The Leviathan by Thomas Hobbes
The Leviathan by Thomas Hobbes
The twelfth chapter of Thomas Hobbe’s book, The Leviathan, gives his views concerning religion in relation to man. Hobbes tries to bring the picture of rule by a sovereign being. He expresses his views that religion only exists in man. He also talks about the basis that man has for delving into religion. A Christian is any individual who has believed and confessed that Christ lords over his life. The life of a Christian must surround trusting and relying upon God. There are then particular principles and values that a Christian must live by. These values and virtues are defined by the Bible. In his book, The Leviathan, Hobbes expresses many views that coincide with the beliefs and values of the Bible. However, there are instances where he veers off from these beliefs. This is not only seen in the twelfth chapter, but through out the book. He misrepresents the Christian faith. Some of his arguments are devoid of the characters of God. He leans more on philosophy than Christianity. His very belief in Christianity is based on the parallels it has with philosophy. This calls me to believe that Thomas Hobbes is not a Christian.
Hobbes argues that it is wrong for man to assume that whatever has a beginning must have a purpose. He refutes the fact that creation has a cause (Hobbes, 1914). To deny the purpose of a creation is to deny the purpose of a creator. Biblical principles argue that God is orderly. He has purpose in all that he does. To deny that creation has purpose is to deny the character of God. The claim then goes to show that the principles of Christianity are rather full of flaws. The life of man is driven by purpose and God is the author of this purpose. Only God who knows the plans that he has for man. This shows that there was purpose in the very existence of man. His actions are therefore driven by this purpose. Hobbes’ claim about creation not having cause is argued out of the realms of Christian teachings and principles.
Hobbes suggests that man is rather anarchical and exists in a society where his own thoughts and feelings govern his actions. His claim implies that man has no higher authority that acts as his point of reference. “As having little or no fore sight of the things to come for want of observation and memory of the order, consequence and dependence of the things they see; man observeth how one event hath been produced by another and remembererth in them antecedence and consequences; and when he cannot assure himself of the true causes of things (for causes of the good and evil fortune for the most part are invisible), he supposes of them either such as his own fancy suggessteth, or trustheth to the authority of other men such as thinks to be his friends or wiser than him” (Hobbes,1914). In this excerpt, Hobbes’ main point is that man has no clear sense of how he is meant to act. The purpose for his actions is rather unseen. In the instances where his sight is blurry, he chooses to trust that which he feels is right or the wisdom of other men. This portrays a picture of lawlessness. Man is seen as a creature that is not regulated by anything other than that which appears to be right.
Man is regulated by clear guidelines that have their genesis from God. From the Old Testament days, we see that man was governed by the law. The law was the Ten Commandments. In the New Testament, we see Christ summarizing the law in love. Man is to love God and others. He is not merely led by his emotions. Others may argue that the laws of God are embedded in man’s subconscious. However, Hobbes argument is that man is deprived of this knowledge. This then causes his reliance on his emotions. This is not a perspective of a Christian. The Christian is governed by the explicit laws of God that are found in the Bible.
Hobbes then portrays man as a creature whose sense of peace only comes when he is a sleep. He gives the description of a life that is lived in constant fear and worry about the unknown. He shows no aspect of hope in the life of man. Instead, he paints a picture of an ever-defeated life. Man cannot overcome his fears or anxieties. The basis of a Christian’s life is the hope that they find in Christ. Trust in the ability and faithfulness of God is what gives a Christian peace. Life is therefore not bondage in fear or worry. On the contrary, Christians are commanded not to not to be worry about anything in vary many instances in the Bible. Hobbes then misrepresents the Christian faith.
Thomas Hobbes says that man’s need for God was created by his desire to gain knowledge on the unknown. He compares this trait to that of the Gentiles. He says that the gentiles had many gods. This was because these gods were created by the fears of men. The many gods represented the multiple fears that men had. I agree with him that God does help us to overcome our fears and he indeed reveals to us what we cannot see. However, God remains to be sovereign and his existence is not pegged on the existence of our fears. Even after overcoming our fears, we still need him. If at all Hobbes argument was true, it would mean that Christians who have a great revelation of the unknown would then leave the faith. The need for God finds its birth in the fact that he is creator and we are creation. We are fulfilled by God.
Hobbes argues that man’s description of God as being incomprehensible is a way of merely settling on the fact that God’s nature is unfathomable. He emphasizes that this description is not based on the fact that God is deity and should be revered. He further explains that aspects of life that do not posses physical presence are rather hard for the mind of man to conceive. I agree with him. This is because giving life to that which cannot be seen requires an individual to go beyond rationality. However, Christianity is a faith where one is called to walk beyond what he sees. It is a call of faith and faith will many times break the pillars of intellect and rationality. God is termed as being a supernatural being because that is exactly what he is. His thoughts and ways are beyond the comprehension of man. This fact then realizes a sense of reverence towards God. It is therefore not a compromise that man made when he realized trying to understand the ways of God would be similar to flogging a dead horse. Man’s intellect has not the capacity to comprehend God, however his decision to term him as incomprehensible stems from his reverence. Hobbes also waters down the character of God in the first chapter when he talks about man creating artificial animals. He lays little emphasis on the importance of life and the ability of God to create it.
