Deism: A New Beginning

 

Deism: A New Beginning

by Brutus C. Tipton

As a Deist who was raised as a fundamentalist Christian I can attest to the strain and terrible affliction which often accompanies the apostate who has rejected the faith of his fathers and goes off in search of some truer way of thinking and being in the world.  But this act of supreme integrity, (in the sense of being true to oneself) though noble, often comes at a high price.  If we could talk to Tom Paine he could tell us, perhaps better than anyone else, what it means to pay that price.  A man whose life’s work was instrumental in the shaping of our country died in infamy for daring to tell the truth as he found it in nature; wild and free as it ought to be.  Revealed religions are ever wont to be the domesticators of truth.  They beat it and break it and make it conform to their human will; they place a yoke upon it and call it “faith”.  But faith was neither derived nor was it made to serve the will of the Almighty … faith, as it is propagated by the major religions, is, in my opinion, merely truth perverted to serve the superstitious dogmas and doctrines of the revealed religions which are nothing more than the vane creations of men – not God.  But what I have come to believe as a Deist is that the truth can never be fully domesticated; it is a child of nature and is only revealed to us though the unbiased observation of nature on her own terms.  This gives me the courage to continue my search for truth and a sense of rightfulness in having the courage to do so even when most of the world seems set against it.

When one sets out on the path to find truth (or at least something as close to it as possible) the way is not always clear.  The road is often obscured and the terrain treacherous.  When I became disenthralled from Christianity as a young man in my teens I began my search by experimenting with various “spiritual paths” and “alternative” religions but, although I was sincere and participated of my own free will, there was still so much that seemed disingenuous to me about such spirituality even within the depths of my own mind.  Being a spiritual person by nature it was hard for me to come to terms with the fact that I had to lie to myself to get anything out of the “spiritual” experiences I was having and, after a while, it became obvious that most “alternative” religions and spiritualities are much the same as the monolithic Abrahamic religions; just on a smaller scale:  1) Most all of them have a strict hierarchy (whether it is institutionalized or implied it is almost always there).  2) Most all of them have at their head some charismatic leader who is often supposed to have attained some sort of special divine knowledge or favor.  3) Most all of them require that you “tow the line” doctrinally or face some form of social ostracism or threat of otherworldly punishment.  4) Most all of them claim to be possessed of some special quality that makes their way more right than all others.  And, as with some revealed religious congregations, doctrinal squabbles and petty politics often destroy any good that anyone had intended to do before it even had the chance to manifest.

After my last experience with organized religion via “alternative spirituality” I had to put on the breaks. Feeling drained from years of searching in vain for “spiritual truth” I felt the need to start anew.  I was an agnostic for a while but after researching Deism and carefully weighing the arguments in my mind I came to the conclusion that it was more reasonable to believe that there is a Supreme Being or a “First Cause” than to not or to hold, as I did as an agnostic, that there is not enough evidence either way to support the existence or non-existence of God.  I came to this conclusion mainly because it seemed inherently unreasonable for me to believe that the creation of the universe, unlike everything else in it, had no cause and that the order we see pervading our universe, which we as a species are just now beginning to comprehend, is accidental.  Further, the idea of a God who is a “first cause” or “impersonal creator” is borne out by what we see happening in our own solar system and throughout the universe which, though it bears the mark of an intelligent designer, by no means exhibits the characteristics of a system which is geometrically perfect and/or constantly and omni potently being corrected.  When the German-born astronomer and mathematician Johannes Kepler, a contemporary of Galileo, attempted to determine the orbit of the planets around the Sun in accordance with the five “perfect” solids of Pythagoras and Plato (see illustration below) his calculations would always be amiss.  Eventually, after many years of trying and failing to prove his theory of the six planetary spheres being nested within the five perfect solids, which he called the Mysterium Cosmographicum or cosmic mystery, he discovered that the orbits of the planets were elliptical, not at all as geometrically perfect as he and the astronomers who had come before him had imagined them to be.  As Kepler himself put it, “The universe is stamped with the adornment of harmonic proportions, but harmonies must accommodate experience.” 

Just as we can use our reason to surmise the works of an intelligent designer/creator whose mark is manifest throughout our universe, it may likewise be reasonably deduced that the work of creation (or at least this particular result of creation [i.e. our manifest universe]) was a singular act and that the Creator, if he acts upon the manifest world at all, does so rarely and according to his own purpose (not human whim) and that he is not so much concerned with mathematical perfection as he is with overall significance; that is assuming he is “concerned” at all.  That’s not to say, of course, that some people and events are not possibly “acted upon” at times by the Creator.  The fact that we know as much as we do about Creation comes as close to being a miracle as anything I can think of without going outside the bounds of reason.  After all, if Kepler had never met Tycho Brahe, the man who provided the raw astronomical data which eventually led Kepler to discard his “divinely inspired” cosmic mystery in favor of the correct, though just shy of perfect, theory of elliptical planetary orbits our view of the solar system, and perhaps the world itself, would be very different than it is today.  Indeed it seems as though all the great advancements to our knowledge of the universe have happened against the greatest odds and only just barely have those whose works have significantly contributed to our understanding of the universe done so and all too infrequently.  Perhaps our Creator wants us to understand his creation and at times intervenes in lives and events to help guide us along that path.  Perhaps that is mankind’s ultimate destiny and the reason for the development of human consciousness or, to put it another way, maybe it is our responsibility to use our gift of consciousness to this end and when we do so the Creator takes note of us and helps us in our quest to understand his creation.  Is this the true source of divine providence?

