A case study in the construction of a myth

The English deist movement 3 The English deist movement: a case study in the construction of a myth The essence of this chapter is that it is not possible to understand the development of the myth of the English deist movement without grasping the politico-religious context of late-seventeenth- and early-eighteenth-century England and the growing role of public opinion and opinion-makers within it. Some preliminary remarks on the major elements of the politico-religious configuration of late Tudor and Stuart England are therefore necessary. Post

in The Enlightenment and religion
The myths of modernity

This book offers a critical survey of religious change and its causes in eighteenth-century Europe, and constitutes a challenge to the accepted views in traditional Enlightenment studies. Focusing on Enlightenment Italy, France and England, it illustrates how the canonical view of eighteenth-century religious change has in reality been constructed upon scant evidence and assumption, in particular the idea that the thought of the enlightened led to modernity. For, despite a lack of evidence, one of the fundamental assumptions of Enlightenment studies has been the assertion that there was a vibrant Deist movement which formed the “intellectual solvent” of the eighteenth century. The central claim of this book is that the immense ideological appeal of the traditional birth-of-modernity myth has meant that the actual lack of Deists has been glossed over, and a quite misleading historical view has become entrenched.

The myth of Enlightenment deism 1 The myth of Enlightenment deism The myth of the deist movement The first hint of deism in the historical record is to be found in sixteenth-century Lyon. In 1563 Pierre Viret, a close colleague of the Protestant reformer Calvin, wrote the Instruction Chrétienne, in which he described various freethinkers who needed to be combated. Amongst them Viret mentioned those ‘qui s’appelent déistes, d’un mot tout nouveau’ (‘who call themselves deists, a completely new word’) and his description of them heavily emphasized their lack of

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one of the most consistent, coherent, and continuous intellectual movements in Europe we have’.2 Yet the story is not quite the same from Betts. In his Early Deism in France (1984), he illustrates how the contention that deist thought had a continuous history from the late sixteenth century cannot be proven.3 So, apparently, deism did not form part of the great tradition affirmed by Wade. He also reveals how relatively few French deist writings there were in the first two decades of the century, and how ‘free-thought was either on the retreat or only in mild

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The revolt of democratic Christianity and the rise of public opinion

to risk being accused of sympathy with the enemies of France, notably England. Thus, we might be able to say that the Huguenot issue was ‘shelved’ as a political question, but the influence of the persecutions on those already not well disposed towards the Gallican hierarchy and its relationship with the monarch is entirely another matter. So, while we can assert that no deist movement or indeed any tangible increase in ‘public’ deism resulted from humanitarian outrage at the treatment of the Huguenots, it does not mean those events were without influence inside

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Roman ‘tyranny’ and radical Catholic opposition

discussion, however, is that the so-called 168 Italy: Roman ‘tyranny’ and radical Catholic opposition deist movement was nowhere more conspicuous by its absence than in the Italian peninsula, where the critique of perceived papal despotism and superstition was left in the the surprisingly effective hands of radical Catholics. The discussion will, therefore, focus little on the absence of deists and concentrate on examining the radical Catholic challenge and its general context. By some, Jansenists have been regarded as non-representative of the general Catholic reforming

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The Enlightenment and modernity

the Church. Belief in an original Creator was part of the deistic view held by some enlightened writers who thought that God had not intervened in worldly affairs since Creation, so rendering the Church’s claim to mediation between divinity and humanity fraudulent. For such thinkers, evidence for God and a rational or ‘natural religion’ lay in the qualities (especially reason and conscience) of an unchanging human nature and the frame of nature itself. The understanding that there was a deist movement (sometimes termed freethinking movement) of some size in Europe

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government proved increasingly unable to restrain the press. Large numbers of the publications of this widening public sphere were politico-religious in content, and their authors were not deists or philosophes, but Dissenters and other discontents within and without the Anglican Church. Decades later, first-hand observance of this public sphere was of course the origin of the praise of English freedom in Voltaire’s Letters Concerning the English Nation (1733).17 In 1680s France, by contrast, the monarchy felt strong enough to openly pursue its confessional and absolutist

in The Enlightenment and religion
The discourse of spirits in Enlightenment Bristol

and mesmerism. In religious terms they sought an ecumenical alliance of groups emphasising Biblical and Trinitarian ideas against Deist and Unitarian tendencies within both dissent and Anglicanism, though their response to evangelical Methodism was mixed. Public infidelity and private belief? 119 Dyer and several of his closest friends, including Durbin, were drawn to Wesleyan Methodism, but remained attached to the Church of England, many of whose clergy in Bristol shared similar Pietist inclinations, but in religion, as medicine, they were eclectic, seeking out

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Marianne Moore

value for other people. This task has to do with enthusiasm. In The Gift: Imagination and the Erotic Life of Property, Lewis Hyde draws a partial analogy between religious enthusiasm and the gift, drawing the former into a picture of an economy which circulates without the aid, or intrusion, of money. The point of comparison is the direct communication upon which the idea of enthusiasm is founded. Hence, The deist’s attachment to reasonable discourse and his caution before the trembling body placed the spirit of his religion closer to the spirit of trade than to the

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