Deism advocated in Romans and the gospels of the Bible
Deism is a form of rationalism that holds that it is through the observation of the natural world that one comes to know of the nature of God. As Thomas Paine stated, the universe and creation are the only real 'Bible' and these things cannot be forged. Deism is advocated in both the gospels and in the letters of Paul in the book of Romans in the Bible. That the radical school of the prophets were also deists is demonstrated by the fact that they rejected the law books and the conventional religious customs of their day.
The Bible is not a unified whole, and in the pages of the Bible you are actually presented with a complex picture of differing religious traditions in various states of development. For instance, there was a prophetic tradition, a wisdom tradition. There was also a priestly tradition. At a stage in the development of Jewish religion, it held as one of its principle doctrines that God is revealed in history.
This point of view could be considered a simple and unsophisticated form of Deism, in that 'through observing history' it is alleged that one can come to know God. Here we are assuming that God does not simply allow history to unfold but actually controls history, and that everything that happens has not simply been tolerated by God but rather ordained by God.
The idea that the Bible is at best secondary and that reason must judge scripture is the antithesis to the notion of 'divine revelation in sacred scripture.' According to the later dogma, reason and human nature were corrupted "through Adam's sin". From that time forward no one could know the truth except by submission to the authority of scripture. In practice this has always meant submission to the authority of the highest clerics in a hierarchical system of orthodox belief and religious practice then becomes strict adherence to tradition, because scripture is contradictory, and thus requires interpretation, and thus authority becomes the means to ensure that the interpretation is held in check. Many scriptures exists, and since it is held that 'reason' is corrupt, and unable to discern truth, one must wonder how one is to know which scripture is 'infallible'. An appeal is usually made to blind submission to an authority on the matter, and the most archaic form of this argument states that the messiah told Peter, who told Tom, who told Dick, and so on, and now someone further down the line is telling you.
Deism is antipodal to orthodoxy and authority, since the authority of a book is rejected, and thus the authority of the church hierarchy. According to Deists it is only reasonable to assume that the universe is the first and greatest "book" and it is only reasonable to assume that God created each individual with the ability to "read".
While Deism might be anathema to hierarchical forms of religion, since it dismisses the authority of religious text and religious leaders, it is expressed in the Bible in various forms. The clearest declaration is found in the book of Romans in the first chapter:
"All that can be known of God lies plain before our eyes. Indeed God has disclosed it. Ever since the world began God's invisible attributes have been visible to the eye of reason, being seen in what has been created." (Romans 1:19)
It is ironic then, that Paul, who wrote letters to churches but whom churches insist was writing 'authoritative scripture', follows his line of reasoning to come in the end to the same conclusion arrived at by the Deists of the 17th and 18th century. He subordinates scripture and with it the authority of religious orthodoxy and exalts reason and the individual. In the following passage Paul uses the religious custom of circumcision as an example of the futility of relying on traditional religious orthodoxy, and for this reason, in order to generalize the principle and make it clear, I have substituted the word "religion" for the word 'circumcision' and 'not circumcised' in the following passage, the word "religious" for the word "Jewish" and occasionally, the make the point clear, I have occasionally substituted the word "Bible" for the word "Torah" (which is usually translated 'law') to make clear that 'the law' being spoken of in the passage is, as Paul makes clear himself, "the written code" found in the pages of the Bible. The substitutions appear between parentheses:
"No one will be justified in the sight of God by hearing (the Bible); but rather by obeying the Law of God. When those who do not have (religion) do by nature what the law requires, then they are their own law (and their own religion). They show by their conduct that the requirements of the Law are written on their hearts, their own consciences now defending, now accusing them ...
But as for you who (call yourself religious) and rely on the law (in the books of the Bible): you take pride in God; you know God's will; taught by the law (in the books of the Bible), you know what really matters; you are confident that you are a guide to the blind, a light to those in darkness, an instructor of the foolish, and a teacher of infants, because you possess in the (written books of the Bible) the embodiment of truth and knowledge. You teach others; do you not teach yourselves? ...
