I like Deists. Unlike theists (Christians, Moslems, and a few scattered others), they aren’t pushy. At least not about religion. They don’t buy into all the dressings of prayer, sin, divine forgiveness, and salvation, not to mention the sacrifice of tithes, sex, and Sunday mornings.
Deists look at this magnificent world and can’t bear the idea that it all came from chance and unplanned development like natural selection. There just has to be an intelligent something beyond our imagination that started all this! For convenience, let’s call it a god or, bowing to our pervasive sexism, let’s call him a god. The monotheist practice of even capitalizing the relevant pronoun seems harmless enough, so we may slip an agreeable Him and His into the conversation. He is the god, so we might as well just name Him God. George, Pedro, Pierre, or Abdul seem a little inappropriate and, besides, His having been Christened (oops) some appellation (His Christian name? I’ve definitely run off the rails here) at birth even stretches a Deist.
It doesn’t matter much what we call it, ahem, that’s a Him, because He has little to do with us anyway. (Theology, letting us down once again, offers no guidance as to whether a genderless god would be an It. Pity, I can envision Christian billboards snappily admonishing us to “Get with It!”) In fact, winding us up and getting the hell out of the way is Deists’ God’s most charming characteristic.
Just as theist believers often add their own personal twists to common tenets of their faith, Deists do as well. You know what I mean. Your uncle Oscar thinks God will overlook missing the “assembling of yourselves together” as long as he watches Robertson or Dobson on the tube. Your cousin Betsy is sure screwing her boyfriend isn’t a sin as long as she thinks of England. Your local parish priest figures there is nothing wrong with . . . (OK, even this blog has to have some limits). But you see what I mean; there are uncountable variations.
Well, Deists are like that, too. Deists like Thomas Paine, Thomas Jefferson, and a whole passel of America’s founding lights put their own slant on Deism. Jefferson had his famous mutilated Bible. Other Deists nevertheless gave churches a free pass in the public square. I have Deist friends who are sure “there’s something out there;” they’re convinced that “something” is benevolent and, who knows, might be constitutionally against tyranny. So if theists don’t have to be purists, I suppose Deists don’t either.
I’ve said Deists are pretty much live-and-let-live-persons, so they don’t bother me like theists do. I’ve never had one ring my doorbell or get in my face to explain why I should know Jesus. I’ve never seen Deists who think the city council owes them a bully pulpit on the public’s dime. Perhaps there has once been a headline exclaiming that an enraged Deist crowd stormed an embassy or even burned down a church, but I missed it. So with only goodwill toward Deists, I would only challenge them as part of a mutually fun, intellectual exchange.
Let me try this: There is no reason or, in the absence of reason, no probability that there is a god that is not simultaneously a reason or probability that there are two gods or two billion. What made you folks settle for one? It’s a big universe, plenty of god room to go around, even more if like gendered animals they come in pairs.
Frankly, such a challenge might not be so gratifying as I first thought since any logic-respecting Deist would likely shrug and say something innocuous like “Yeah. That’d be OK. So what?,” thereby scotching the chance for further intellectual skirmishing.
But when God closes a door, It opens a window, I’m told. So all is not lost. The same cute question can be put to theists, and God knows, they don’t shrug stuff off. Irritating enough of them can yield an Inquisition or, closer to home, a Puritan Colony in Massachusetts or, even closer to home, riots against Catholics in 19th Century Pennsylvania. If theists believe—totally without evidence I might add—that there is a god, why would they stop at one? OK, they’ve got a holy book that tells them that. I won’t even deal with the shady provenance of that tome now. But, hey, wait, what does having “no gods before me” imply? Just saying.
Fact is, when a theist condescends to explain why he or she believes there to be a god, he or she inherits the burden of proof to justify thinking so small.