Christian Deism

Click here to edit subtitle

A SUBJECTIVE READING LIST

Thomas Jefferson "cut and pasted" a version of the Gospels that omitted all supernatural elements: technically, I suppose that this is all a Christian Deist needs to read in order to understand and practice the faith. Deists were much more prominent in the eighteenth century, so Voltaire, Matthew Tindal, John Locke and many of the founding fathers are possible sources. I have a hard time reading many of these authors, so it was tough for me to educate myself on the topic.

I have already mentioned John Lindell's website (www.christiandeistfellowship.com), which succinctly explains the history and beliefs of C.D. I believe that this should be a starting point for anyone who wishes to understand the topic.

"Deism" refers to a belief in God that you arrive at on your own, without relying on sacred texts or orthodoxy. The Bible or other books may serve to introduce ideas or concepts, but you should never accept an idea that doesn't make sense to you. So why should we believe in God? The argument from complexity is flawed (natural systems tend to become more complex over time, whether a God is hypothesized or not), and the theory of evolution is accepted by most educated people who do not have an ideological axe to grind. Our understanding of who we are and where we come from is very different than it was in the eighteenth century, but unfortunately deist literature has not really addressed these issues. I have gained a lot from reading authors who may not comfortably fit in the "deist" category.

The first Christian Deist I ever read, and the only other Deist on this list, is Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Rousseau was way too socialist for my taste, and he wrote a lot of stuff that I really dislike and disagree with, but he wrote a thin volume called The Creed of a Priest of Savoy that shows a great example of reasoning one's way to a belief in God without the need of traditional religion. Despite many logical fallacies (and a few scientific errors), he writes out his thoughts in enjoyable, logical prose. Deism can be incredibly dry, but I found this book fun to read and fast-paced. He expresses a very libertarian openness and tolerance that is unfortunately missing from the rest of his writings.

John F. Haught is a practicing Catholic, but he approaches the issue of God's existence from a square-one, reasoned perspective that does not rely on scripture for justification (most of the time). His Science and Religion: From Conflict to Conversation is the best theodicy book I have read. The book introduced me to the idea of multiple explanations that are equally true, and gave concrete examples of this phenomenon as well. I feel that this is a good book to upend the notion that a proper, modern understanding of science precludes belief in a caring deity.

M. Scott Peck's bestseller "The Road Less Traveled" has been called "the self-help book for people who don't read self-help books". His working definition of love is as follows:  “Love is the will to extend one's self for the purpose of nurturing one's own or another's spiritual growth... Love is as love does. Love is an act of will -- namely, both an intention and an action. Will also implies choice. We do not have to love. We choose to love.” I like a lot of things about this. First, it contradicts the common idea that love is a feeling. Secondly, it consolidates a lot of the talk about love in the Bible (such as Paul's exhortation to practice charity unceasingly). And thirdly, it gives love center stage in the full growth of a well-developed human being. He writes with great realism about work and laziness, psychosis and wholeness, and the fact that life must be painful and difficult at times.

Later, Peck wrote a less well-known book called The People of the Lie, which defined evil as "a refusal to face reality". His talk of demons and the devil is not compatible with Deist thought, but since most Deists believe that proper reason and understanding can guide us to the morality we need, his understanding of evil as "militant ignorance" makes sense, and it contributed a lot to my understanding of the subject. Near the end of his career, he wrote a book called The Different Drum, a call to expand Christian love to the concept of a true community (which is a lot tougher to build than a false community). Community is essential, and it has unfortunately been neglected by many Deists, past and present. I think that Deism has emphasized individuality at the expense of community. While he is definitely not a Deist, I think the work of M. Scott Peck should be widely read by people who truly want to understand what a loving spirituality is.