And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us. . .
JOHN 1:14 NAS
In a previous essay, I discussed the arguments of Aquinas for the existence of God in a very basic way. The essence of all those arguments is that nothing comes from nothing. Consequently, God must exist. These arguments are so ironclad and persuasive and supported by the evidence of science that atheism becomes impossible and irrational. But believing in a god of creation and believing in Jesus Christ are not the same thing. In fact, an entire movement of thinkers rejected Jesus Christ and His divinity in favor of a remote god who set the universe in motion and stepped out the backdoor. This is the god of the Freemasons, and the movement was known as the Enlightenment. It holds sway even today though people may not wish to acknowledge this. I would argue that this god of indifference is the current god of choice of the vast majority of humanity. A god who is indifferent to us is a god who can be ignored, and this is precisely what most people are doing today. They ignore God. He is to be used for convenience and discarded when inconvenient. Dr. Peter Kreeft wrote, "Most theists are deists most of the time, in practice if not in theory. They practice the absence of God instead of the presence of God."
Atheists have tried mightily over the last decade to make the case that there is no God. They have made some converts, but the vast majority of people have not taken the bait. These are not people who attend religious services each week and pray to God daily. These are actually the horde who sleep in on Sunday morning and never say grace before a meal. They practice no religion whatsoever. You would think that these people would be fertile ground for atheism, but they are not. The reason for this should be clear to the atheists because of the reason I pointed to in my previous essay. These people plainly see from what is created that God exists. They think atheism is stupid. This is the atmosphere and the conventional wisdom that reigned during the Enlightenment. Here is Ben Franklin,
My Parents had early given me religious Impressions, and brought me through my Childhood piously in the Dissenting Way. But I was scarce 15 when, after doubting by turns of several Points as I found them disputed in the different Books I read, I began to doubt of Revelation itself. Some Books against Deism fell into my Hands; they were said to be the Substance of Sermons preached at Boyle's Lectures. It happened that they wrought an Effect on me quite contrary to what was intended by them: For the Arguments of the Deists which were quoted to be refuted, appeared to me much Stronger than the Refutations. In short I soon became a thorough Deist.
Many of the Founding Fathers were deists and/or Freemasons. Ben Franklin, George Washington, and James Monroe were Freemasons. Thomas Jefferson was not a Freemason, but he was clearly a deist along with Thomas Paine. They would deny it, but Freemasons have a deist religion. God is reduced to an impersonal thing like mathematics or geometry. Other religions like Christianity or Islam can be appreciated for their affirmation of the teachings of "natural religion" but can be ignored when they claim miracles like the Incarnation or the Resurrection. This egalitarian attitude to religion is known as indifferentism. The real god of deism doesn't really care what your religion may be. But if it makes you a law abiding citizen, the deist is down with it.
Are the deists right? The answer is that they are half right and half wrong much like the Greeks and Romans that existed before Christ. When you read about Greco-Roman philosophy, you will notice that they are essentially proto-deists. Though they had polytheistic myths about Zeus and Saturn, behind these gods was an impersonal force governing them all. You can call this fate or what have you. The name they chose was logos. This is one of those packed Greek words deep in meaning, but we can see it as essentially the deist god. The logos was the ordering principle of the universe that even the gods had to obey. We can also call it reason.
St. John took on this doctrine of the logos in his Gospel in the first lines. We translate logos as "Word." So, St. John writes in John 1:1, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." Essentially, the logos was with God, and the logos was God. The deist can agree with this. It is when St. John goes on to say in verse 14, "The Word was flesh and dwelt among us," that the deist must step off the train into the land of disbelief. This is the doctrine of the Incarnation, and it is why a deist cannot be a Christian and vice versa.
Many deists try to be Christians but only in a philosophical sense. The Unitarians would be one such example, but their doctrines are virtually identical to liberals in mainline Protestant denominations and the apostate heretics that hide out in the Catholic Church. Jesus was just a good teacher and nothing more. This was essentially the view of Thomas Jefferson who was a deist and famously took a pair of scissors to the Bible to cut out the miraculous bits his deism could not tolerate leaving just the moral teachings. The problem with this viewpoint is that if Jesus was such a good teacher then why did all of His followers get the crazy wrongheaded idea that this man was God? Clearly, Judaism did not teach this and would even kill those who believed such a heresy. The Romans were no different as they were just as eager to kill Christians and stamp out their cult as the Jews were. If Jesus taught such an idea to His followers and it is obvious that He did, either He was correct, or He was a diabolical insane madman akin to Charles Manson.
The deist either by declaration or default must reckon with this aspect of Jesus Christ. Was He merely a man who believed He was God? Or, was He actually God? All we have to go on is the testimony of those who followed Him. Either they were insane like their teacher, or they told the truth willing to be tortured and murdered rather than recant. None ever did. Had they done so, we would never have heard the end of it since both Jews and Romans would have seized upon the admission. The fact is that you can get someone to lie and admit that the world is flat before they would suffer the fate of those Christians. But their persistence in holding to such an outlandish lie strains credulity. Here is St. Peter on the matter,
For we did not follow cleverly devised tales when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty. For when He received honor and glory from God the Father, such an utterance as this was made to Him by the Majestic Glory, “This is My beloved Son with whom I am well-pleased”— and we ourselves heard this utterance made from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain.