After all my spiritual searching and questing in all the wrong places finally came to an end coming to a rational belief in God was easy and natural but the more I thought about it the more I realized that Deism isn’t simply a rational belief in God; it is a realization that we live in a creation of God and that we are not just human beings we are creatures who are as much a part of Creation as the ground we tread upon, the air we breathe and the stars in the sky.  All of us, and everything that exists, shares in the oneness of Creation.  Not only that - nature, or Creation if you prefer, has its own unique language that can inform us and, when properly understood, can lead us to true self understanding without ever having to make a leap of faith.  I once jokingly told a friend that, “Deism made an honest man of me”.  What I meant by that was before I became a Deist I often (and most promiscuously) took as a “spiritual” truth anything that hit a chord within me subjectively without ever holding it to the light of pure reason.  When I became a Deist, however, I realized what a rare and beautiful thing objective truth is, very much like true love, and just as true love should never be confused with baser human motives, faith should never be masqueraded as objective truth nor should objective truth be conflated with the former.  Faith is a highly subjective experience requiring no proof nor benefiting from objective inquiry.  Objective truth, on the other hand, can be sought after and determined by one who is fluent in the language of Creation and shared with everyone for the benefit of all mankind.

As a Deist I must allow that there are very many things that are not currently known to us through scientific inquiry and perhaps there is much that will never be known.  I hold, however, that one truth honestly earned is worth far more than all the false promises and rewards of the faithful.  As a Deist I am very much content to say I just don’t know when it comes to questions such as the existence (or lack thereof) of an afterlife.  Like Tom Paine I hope for life after death, and allow for the possibility of such a thing, but I stop short of having faith in life eternal as it cannot be reasonably known through objective experience; but hoping and allowing for the possibility of such a thing is not at all the same thing as having “faith” that my consciousness will continue to exist after my body has died.  Perhaps science will someday validate the belief in an afterlife (or at least some form of consciousness which continues after physical death) and perhaps it may someday validate the power of prayer and other spiritual and religious practices.  Nothing would please me more and although I personally stop short of faith I believe in keeping an open mind.  After all, the universe has only begun to be discovered and what cosmologists are discovering is simultaneously more thrilling and more bewildering than most of us could likely imagine.  According to the recent theories in cosmology, something like 73% of our universe is composed of an invisible form of energy called “dark energy” which is now thought to be the reason why the expansion of the universe is actually accelerating rather than slowing down as was at first expected.  A further 23% of the composition of the universe is now thought to be a form of non-atomic, invisible matter popularly known as “dark matter” which is thought to pass right through the earth!  The existence of this type of matter is thought to account for the fact that stars on the outskirts of galaxies rotate at the same speed as those near the center but are not thrown out into open space - being held in orbit by the gravity of this dark matter.  The rest of the universe is thought to be composed of the more conventional kinds of atomic matter that we can perceive with our five senses.

How exciting!  It seems that science has discovered that the vast majority of what constitutes our universe is invisible and, as of yet, undetectable by our most sophisticated technology, dark energy and dark matter being perceivable only by observing the effects that they have on the visible universe.  It should be mentioned that not every scientist buys into the theories of dark matter and dark energy.  Some think that our ideas concerning gravity need to be amended in order to account for the discrepancies in Newton’s laws for which dark matter and dark energy are thought to account.  Whatever the case may be, modern science has pushed its boundaries and, taking nothing as an article of faith, has amended itself to conform to the evidence, such as it may be, and quite possibly discovered a universe more mysterious than anything dreamed up by ancient shamans and the prophets of revealed religion.  We are living in a time when there is at least the possibility that humanity can come to an understanding of the universe which is “universally meaningful” without ever having to convert by force or convince without reason a single “soul” and, who knows, perhaps even the rediscovery, via science, of unseen forces analogous to the idea of a “spiritual realm”.  The possibilities are so exciting and my curiosity so great that the idea of faith, as it is promulgated by the major religions, seems rather disappointing.

In my opinion, if Revealed Religion, or even any of the thousands of indigenous religions which the revealed religions have supplanted and absorbed, have ever contained a penny stock of spiritual truth it has by now been tarnished almost beyond recognition by hundreds of years of religious bureaucracy, holy wars and cultural vandalism.  If we are to reclaim these truths for ourselves, here and now in the modern era, we must start with a clean slate and look within ourselves and into the unknown vastness of Creation with an eye for discovery and re-discovery rather than to the heavens of revealed religions in a spirit of faith.  Above all Deism represents for me a new beginning from which I can begin the long task of righting the mistakes of my own past and, hopefully, contribute in some small way to the betterment of mankind.  There is a whole universe out there to be rediscovered and many books to be rewritten.  For us Deists all the slates are clean … now let us begin anew.

 

“The truth of nature, which I had rejected and chased away, returned by stealth through the back door, disguising itself to be accepted … Ah, what a foolish bird I have been!” – Johannes Kepler 

 

Kepler's Mysterium Cosmographicum

Kepler’s Mysterium Cosmographicum.

 

 






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News of Interest to Deists
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Click here to read the actual survey. (It's in PDF)
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