Is Theism More Dangerous Than Deism?

Before I get to answering that question, for the sake of those who may not be entirely familiar with certain terms, I suppose I should take a few moments to provide some clarity regarding some of the terms and concepts. The first of which is the ideas of "theism" against "deism."

Most people of various faiths would be considered "theists." That is, they believe in a personal God of some sort and this God is compatible with the Christian concept of the God. It is also compatible with the gods of many other faiths such as Islam, Mormonism, Judaism, etc. Theism encompasses not only a supernatural creator of the universe, but one who acts in the world and takes an interest in creation.

It is this latter aspect which separates deism from theism. A deist is one who believes in the same transcendent, supernatural creator of the universe. However, this is as far as the deist goes. Deism does not hold to a personal God who interacts with His creation. It is more of a matter of thinking of God as the cause of the universe, who set things in motion and then set back to watch things unfold (if He is even inclined to pay attention to the world at all).

Now that we have that out of the way, let us take a look at which world-view would be more dangerous. Which concept of God would allow for His adherents to be more "dangerous?" There are some opponents to Christianity (or theism in general) who would actually claim that theism is far more dangerous than deism.

While I have not heard a very good explanation of their rational for believing this, I suppose I could take a stab at it and if I am wrong, perhaps someone will correct me. When it comes to theistic religions, one of the principle components of most of them is the idea of proselytization (the practice of proactively seeking to convince others to join their religion).

With a deist God, there would not really be a strong motivation to proselytize as this God is aloof, disconnected, disinterested and uninvolved. There are no divine directives to "grow the faith" or to add to the body of believers. Without such supernatural commands, our society would not be subjected to the divisive beliefs that people typically disagree, argue, fight or even kill one another over.

So far, it would certainly seem like deism would be a far less dangerous type of faith. There is, however, a significant oversight that seems to be evident in this line of argument. It seems to me that the hidden assumption here is the fact that the root cause of much of the divisiveness and violence is, in fact, theistic belief.

This seems to overlook the fact that if people want to do something, they will show amazing creativity in finding some way to justify their behavior. Many of the wars that have been fought, supposedly in the name of "religion" have not actually been about religion at all. They have been about greed, political power and some even about lust. Sure, the "leaders" who take masses of people into these wars have quoted their scriptures, but when we look back at much of it, we find that they have taken scripture out of context or flat out lied about what it said in order to get less educated people to follow them.

If one studies the Christian scriptures, for example, many of the things done in the name of Christ are completely incompatible with the overall morality  described in the Bible. Most scriptures from theistic religions describe a God who is the source of some sort of objective morality. These religions will typically view their deity as an arbiter of the moral code that they expect their believers to follow.

Theists believe that they have a God to whom they will have to answer for their behavior. They believe that their God will punish them according to the misdeeds that they do. Compare this with the deist who does not believe that there is any such divine judge to get involved regardless of their behaviors and actions.

Now, this does not mean that people cannot truly believe that their deity's idea of the "good" is ultimately harmful and objectively "wrong." Once again, we come to a difficulty going from the nature of a thing itself (ontology) and how we can accurately know the truth of that thing (epistemology). So, don't misunderstand me and realize that I do recognize this challenge.

Nonetheless, I would much prefer to deal with someone who believes that they will be held accountable for their behavior than someone who does not. Even with differences in moral epistemology, most cultures have largely the same understanding of what is "good" and what is "bad." But if someone truly believes that there will be no ultimate accountability, I imagine that this would open the door to all sorts of behaviors that are motivated by the individual's desires. It has been my experience that behaviors motivated by our own selfish desires tend to be not awesome with respect to objective moral values and duties.

In the end, it seems to me that the deist is in a far more capable position to be "dangerous" than most theists. Where there is no ultimate moral accountability there is generally not going to be much moral adherence to any given moral law.

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