While you take pride in (the law as revealed in the books of the Bible), you dishonor God by breaking the law. As scripture states, 'because of you God's name is blasphemed among all the nations.' (Religious practice) has value provided that you keep God's law, but if you do not keep the law, then you become as if you have (no religion) at all. Similarly, if someone who (has no religion) keeps the precepts of God's law, will he not count as (a believer)?
They may be (without religion), but by fulfilling the law they will pass judgment on you who break it, for all your written books and (religious practice). It is not externals that make one (religious) nor (religious traditions) that make one (religious). The (truly religious) are those who are inwardly (religious) and their (religion) is one of the heart, spiritual and not literal; they receive their commendation not from people but from God." (Romans 2:13)
As you can see, following the development of Paul's argument in this passage, Paul was himself a Deist, and subordinated scripture. For scripture comes from the heart, and even those who do not hold to the Bible can be 'justified', and not only justified, but they will sit in judgment upon churches and Bible readers who have the law of God in books, but not living in their hearts. Furthermore, we must conclude that if those without the Bible have the law in their hearts, then any written law must be found to be in agreement with the law 'understood by the light of nature'. Therefore, if the Law of human conscience states that it is wrong to rape and kill virgins, it is useless to place such corruption into a written Bible code of 'law' and then attempt to crush the objections of the law written on the hearts of those with no Bible. And if you read the protest writings of Deists, you can see that it is exactly such atrocious and abominable 'laws of god', found in the Bible, against which, through the light of reason and judged by the law 'written on their hearts' that they judged both Bible and churches (just as Paul said that they would). Books were made for people, not people to serve books.
Deist beliefs are also found in the gospels. In the parables it is assumed that one knows justice, and begins with justice, and that far from being 'naturally corrupted' it is the corrupt who corrupt themselves with religious traditions, but those who 'already have' justice, become more just (all of these are deistic notions of natural law).
If any man has ears to hear, let him hear." And he said to them, "Take heed what you hear; the measure you give will be the measure you get, and still more will be given you. For to him who has will more be given; and from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away."
"For to him who has will more be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away." (Mark 4:23, Matthew 13:12 )
It is further asserted in the gospels that to accept Levitical rules from the Bible and to reject 'common sense' and natural reason (the essence of deist belief) is to be 'dim witted'. For example we find Joshua attacking the Biblical laws concerning 'unclean foods,' and then scolding his disciples for being to dimwitted to understand.
"You leave the commandment of God, and hold fast the tradition of men." And he said to them, "You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God, in order to keep your tradition! ... And he called the people to him again, and said to them, "Hear me, all of you, and understand: there is nothing outside a man which by going into him can defile him; but the things which come out of a man are what defile him." And when he had entered the house, and left the people, his disciples asked him about the parable. And he said to them, "Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a man from outside cannot defile him, since it enters, not his heart but his stomach, and so passes on?" (Thus he declared all foods clean.)" (Mark 7:8, 14)
So then, in this case, to follow the 'food laws' found in the Bible was to be following Levitical priestly traditions, and demonstrated that a person was 'without understanding.' In another deist passage the wisdom of God was said to be hidden from the wise and the clever and revealed to those who were as simple as little children. A little child might know better than to believe that 'a hare' is an unclean type of rabbit, simply because some rule said that a hare was an unclean type of rabbit. There is nothing inherently unclean about a hare, or anything else for that matter, but such things can only become unclean if one becomes 'wise and clever' and learns such things from rule books.
- St. Augustine and Evolution
- Saint Augustine and the Western Christian World-View
- Early Years of St Augustine
- St Augustine: Development of His Views
- St Augustine: Conversion and Ordination
- St. Augustine: Anti-Manicheanism and Pelagian Writings
- St Augustine: Manichean and Neoplatonist Period
- St. Augustine: Activity Against Donatism
- Notes on Neoplatonism
- Early Christian and Medieval Neoplatonism
- Pelagius: To Demetrias, why he was cleared of heresy
- Pelagius: Chapters
- Pelagius and why he was right.
- Defense Of The Freedom Of The Will
- How Christianity drew on Philo's synthesis of Judaism and Hellenism