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Revolutionary Deists: Early America's Rational Infidels Paperback – August 24, 2010


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 279 pages
  • Publisher: Prometheus Books; Original edition (August 24, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1616141905
  • ISBN-13: 978-1616141905
  • Product Dimensions: 0.6 x 6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #381,775 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

About the Author

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.

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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Steven J. Karafit on January 27, 2011
Format: Paperback
This is a great work which introduces us to the religious beliefs and philosophical journeys of several of our founding fathers and other influential men at the time of the birth of our republic. This book not only describes the history of the Enlightenment but provides evidence of Jefferson's, Franklin's, Paine's and others' (Ethan Allen, Elihu Palmer and Philip Freneau) beliefs using historical context along with their own words. I recommend this book for anyone interested in American history or who wants to better understand Deism and the age of enlightenment in general.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Biotexts2 on January 2, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is an excellent book for people curious about the popular current argument about the role of religion in the lives and actions of some of our nation's chief architects at the time of the revolution. I have found no finer concise work that gives brief profiles of these founders and their role in creating and expanding an early refutation of literal church teachings - the latter being something they had seen all too well as too powerful, constraining, abusive and inflexible in their European backgrounds. More importantly, these early scholars and thinkers rebelled against superstition in an age where science was on a rapid learning curve about how the actual universe worked and the rational laws of nature that seemed to offer promise for encompassing all human endeavors as well. Recasting religion as less superstition and more science seemed to them to be no less remarkable, and they still recognized some supreme power. However, in the end, the movement seemed to suffer because it lacked the passion that comes from strong belief which, by definition, must involve 'faith', rather than knowledge. Deism stumbled in the new nation, and the common uneducated folks were less enamored of science and more willing to be sheep in the fold of the growing religious movements that offered hope to those struggling with difficult lives and basic human needs. Our elitist founders and great thinkers, to my mind, were right to suspect the established church dogma as potentially harmful to the nation and to seek separation of church and state. We can see the re-establishment of organized religion as a divisive issue today. The true role and nature of deism in today's American society will have to be the subject of another book.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful By James D. Zimmerman on August 2, 2011
Format: Paperback
In the latter half of the 18th century, America was in the throes of revolution. In the midst of the better-known political revolution, there was also a revolution of thought. Kerry Walters, in his latest book Revolutionary Deists: Early America's Rational Infidels (©2011, Prometheus Books), takes readers on a cogent journey that explores the roots and major icons of the deism movement.

Revolutionary Deists begins with an introduction to deism in 18th century America. Walters deftly explains the foundations of deism laid by Bacon, Newton, and Locke, and dissects the factors for deism's apparent sudden popularity at the time. Culling from a wealth of first-hand and scholarly sources, Walters argues that the American flavor of deism was a reaction against the Calvinist tradition, combined with "the steady infiltration of French Enlightenment ideals" and the new-found national independence (page 35). What's more, Walters argues that the Great Awakening itself may have nurtured the growth of American deism. Walters also looks into possible reasons why the deists did not always trumpet their views, and argues that American deism occupied a precarious middle ground between the more radical French atheism and the staid British sensibilities of the time.

Walters claims that the deists of colonial America essentially agreed that "reality is rational, defined by immutable and absolute natural laws, that these laws were set in motion by a supreme architect whose nature is essentially reflected in creation; that humans are likewise imbued with a spark of divine reason that permeates reality, and hence are capable of understanding that reality" (page 46).
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By P. R. Smith on January 5, 2012
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Deism played a major role in 18th century America, influencing the thinking of many of the founders as well as its influence on orthodox religion. Deists not only rejected the supernaturalism of orthodox religion but also brought forth ideas such as freedom of conscience, race and gender equality, freedom of the press and separation of church and state. It is impossible to determine if these features would have been written into the U.S. constitution had deism not existed, but it is easy to imagine that had it not the constitution could have turned out differently. Deism's influence on orthodox christianity is clear, and ultimately brought about changes for many christian sects. Some parts of this book were more philosophical than historical, and I found that more difficult to follow, since my interest lies in history. That said, the discusion of the philosophy of deism was necessary and added clarity. To fully understand events that occurred in the 18th century requires that one have knowledge of deism's impact on the period. Reading this book will help you gain that understanding.
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