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Deism: Past, Present, and Future


Active Member
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[/font][font=trebuchet ms, Arial, Helvetica]Deism: Past, Present, and Future
13 June 2004 (This sermon/essay is a little different, as it was presented as a speech to the UUF of Galveston County.)

[/font][font=trebuchet ms, Arial, Helvetica]Quote:[/font][font=trebuchet ms, Arial, Helvetica](The Davidium Disclaimer: Sermons of the minister are products of his slightly deranged mind, a mind that even the holder does not entirely understand. As such, all such sermons are not Dogma, and are only the, possibly temporary, opinion of Minister David at the time he set pen to paper, so to speak. In other words, read these sermons not looking for dictates, but hoping that they will inspire thought in you.)[/font][font=trebuchet ms, Arial, Helvetica]

A few years ago, I was browsing through the books in a Barnes and Noble, and I came across an “Encyclopedia of Religion”… don’t ask me which one, I don’t remember. Being a Deist of many years, I quickly thumbed through the leafs of the book and found the entry under Deism…

I will never forget what it said. It described Deism as “A dead religious movement of the 18th century that called described a belief of a “clockmaker” God through the use of reason” and then went on to talk a little about the history of Deism.

I was flabbergasted. A Dead Religion? I had for many years been an adherent of a Dead Religion? How did that happen?!?

Though I had held Deistic beliefs for around 6 years at that point, it is that moment that I remember taking Deism from being my personal philosophy and beginning to help form it into a religion that was very much alive.

I want to thank you all for allowing me to come and speak with you today. I also want to thank you all for your interest in Deism, both today and in the classes you will be conducting over the next few months. It is my hope that such interest will go a long way to continuing to disprove that unknown encyclopedist who chose to dismiss Deism as something of the past.

But in beginning to look at Deism, it is appropriate that we look at it in three specific ways…. (I was raised southern Baptist, so all of my talks have either 3 or 7 points… and I think you all might prefer 3 to 7!)

Since that encyclopedist chose to count Deism as a religion of the past, I would like to start with a short discussion of where Deism came from. Every Deist loves to celebrate the Deistic tendencies of many of the founding fathers of our nation, but Deism finds its roots much further back than that.

In fact, Deism is a religion that borrows heavily from many different branches of philosophy. And, many Deist writers have claimed that Deism goes back much further… The most well known Deistic author, Thomas Paine once wrote that

[/font][font=trebuchet ms, Arial, Helvetica]Quote:[/font][font=trebuchet ms, Arial, Helvetica]“The only religion that has not been invented, and that has in it every evidence of divine originality, is pure and simple Deism. It must have been the first, and will probably be the last, that man believes”[/font][font=trebuchet ms, Arial, Helvetica]

In other words, that the basic concepts of Deism have existed since the beginning of our universe, and were only waiting upon human Reason to comprehend them. In such, there is no real beginning to Deism… And that anyone has the ability to discover Deism for himself.

So, the early writers in Deism did not “invent” it… only uncovered it. In fact, those writers borrowed ideas about Reason and Morality from Stoics such as Marcus Aurelius, ideas about God from the Aristotelian “prime mover of the Universe” model, ideas about society from such writers as Sir. Thomas Moore, and many many others.

In fact, every Deist I have ever talked to has been inspired to his Deism in a different way. Some have found inspiration in a leaf, or the precise nature of mathmatics, or (like me) in the give and take of Philosophy. Ask each Deist were Deism came from, and you will get a different answer.

The first use of the word Deism is attributed to an English Gentleman/philosopher, Lord Herbert of Cherbury, in the middle 16th century. He described a set of beliefs that acknowledged a creator God, and called for reverence to that God, but did not accept that the “Bible” was the ultimate authority on that God… that you could see God better in nature than in the Bible…. Brave words even today… but in his time… Well, lets just say he was glad to be an aristocrat!

