Thoughts on Deism 

Some time ago, I read about Deism. I found it interesting about their belief in a non-intervening impersonal God. Some may call the deity of deism the “Divine Clock Maker ” making God out to be the one who set the world in motion but is withdrawn from interfering in creation. Some deists might call this being Creator, a Designer, or just flat out God.

With such titles, the deist and Christian can agree on things like belief in one eternal Being or a Designer of the universe. But there are far too many areas of disagreement.

Take for example the belief in a nonpersonal involved God. Christians see God as actively involved in the daily affairs of our lives. For instance, many Christians pray regularly. They pray for signs, miracles, and supernatural interventions from God. Since the beginning of time, mankind has always had some idea of God. Hence, why we’re intuitively religious. We’ve always noticed a top-down (God reaching down to man) and down-top (man reaching up to God) form of worship to God. In our innermost part, we’re seeking to reconnect this broken communication with the divine through sacrifices, art, and offerings over the ages.

As Paul noted to the Greeks at Mars Hill in Acts 17

“Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way. For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, ‘To an unknown god. (22-23)”

As Paul pointed out to the Greeks, God can be known and isn’t hiding in obscurity where His presence isn’t noticeable. In fact, God is Transcendent but yet very Imminent in the person of Jesus Christ. Perhaps deism will claim Jesus is a great moral teacher among the many. However, when we do this, we minimize all of what Jesus said and did. Moreover, Jesus claims about himself are totally unique compared to other religious figures. Others might have said “I can show you the way” but Jesus said, “I am the way.” A stark contrast from all world religions and enlightenment philosophies.

Jesus asked Peter, “who do you say that I am?” And ultimately this is the question everyone must respond to. You can say he is a great moral teacher, but what good moral teacher claimed the divine claims as Jesus made on the human condition, the hundreds of prophecies fulfilled or the signs he performed?

A deist makes the mistake of minimizing God when they actually claim God is powerful. As I’ve already noted, their definition of God is All-Powerful but not personal. This leaves a problem because how do deist account for suffering and the problem of evil? If God simply created the world and left mankind to their own peril, the God of deism is wicked and not powerful. The classical argument against Christian theism says that if God is all-powerful and refuses to end suffering then He is weak. Truly, this objection comes alive better for the deist than for the Christian.

We [Christians] know that God isn’t the author of evil because He cannot be something opposite of his nature of truth and goodness. God permits evil for the sake of uniting fallen humanity to Christ. In addition, God permits evil to allow a good to flow from it.

Deist pride themselves on using reason and nature as a basis for discovering the footprints of God throughout the universe. This isn’t an issue for Christians because we too experience God the same way. Properly defined as General Revelation, which says we can clearly recognize God in many ways in nature or conscience other than special revelation (Sacred Scripture, Magisterium, or Tradition). However, it would appear that deism makes nature and reason chief authority to govern their lives. On the contrary, the gift of reason is just one, albeit, an imperfect lens to fully have communion with God. Humans stand in need of further enlightenment by God for religious and moral truths (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 37-38)

A Creator is evident, but it was fitting of God to disperse His love and majesty on creation and crown humans as the chief recipient of His likeness. As St. Josephine Bakhita once said, “Seeing the sun, the moon and the stars, I said to myself: Who could be the Master of these beautiful things? And I felt a great desire to see him, to know Him and to pay Him homage.” We too must pay Him homage by our willingness to seek Him out as He has revealed Himself to us.

Follow me on Twitter @Menny_Thoughts

11 comments

  1. Good thoughts, clearly stated. Thanks!

    Now, excuse me while I – rant?

    I liked the ‘clock maker’ idea, a lot. Dropping it may have been my hardest ‘philosophical’ job after becoming a Catholic.

    In my case, the ‘clock maker’ model let me avoid difficult questions about providence, God’s mercy and justice, and free will. That preference started in my teens, and extended well into adulthood.

