How Religious Pluralism Calls the Bluff of Deism, Forcing it to Become Humanism or Fundamentalism
While writing on the topic of pacifism and secularism in my private journal, it became apparent to me that Deism is a sort of a bluff. It claims to be a creed less religion, based upon all of the best human ideas of God in the world. But it is not. It is a leftover from the Judeo-Christian idea of God. Deism is able to perpetuate the illusion of being the common world understanding of God so long as truly different ideas of God are excluded from the mix. However, when in the presence of true religious pluralism and diversity, the bluff of Deism is called, and it either disintegrates either into humanism, or hardens into Judeo-Christian Orthodoxy.
Please allow me to explain. Deism is a system which claims to be able to speak coherently about God without reference to any specific revelation from God. Humanity is hungry for such a concept. We know intuitively that we need God. We cannot escape from him as we look at the world around us, and our minds within us. However, we hate and fear his law, and the coming judgment over our sin. For this reason, the idea of the distant, nameless and wordless God is ideal! Deists say that the Bible is only a human book, and that Jesus was not divine. However, the God which he spoke of was – generally speaking – the God that all of us know is kind of out there. a God of love, a God who created us, a God who wants the best for us.
Deism was invented as an enemy of Christianity by such founders as Voltaire, Immanuel Kant. However, in the early 1800’s, Friedrich Shleiermacher baptized deism. He became the « Father of Modern Theology » by marrying deism with Christianity. The result was Classical Liberalism. (For a more thorough history, see my paper, « Modernity and the Roots of Classical Liberalism. » For a Christian response to Liberalism, see my paper, « The Man Who Wrote ‘Christianity and Liberalism’ « )
But this is nonsense. How do you know God is loving? How do you know God is « God, » not « Gods »? How do you know anything about Him? Because in reality, Deists claimed to know quite a lot about God. Nonsense or not, Deism survived and thrived for many years. Nobody was able to point out the flaw, because in reality it really did seem that behind the minor differences, everyone had basically the same idea of God. What missed people’s attention was that the American religious landscape was dominated by Catholics, Protestants, and Jews. These religions all basically agree on God because they arise from a common source, and even share holy-books. But the religious landscape is changing rapidly!
America is now populated by huge numbers of Hindus, Muslims and Buddhists, to name a few. Also, native American spirituality is on the rise, even among those with no ancestral ties to the religion.
So long as there are no competing claims on the nature of God, the illusion of Deism can exist. However, when these radically different ideas are brought into the mix, the bluff is called. The illusion disintegrates, and we must wake up and realize that when we have been speaking about « Deism » – as a supposedly universal idea of God – what we have really been talking about is a neo-Christian idea of God.
Today, people are continuing in the same pattern of Deism without realizing that it is no longer a viable alternative. If one is a Jew, another is a Catholic and another is a Protestant, we can all agree on some idea of God. With some difficulty, perhaps we could also include the Muslim idea of God. However, the dominant religions in America today are pantheism and animation. How can we add these ideas to the concept of God without the concept of deity being stretched beyond recognizability?
Is God in heaven, or is God in the rocks? Is God one, three, or an almost infinite plurality, or – as in Buddhism – does God not even existed all?
If you are going to New York, and I am going to Washington, we can for a time set differences aside, and share a freeway. We may even deceive ourselves by comfortably believing that we are going to the same place. That illusion becomes more difficult to maintain when a third-party is going to Columbus. When a fourth is going to Salt Lake City, and a fifth is going to Sacramento, the illusion becomes impossible to maintain.
You can see the gradual unraveling of Deism in the levels of political correctness within society. In the 30s, it would not have been politically correct to appeal to Mary in a political prayer. That would offend the Protestants: one needed to pray to God or Jesus only. By the 50’s, one did not want to pray to Jesus for fear of offending the Jews. Today, it is not really politically correct to speak of a masculine God. (By the way, does this seem strange to anybody else? Which world religion has a personal female supreme deity? Whom are we trying not to offend here?) But even speaking of personal « Mother/Father » God is too specific. We are excluding the pantheists and the animists! Today, it is highly acceptable to speak of faith, but it is incorrect to speak in any specificity about the object of one’s faith.
Now you will notice that faith has become something internal. It is something inside of each one of us. Therefore, we have turned from the heavens into ourselves. Deism has become humanism.
This is how religious pluralism calls the bluff of Deism, and reduces it to humanism.
It is as though we began by charting our course by the North Star. Back in those days, America was a Christian theocracy which was not ashamed to exclude all other religions from politics, and use some measure of political and policing power to suppress other religions. But as disputes broke out over whether to follow the North star, or the star just below it, or the one just higher than it, an agreement was made that so long as the ship was following a star in that general direction, we would agree to disagree.
But what can we say now, when one charts a course by the Morning Star, another by Orion’s Belt, and another follows the moon?
If the crew will follow their pattern of toleration, they will start following any and every star that someone points out. They would get along much better if they were honest enough to say that they are placing far more stock in the person who points at the star than in the star itself. Apparently, anybody can point just about anywhere in the sky and say « that way! » and we will follow!
They are left with two terrible choices: either forget the stars altogether and navigate based upon human opinion, or decide which star to follow. If they follow no stars, they would be like atheists – adrift and trying to make sense of life on an endless sea of randomness. If they try to decide which star is best, they will not be able to avoid conflict. They will be the Church should be today – waking up to the reality that it is absolutely necessary in this new context of plurality to make a case for one’s beliefs, and defend them against those who disagree.
By contrast, I am continually amazed and shocked at Christians who do not try to defend their faith, but try to obscure the differences or even openly teach that all religions are the same. These are people who have confused peace with men with peace with God, or have conflated church attendance with salvation, or have concluded that all are saved anyways and so evangelism is not necessary.
If you want to know what is happening in America today, you should not believe that we are switching from a Christian nation to a secular nation. We stopped being a Christian nation almost a century ago, if not earlier than that. What is happening is that the Christian deism of the past century is being ballooned out by religious pluralism. As another, then another religion is added to the deistic idea of « God, » the word is beginning to mean almost anything, and therefore to mean precisely nothing. The illusion is disintegrating, and any honest thinking person realizes that one of that you has to go: either America will embrace religious pluralism, or America will embrace Christian fundamentalism.
The time for and ambiguity is long past. « Deism » is no longer a viable option! With all the other religions, Christian deism can only exist by making a viable case for its continued supremacy over the other religions and world views. But as soon as Deism begins to defend itself, it begins to look for some source of authority. Without the Bible, Deism has nothing to say. It melts away into humanism with barely a whimper.
But if Deism defend itself, and begins to claim that the Christian idea of God is better than the others, the only way to do so is on the basis of the Bible. In so doing, Deism ceases to be a vague, creed-less religion, and shows it’s true colors as Christianity, or some combination of religions.
And thus I hope you see what I mean when I say that religious pluralism calls the bluff of deism, and disintegrates it into humanism or fundamentalism.