Saturday, September 10, 2022

Bolingbroke's Deism

I am still around and blogging, just busy with some work/life issues which is why you haven't heard from me in a while. One of the highlights of my Summer (2022) was peer reviewing a book on Deism which should be out shortly.

Here is the bottom line of this book: Most English, American and French "deists" believed in an active personal God, not a cold distant watchmaker. If the term "deist" isn't appropriate for the theology that posits an active personal God, then lots of folks, not just George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Ben Franklin need a new term; so too do Robespierre and many of the French Revolution's "deists."

Though one thing that DOES tend to distinguish the English and American "deists" from the French is that the English and Americans retained more of their "Christianity." Someone like Bolingbroke, for instance, thought Jesus was on a divine mission, worked miracles and ascended to heaven.
But what DIDN'T Bolingbroke believe? Large parts of the Protestant canon. For instance, he thought the Book of Revelation was false in a nutty way and that everything St. Paul wrote was not in fact true revelation.

He also thought much of the Old Testament was not actual divine revelation. For instance, the supposed curses of Noah on Ham and Canaan. Bolingbroke actually wonders whether those parts of the OT were, instead of divine writ, simply the meanderings of Noah in a drunken stupor. (See this link.) 

If there is a better term than "deist" to describe this creed, I'm all ears. But if we call it either "deism" or "Christianity" we need to clearly define the terms to understand what we are dealing with.


Tom Van Dyke said...

For the academic purposes of this blog I've employed a rather loose socio-philosophical definition of Christianity: A universe where God communicates directly with mankind through the Burning Bush or through Jesus Christ is ontologically different than the universe of the deists where God does not--even if allowing for providence and the occasional miracle.

And even if not part of some divine Trinity, accepting Jesus as Messiah or Savior who spoke with divine authority i.e., revelation is close enough for our purposes, as this divine authority cannot be contradicted by man. [In the Founding era, only the infidels Jefferson and Paine would dare.]

The mushy mixed bags of beliefs of a Bollingbroke, et al., were fairly common among the elites of the day, when the Reformation collided with the Enlightenment and orthodoxy became impossible to define--even among the "orthodox"!!

"It will be answered, undoubtedly, that it is the orthodox church which has the right of authority over the erroneous or heretical. This is, in great and specious words, to say just nothing at all. For every church is orthodox to itself; to others, erroneous or heretical. For whatsoever any church believes, it believes to be true and the contrary unto those things it pronounce; to be error."--Locke

Jonathan Rowe said...

Great quotation by Locke.

Our Founding Truth said...

Locke's quote is indicative of how out of touch he was. Poor fellow. It's like he couldn't understand one person saying the earth is flat and can't understand how a round earther tells him he's wrong. According to Locke, orthodox biblical truth means nothing at all.

Locke is indicative of enlightenment rationalists who believed everything is true. What a violation of logic.

Bolingbroke's deism? Almost all of those 17th and 18th century deists believed in heaven and hell. They were walking contradictions; all of them.