Sunday, November 13, 2011

Philosophy Report: Thomas Hobbes Hits The Nail

I've been reading Leviathian by Thomas Hobbes, the 17th century philosopher. (Don't ask me why -- well, okay, Christopher Hitchens told me I should.) Most of what Hobbes says is nonsense, as I would expect from something written four hundred years ago, but sometimes he says something that leaps from the page and hits me across the forehead. Like this passage on "Belief and Faith" (modernizing the archaic spelling):
"(W)hen we believe any saying whatsoever it be, to be true, from arguments taken, not from the thing itself, or from the principles of natural reason, but from the Authority and good opinion we have of him that said it, then is the speaker, or person we believe in, or trust in, and whose word we take, the object of our faith and the honor done in believing is done to him only. And, consequently, when we believe that the Scriptures are the word of God, having no immediate revelation from God himself, our belief, faith and trust is in the church, whose word we take and acquiesce in. And they that believe that which a prophet relates to them, in the name of God, take the word of the prophet, do honor to him and in him trust and believe, touching the truth of what he relates, whether he be a true or a false prophet. And, so it is also with all other history. For if I should not believe all that is written by historians, of the glorious acts of Alexander or Caesar, I do not think the ghost of Alexander or Caesar had any just cause to be offended, or anybody else, but the historian.

"If Livy say the gods made once a cow to speak,and we believe it not, we distrust not God therein, but Livy. So that it is evidence that whatsoever we believe, upon no other reason, than what is drawn from authority of men only, and their writings; whether they be sent from God or not, is faith in men only."

I'll try to remember that the next time some preacher tries to hit me over the head with his version of what God's will or truth is. In short, my response is, "I believe in God, but I don't believe in you, so shut up."

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