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Deism and Reason PDF Print E-mail
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Sunday, 15 January 2006 19:54
 

Welcome to
Deism and Reason

I believe in one God, and no more; and I hope for happiness beyond this life.

I believe the equality of man, and I believe that religious duties consist in doing justice, loving mercy, and endeavoring to make our fellow-creatures happy.

Thomas Paine,
Age of Reason

Introduction

What is Deism? In 1990 little was heard of Deism outside of a few college history classes. By 2002 Deism has become the fastest growing belief system in America growing 717% in ten years without immigrants, missionaries, churches, money, or clergy. This came mainly through the Internet, which isn't controlled by those that want to keep knowledge and new ideas from reaching the common person. This came at a time when 100 million Americans claim no religious affiliation at all while atheism has had zero growth. The ranks of the "unchurched have exploded 110% and many would find Deism worthwhile to consider. It's those that are fed-up with "organized religion" and being told what to think are the ones we seek. In the end it's the individual that must decide and should have the freedom to do so. That doesn't make one wrong or damned if they decide to follow another path, there is no Hell in Deism. Deism has no creed or dogma.

Many who call themselves "a deist" today sound more like atheists spending all their time bashing Christians/others and say almost nothing of deism itself. That is not what this website is about. The reality is two forms of Deism, what I call secular Deism verses theistic Deism. Secular Deism is the dictionary definition (written by the Christian majority) that says God created the universe, went away, and doesn't care or interact with Creation. Thus God is in reality dead and we have little more than atheism with a mindless machine maker or as fundamentalists call it the "blind watchmaker." This Deism sees itself in a war against all revealed religion and seems to slip into Pantheism (the universe is divine) and atheism. If that's the kind of Deism one wants or to just bash other religions that is not what I deal with here.

It should be noted that the term Freethinker does not mean atheism but was hijacked by atheists in an attempt to dominate the discussion. Freethinker referred to those liberal theists and Deists that questioned the religious authority of clergy and holy books. Belief would be based on reason first and not claims of divine revelation, mystic visions, or alleged conversations with angels.

Some definitions of Deism are:

Deism is defined in Webster's Encyclopedic Dictionary, 1941, as: "[From Latin Deus, God Deity] The doctrine or creed of a Deist." And Deist is defined in the same dictionary as: "One who believes in the existence of a God or supreme being but denies revealed religion, basing his belief on the light of nature and reason."

From Occhiogrosso, Peter. The Joy of Sects: A Spirited Guide to the World's Religious Traditions. New York: Doubleday (1996); pg. 386.

"Deists: Those who believe in God, or at least a divine principle, but follow few if any of the other tenets and practices of Christianity (compare with Theists, who believe in a personal God). Developed in the 17th and 18th centuries, Deism envisions a kind of clock-maker God who set the universe in motion but then let it run on its own, calling into question the Jewish and Christian notion of God's intervention in history. A number of prominent early Americans, including Ben Franklin, were Deists, along with French Enlightenment figures Voltaire and Rousseau. "

From Crim, Keith (ed.). The Perennial Dictionary of World Religions. San Francisco: Harper Collins (1989). Reprint; originally pub. as Abingdon Dictionary of Living Religions, 1981; pg. 213.

"Deism. The Enlightenment endeavor to purify Christianity, to rid religion of all that was not rational, natural, and moral, and develop a natural religion. An international movement, Deism reflected local religious, philosophical, and social expressions of the Enlightenment. In England, it was critically concerned with the origins of religion, but positive in moral and religious affirmation; in France it was anti-Catholic, shading into skepticism, atheism, and materialism; in Germany it was championed alongside nationalist metaphysics and historical criticism; in America it embraced a revolutionary creed... Though indebted to various European cultural developments, Deism was particularly an early eighteenth century English affair. Important literary productions included John Locke's Reasonableness of Christianity (1695)... and Matthew Tindal's Christianity as Old as Creation (1730). "

From John Punshon's Portrait in Grey:  A Short History of the Quakers. we have the Quaker view:

Deism, the "doctrine that God is quite other than the cosmos and entirely transcends it.” Having created it as a closed system, he remains aloof from its operations and lets it go its own way" (160). This is God the creator, the "father." People who adhere to this theology tend to stress rational thought and science as a way of discovering truth; they tend to also place great emphasis on classic religious texts. Orthodox Quakerism is more sympathetic to Deism. For deists "the light was the inherent rational capacity of the mind." (161)

See Deism and Quakers

For the record...

