Faith as Interpretation of Reality, History of American Deism (blog post #3)

For early civilizations, the existence of gods was unquestionable, because from their perspective there was no other way to describe the nature of things. As time progressed, the religions also changed: new beliefs emerged, and the old either vanished or continued their existence. From Ra, Zeus, and Jupiter; Yahweh, Trinity, and Allah; to Science, Reason, and Technology. Today I want to talk about Deism in the historical context.

Let’s start at the time when Christianity became dominant in the western society. One denomination became the established standard for every country that was associated with Europe, the Catholicism. It was the most powerful force in the world at the certain period of times because Catholic Church held the keys to not only spiritual needs of common people, but also to wealth and power. The famous Holy Inquisition is a very good example of what kind of authority the Church exercised at that time. Because of the certain practices thought to be ungodly, some people wanted to separate from the Roman Catholic Church and worship God according to what they sought to be a correct way to do it. Thus began the protestant movement. One of the most notable people of that period is perhaps Martin Luther. Through his example many denominations within Christianity have been formed and subsequently Protestantism became one of the leading religions of the world.

Speaking of leading forces of the world, let’s talk about the England that later became the British Empire. As noted before, being a European country, England was a catholic nation. But the king Henry VII wanted a divorce and the Pope wouldn’t give it to him, because it ran contrary to the teachings of the Catholic Church. As a result, Henry was mad, so he decided to abandon Roman Catholic Church and created his own Anglican Church. At first protestants in England were very happy with this turn of events. But soon they learned that this church didn’t really differ from the original church (well, the king just wanted a church that would give him a legitimate divorce) some people in England became discontent and decided to split not just from the church, but from England so that they can practice the freedom of religion.

Around this time a traveler by the name of Christopher Columbus discovered a new land. So the believers in England saw their chance and went through a hard journey to get to the “promise land.” The pilgrims, as we call them, established new settlements in America that was a subordinate to British Empire, known as colonies. The initial goal of many travelers (beside the gold and free land) was the pursuit of freedom of religion. Many denominations beside the pilgrims were formed like the Puritans, the Baptists, the Quakers, the Methodists, and many more.

However, as time progressed many educated people started to doubt the realness of Christianity. Discoveries like Copernicus’ Heliocentric theory shattered a wildly held belief among Christians at that time that the earth was the center of the universe. The Age of Enlightenment started to emphasize reason and skepticism over religious piety. Many scientists began to doubt the divine origin of the Bible, and became more skeptical to any religion. Thus, the deism was originated, a belief acknowledging the existence of God and that he set the physical laws to this universe, gave human beings reason, and left. Furthermore, he does not intervene with human affairs.

In America the colonists have been there for nearly a century. Many upcoming scholars were exposed to European philosophy and culture. From these influences and the mix of all the nations in the world America started to create its unique culture and legacy. At the same time British Empire was starting to crumble and it needed all the finances it could get, so the Parliament would squeeze the money out of American colonists. Becoming enraged Americans waged the Revolutionary war. They didn’t just storm into the war without thinking about consequences. A little prior to the war the Congress was formed that consisted of the most brilliant people that America had at that time from writers and lawyers to preachers and doctors. These people will become known as the Founding Fathers. In forming a nation, they were aware of its necessities in legislature, so they had to come up with documents. First the Declaration of Independence, then the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights.

Some people might know the fact that although majority of people in America were Christians at that time, a lot of Founding Fathers were Deists and believed that human beings have been given reason by God, but not a divine revelation (aka bible). In the early documents we can see many references to God and divine Providence, however they were not results of Christians piety, but a sign of deistic approach. Although some people on the Congress were devout Christians, the deistic language in the documents were accepted by everyone. Deism never actually became popular or widely known. It was a faith accepted by many intellectuals of that time. In my own experience deism is little known. To Christians it may seem as unfaithfulness, to atheists it makes no difference than theism or any other religion. However, I think that a lot of people can be associated with deism even though they never heard of it.

For the conclusion: everybody believes in something. We can say that our faith is a certain monotheistic/polytheistic religion, deism, or atheism. Everyone defines God/god (based on your interpretation of this term) in our own ways, and if we say that “God is Dead” it means that this is what we believe, not what we can prove with a hundred percent certainty. Imagine we are in a court room, this is a case about the existence of God, and we are the jury. It cannot be a criminal case, so it becomes a civil case. This means that the side that has the burden of proof does not need to prove anything beyond the reasonable doubt, but only by preponderance of evidence (in normal people’s language meaning that you have to convince jury that your argument is more likely to be true than the other side’s argument). We, the jury, decide for ourselves which position is more convincing. There is no universal verdict to this case. For each person the verdict varies, and even if we agree on the fact that God exists or doesn’t exist, we may disagree on the reasons why we chose a certain side. That is the effect of interpretation: it shows who we are, how we think, and what we do. But our interpretation only resembles a part of us and our thinking, deep down we are so much more. Thus the next step of integration: insight.

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2 thoughts on “Faith as Interpretation of Reality, History of American Deism (blog post #3)”

  1. Are you arguing that religion is up to interpretation by referencing to the history behind a lesser known religion such as Deism? Because if so, then you did a good job in explaining it. Besides that, your blog is really well written and it’s cool how you connect this post back to religious themes discussed in the lectures/seminars.

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    1. yea, kinda. the whole idea was to show that faith is something that can be interpreted in different ways, rather than stereotypical binary: either you believe in god, or you are an atheist. Like for everyone it is unique and personal, and there is no certain way of telling who is right and who is wrong

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