Revolutionary Deists: Early America's Rational Infidels

Front Cover
Prometheus Books, 2011 - History - 279 pages
4 Reviews
For some eighty-five years—between, roughly, 1725 and 1810—the American colonies were agitated by what can only be described as a revolutionary movement. This was not the well-known political revolution that culminated in the War of Independence, but a revolution in religious and ethical thought. Its proponents called their radical viewpoint "deism." They challenged Christian orthodoxy and instead endorsed a belief system that celebrated the power of human reason and saw nature as God’s handiwork and the only revelation of divine will. This illuminating discussion of American deism presents an overview of the main tenets of deism, showing how its influence rose swiftly and for a time became a highly controversial subject of debate in the colonies. The deists were students of the Enlightenment and took a keen interest in the scientific study of nature. They were thus critical of orthodox Christianity for its superstitious belief in miracles, persecution of dissent, and suppression of independent thought and expression. At the heart of his book are profiles of six "rational infidels," most of whom are quite familiar to Americans as founding fathers or colonial patriots: Benjamin Franklin (the ambivalent deist), Thomas Jefferson (a critic of Christian supernaturalism but an admirer of its ethics), Ethan Allen (the rough-edged "frontier deist"), Thomas Paine (the arch iconoclast and author of The Age of Reason), Elihu Palmer (the tireless crusader for deism and perhaps its most influential proponent), and Philip Freneau (a poet whose popular verses combined deism with early romanticism). This is a fascinating study of America’s first culture war, one that in many ways has continued to this day.

What people are saying - Write a review

Balanced Analysis

User Review  - deist -

This book is very informative! Learning about the revolutionary Deists allows one to understand the thought patterns which helped create the USA. While at times the author seemed a fustian pedant I ... Read full review

User Review - Flag as inappropriate

Good books about deism are very hard to find; in fact any books period about deism are hard to find, so this was a great discovery. Wanting to learn more about deism, I tried going to Thomas Paine's “Age of Reason, but found that to be too focused on criticizing Christianity rather than telling what deism is all about.
This wonderful work served my purposes very well. A good overview of deism in general, while also showing the the various variations of it in the forms of the major deistic figures. I found the book superbly readable and stimulating. It was very informative without being too high brow. The perfect thing to help me advance to the next level of my spiritual journey.

About the author (2011)

Kerry Walters (Gettysburg, PA) is the William Bittinger Chair of Philosophy at Gettysburg College. He is the author or editor of nineteen books and more than one hundred articles.

Bibliographic information