United States Constitution

The First Amendment
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion...”
 
Article VI, Section 3
“...no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”
 
 

The claim that America was founded on Christianity is a myth. Many of the Founding Fathers and Revolutionary War leaders were Deists, Unitarians, and upheld a firm separation of church and state. The claims of the Religious Right that America is founded on the Christian religion is a political position devoid of fact. To Quote —Leonard Peikoff, “Religion vs. America,” The Voice of Reason

“Point for point, the Founding Fathers’ argument for liberty was the exact counterpart of the Puritans’ argument for dictatorship — but in reverse, moving from the opposite starting point to the opposite conclusion. Man, the Founding Fathers said in essence (with a large assist from Locke and others), is the rational being; no authority, human or otherwise, can demand blind obedience from such a being — not in the realm of thought or, therefore, in the realm of action, either. By his very nature, they said, man must be left free to exercise his reason and then to act accordingly, i.e., by the guidance of his best rational judgment...And because man is basically good, they held, there is no need to leash him; there is nothing to fear in setting free a rational animal. #147;This, in substance, was the American argument for man’s inalienable rights. It was the argument that reason demands freedom.”

That means one shouldn't be forced to give their hard-earned gains to churches, which are a business in most cases. Deism and deistic thinking is the majority of Christians, Jews, and other religious backgrounds that respect traditions and apply reason to their faith while retaining what is in reality Jewish moral codes, belief in God, etc. but reject obvious nonsense such as Original Sin, damnation, the divinity of Jesus (just a man), etc. They accept what is reasonable and reject what is nonsense. These are true free thinkers who ponder and consider all the facts to draw a conclusion. What became official Christian dogma is in fact unbiblical and the result of "spiritualizing" or drawn from Gnosticism, both at odds with reason and Deism. That is what this site is about, reason over blind faith and "spiritual" speculation. Deism also rejects fundamentalist Christianity and New Age religion both an utter rejection of reason.

While it is strongly believed under Deism the human race is basically good and we strongly reject the doctrines of total depravity, original sin, and predestination nonsense of Christianity, it would be just as irrational to claim there isn't evil in the world as atheists do. This expectation that reason alone can solve every problem of human existence is foolish has led to great disappointment and unfounded optimism. Reason is a tool, not a "fix-all" answer to everything.

Religious liberalism refers to support for the principles of religious freedom and tolerance, separation of church and state, and the right of individuals to use their rational faculties in the interpretation of Scripture. Religious liberalism tends to reject the idea of heresy, that is, the idea that you should be expelled from your church, your property, or your job, or burnt at the stake, for holding views contrary to those of religious authorities. Deism supports individual thought and the right to ask questions.

Deism wasn't formed in a vacuum. In the years I've began studying Deism it has become obvious that Deists share many things with other beliefs and there shouldn't be the level of hostility some display if we concentrate on what we share. At the same time Deists have been very critical of church abuse and terror. As strong advocates of separation of church/state, Deism is often misused by those that hate all theology in general only to attack established formal religion yet wouldn't even acknowledge the links between Deism and the contributions of other faiths to it. They seek to strip Deism of its historical roots in Jewish-Christian traditions in an attempt to make it something it isn't. Like it or not any belief system can be used for evil including atheism and polytheistic faiths such as Hinduism. We can't blame every Christian, atheist, or Hindu for the evil committed by others and Deism at times was no better. We will also look briefly at several other systems of beliefs that have influenced Deism and how Deism and deistic thought have impacted them. Also see my view of other faiths.

What Deism Is and Isn't

Quoting Thomas Paine,

"I believe in one God, and no more; and I hope for happiness beyond this life."

