Definitions: Deism

Okay, so it’s time for a few definitions about what some of us have been discussing. Feel free to join in. Socrates once said, “Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel.” The more people involved, the easier it is to pass the fire.

SO: Let’s start with easy ones.

Deism: John Hick says that deism is “the idea of an ‘absentee’ god who long ago set the universe in motion and has thereafter left it alone.” Leaving aside the usual political discussions that occur on the question of a deistic view of God, this God is clearly not at all troubled by the event surrounding human life. Thus, evil is not an issue. A deistic God has long since forgotten about humanity (if this God were ever aware of something as insignificant as humans in the first place).

Think of it this way: Your little girl wants to plant some apple seeds to see what happens. So like the good parent you are, you go outside with her, find a place where the dirt doesn’t look baked to a crisp, dig a little hole and drop in some seeds. If you’re really thoughtful, you might water the seeds before going back in from the heat. You go inside to have a nice, cold one before you have to go to work in the morning.

When you wake up in the morning, not only have you forgotten about the seeds you planted the night before, but you’ve also forgotten the dream of having a little girl altogether. Thus, those seeds you planted might have actually been planted or they might have only been Bobby in the shower at the end of that stupid season of Dallas you watched as a kid.

A deistic God is at best unconcerned and probably completely unaware of his/her actions (supposing that “actions” even approaches being an accurate description of something such a god would do).

As strange as it may sound for a Christian (and yes, I do claim that title despite what some on FaceBook may think) to say, there is something appealing to me about this view of God. It certainly solves the issue of why bad things happen (God’s not around to fix stuff). It allows for there to have been a creator. It allows for there to be still be something greater than ourselves (which as a Christian, I believe to be important).

On the other hand, deism really leaves me hanging. After all, if there is no there there, why bother? It seems that the notion of chance would serve the same purpose. This is the quintessential deus ex machina or as Sting might say, Ghost in the Machine. If it’s laughable in fiction, “real” life (and yeah, we’re going to have to have a discussion about that someday) should be no different. (Except that it is. Truth is stranger than fiction, after all.)

And so we begin. Suggestions?

"Children see magic because they look for it." --Christopher Moore, Lamb: The Gospel according to Biff, Jesus' childhood pal.


  1. So as a deist, would the Christ have no impact? And if so, would it not nulify a view of God that is withdrawn? Can you be a “Christian” with just a philosophycal/moralist following of the Christ?

  2. That’s a interesting question, Howard. I’m not really sure what a Deist would do with Christ, but clearly the divinity would be out the window. Does Christ have an impact without being God?

    Concerning the definition of Christian without divinity: I’m a definite maybe. I base this idea on the strange saying of Jesus’ in Luke 17:21 of the Kingdom being “within,” but if that’s not prooftexting, I’m not sure what would be.

  3. If I assume Jesus’ humanity could have produced his teachings without his divinity, then Jesus would have had an impact without being divine. Just not sure about that. It’s something to make one lie awake pondering. Am I remembering that the Jeffersonian Bible (Deist) leaves out the miracles of Christ??? Not sure.

  4. Well here’s a bit more to keep you awake.

    It’s well documented that much of the Sermon on the Mount existed in human thought before it was attributed to Jesus, so if that’s representative of Jesus’ teachings, then the answer almost has to be yes, it could have existed without Jesus’ divinity–unless of course we reject the uniqueness of Jesus–which I think even the NT kinda supports. (The Golden Rule exists in as many as 13 separate religious traditions, not counting Socrates.)

  5. Yeah, I know about that. I also know that non-violent response and equal rights for all preceeded Dr. King but it took him to bring it to bear upon America. Now, Dr. King certainly wasn’t divine, however I have to believe he had a divine appointment/calling. So too Jesus was divinely appointed at the very least, even for deists. So, did his divinity further define him and make it possible for a historical, world-wide impact. I think so. That bit he did on the cross and later strolling about all alive and everything was pretty special. A deist probably would not yield to that though.

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