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Religion and American History

Deism


Overview: The word "Deism" is derived from the Latin word for God: "Deus." Deism involves the belief in the existence of God, on purely rational grounds, without any reliance on revealed religion or religious authority.

Deists:
Do not follow the fundamental beliefs by most religions that God revealed himself to humanity through the writings of the Bible, the Qur'an or other religious texts.

Disagree with Atheists who assert that there is no evidence of the existence of God.

They regard their faith as a natural religion, as contrasted with one that is revealed by a God or which is artificially created by humans.

They reason that 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."

History:

The term "Deism" originally referred to a belief in one deity, as contrasted with the belief in no God (Atheism) and belief in many Gods (Polytheism). During the later 17th century, "Deism" began to refer to forms of radical Christianity - belief systems that rejected miracles, revelation, and the inerrancy of the Bible. Currently, Deism is no longer associated with Christianity or any other established religion. Then, as now, Deism is not a religious movement in the conventional sense of the world. There is no Deistic network of places of worship, a priesthood or hierarchy of authority.

Deism was greatly influential among politicians, scientists and philosophers during the later 17th century and 18 century, in England, France Germany and the United States.

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.

Early Deists believed that the Bible contained important truths, but they rejected the concept that it was divinely inspired or inerrant.

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

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.

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

Deists played a major role in creating the principle of separation of church and state, and the religious freedom clauses of the 1st Amendment of the Constitution.