Prometheus Books, $20.00, 279 pages
Kerry Walters’ Revolutionary Deists: Early America’s Rational Infidels is a fascinating book, devoted to describing and critiquing the philosophical beliefs of six colonial, and post-colonial American Deists. Dr. Walters describes Deism as a religious belief based on the assumption that the universe was created by a rational “Supreme Architect”, and that this Architect’s works can be understood through scientific means. At its core, this philosophy rejects Christian dogma as superstition. Deism, which emerged from the Age of Enlightenment, was at its height during the American Revolution. Some of the men profiled in Revolutionary Deists read as a who’s who of the founding fathers: Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, and Ethan Allen.
These profiles discuss the historical context of the individual, how they came by their philosophy, or in the case of the infamous prankster Ben Franklin, even if they actually believed what they were saying in the first place. These specific philosophies, which were revealed in their correspondence, or published works are then critiqued for their consistency, comparing them to other philosophers works. I deeply enjoyed this book. Walters’ prose is approachable by readers who aren’t well versed in the evolution of western philosophy. Jargon is kept to a blessed minimum. Revolutionary Deists will appeal to people with an interest (but not necessarily a PhD) in philosophy, and those who are interested in the founding fathers.
Reviewed by Brad Wright