Independence Day

Daily Reading for July 4 • Independence Day

In place of the Hebrew God, Deists postulated a distant deity to whom they referred with terms such as “the First Cause,” “the Creator of the Universe,” “the Divine Artist,” “the Divine Author of All Good,” “the Grand Architect,” “the God of Nature,” “Nature’s God,” “Divine Providence,” and (in a phrase used by Benjamin Franklin) “the Author and Owner of our System.” The Declaration of Independence displays precisely this kind of wording and sense of a distant deity. In its 1,323 words, the Declaration speaks of “Nature’s God,” “Creator,” “Supreme Judge,” and “divine Providence.”

Thus Deism inevitably undermined the personal religion of the Judeo-Christian tradition. In the worldview of the typical Deist, humans had no need to read the Bible, to pray, to be baptized or circumcised, to receive Holy Communion, to attend church or synagogue, or to heed the words or ministrations of misguided priests, ministers, or rabbis. Many Deists criticized not only the Judeo-Christian tradition but also all organized religion for fostering divisive sectarianism, for encouraging persecution, and for stifling freedom of thought and speech throughout history. Their fundamental belief in reason and equality drove them to embrace liberal political ideals. In the eighteenth century, many Deists advocated universal education, freedom of the press, and separation of church and state. These principles are commonplace in the twenty-first century, but they were radical in the eighteenth.

From The Faiths of the Founding Fathers by David L. Holmes (Oxford University Press, 2006).

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