The word originated in France
in the middle of the sixteenth century. It is religion
based on natural reason
rather than supernatural revelation
. Deism was a product of love
, and hope
. Deists loved the ethical teachings of the classical philosopers
, and man's freedom
. They hated priests
and priestcraft, the dwelling on mystery
, and the assaults on common sense
. They hoped and believed that life's problems could be solved by pure human reason
and that mysteries of the universe
could be defined and understood by man's study of science
. Deism is somewhat synonymous
There were different types of deists. Some denied Providence
, other acknowledged Providence in natural religion
but not morality
. Also, some denied future life and admitted the moral role of a god
, while other acknowledged future life and other doctrines of natural religion.
Benjamin Franklin acknowledged himself as a deist to close friends when he was 17 years old, but still attended church. He wrote the "Articles of Belief and Acts of Religion" when he was 22. Franklin got his ideas from the British Deists.
Thomas Jefferson was also a skeptic. Although he was a member of the Episcopal church, he compiled "The Jefferson Bible, being The Life and Morals of Jesus Christ of Nazareth". The compilation affirmed Jesus for his moral teachings but rejected the supernatural elements.
George Washington, like Jefferson, was a skeptic but a consisten church-goer. He advocated total separation of church and state and made sure that the Constitution had no reference to Christianity or any deity.
Thomas Paine wrote "The Age of Reason: Being an Investigation of True and Fabulous Theology" which attacked the Old and New Testaments. He was considered an atheist, infidel, radical, and drunkard.
Ethan Allen was the first acknowledged American Deist, but he acquired his knowledge by reading about British Deists. He wrote "Reason the Only Oracle of Man, or a Compendious System of Natural Religion" which was anticlerical and anti-Christian.
Elihu Palmer, a blind ex-Baptist preacher, tried to lead a popular crusade and led a fiery deistical campaign against the authority of the Bible through speeches and writing. He organized the Deistical Society of New York and edited a weekly deistical paper.
Resources for Studying Deism
Deism: An Anthology by Peter Gay, published by D. Van Nostrand Company, Inc (1968)
Deism and Natural Religion edited by E. Graham Waring, published by Frederick Ungar Publishing Co (1967)