Hobbes talks about the basis of religion stemming from a rather perfect man. He says that true religion must have it genesis in a man who God has chosen for a particular purpose. He expresses that the faith of the multitude is then pegged on this individual. This however is contrary to the teachings and beliefs of Christianity. True religion is based on trust in God. As much as God may use men to bring people to him, the fact does not change that these men remain mere vessels. Faith should not be in the man but rather in the God who chose the man. Hobbes represents a particular misconception of Christianity where individuals exalt the creation more than they do the creator. This represents a form of idolism. Christianity lays down the foundation of complete belief in God. Hobbes then brings in the aspect of individuals believing that this man is holy. God is the epitome of holiness. He alone is holy. The idea of a man being holy therefore paints a contradictory picture.
Hobbes believes that religion takes away the wisdom of man. He argues that in believing contradictory facts that have their basis in religion, one is actually being foolish. He talks about a foolishness that goes beyond that which a man believes in. This is contrary to the Christian belief because the knowledge of God brings forth wisdom. The wisdom is seen in the revelation of things not seen and things yet to come. This may only be deemed as foolishness to those who have not experienced it. It is foolishness because it requires one to dismiss that which is logical. Faith calls individuals to believe in that which is not tangible.
Hobbes then talks about deities that existed. He talks about animals, water bodies and planets. He gives both animate and inanimate objects the ability to be god. Hobbes further talks about the period before creation. He creates out of this a deity called chaos. The Christian doctrine teaches that before the existence of time and space, there was the existence of only one God. Afterwards there was creation and creation found its being in God. It is therefore a fallacy to claim that there existed other gods. That in itself is idolatry.
One of the arguments that Thomas Hobbes brings out is that the fruits of religion are only seen in man (Hobbes, 1914). Religion is the representation of reality in the different aspects of life. This implies that every aspect of life contains a stroke of reality, whether consciously or unconsciously. The Christian faith therefore brings forth a particular reality to every bit of creation. The fruits of the faith are not only seen in man but also in animals and inanimate objects. The reality of the Christian faith is seen in everything that God created. This reality is not restricted to man. This particular argument is rather contradictory. Later on in the chapter, Hobbes talks about miracles being the evidence of an individual’s call from God (Hobbes, 1914). A miracle is anything out of the ordinary. This is achieving the impossible. In the Bible, we see that the call of the prophet Moses was followed by various miraculous signs. These signs were like turning a staff into a snake. While Moses was leading the Israelites out of captivity, he was once required to part the Red Sea. The seed of his faith was seen in parting the Red Sea. This goes to show that testimonies of man’s faith are given by animals, inanimate things and also wrong. It is therefore false to restrict the seeds of religion to man alone.
The Christian faith is based on believing the unseen. A Christian is called to see beyond what is seen. This means that he is required to believe in facts even when physical evidence points against the existence of this fact. The faith is then not sustained by physical manifestations. Although Christians should anticipate signs and wonders from God, the basis of their faith is not on these physical manifestations. Thomas Hobbes argues that the faith of a Christian is solely dependant on seeing the physical evidence of God’s existence. He continues the argument in the thirty-seventh chapter where he extensively talks about miraculous signs. These, he says, are in signs and wonders. I do agree with him that the children of God did lose their faith because they were deprived of the physical manifestation of God. However, I disagree with his claim that the faith then does not exist in the absence of these signs. A good example is Job of the Bible who was able to stand by his faith despite his physical afflictions. It was a very good opportunity for God to display his healing and restorative power. However, he did not. Job still maintained his faith. A Christian would know that God still exists, whether he shows it or not. What is real is necessarily not only that which is seen. There is a reality that exists beyond the physical. God is one of these realities and he is omnipresent.
One of the major arguments of Hobbes is that philosophy is the only discerner of things. He attributes the motion of the world to a prime mover. A part from this, he also argues that improper belief, which has its genesis in religion, fanciful concepts, causes man not to grasp the true understanding of life. He also argues that philosophy can enable one to master peace. Philosophy also happens to be the basis for true religion. The principles of true religion have to coincide with those of philosophy. His Christian faith is founded on the fact that aspect of religion coincide with those of philosophy. There is morality in Christianity and philosophy happens to be the ground for morality. His faith is rather in philosophy than the core pillars of Christianity. Though he believes that the true religion is Christianity, the foundation of his faith is not on the Biblical principles.
Thomas Hobbes displays many aspects of the Christian faith. He talks about principles like love. He says that love should be the only force that drives a man to achieve success (Hobbes, 1914). He believes that this will help man to be sincere. He also says that it will do away with individualism. This represents some of his perspectives that are in line with the principles of Christian faith. Despite the fact that he displays aspects on the knowledge of the Christian faith, he diverts from the core value Christianity. The Christian faith is founded on belief in God. All other things like miracles become secondary. Thomas Hobbes however puts priority on these secondary things. His emphasis on philosophy is also brought out as a core priority.
Hobbes, T. (1914). Leviathan, by Thomas Hobbes. S.l.: Dent.