A system of belief which posits God's existence as the cause of all things, and admits His perfection, but rejects Divine revelation and government, proclaiming the all-sufficiency of natural laws. The Socinians, as opposed to the doctrine of the Trinity, were designated as deists (F. Lichtenberger, "Encyclopédie des Sciences Réligieuses," iii. 637). In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries deism became synonymous with "natural religion," and deist with "freethinker."Deism in England.
England and France have been successively the strongholds of deism. Lord Herbert, the "father of deism" in England, assumes certain "innate ideas," which establish five religious truths: (1) that God is; (2) that it is man's duty to worship Him; (3) that worship consists in virtue and piety; (4) that man must repent of sin and aban don his evil ways; (5) that divine retribution either in this or in the next life is certain. He holds that all positive religions are either allegorical and poetic interpretations of nature or deliberately organized impositions of priests. Hobbes (d. 1679) may be mentioned next (see Lange, "Gesch. des Materialismus," i. 245; F. Toennies, "Hobbes," in "Klassiker der Philosophie," Stuttgart, 1896). John Locke (d. 1704; see Jodl, "Gesch. der Ethik," i. 149 et seq.), in "The Reasonableness of Christianity as Delivered in the Scriptures" (1695), declares that "the moral part of the law of Moses is identical with natural or rational law." John Toland (d. 1722), the forerunner of the modern criticism of the N. T., in "Christianity Not Mysterious" (1696), says: "Revelation is no reason for assuming the truth of any fact or doctrine; it is a means of information." Anthony Collins (d. 1729), author of "Discourse on Freethinking" (1713) and "Discourses on the Grounds and Reasons of the Christian Religion" (1724), asserts that "Christianity is mystical Judaism." He applies the comparative method, and utilizes the Mishnah to show the affinity of N. T. theological allegorizing to that of the Rabbis. Tindal (d. 1733), in "The Gospel a Republication of the Religion of Nature" (1730), avers that "Revelation, both Jewish and Christian, is only a repetition of the lex naturœ."Mendelssohn's Deism.
In France, Voltaire, Diderot, and, above all, Rousseau, were exponents of deism, on the whole illustrating the intellectual moralism of the school. In Germany it is the "Aufklärungsphilosophie" that to a certain extent is under the influence of the deistic theses, and as Moses Mendelssohn is one of the prophets of the "Aufklärung," deism may be said through him to have had a part in the shaping of modern Jewish thought. Reason and common sense are, according to Mendelssohn, identical ("Werke," ii. 265, 283, 315). Religion is, according to him, natural and eminently practical. To "do," not to "believe," is the chief care of the religious man. Natural theology is as accurately certain as mathematics. That God is, is a fact, not a belief. Mendelssohn parts company with deism by modifying the doctrine of divine retribution. According to him, happiness and the doing of right are coincidental. The virtuous man is happy. However, Mendelssohn is not consistent throughout, as he admits repeatedly that, without the assumption of immortality, morality can not stand, nor can God's Providence be established (Phædon). Revelation for him is not necessary to religion; but the national law of Judaism, which is not natural, had to be revealed. ("Schriften," iii. 311-319, 348-356; v. 669, Leipsic, 1843).
The Mendelssohnian arguments left their imprint on the Jewish theology of the nineteenth century (see L. Löw, in "Ben Chananja," i.). His "deistic" moralism on the one hand, and his "national legalism" on the other, have not been without influence on the theories of the Reform rabbis (see Holdheim, Samuel), which differentiated the moral—that is, the universal and eternal—injunctions and principles of the Law from the national and temporal; while the distinction made between moral and ceremonial laws (see Ceremonies), though recognized by Saadia and others, received a new emphasis through Mendelssohn's views. The relations of deism to Judaism, however, have not been made the subject of systematic inquiry, though non-Jewish controversial writers have often argued that Judaism, positing a transcendental God, virtually stood for deism. This contention must be allowed if deism connotes anti-Trinitarianism. Judaism has always been rigorously Unitarian. Deism, as the denial of original sin and the soteriology built thereon, also harmonizes with Jewish doctrine. But the doctrine of deism which relegates God, after creation, to the passive rüle of a disinterested spectator, is antipodal to the teachings of Judaism. God directs the course of history and man's fate (Ex. xix. 4, xx. 2; Deut. xxxii. 11, 12; xxxiii. 29; Ps. xxxiii. 13, cxlv. 16; Jer. xxxii. 9). God neither slumbers nor sleeps. He is Israel's guardian (Ps. cxxi.). Nations may plot and rage, but God's decrees come to pass (Ps. ii.).Talmud and Midrash.
The question as to what God has been occupied with since the creation is the subject of rabbinical speculations (Lev. R. iii., viii.; Gen. R. lxviii.; Pesiḳ. 11b; compare Midr. Sam. v.; Tan., ed. Buber, Bemidbar, xviii.; Tan., ed. Buber, Maṭṭot, end; Tan., Ki Teẓe, beginning). God presides over the births of men (Nid. 31a; Lev. R. xiv.; Tan., Tazria'). He takes care that the race shall notdie out (Pes. 43b; Pesiḳ R. xv.). Even the instinctive actions of animals are caused by God, and so is He the power and will behind the acts of terrestrial governments (Eccl. R. x.11). None wounds a finger without God's will (Ḥul. 7b). God sends the wind that the farmer may have wherewith to live (Pesiḳ. 69a; Lev. R. xxviii.; Eccl. R. i. 3; Pesiḳ. R. xviii.). God assigns the fate of the nations and of individuals (R. H. i. 2). Man's life is in the hand of God (Lam. R. iii. 39). Not alone the creation of the world, but also its preservation (Gen. R. xiii.; Eccl. R. i. 7, iii. 11; Gen. R. ix.; Midr. Teh. to Ps. ix.), as well as the destiny of man and mankind, is subject to God's constant guidance. In fact, creation was never considered finished (Ḥag. 12a). As the daily morning prayer has it: "[God] createth a new creation every day, everlastingly" compare Reḳanati, "Ta'ame ha-Miẓwot," p. 37, and "Aḳedat Yiẓḥaḳ," gate iv.). Albo ("'Iḳḳarim," iii. 26) calls attention to the distinctive element of the Jewish God-conception which associates Him not merely, "as some philosophers do," with the creation, but also with the direction of the world after creation.
These ideas of God's government are expressed in the Jewish prayer-books (especially for Rosh ha-Shanah), and are in one way or another put forth by the philosophers. The question how God's government is compatible with human freedom has kept the Jewish thinkers on the alert; but, whatever their answer, none disputes God's supremacy and government (Saadia, "Emunot we-De'ot," iv.). Ibn Gabirol assumes that God's direction is carried into effect through "mediating forces." Judah ha-Levi's discussion of the names of the Deity (Elohim and
Deism posits the moral freedom of man, his predisposition to virtue: so does Judaism (Ber. 33b). "All is in the hands of God save the fear of God" is the Talmudical formula for a doctrine resting on Biblical teachings, and accepted by Jewish theology. Judaism is theistic, not deistic. See God; Miracles; Providence, Divine; Revelation, Doctrine of.