"The moral duty of man consists in imitating the moral goodness and beneficence of God manifested in the creation toward all his creatures. That seeing, as we daily do, the goodness of God to all men, it is an example calling upon all men to practice the same toward each other."

"I trouble not myself about the manner of future existence. I content myself with believing, even to positive conviction, that the power that gave me existence is able to continue it in any form and manner he pleases, either with or without this body" (Age of Reason).

"I consider myself in the hands of my Creator, and that he will dispose of me after this life consistently with his justice and goodness" (Private Thoughts on a Future State)

"We believe in the existence of a God, and in the immortality of the soul."

"Were man impressed as fully and as strongly as he ought to be with the belief of a God, his moral life would be regulated by the force of that belief; he would stand in awe of God and of himself, and would not do the thing that could not be concealed from either. ... This is Deism."

As the fourth century "Church Father" Jerome wrote: "The Jews insist upon a literal interpretation of the Scriptures based on thirteen rules, but we know that the spiritual interpretation is far superior." This is what I often call "self-revelation," others call spiritualism. I consider it nonsense. I take a direct, literal view of the Bible, and as written does not support the Christian religion based on the Old Testament. Most religious articles on this website take that exact view. To quote Paine,

Each of those 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 those churches accuses the other of unbelief; and, for my own part, I disbelieve them all.

According to the Catholic Encyclopedia (no friend of Deism): " Thus there have been French and German deists as well as English; while Pagan, Jewish, or Moslem deists might be found as well as Christian." Many people tend to be Deists or have deistic thinking, but really don't know it or what to call it. They go on to say in regards to Deists in general and this still applies today,

Because of the individualistic standpoint of independent criticism, which they adopt, it is difficult, if not impossible, to class together the representative writers who contributed to the literature of English deism as forming any one definite school, or to group together the positive teachings contained in their writings as any one systematic expression of a concordant philosophy. The deists were what nowadays would be called freethinkers, a name, indeed, by which they were not infrequently known; and they can only be classed together wholly in the main attitude that they adopted, viz. in agreeing to cast off the trammels of authoritative religious teaching...

Deists do not accept the authority of so-called "religious leaders" or their man-made holy books. Because we tend to be individuals, it's unlikely one will ever see deist' churches. I don't believe such an institution is even possible, while perhaps non-formal fellowships would work well.

Also see Origins of English Rationalism.

"Anyone who can worship a trinity and insist that his religion is a monotheism can believe anything." -- Robert A. Heinlein

I believe in one God, and no more... This is known as monotheism, a belief in one supreme God. This includes not only Deists but Unitarians and Jews. It once may have included most early Christians (Arians), but not modern Christians that follow the Nicene Creed and the Trinity. Regardless of their claims, Christians who follow the Nicene Creed (based on Greek Neoplatonism) engage in idolatry or idol worship. Also note that St. Augustine, the father of Western Christianity, was an avid Neoplatonist. See More on Augustine. Thomas Jefferson referred to this all of this nonsense as "platonic mysticism." The belief in one unified God is the core belief of Deism. Sorry, no intermediary deities allowed.

Deism began in England and came about though efforts to rationalize Christianity. Closely related to Unitarianism, Deism is less outwardly Christian then the Unitarianism. Both allow the individual to decide to accept or reject. This discussion is limited to Deism. See English Deism

Deism got exported to France and under Voltaire (d. 1778), J. J. Rousseau (d. 1778), and the Encyclodists, became perverted. Only its materialistic and revolutionary phases were seized upon, to the exclusion of that religiosity which had never been lost in England or America. French Deism stood outside of theology. The French perversion lost all connection with the position of Deism, which became for Voltaire, etc. a mere armory of weapons for the destruction of all religion. The consequences were intolerance and moral corruption of the French Revolution. See French Deism.

J. J. Rousseau would also found the irrational belief system called Romanticism and whose negative effects we suffer with today such as Nazism and communism. See Romanticism.

