You're saying there really are modern deists?


At 04:48 PM 12/18/2002 -0900, you wrote:

Marc A. Schindler favored us with:
Thomas Jefferson was a deist; these days he would probably be a
Unitarian, and Benjamin Franklin was not an observing Christian, either, from what
I remember. I'm not saying he was an atheist, but iirc, his own thinking tended
towards deism as well (the difference between deism and theism is that both believe
there's a "higher power" but the deist doesn't believe it's a personal entity
whereas theism does).
This isn't quite right, Marc. I used to be a Deist, and among Deists no such distinctions are made between a personal and impersonal God. A Deist was one who believed only what all religions (of the day) held in common, ie. 1) a supreme being, 2) a system of punishments and rewards after death, etc. Here is a passage from the current online Britannica that will set you straight:

Deists during the flowering of the doctrine, though their religious antagonists often attempted to force them into this difficult position. Historically, a distinction between theism and Deism has never had wide currency in European thought. As an example, when encyclopaedist Denis Diderot , in France, translated into French the works of Anthony Ashley Cooper, 3rd earl of Shaftesbury , one of the important English Deists, he often rendered “Deism” as théisme. The term is not in current usage as a metaphysical concept, and its significance is really limited to the 17th and 18th centuries.


In Lord Herbert's treatises five religious ideas were recognized as God-given and innate in the mind of man from the beginning of time: the belief in a supreme being, in the need for his worship , in the pursuit of a pious and virtuous life as the most desirable form of worship, in the need of repentance for sins, and in rewards and punishments in the next world. These fundamental religious beliefs, Herbert held, had been the possession of the first man, and they were basic to all the worthy positive institutionalized religions of later times. Thus, differences among sects and cults all over the world were usually benign, mere modifications of universally accepted truths; they were corruptions only when they led to barbarous practices such as the immolation of human victims and the slaughter of religious rivals.

So you see, Deists were left to themselves to discover the nature of God, whether he was personal or impersonal. It is only accurate to say that they believed in a Supreme Being.

It is my understanding that most of our Founders were Deists. Knowing as they did that the religions then extant were the irrational philosophies of men, they tried to strip away all the incrustations of sectarianism and return to the most fundamental basics common to all. No wonder they joined the Church when they got a chance. No wonder I did.

"Atheistic humanism is the opiate of the self-described
intellectuals" --Uncle Bob
All my opinions are tentative pending further data. --JWR

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