2 Peter 1:16-18 NAS
St. Peter is plain on the matter. It is doubtful that his sect was the first one to make such outlandish claims in his day. Cults proliferated then much as they do today. You would think that this made people gullible, but it had the opposite effect as it made people very skeptical. This was what lead Gamaliel to give the following advice in Acts 5,
But when they heard this, they were cut to the quick and intended to kill them. But a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the Law, respected by all the people, stood up in the Council and gave orders to put the men outside for a short time. And he said to them, “Men of Israel, take care what you propose to do with these men. For some time ago Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a group of about four hundred men joined up with him. But he was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and came to nothing. After this man, Judas of Galilee rose up in the days of the census and drew away some people after him; he too perished, and all those who followed him were scattered. So in the present case, I say to you, stay away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or action is of men, it will be overthrown; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them; or else you may even be found fighting against God.”
ACTS 5:33-39 NASBasically, Gamaliel says you can ignore these guys. If they are fools, their foolishness will die out. But if they are the real deal, you will fail and find yourself defying God Himself. He could say this because they had already seen all the other would be messiahs. And I doubt any of them claimed divinity. Yet, a group of men claimed divinity for a man who had already been executed. They claimed that this guy rose from the dead after said execution and then split to return to Heaven. Finally, the only thing they could offer you in the world was to be tortured, maimed, and murdered in a variety of ways. And if you doubted this fate, the fact that the followers of Jesus had already suffered the fate of their master would do a lot to quell those doubts. In essence, they asked people to believe and die with them. That is not what we call a winning message. Jesus may have been a good or bad teacher. He may have been divine or divinely insane. But He was a terrible marketer. This is the worst message you could ever deliver to people unless it was the absolute truth. People believed it such that this cult ended up consuming the very empire that aimed to destroy the new religion.
The incarnation and divinity of Christ is an issue of faith. It can't be proven anymore than I can prove that Abraham Lincoln caught a bullet in Ford's Theater. We take people's word on it. For all we know, it could be made up, but this implies a reason to make it up. We might as well doubt the reports in Scientific American. I don't see how those followers of Christ could make up such a story and then die for it in the way they did if it wasn't true.
The Incarnation matters because it ends any belief in a god of indifference. God is not indifferent. He didn't step out the backdoor after making the universe. He actually came and dwelt among humanity in the person of Jesus Christ. He still continues to dwell among humanity in the Eucharist and in the person of the Holy Spirit. Those who lived before Christ can be excused for their ignorance, but those after Christ cannot make the same claim to ignorance. Deism is an infantile reaction to a revelation that people would have preferred not to have received. Deism is a preference for the god of indifference.
Why would anyone prefer the god of indifference over Jesus Christ? The obvious answer is that it allows humanity to be indifferent to God. If God doesn't care, then people are free to return the favor with a clear conscience. Where the atheist would say that God isn't there at all, the deist simply wants God to be there long enough to make it all make sense and then get out of the way. Like Jefferson, they want to keep the bits they like and discard the bits they don't like. This accurately sums up the conventional religious sensibility in America today as people assemble their own religion from their intuition and whatever bits they care to steal from established religions. Thomas Jefferson would be the finest example of this religious schizophrenia as he writes about humanity being endowed with certain inalienable rights between sex sessions with his slave woman Sally Hemings. This country has practically deified a man who was a hypocrite at best but more likely a self-deluded monster who never proposed a doctrine that he himself did not violate. The best that Jefferson's admirers can say about the man is that he was "complicated."
We can condemn Jefferson for his hypocrisy, but his viewpoints are essentially the default viewpoint of most people living today who believe in God while ignoring Him. We must give credit to the atheist for at least having a solid reason for not following God. The practical deist is something else because he or she is someone who should know better but chooses to be ingnorant. Willful ignorance is more damnable than accidental ignorance. Not knowing and not wanting to know are two entirely different things.
The practical deism of today is better known as nominalism. People are nominal Christians. They may have been baptized in a church and reared in a faith, but they toss it away until they have children of their own. Then, they send their children for religious instruction while they stay at home. They want their children to be the good Christians that they can't be. This is disgusting.
Deism is simply a hybrid of religion and atheism. It gives you all the certainty that comes with believing in a deity including a moral claim on others while letting yourself off the hook for any of those moral claims. It is having the cake and eating it, too. The worst part of it all is that these nominalist/deist types believe they are going to Heaven when they die. At least the atheist faces the expected abyss with a stoic sensibility. There is something to admire in that. But how can we admire an evil person who believes in their own goodness? This is the ultimate self-delusion.
Nominalism is practical deism. People claim to believe in God and then ignore Him. I see it all the time. It is why no one talks about religion in polite company. This is why both the atheist and the evangelical Christian are the ones you leave off the invitation list to the cocktail party. They have the nasty habit of bringing up the topic which is better left undiscussed. Then, there is that religious relative who you can count on to say grace at the Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner, but who is an embarrassment to you and the family. They can't be described as "religious" without adding "nut" to the word. This is because the nominalist thinks themselves religious but in the non-nutty sense which is to say that it makes no practical difference in their daily lives.
I don't know of any way to argue against this nominalism except by striving to live in a superior way. Nominalists are not lacking in belief so much as vigor. They are the lukewarm alluded to in Revelation 3:16 who God promises to spew out of His mouth. It seems God prefers our love or our hatred to our indifference. As my priest told me once, "Virulent atheism means you are close." When people are on the road to conversion, they will fight it at first resisting it with anger. God can work with that. Indifference is something God does not work with. The nominalist makes a truce with God agreeing to not bother with God as long as God does not bother with the nominalist. Surprisingly, God abides by this truce. People have free will, and this includes ignoring God. God may also bless this person with wealth and success, but this blessing is really a curse as the nominalist slides into oblivion. Many souls are saved by perfect disasters that rouse them from their indifference. Calamity has prevented many catastrophes. I hope calamity finds you before its too late.