Religion bashers and closet atheists attempt to use Deism to undermine all religious beliefs readily use this perverted French Deism. Deism was an effort to moderate Christianity and place reason over revelation and religious extremism, not to destroy the whole belief system. Deism is wrongly used to attack Christianity and Judaism in an attempt to strip any reference to religion from public life. While it's true Jefferson, Franklin, etc. were Deists; they in no way espoused the French version that became the basis of radical secular intolerance of today.

I don't consider French Deism as true Deism anymore than Christianity is true Judaism. They are not the same thing. This is what creates so much confusion in this raging political war between Evangelical Christians and secular humanists.

Deists are not secular humanists (properly called naturalistic Humanism) which by definition is "a twentieth-century philosophy that rejects belief in all forms of the supernatural, that considers the greater good of all humanity on this earth as the supreme ethical goal; and that relies on the methods of reason, science and democracy for the solution of human problems. This is the secular Humanism Pat Robertson calls everybody that disagrees with his fundamentalist rhetoric. While Deists also accept reason, science and democracy we are classical Humanists who held that there was no authority higher than reason and derive a belief in God based on reason, not revelation, holy books, or prophets as does Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. No burning bushes, no Angel Gabriel, or visions/voices as claimed by the Apostle Paul from a dead Jesus.

See Humanism Rejected by Christians

Deism isn't Pantheism, the belief that nature is somehow divine. Like art my give one a clue to the thinking of the artist or tell us something of the artist, it's not the artist in itself. Pantheism is in reality atheism.

It must be further pointed out that while some Deists accept Jesus as a moral teacher, sage, or religious reformer and Christian/Jewish ethics, etc. we reject the idea of Jesus divinity in any form. Others don't even think Jesus ever existed. There is always a wide range of beliefs among freethinkers.

Deism works best as a philosophy that moderates and influences other faiths. It has forced revealed religion to take a close look at itself and has forced change from the inside, not by the use of force from outside which has failed. By forcing people to look closely at church dogma and mysticism, the use of reason as a tool caused profound changes in Christianity. Mainline Protestant churches are a good example. When Pat Robertson attacks the Episcopalians, Presbyterians and the Methodists and refers to them as "spirit of the Antichrist" it's because of the influence of both Deism and Arminianism have in many cases moderated their theology. Many also reject the distorted fundamentalist' doctrines Pat Robertson follows. All Christians are not alike. Applying reason to holy books such as the Bible has left official Christian dogma in ruins.

Deists believe as Christians/Jews that God created the Universe and is separate from it. Deists reject Genesis as myth along with the virgin birth, death atonement, Trinity, miracles, and other beliefs from assorted mystery/Eastern religions that got into the Bible. In fact if one uses their God-given reason and bothered to read Genesis, they would find two conflicting creation stories. Deists see God as reasonable, not the raving bible-god of John Calvin and St. Augustine.

In conclusion the idea of churches and organized religion in general runs against the very idea of free-thinking and Deism. Except for a belief in a transcendent God and the application of reason, there is no other "creed" or "dogma" in Deism and the individual is free to believe what their mind dictates.

Deism removes much of the influence of Eastern Religion and its emphasis on magic, prophecy, and revelation. Deism is not a formal religion, but a philosophy that emphasizes morality and reason without the need of supervision or benediction of the Creator in our everyday lives. Deists do not accept the divine authority of the Christian Bible (or any revealed holy books) since there are too many errors and contradictions. We can accept the moral codes of Jesus and James but all the Deists I know reject Apostle Paul, John Calvin, Martin Luther, "faith alone," and some parts of the Old Testament. Books such as the Bible also contain some of the bloodiest scenes ever recorded and we feel that no "Christian" or "Hebrew" god would ever want their name associated with such atrocities or condoning them in any way. We do value the Bible as a source of some history and inspiration, just as we value other great books. But beyond that, the Bible is too unreliable. Its pages are too filled with the blood of innocent men, women and children to be taken as an infallible moral guide.

Deism embraces the concept of natural law and science. All things follow this law and God does not play favorites with any religious group by altering or suspending this law in any way. Miracles are merely natural events with reasonable explanations. There are things that reason cannot answer, for these we look to God. God does not suspend the laws of physics: sorry, no magic tricks.

