Occasionally, his references to the creator God were less than personal. For example, after making the case that what some call fate is God, he asked, “Why, then, should we abhor the word God, and fall in love with the word fate? We know there exists energy and intellect enough to produce such a world as this.” In a discussion of the afterlife, Adams said, “The Maker of the Universe, the cause of all things, whether we call it [emphasis mine] fate, or chance, or GOD, has inspired this hope.”
In this statement, Frazer has excerpted two brief sentences out of a single series of letters between Adams and Jefferson. In this particular series of letters, Adams and Jefferson were discussing some of the major flaws in the writings of the French philosophes. These French philosophes were in favor of eliminating all references to God in society and replacing those references with more generic words like “fate.” Adams’ question “Why then should we abhor [hate] the word God, and fall in love with the word fate?” came at the end of several paragraphs in which he mocked and ridiculed the philosophes who were promoting this idea.
No Man is more Sensible than I am, of the Service to Science and Letters, Humanity, Fraternity, and Liberty, that would have been rendered by the Encyclopedists and Œconomists, By Voltaire, D’Alembert, Buffon Diderot, Rouseau La Lande, Frederick and Catharine, if they had posessed Common Sense. But they were all totally destitute of it. They all Seemed to think that all Christendom was convinced as they were, that all Religion was “Visions Judaicques” and that their effulgent Lights had illuminated all the World. They Seemed to believe, that whole Nations and Continents had been changed in their Principles Opinions Habits and Feelings by the Sovereign Grace of their Almighty Philosophy, almost as Suddenly as Catholicks and Calvinists believe in instantaneous conversion. They had not considered the force of early Education on the Millions of Minds who had never heared of their Philosophy.
Do you see the mockery here? Adams wasn’t using the “less than personal” word “fate” as a reference to God. He was saying that the “idologians” (as he would later call them) who were promoting this concept were a bunch of stupid atheists.
How Frazer could possibly read this letter and think that Adams was in favor of using the word “fate” as a reference to God is beyond me, so let’s just move on to the second quote in Frazer’s statement. This second quote is taken from another letter in the same series in which Adams and Jefferson were discussing the errors of the French philosophes.
At this point, Adams moved their conversation into a discussion of death and the afterlife. Adams and Jefferson both believed in an afterlife, and they thought it was ridiculous for the philosophes to propose otherwise. A few paragraphs prior to the sentence that Frazer quoted, Adams had pointed out that the philosophes all became cowards as they saw death approaching because they did not believe in the afterlife.
Bolinbroke said “his Philosophy was not Sufficient to Support him in his last hours.” D’Alembert Said “Happy are they who have Courage, but I have none.” Voltaire the greatest Genius of them all, behaved like the greatest Coward of them all, at his death as he had like the wisest fool of them all in his Lifetime. Hume aukwardly affect to Sport away all Sober thoughts.
Then, after discussing how he would rather believe in the annihilation of the soul than experience hell himself, Adams explained that:
All Nations, known in History or in Travels have hoped, believed, an expected a future and a better State. The Maker of the Universe, the Cause of all Things, whether We call it, Fate or Chance or God has inspired this Hope. If it is a Fraud, We Shall never know it. We Shall never resent the Imposition, be grateful for the Illusion, nor grieve for the disappointment. We Shall be no more. Credat Grim, Diderot, Buffon, La Lande, Condorcet, D’Holbach, Frederick Catherine; Non Ego. Arrogant as it may be, I Shall take the Liberty to pronounce them all, Idiologians. Yet I would not persecute a hair of their Heads. The World is wide enough for them and me.
Notice that he is still talking about the French philosophes. The sentence with the list of names begins with the Latin word credat (believe) and ends with the Latin phrase non Ego (not I). Adams was here saying that these men believed that the hope of an afterlife was a fraud, but he did not.
He believed that the afterlife was real, and one of the evidences of that hope was the fact that belief in the afterlife was so widespread among the nations of men. Men of every nation, claimed Adams, believe in an afterlife regardless of what they believe about creation. Regardless of whether they believe that the world was created by God or by fate or by chance, men of all nations hold to the belief in an afterlife.
Frazer would have us believe that Adams used the word “fate” as a reference to God, but once again we see that Adams was not using this word to convey his own opinions. Adams was referring to the beliefs of others regarding the afterlife. He was saying that even fatalists who reject the idea of God and believe that everything is determined by fate still believe in an afterlife. The only exceptions that he noted to this nearly universal belief were the French philosophes whom he derided as “idiologians.”
Bill Fortenberry is a Christian philosopher and historian in Birmingham, AL. Bill's work has been cited in several legal journals, and he has appeared as a guest on shows including The Dr. Gina Show, The Michael Hart Show, and Real Science Radio.
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