    I strongly suspect that the culture I grew up in affected my attitude and perceptions. A particularly rigid and myopic (my view) version of Protestant Christianity was endemic to the area.

    Deists, with their acceptance of and high regard for, the beauty and wonders we live in – they made sense. My parents, happily, did not hold ‘science is Satanic’ views. But the attitude was nearly impossible to miss in the regional culture.

    I’m not sure what the lunatic fringe’s idea of providence would have been, if they’d clearly articulated it. The impression I got – which may or may not be accurate – was that it was influenced in part by what’s been called ‘social Darwinism.’

    Believing that rich and powerful folks are rich and powerful because God likes them, and poor folks are poor because they’re wretched sinners and deserve punishment – – – I think that may be as old as humanity. The ‘power equals virtue’ notion didn’t appeal to me. At all.

    I never dropped Christian beliefs. But I became a Catholic in part because what the Church has been saying makes sense. Learning who currently holds the authority our Lord gave Peter – is vital, and another topic.

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    • As you mention “clock maker” view does give the easy ride our on things like morality and justice. I find the deists worldview to be problematic on that end.

      I think Providence is a hard concept to grasp. I think I saw it similarly when I was a Protestant. Too much an emphasis on God’s sovereignty. The Social Darwinist view was a belief somewhat of mines some years ago. To many Protestants it’s all about election. Lol everything boils down to that for Protestants.

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      • 🙂 Some Protestants, at any rate. I’ve seen a wide range of beliefs, some of which line up rather closely with what the Catholic Church says. Some which don’t.

        ‘Election’ – – – that’s an interesting one. On several levels.

        Predestination is real enough. I see it as very interesting, but not immediately useful. I gather that it’s a way we can think about reality: from God’s viewpoint. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 600 and 2012 are possible starting points for reading more.

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  2. I love your ideas about the “clock maker” analogy. I have never read a really satisfying explanation of why God allows suffering in the world. The closest I have come is a very slim book called “Holy the Firm” by Annie Dillard published years ago. I guess you were addressing evil, rather than suffering in your article, but I struggle with that too. Very thought provoking and well written. I enjoyed reading this a lot!

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    • I thought about that..evil and suffering..two entirely different things but have some kind of similarity about human nature and the human condition. Both hard pressing topics to try to fathom completely.

      Goodness is the natural form of his things ought to be, so when we experience an offense or notice we’ve been mistreated we can appeal to the objective standard of how things should be. “This is unfair” sometimes is what’s said to appeal to this standard of right and wrong.

      My take on evil is that I see it primarily as a means for something good to eventually flow from it. I can think of so many heinous things that happened and as a result some good things come from it. I know it’s sad that an evil had to occur in order for a good to result from it, but it happens. For example, the Holocaust eventually led to the Nuremburg Trials which later led to a greater awareness of global recognition of human rights with the advancement of international law. Although not implemented with 100% of fidelity since their inception, these laws reorient our lives to the justice of how things ought to be for the dignity and worth of all humans.

      9/11 helped spur a real brotherhood and unity among all Americans I felt at the time. In addition, the police shootings of unarmed Black civilians in recent years has resulted in a massive reform in criminal justice and racial prejudice in the criminal justice system which eventually benefits millions of people of color.

      Even from a Christian standpoint, the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, which is gravely wrong because it’s an offense against God, helped paved the way for Jesus to usher in a new covenant of redemption.

      I don’t think we’ll ever comprehend the full scheme of evil and suffering in our small glimpse of the world. God has the full grand scheme view of time and how he plans to overcome evil with us cooperating in with his plan.

      So much could be said on suffering but I won’t write an essay here

      Maybe I’m just rambling lol what do you think about all of this stated? What are your thoughts?

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    • I think that’s probably one of the best verses from Scripture.

      The verse is really a foundation for making connections between everyday life and Jesus Christ. Shows how traces of the Gospel are present in pagan society. I try to do the same by showing how modern culture reveals Christian truths.

      I think thats a good way to connect with the world by following St. Paul’s example.

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