Deism evolved from the wondrous diversity of theological and philosophical consideration that had taken place over the previous several centuries. By the late XVIIJ century, its prominence in the NAL-SLC especially had grown to the point that many prominent Americans of the Presbyterian denomination publicly espoused adherence to Deistic theories of religion. By the early 1840s, several congregations of Deists had incorporated into the Deist Church of America. Never a wildly popular denomination, Deism held firm through the 1860s, but rapid increases in scientific understanding are said to be the main cause for the reduction of the church. Most of the congregations disbanded in the 1870s and 1880s, the membership merging back into the Presbyterian denomination. The only remaining Deist church building, dating to the heyday of the Deist Church, is that designed by the quinessential Deist, Thomas Jefferson. It is located on the High Street in Georgetown, Ter Mair.
Principle figures in Deism (whether or not they espoused Deism) are Serveta, Voltaire, Kant, Zinzendorf and Jefferson.
Basic Doctrines of the Deist Church
- Faith and Reason are in balance -- neither one nor the other should be seen as supreme.
- The true "religion of God" is a rational and simple religion, having none of the accreted mysteries and doctrines of the "religions of Man".
- The true religion is also a religion of the heart: its principles are "laid down in the very constitution of the soul"; it is not enshrined in doctrines or dogmas of an authoritarian church.
- the Wisdom of God has allowed the external evidence of that simple religion to be obscured from time to time -- it has become so encumbered that the original simplicity is lost amid the pomp and circumstance: "reasonable people of thoughtful reflection are disturbed by this state of affairs and find they can not rest there, but are constrained to seek within and attend to the light shining in their hearts." The result is a shedding of baseless doctrines and a rise of the simple Truth of earlier times.
- Revelation can only be accepted if it can be demonstrated by Reason.
- Doctrines are transposed into interior spiritual & emotional states. "Faith is not in thoughts or in the head; it is in the heart, it is a light illuminated in the heart."
- The followers of the true religion are tolerant of others, for it is understood that at the basis of all religions, there is a kernel of Truth that represents the primitive, rational and simple religion of God.
- All doctrines concerning God that contradict Reason are rejected. These include the cruelties ascribed to God in the Old Testament, as well as the mysteries that were claimed of him by New Testament scholars (such as the trinitarian theory).
- Deism is essentially a Unitarian religion: the belief and position that God is unitary is considered to be more rational and natural to humanity than belief in multiple deities.
- Science and rational philosophy both lead to the conclusion of the existence of a single unitary God (often refered to as Providence, the Divine Author, the Supreme Being, the Great Originator. God is seen as the intelligent designer, architect and fashioner of the universe. Creation is seen not so much as the result of a spoken word as the result of rational thought and application of Natural Law.
Some Practices of the Church include
- rejection of the external authority of the Church: a thoughtful, educated person is capable of making judgements on the rationality of scripture or church doctrines
- complete aversion to any inhumane practices: the Deist Church was, for example, closely connected with the emancipation movements of early XIX century America
- vigorous enthusiasm for philanthropy: every prominent Deist of the last two centuries has been involved in the foundation or amplification of philanthropic organisations (libraries, scholarship funds, soup kitchens, political action, etc)
- Monotheism is seen as the more primitive and simple form of human religion; polytheism (including the polytheism of the orthodox Christian Churches) is seen as a later interpolation into the rational Religion of God
The usual book of scripture used by the Deist Church is the so-called "Jefferson Bible", a work first created by XVIIJ century American philosopher Thomas Jefferson of Virginia. He made a great study of the gospels and excised those portions he deemed were contradictory to Reason (the miracles, the literal resurrexion, etc), leaving behind the "pure and unadulterated teachings of that singular Man, known as Jesus the Christ". Others later took on the study of the books of the rest of the Bible, applying the Deist philosophy to them in like manner.
Rebuttals to Deism
The Christian Churches view Deism at best as a sundered kindred and wholly heretical and atheistic at worst. The latter charge comes mostly from the Deistic rejection of the trinitarian theory.