Revolutionary Deists: Early America’s Rational Infidels – Book Review

revolutionary_deistsKerry Walter’s book Revolutionary Deists: Early America’s Rational Infidels published by Prometheus Books focuses upon the period from 1725 to 1810 and the influence of deism on American society and its religious life. The main argument of the book is that deism played a leading role in America life and influenced some of the leading figures in American life at this time and left a lasting impression on the young nation.

Deism is the belief that the human mind can employ reason to comprehend truths in the world. Desists emphasize reason in all aspects of life including religion and they appealed for a rational approach to religion. Deists believed ‘reality is the creation of a perfectly benevolent and rational deity’[1] God for many Deist was the ‘Supreme Architect’ who created the world so that it ‘conforms to universal and immutable laws. [2] The human mind can comprehend these laws and ‘therefore come to gain a deeper appreciation of the Divine Architect.’ held that reason was the only way to know God and his ways. They tended to deplore as superstition any religious doctrines that were not based upon reason. Superstition was holding people back and preventing progress. The Deists rejected many traditional doctrines such as the Trinity and the Divinity of Jesus. Deists also condemned Christian ethics. The majority of Deists were hostile to Christianity as they viewed it as an ‘obstacle’ to human progress.[3]

Walters describes Deism as a movement that was implicitly revolutionary in that it sought to make radical political, religious and social change as reason was to transform every aspect of American life.[4] Yet as Walters makes clear this was a movement that was defeated, and orthodox Christianity was ultimately triumphant.

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Categories: Book Review, United States History

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