Deism ran hand in hand with the Enlightenment of the 17th century… and is connected with many of the famous names of that time… including Voltaire, Rousseau, Volney, and Matthew Tindal, among others. It also was a topic of discussion among the “parlor gentlemen” of American history, finding adherents in the likes of Jefferson, Franklin, and of course… Thomas Paine. Traces of Deism can be found in much of the founding of our nation…. Because it was these same gentlemen/philosophers who choose to rebel against England. Many Deists will even say that the Declaration of Independence is a Deist document.

Deistic works began to be written for the more common man, most notably Thomas Paine’s “Age of Reason” but also “The Law of Nature” by Constantin François de Chasseboeuf Volney. One of my Deistic hero’s also wrote his seminal work at this time, Ethan Allen’s “Reason: the only Oracle of Man”… but even I admit it is a read you have to work at…

Each of these works, and the many others I wont go into naming here, were all different… they all outlined different views of God, Creation, and man’s place in it. How then can they all be of the same Religion? Remember that question, for it is fundamental to understanding what Deism is.

Deism has seemed, through the centuries, to have been in a wax/wane relationship with Christian Fundamentalism. Each time that Deism begins to rise to prominence, it is followed by a Fundamental Revival in the Christian community. Examples of this can be found in The Great Awakening of the late 1600’s, and the Second Great Awakening of the early 1800’s. Whether this cycle is related to each other, I cannot say…. But it is a point to ponder!

Since that time, Deist adherents and writers have cropped up from time to time… including such notables as Abraham Lincoln and Albert Einstein… But Deism has remained a private, individual choice of belief, and not a topic of public discussion.

Unlike a lot of religious beliefs, understanding its past, while providing context, does not really let you know what Deism is.

The best definition I have been able to come up with is in the Tenets of the Church that I belong to. Let me read them to you…

[/font][font=trebuchet ms, Arial, Helvetica]Quote:[/font][font=trebuchet ms, Arial, Helvetica]" I freely believe in God as being discovered through nature and reason, rejecting revealed religion and its authority over humanity. I believe that all humans are equal. Further, as God has not shown favor for one people over another and has given us all that we need, that we should follow God's example and give to others as we can."[/font][font=trebuchet ms, Arial, Helvetica]

Deists believe that a Deity exists, and that all you need to discover this is an ability to use the tool of Reason and a look at the universe around you. Many Deists believe that this Deity created the universe, but not all. Many Deists believe that this Deity does not interfere in the universe he created, but not all. Many Deists believe that revelations from God are misleading and false… but not all.

But all Deists believe in a Deity, and that the only thing you need to have to believe in that Deity is an ability to use reason. Deism is a belief in God, and an agreement that a certain method should be used to decide all the other things that you believe.

A friend of mine once wrote a series of “you might be a Deist if” one-liners… and though he was being humorous, there is much truth in a few of them…

[/font][font=trebuchet ms, Arial, Helvetica]Quote:[/font][font=trebuchet ms, Arial, Helvetica]If you are the only member of your particular school of Deistic thought, you might be a Deist….

If people think you are attacking God when talking to Christians, but defending God when talking to Atheists, then you might be a Deist.

If you know more about the founding fathers religious views than their political ones, you might be a Deist….

If whenever you write about Reason, you always capitalize it… you might be a Deist….

If, after years of study, thought, and discussion, you still have trouble defining Deism, then you might just be a Deist….[/font][font=trebuchet ms, Arial, Helvetica]

Now, I am going to make a disclaimer here… as all Deists should do, but we often forget. I can speak to you only about Deism as I understand it. Others may disagree with me on this detail or that detail, and that does not make them any less a Deist than I am… In fact, such variety in beliefs in one of the strongest aspects of Deism…

So, how can two people believe radically different things, and yet still be of the same religion?

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(End of Part 1)[/font]


Active Member
(Beginning of Part 2)

Because Deism is both a religious methodology as well as being a religion.

Back when I was working on my bachelors degree in history, there was one course that all of us history majors dreaded. Often, as in my case, we avoided it till our last semester, hoping the University would decide that it was not required any longer, even though the course was designed to be taken at the beginning of your time in college.

