posted by Steve Heyduck at 5:19 PM
Perhaps you should consider calling a reference desk at a major public library and ask the librarian to look it up in a dictionary of theology.That's what I do.
Here's my quick take. A theist would be someone that believes in God; the opposite of an atheist. That covers a broad piece of turf, including Christians, Jews, Muslims, et al.A deist would be someone that believes in an impersonal, hands-off creator God; the term gets most typically used for Founding-Father-era folks like Jefferson. You'll see that today in some secular-leaning folks who can't quite buy into atheism but don't want the personal God of the Bible; "Thanks for the Big Bang; we'll take it from here." Deists are theists, but theists can be just about anything except atheists.
From wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deist):The words deism and theism are closely related and this sometimes leads to controversy. The root of the word "deism" is from the Latin deus, while the root of the word theism comes from the Greek theos, both meaning god in English. However, theism can include faith or revelation as a basis for belief, while deism includes only belief which can be substantiated through reason.
Thanks for the input. I find it interesting that, in general, western Christians accept "theism" as a friendly term, while usually using "deism" as a somewhat hostile term. Both "theism" and "deism" are creations of the Enlightenment world which first provided the space for a generic god to be construed.Hence, in my book, both terms are either equally acceptable, or, more likely, equally useless.
It's also useful to consider the rhetorical context. Originally Deism/Theism was developed as an alternative to full-blooded doctrinal Christianity - in the direction of a Least Common Denominator. As this Deism/Theism evolved into what we know as Deism - and later into a-theism - a new position arose, defined not (usually) against full-blooded doctrinal Christianity but against Deism/Atheism. In the context of a culture that said, "No God" (or is it, "No, God"?), Theists sought to show rational reasons for adhering to belief in god. As good moderns, they were frequently foundationalists, so it was easy to think that the first thing to do - the foundation - was to prove the rationality of "god." Just as in the begining, this needed to be done on minimalist terms so as to reach the arguments and objections of the Deists/Atheists.
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