Difference between revisions of "Deism"

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===See Also===
==See Also==
[http://thedcl.org/christia/s/stephwill/agodeieg/agodeieg.html An Account of the Growth of Deism in England] by William Stephens.
[http://thedcl.org/christia/s/stephwill/agodeieg/agodeieg.html An Account of the Growth of Deism in England] by William Stephens.

Revision as of 01:07, 17 April 2007

The founder of Deism was Lord Herbert of Cherbury. [1] He came up with 5 essentials of Deism which are "(1) a belief in the existence of the Deity, (2) the obligation to reverence such a power, (3) the identification of worship with practical morality, (4) the obligation to repent of sin and to abandon it, and, (5) divine recompense in this world and the next"[2]

Dictionaries' definitions of deism include:

The belief, based solely on reason, in a God who created the universe and then abandoned it, assuming no control over life, exerting no influence on natural phenomena, and giving no supernatural revelation.[3]


"a movement or system of thought advocating natural religion, emphasizing morality, and in the 18th century denying the interference of the Creator with the laws of the universe."[4]

In other words, this is the belief that God started everything and then left it alone. This belief not only rejects the divinity of Jesus, but also rejects prayers for divine intercession.

This philosophy became popular in England during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

Deism and the Founding Fathers

The beliefs of the Founding Fathers are a matter of debate. Those urging a larger role for religion in public life, or arguing that the United States is in essence a Christian nation, like to claim them as Christians; those in opposition are apt to say that some or many of them were deists. Varying definitions of the terms "Christian" (which can mean "derived from the teaching of Jesus's" or "Professing belief in the divinity of Jesus") and "deist" (as noted above) give scope for argument. Some of them were deists, according to some definitions of the term.

Among the Founding Fathers, Thomas Paine espoused deism and popularized the term in his book The Age of Reason. Benjamin Franklin wrote in his autobiography about an earlier period in his life,

Some books against Deism fell into my hands; they were said to be the substance of sermons preached at Boyle's Lectures. It happened that they wrought an effect on me quite contrary to what was intended by them; for the arguments of the Deists, which were quoted to be refuted, appeared to me much stronger than the refutations; in short, I soon became a thorough Deist.

Benjamin Franklin believed in a God that "ought to be worshipped," and at the Constitutional Convention less than three years from his death Benjamin Franklin advocated public prayer. He praised Christianity, but his letter to Ezra Stiles was noncommittal as to the divinity of Jesus: "As to Jesus of Nazareth, my opinion of whom you particularly desire, I think the system of Morals and His Religion as he left them to us, is the best the world ever saw, or is likely to see.. I have, with most of the present Dissenters in England, some doubt as to his Divinity; tho' it is a question I need not dogmatize upon, having never studied it, and think it needless to busy myself with it now, when I expect Soon an opportunity of knowing the Truth with less trouble. I see no harm in its being believed, if that belief has good consequences, as probably it has, of making his Doctrines more respected and better observed."

Another Founding Father described as a deist was Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson personally struggled with the divinity of Christ and produced an edited version of the Gospels, later known as the Jefferson Bible, which contained only the moral and ethical teachings of Jesus and omitted third-person accounts of his life, particularly the accounts of the miracles.

Ten years from his death Jefferson stated that "[The Jefferson Bible] show that I am a real Christian, that is to say, a disciple of the doctrines of Jesus, very different from the Platonists, who call me infidel, and themselves Christians and preachers of the gospel, while they draw all their characteristic dogmas from what its Author never said nor saw."[5]

The closer Jefferson approached his death, the more Christian he appeared. He read the Bible daily as the end grew near. His grandson described Jefferson as follows:[6]

He was regular in his attendance [at] church, taking his prayer book with him. He drew the plan of the Episcopal church in Charlottesville, was one of the largest contributors to its erection, and contributed regularly to the support of its minister. I paid, after his death, his subscription of $200 to the erection of the Presbyterian church in the same village. A gentleman of some distinction calling on him and expressing his disbelief in the truths of the Bible, his reply was, 'Then, sir, you have studied it to little purpose.'"

  1. http://www.theologicalstudies.org/what_is_deism.html
  2. http://www.iep.utm.edu/d/deismeng.htm
  3. American Heritage Dictionary, 4th edition
  4. Merriam-Webster online: deism
  5. Jefferson, Letter to Charles Thomson, January 9, 1815
  6. Thomas Jefferson Randolph, undated letter to biographer Henry S. Randall, reprinted in Masfield et al., The Real Thomas Jefferson, p. 321.

See Also

An Account of the Growth of Deism in England by William Stephens.