Non-organized religions can be difficult to understand, particularly for those who grew up within a strongly organized religious tradition such as a family that regularly attends worship services. Deism
can be even harder to get a grip on because many of them talk more about what they do not believe in rather than what they do.
Development of Deism:
Deism developed during the Enlightenment
when intellectuals were turning more and more to science to explain the world. Consequently, they looked less to religion (as well as other supernatural beliefs such as witchcraft
). Rationality was held in high regard. Things should be believed because they made logical sense, not just because an authority stated it was true. Deists continued to believe in God but rejected the revelations of the Bible.
Definition through Non-Belief:
Many deists define themselves largely by what they do not believe, by what was rejected in the Enlightenment. They do not believe in revealed religion. They do not believe in holy scriptures unless they can be verified through other means. They do not specifically believe in an afterlife, although they recognize its possible there is one even though we have no evidence of it (since you have to be dead to experience it). They do not believe in original sin and, thus, no need for an outside savior.
Definition through Belief:
But deists can also define themselves by their beliefs. They do, in fact, believe in God, and it's an impersonal god. The believe that God granted humanity rationality. Therefore, he wants humanity to use it. They believe everything has a first cause, which is a central reason why they believe in God. They believe the physical world works through predictable forces originally established by God. A deist might believe in Jesus as a historical figure even though not as a miracle worker, savior or son of God.
Use of Rationality:
Application of rational thinking is a central part of the deistic outlook. They reject authoritative revelation precisely because God gave them the rationality to understand the world without it. Seeking understanding can also be a divinely dictated goal, since God gave us the ability to do so.
Just because God isn't sending people to hell doesn't mean he doesn't care how people behave. Humans do not need the Commandments to know that murder and stealing are wrong, for example. Civilizations across the globe have figured this out. There are very rational reasons to accept that such behavior is harmful to society and contrary to inherent human rights.
While the deistic God never revealed any laws, he did set forth what are known as natural laws: the laws that are evident in the natural world. Those who speak of natural law consider them self-evident and inviolate. However, different intellectuals have had very different views of what the natural law actually is.
Today, natural law supports things like equality across genders and races. However, in previous centuries it was “obvious” to many that genders and races were, in fact, naturally created unequal, thus justifying different treatment for each.
Understanding God through Experience:
Just because God is not a personal god does not mean deists cannot be spiritual. Their spiritual experiences, however, tend to be through the created world, marveling at the nature of God through his majestic creations. And while God is ultimately undefinable, that does not stop one from gaining a better understanding of some facet of God.
Interacting with Other Religions:
Some deists feel a calling to explain what they see as flaws in revealed religion, giving rational argument as to why people should turn away from “man-made religion” and embrace natural religion. These are the deists that heavily weigh those things they have rejected as part of their definition of deism.
Other deists, however, feel it important to respect religious plurality, particularly those aspects that cause no harm to others. Because God is ultimately unknowable, and understanding personal, each person should seek out his own understanding, even if that understanding comes through another's revelation.