Deism is also the "polar opposite" of all Eastern Religion, Gnosticism, transcendentalism, etc. which derive truth mainly on inner emotional speculation drawn from Buddhism, Hinduism, etc. (Again, don't think I'm attacking Hindus or Buddhists. Their traditions are noble, but when taken outside cultural context by Westerners it often becomes a cult or nonsense.) Deism looks outward at the universe to obtain a notion of God based on physical reality, not dreams, revelations, or feelings. Deism also rejects any notion of dualism, the belief of a cosmic battle between light and darkness, Satan and God, etc. This is drawn again from Eastern religions such Zoroastrianism and Gnosticism. Deists reject the concept of a personal god that will help one through life's difficulties. God expects us to deal with our problems here and now.

As a Deist, I believe we are all the sons/daughters of God and are responsible for our actions. Both Jesus and James are correct that by "works" and our personal conduct that we will best follow God. Deists deal with the real world today, not try to cut some deal with God for a reward in an afterlife. (Some Deists believe in an afterlife, others don't.) Personal conduct is what important, not any particular belief system.

At the same time reason should dictate that the wholesale rejection of tradition and lessons of the past is foolish. Deists should respect traditions and learn from their mistakes.

Deists oppose all forms of religious meddling in people's lives and believe that one's choice of religious beliefs is up to the individual and is a highly personal choice. We believe that anyone seeking to impose their religious beliefs upon another individual is not only a delusional menace, but is a danger to a free society. Deists/Unitarians are strong advocates of separation of church and state. Also note that we should keep politics out of religion and stick to the facts. Thus Deists can be liberal or conservative, Democrat or Republican, libertarian, etc. As freethinkers we shouldn't be involved in any form of "political correctness."

Who invented Deism?

Deism has no founder, but a wide series of philosophers who held deistic beliefs. Early Deism was a logical outgrowth of the great advances in astronomy, physics, and chemistry that had been made by Bacon, Copernicus, Galileo, etc. It was a small leap from rational study of nature to the application of the same techniques in religion.

Romans 1:20, "For the invisible things of him since the creation of the world are clearly seen, being perceived through the things that are made, even his everlasting power and divinity; that they may be without excuse."

The idea of trying to understand God based on nature/reason is not new. This was followed by the ancient Greeks and is even in the Bible as shown above. The forerunner of Deism was the Stoicism of ancient Greece. Deists differ from Stoics who seemed to be pantheists. (That nature is divine, etc.) Deism is not nature worship it is an appreciation of God's creation and God's glory be it a baby born from a single cell to the vast universe scientists have only begun to discover. The proof of God is the product, not some sales pitch from those claiming to talk to dead people, ghosts, spirits, etc. (revelation)

While Deist ideas go back to ancient Greece, modern Deism (and Unitarians as well) may have begun with Faustus Socinus and his followers (16th century Unitarians) who held that:

  • 1) All religious authority depends on applying reason to Scripture
  • 2) The doctrine of the Trinity is false because there is no Scriptural evidence for it
  • 3) The ethical teachings of Jesus, particularly the Sermon on the Mount, are the main guide, not the words of Paul
  • 4) Jesus was human, though an exceptional human; though not God, he was endowed with divine attributes of wisdom and virtue. See Acts 2:22
  • 5) The resurrection was significant because it demonstrated the possibility of immortality
  • 6) Jesus' death was not an atonement for our sins nor did God demand that someone suffer for our sins. See Jesus Betrayed
  • 7) The following doctrines are false: original sin, predestination of the elect, the inherent depravity of human beings, and eternal damnation. See Calvinism
  • 8) We can have faith in the good and loving nature of God
  • 9) Though well aware of how sinful human beings can be and often are, we can have faith in the human capacity for reason and goodness.
  • 10) Religious thought should be free, and all creeds should be tolerated.

More on Socinians and The Philosophical Legacy of the 16th and 17th Century Socinians: Their Rationality

There was a strong social justice commitment among the Socinians. They spoke out against the enserfment of the peasantry and were among the first Christians (with the Anabaptist) to advocate separation of Church and state. Their defense of religious toleration and freedom of religious thought probably influenced the great British political philosopher John Locke. Locke's library included many Socinian works and his posthumously published work, The Reasonableness of Christianity, was close to the Socinian position in its emphasis on Jesus as an ethical teacher. However, Locke was probably an Arian rather than a Socinian Christian in the sense that he held Jesus to be a supernatural being dependent on but less exalted than God.

See More on Unitarians

Also see A Letter Concerning Toleration by John Locke
Thomas Jefferson's Letters on Liberty and Religion

Today one can read the words of John Locke in the American Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Yet every word above was based on the Bible and reason. Once these ideas were filtered through the The Enlightenment, we get Deism. As a Deist I reject the resurrection claims, but the rest is reasonable.

See John Locke on reason and faith.

Who was among the first to advocate separation of church and state?
Click here for a surprise.

Early English Deism

Early Deists believed that the Bible contained important truths, but they rejected the concept that it was divinely inspired or inerrant. Some were influenced by the Socinian as was John Locke.

They were leaders in the study of the Bible as a historical (rather than an inspired, revealed) document. Lord Herbert of Cherbury (d. 1648) was one of the earliest proponents of Deism in England. In his book "De Veritate," (1624), he described the "Five Articles" of English Deists:

1. belief in the existence of a single supreme God
2. humanity's duty to revere God
3. linkage of worship with practical morality
4. God will forgive us if we repent and abandon our sins
5. good works will be rewarded (and punishment for evil) both in life and after death.

European Enlightenment

Again, quoting from Richard Hooker,

The philosophies of mid-eighteenth century France developed this mechanistic view of the universe into a radically revised version of Christianity they called deism . Drawing on Newton's description of the universe as a great clock built by the Creator and then set in motion, the deists among the philosophes argued that everything—physical motion, human physiology, politics, society, economics—had its own set of rational principles established by God which could be understood by human beings solely by means of their reason. This meant that the workings of the human and physical worlds could be understood without having to bring religion, mysticism, or divinity into the explanation.

While Deism began in England; it spread to France and became more radical. Deist/Enlightenment ideals are central to the creation of the Bill of Rights and Constitution of the United States. They played a major role in creating the principle of separation of church and state, along with the religious freedom clauses of the 1st Amendment of the Constitution.

Age of Enlightenment Defined
Enlightenment Background and History
English Deism
French Deism

Other English Deists were Anthony Collins (1676-1729), Matthew Tindal (1657-1733). J.J. Rousseau (1712-1778) and F.M.A. de Voltaire (1694-1778) were its leaders in France.

If Deism as we know it does have a "founder" it would have to be Thomas Paine. His monumental work Age of Reason is considered by some to be a handbook on Deism.

Deism was a major influence on scientists, politicians, and thinkers in 17thand 18th century America, England, France, and Germany. "Nature," and "Nature's" God in the declaration of Independence, is the God of Deism.

Who is Nature's God?

The Founding Fathers of America

The Founding Fathers were not evangelical Christians as claimed by the Religious Right. Nor were they secular humanists. They were educated men, a product of Christian society but embraced many new ideas. Like educated gentlemen they agreed to disagree and founded a nation on liberty and freedom of conscience. The ideas of the Enlightenment, Deism, Christianity, Roman Law, Greek Philosophy, Iroquois Federation, English Common Law, and even Freemasonry culminated in the idea of modern democracy. This fusion of ideas, not any single one, is what has given us our system of laws today. Most important they left the way open for change which ridded us of evil of slavery and gave women equal rights under the law.

Many of the leaders of the French and American revolutions followed Deism, including John Quincy Adams, Ethan Allen, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Thomas Paine, and George Washington, many others.

For more on this subjects see including Deist' sayings, links, etc. see
Deism and the Founding Fathers
Founding Fathers Were Not Christian
Treaty of Tripoli proof American government is secular.
Founding Fathers Speak Out On Religion

Deists Today

Deists are freethinkers. Deists do not follow the fundamental beliefs of most religions that God revealed himself to mankind through the writings of the Bible, the Qur'an or other religious texts. Deists derive our morality from reason without the need to appeal to religious revelation and church dogma. Deists regard their faith as a natural religion, as contrasted with one that is revealed by a God or which is artificially created by humans. Since everything that exists has had a creator, then the universe itself must have been created by God. Thomas Paine concluded a speech shortly after the French Revolution with: "God is the power of first cause, nature is the law, and matter is the subject acted upon."

Many Deists list themselves under Freethinkers, Humanists, persons of no religion, etc. Some go to Christian churches or attend Unitarian Universalist churches. Most celebrate holidays such as Christmas, some don't. We have no formal clergy (a few are ordained ministers under other churches) and we have no religious style ceremonies. Deists pray, but only to express their appreciation to God for his/her/its works. We do not ask God for special privileges or do it out of fear of damnation. Prayer is between the believer and God, and we certainly don't make a show of it on national television. (Didn't Jesus say something about this?)

Deists do not attribute human qualities to God and reject those teachings that depicts our Creator as a homicidal maniac who drowns the world in floods (Genesis), kills children just to punish somebody else (Exodus), or presents our Creator as a fool to be outwitted by a mythical serpent. We don't consider ourselves God or part of God, just part of Creation. This clearly sets Deism apart from New Age Religion where in many cases the believer is part of or god themselves. See New Age Religion Debunked

In general Deism is not a church-style religion. Many Deists once attended Unitarian Churches or Christian churches in early America. Efforts to form Deist Churches or "Temples of Reason" in France during the French Revolution failed. A good example is this quote from Richard Hooker;

During the second revolution and reign of terror in France in 1791-1792, the radical revolutionists...renamed Notre Dame cathedral in Paris, "The Temple of Reason," and went about the countryside attempting to transform Catholic churches into churches of the "Supreme Being." (They) were attempting to remake French society from the ground up... From changing the calendar and the names of the days to rebuilding the church into a Deistic church, most of the constructive activities of the radical leaders of the second revolution and the terror aimed at this goal of rebuilding society on rational principles. However, the reaction to this change, among other things, spelled the end of radical reform.

Do Deists believe in the Devil?

Do Deists believe in the Devil? Absolutely not. The idea doesn't exist in Judaism either and was borrowed by Christians and Muslims in varying ways from Zoroastrianism and Gnosticism. This is known as dualism or good verses evil, light verse dark, etc. For Christianity and Islam alike, this has been the main excuse for their endless violence and intolerance of others. Combine this with a fanatic belief in getting converts at all cost and an apocalyptic (end times) world view, makes them more dangerous. See the following:

Recently I did an article for a Christian Unitarian group on Zoroastrianism which revealed there is no devil at all in the Old Testament. It also presents some controversial views of Judaism.

Deists, Freemasons, and Jews

In response to a reader request I looked into Deism and Freemasonry. Like all things influenced by the European Enlightenment they share many common values. America's most famous Freemason is also a Deist, George Washington. Not only did he allow Universalists to serve in his army, he had Jewish and Deists officers as well along with Enlightened Christians. In the Freemason lodges Protestants, Jews, Deists, Unitarians, and all who believed in God, liberty, etc. put aside their theological differences and joined together. Because of the influence of the European Enlightenment and their Jewish/Christian traditions, these groups had many things in common. Half the signers of the Constitution were Freemasons as was Francis Scott Key who wrote our National Anthem and Frances Bellamy who wrote the Pledge of Allegiance. Not all Deists are Freemasons with Thomas Jefferson as one example. The claim that Freemasons are all Jews is also false.

Also see What is Christian Fundamentalism?

Beginning the 19th century a backlash began. Many Protestant churches (and new ones such as the Pentecostals, Adventists, Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses etc.) became infiltrated by dispensationalism which led to an obsession with "end-times" theology, paranoia, and beliefs in world-wide Satanic conspiracy and the "return of Christ" any day. Y2K was just one sample of this silliness and has brought increasing demands since the Civil War for God on currency and formal recognition of fundamentalist' Christianity as the state religion in violation of the Bill of Rights. This has also led to the dehumanizing of groups such as Freemasons and Jews as the favorite target in insane conspiracy theorists as diverse as the racist Christian Identity, the 700 Club and Pat Robertson, and even Japan's Aum Shinrikyo cult that nerve-gassed Tokyo subways. See The Dispensational Origins of Modern Premillennialism.

Deism shares with Judaism a rejection of the Trinity and Original Sin. But no Deist I know of accepts the Old Testament Revelation and consequently its cruel God of Moses, Joshua and David. But Deism through Reform Judaism and the influence of Moses Mendolson and the German Enlightenment, has influenced modern Judaism. Orthodox Rabbis in particular revile Deism. See the following:

Deism and Islam

Deism verses Islam. While Deists believe in only one God or Creator we reject holy books such as the Koran. Several visitors to this site gotten the idea Thomas Paine (see above) was quoting the Koran. Deism accepts the Enlightenment idea of religious freedom and choice, Islam does not. This is why they continue to lag far behind the West in everything. Deism rejects man-made religious books such as the Koran, Bible, etc. Deism and Deists reject the self-proclaimed authority of mullahs, preachers, and rabbis because we are our own authority. The problem isn't religion as much as culture.

Can Islam be compatible with Deism? I don't think so unless Islam can be reinterpreted or large sections of it excluded. In other words, Islam needs more a focus on God/Allah and not so much on Mohammed and also carries a lot of cultural baggage. An Islamic society does not allow the individual to even interpret the Koran to begin with. Muslim culture is so dogmatic and inflexible, it leaves little room for any new idea. While it is true that in the Middle Ages some Muslims could qualify as deists, Deism is a product of Western culture. But there is hope. Turkey is the only democracy in the Muslim world and its founder, Kamal Ataturk seemed to follow deist' philosophy and based his nation's government on that of America and France. In Iran we also have the student democracy movement giving the Mullahs all kinds of problems.

Also beginning in the 19th century (1840s) under Ralph Waldo Emerson reason and God alike would come under attack when transcendentalism and other Eastern religious nonsense invaded Unitarian Churches and pantheism/atheism invaded Deism. After joining with the Universalists in the 1960s the Unitarian Universalists have become a social club with no real direction other than political correctness. See Unitarian Controversy for more on this.

Deism and Gnosticism. Gnosticism is another dualistic belief system began in Judaism/elsewhere prior to the first century which heavily influenced Christianity (Paul and John are influenced by Gnosticism) and included the Essenes who may have authored the Dead Sea Scrolls. They are notable for their extensive use of myth to express profound religious ideas, non-violence, and among some equality for women. A downside is their belief of Creation as corrupt: for example Paul's idea of the "Fall of Adam" originates with Gnosticism in my opinion. The Church would later on claim/distort their mythology as historical "fact" to foster their dogma and unite Christianity. They murdered the Gnostics in the end for heresy.

While their theology may differ with Deism many ideas it professes do not. Quoting Stephan A. Hoeller in The Genesis Factor "long-held attitude of the Christian church of submitting to greatly flawed systems of secular government was usually justified by the "fallen condition" of humanity as first described in Genesis. Following largely the interpretations of Saint Augustine, most Christians felt that even bad governments were to be preferred to liberty because humans are so corrupted by Adam and Eve's original sin that they are incapable of governing themselves. The libertarian fervor of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries that gave rise to the American and French revolutions was clearly not motivated by the spirit of Genesis. The statement that "all men are created equal" does not occur in that scripture, but sprang from the inspiration of the American revolutionaries, who drew from Hermetic, Gnostic, and similar non-mainstream sources.

It should strongly pointed out that Deists like all freethinkers reject this raving, murdering bible-god of Genesis and the Old Testament. (And original sin as well.) I've included a large Gnostic section because I enjoy reading their mythology and to present their great influence on the Christian religion. See my Gnosticism section

Deism in America
Largest Religious Groups in the United States
Fewer Americans in Church

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Part I 19th-21st Century Conflict

 


Last Updated on Tuesday, 09 May 2006 23:30
 
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