The class was called “Historical Methods”. It was not about History, but rather about how to study history. It taught us how to look for objectivity in reporting, how to use primary sources and corroborate them, how to write historical works, how to do historical research, and generally all the mechanics of how to be a historian…. So of course I took it only after I had completed all the other classes!

I had been so excited to get in and learn the story of our Race (which is what history is) that I had never bothered to actually take the time to learn how to conduct that study properly. In taking the class, I realized that there was so much more I would have understood, so much more I might have learned if I had the foundation of a methodology before I jumped into the actual study itself.

Many of us do the same thing in our quest for religious answers. We are so excited about deciding what we believe, that we give little thought to how we will make those decisions. We try a little of this, and a little of that, and we may eventually reach some beliefs we can stand by… but would it not be better if we decided upon a method for determining what we believe from the start?

This is the true core of Deism. Though Deists all believe in a Deity of some kind, what really unites us is that we all seek answers in a similar way. Let me give you all my best understanding of what that way is….

[font=trebuchet ms, Arial, Helvetica]Quote:[/font][font=trebuchet ms, Arial, Helvetica]1) Never accept anything as truth if it does not make sense.
2) Have faith only in your ability to reason.
3) Accept inspiration that you personally experience, but view the inspiration (or revelation) of all others with skepticism.
4) Only believe what you can defend in debate with fellow seekers.
5) Accept the possibility, nay probability, that you may be wrong, and be willing to modify your beliefs when you are.
6) Search for wisdom everywhere, but use that wisdom only to inspire thought in yourself.
7) The most important ideas and thoughts to you are your own.
8) Strive for self-honesty. You cannot reason if you cannot be honest with yourself.
9) Realize that not everyone can walk the same path you do. Learn from where they go and what they do.
10) Remember that you will never achieve perfection of your beliefs, and if you ever think you have, that is the surest sign that you have not. [/font][font=trebuchet ms, Arial, Helvetica]

This is what Deists mean when they use the word “Reason” (whether they capitalize it or not). It is a way of thinking that unites Deists, not the beliefs themselves. It is a tool by which the Deist tries to make sense, not just of questions like the Nature of God or the meaning of life, but also the daily questions of our lives. Anyone can use this methodology, not just Deists… But a Deist is one who uses this Methodology of Reason (or something like it) to come to a belief that, as Tom Paine said “God Exists, And there it lies”.

How do Deists use the tool of Reason to decide that it is most likely that God exists? There are many different paths to this belief that I have seen Deists take. Probably the most common is that the Universe is too well designed, too well coordinated to have come about by chance. Others point out that all things that are in motion must have had a “Prime Mover”. Still others point out that it is reasonable to believe that something as grand as the universe must have a purpose… and someone must have conceived and initiated that purpose.

All of these beliefs, and many, many more… are Deistic beliefs. I often say that the “communion of Deism” is the friendly, constructive discussion and debate of all of these concepts, and more. I believe that, if the truth to these questions will ever be discovered, it will be through the discussion and debate of all different perspectives.
I had a young man, around 20 years old, ask me a few weeks ago why, if we are all using a similar method… why do we come up with different answers. The answer I gave him was quite simple, but as I pondered it later I realized it was also quite profound.

We all have different experiences. No one person can experience all there is, and as such the “data” we each have to make our reasoned decisions with will be different, and therefore all of our answers will be different. And as no one person can experience everything… then, as Deists we need each other.

There is one other major difference between Deism and most every other religion in human history… and that is the concept of Doubt. In many of the “Religions of Revelation”, and even in a few of the natural religions, anyone who doubts is derided… Faith does not allow doubt. Those who doubt are in need of aid, they are having a “crisis of faith”…

Yet, to a Deist, the ability to doubt is central to our methodology. We must constantly question not only what we are exposed to in life, but also (and maybe more importantly) the beliefs we already hold. A Deist is constantly re-evaluating his own positions, based upon new thoughts, new information, and new perspectives he is exposed to.
Mark Twain wrote an admonition and a challenge to all who adopt a methodology of Reason, in “What is Man”.

