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  • Revolutionary Deists
  • Written by Kerry Walters
  • Format: Trade Paperback | ISBN: 9781616141905
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Revolutionary Deists

Early America's Rational Infidels

Written by Kerry WaltersAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Kerry Walters

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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.

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