot be suppressed. It does not depend upon the will of man whether it shall be published or not; it publishes itself from one end of the earth to the other. It preaches to all nations and to all worlds; and this word of God reveals to man all that is necessary for man to know of God." –Thomas Paine, Age of Reason"

"Each of these churches shows certain books, which they call revelation, or the word of God. The Jews say that their word of God was given by God to Moses, face to face; the Christians say that their word of God came by divine inspiration; and the Turks say that their word of God, the Koran, was brought by an angel from heaven. Each of these churches accuses the others of unbelief; and, for my own part, I disbelieve them all" –Thomas Paine, Age of Reason

Pagans never shy away from questioning dogmatic assertions, especially about our own beliefs.

"Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason than that of blindfolded fear." –Thomas Jefferson, letter to Peter Carr, Aug. 10, 1787

If there is ever a uniformity among Pagans, it has to be about the separation of church and state. Never once have I heard any Pagan say that government should be anything but neutral towards religion.

"History I believe furnishes no example of a priest-ridden people maintaining a free civil government. This marks the lowest grade of ignorance, of which their political as well as religious leaders will always avail themselves for their own purpose." –Thomas Jefferson to Baron von Humboldt, 1813

"What influence, in fact, have ecclesiastical establishments had on society? In some instances they have been seen to erect a spiritual tyranny on the ruins of the civil authority; on many instances they have been seen upholding the thrones of political tyranny; in no instance have they been the guardians of the liberties of the people. Rulers who wish to subvert the public liberty may have found an established clergy convenient auxiliaries. A just government, instituted to secure and perpetuate it, needs them not." –James Madison, A Memorial and Remonstrance, 1785

"Persecution is not an original feature in any religion; but it is always the strongly-marked feature of all law-religions, or religions established by law. Take away the law-establishment, and every religion re-assumes its original benignity." –Thomas Paine, The Rights of Man

Jesus has often been a subject of Pagan debate. The general consensus is that if he existed at all he was indeed a great moral teacher but no more divine than any other child of the Gods. A consensus that we share with many of the founding fathers.

"It is the fable of Jesus Christ, as told in the New Testament, and the wild and visionary doctrine raised thereon, against which I contend. The story, taking it as it is told, is blasphemously obscene" –Thomas Paine Age of Reason.

If we could believe that he [Jesus] really countenanced the follies, the falsehoods, and the charlatanism which his biographers [Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John,] father on him, and admit the misconstructions, interpolations, and theorizations of the fathers of the early, and the fanatics of the latter ages, the conclusion would be irresistible by every sound mind that he was an impostor" –Thomas Jefferson Works, Vol. iv, p. 325

So the writings, as far as possible, show several of the founding fathers would be in substantial agreement with the philosophy of modern Paganism. But Mr. Stuttaford directly attacked Wicca, which is an individual path within Paganism. I don’t think any of us could imagine that George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison would happily participate or lead Wiccan-like rituals. But we would be wrong.

George Washington and James Madision were prominent Masons, Thomas Jefferson may have been but certainly attended Masonic meetings. Ten of the signers of the Articles of Confederation, nine signers of the Declaration of Independence and thirteen signers of the Constitution were Masons.

"Within the pages of the hundreds of Masonic books and secret ritual manuals I have gathered and read in my research is a tragic story of Godly men who have succumbed to the snare of the enemy and have been snatched from the very arms of Christ ...On more serious occasions, such as the laying of public building cornerstones or at the funeral service of a Lodge member, these same men, dressed in somber attire, wearing their ornate sashes and brass-medallioned chains of office, ceremonial aprons, will perform with solemn dignity pagan rites handed down through centuries of ritual secrecy." –Ed Decker Freemasonry: An Introduction to Heresy

Masonic rituals closely resemble Wiccan ritual. Whether the resemblance is a result of convergent evolution or liberal borrowing is not within the scope of this writing. Masons, however do not want their rituals published and I will honor their wishes. But simply put, George Washington, father of our country and Grand Mason, would be well able to follow a modern Wiccan ritual, and more than likely, be able to lead one.

How about the Gods of Wicca? The Masons were, and for the most part still are, male focused and their invocations reflect that, so the Goddess would be a new concept. Not so with the God of the Witches.

Masonic writer Manly P. Hall (33o)-just recently deceased (9/90) and eulogized and lionized at great length in the Scottish Rite Journal – stated that Baphomet was another name for the satanic "Goat of Mendez" whose picture is featured prominently in the [Masonic] tract. The Goat of Mendez is, of course, the god of the witches…This god, also known as the Horned God, is evidently the oldest fertility god in human history... –Bill Schnoebelen, The Goat of Mendes or Baphomet

But just because the founding fathers did ritual, and honored a deity similar to, if not the Horned God of the Witches, could they not have still been Christian? No, says every evangelical author who I read on the subject. In no uncertain terms, it was repeated over and over that a Christian cannot be a Mason.

"Paganism is any religion other than Christianity or Judaism. Freemasonry offers a plan of Salvation without Jesus Christ. Therefore, Masonry is a non-Christian religion. Since Masonry is also not Judaism, it is clearly paganism. Scripture is quite clear on the issue of Christian participation in paganism. A Christian simply cannot (meaning he is unable to) participate in paganism. " -Salvation Without Jesus by Ephesians 5:11, Inc.

The founding fathers, and modern Masons, would be shocked that their beliefs and actions would be equated with Witchcraft by Christian writers. But this speaks more to the distortions of Pagan thought made by our detractors than the actual beliefs of Pagans.

All of us owe a debt to the enlightenment and founding fathers for freeing the American people from the barbarity of laws enforcing Christian thought and deed. Freedom of the individual in thought and action, is inspired by Pagan philosophy and tradition.

Modern Wicca is the very embodiment of the enlightenment and the beliefs and practices of many of the founding fathers. Because of the religious bigotry and historical blindness of men like Andrew Stuttaford modern society remains blissfully unaware of that fact.

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