[/font][font=trebuchet ms, Arial, Helvetica]Quote:[/font][font=trebuchet ms, Arial, Helvetica]“ I told you that there are none but temporary Truth-Seekers; that a permanent one is a human impossibility; that as soon as the Seeker finds what he is thoroughly convinced is the Truth, he seeks no further, but gives the rest of his days to hunting junk to patch it and caulk it and prop it with, and make it weather-proof and keep it from caving in on him.”[/font][font=trebuchet ms, Arial, Helvetica]

It is the goal of the Deist to prove Ole Sawbones wrong. Though he may be right, and we may fail, it is our goal to be “permanent Truth-Seekers”, using a methodology of Reason, even if that means that one day we may have to leave Deism behind. So, we remember his warning, and do our best to prove otherwise.

Well, I could talk all day about Deism, and still not be able to clearly define it! But I said that there were three aspects I wished to talk about today, Where Deism came from, What Deism is, and now I would like to spend a few minutes before we leave pondering on where Deism may be going…

I believe that Deism has, over the past 400 years, had two major flaws. The first has been its tendency to focus on Being Anti-Christianity more than being Pro-Deism. Deists have for centuries defined themselves more by what they are against, and not what they are for. In fact, the two most well known Deist writers, Thomas Paine and Matthew Tindal, spent over 3/4ths of their main Deistic writings focusing on what was wrong with Christianity, not what was right with Deism.

I believe that Deism is slowly moving away from this trend, and focusing more on detailing why Deism is right, instead of why everyone else is wrong. Many Deists are even coming to accept that those other faiths have much that Deists can learn from, properly filtered through a methodology of Reason. This new concept is commonly called “Positive Deism”, and is a growing community within Deism.

The second major flaw in Deism over the past few centuries has been its tendency to be practiced as an individual philosophy, and not a community religion. There is much about Deism that is appealing to the individual… and social pressures to conform within another religious community has caused many to believe in Deism privately, while conforming to another faith publicly in order to not be ostracized by their communities.

Many “in the closet” Deists that I talk to have said that they feel a kinship with homosexuals who keep their sexual orientation a secret, for fear that others will treat them differently. They fear being shunned by their families, losing the support and structure from the organizations and churches they belong to, and in several cases I know… they fear it will end their marriages if they were to come out and say…”I just can no longer believe this, because it does not make sense to me.”

And so, there is a growing sense of a need for community among Deists, something that has never occurred before. Deists have always been individuals, and have looked for community in ways other than religion. They have shared their beliefs in essays and letters (and been ostracized and imprisoned for those beliefs).

Deists also need community, because we have a better chance of finding answers when we have others to discuss, debate, and bounce ideas off of. Since we all have different experiences and perspectives, we all have things to teach each other. Deist communities provide an ability for those who use Reason but have different perspectives to come together, share ideas, and support one another.

Now, for the first time, Deists are “coming out” and “coming together”. There are groups that exist, (such as the one I belong to) that are dedicated to helping to bring Deists together, to build communities of those who believe in God through Nature and Reason.

And so, the future I see is rather bright indeed for Deism, and since I believe that a world of reason and personal inspiration, where blind faith is questioned, and were we strive to be permanent truth-seekers would be a better world… I say the future may just be bright for us all….

Minister David Pyle[/font]


Active Member
Ok Telic, I know who you are... and I know you are being a smart alec!

:) :) :)

I laughed so loud Sandy came running into my office from the living room to see if I was ok..... Thanks for the laugh my friend!

Reason and Respect,


Isabella Lecour

Active Member
Davidium, thank you for posting that lecture. I'm glad that you did. So much of it resenates to my own thoughts about deity. And shows me there is so much more for me to learn yet.



Davidium, Do you have some ideas why Deism was approached with such an anti-Christian enthusiasm? It must have served some purpose to them and I was wondering what it might have been.

And I agree. . . . . .aetheists have the anti-Christian banner waving proudly. When Deists confront Christian beliefs, it makes us look as though we are not only anti-Christian but aetheists as well. But, I must admit, I have taken my turn at scolding impossible doctrines in Christianity. . . . .and, I admit, it was kind of releasing for me. Perhaps I was too long in bondage. :bonk: