top of page
  • Linda

Deism: Reverence, Respect and Tolerance

I have wondered for some time about the overuse, in my opinion, of the word respect, especially with regard to religion, usually when referring to someone else's religion that one does not agree with. It is said that we must "respect" other religions, and that we must "respect" the differences between religions but I would ask how a person can authentically do that if they believe that the religions are little more than superstitions dressed up to control people? Or how can I, for example, "respect" a religion whose views I hold to be morally reprehensible? In reality I cannot and so will not say that I "respect" such a religion.

For example, in Hinduism, because of the concept of karma I will be held to be blamed for the fact that I am disabled because according to that belief I am disabled because I am being punished for sins in a former life. Well of course not only do I not believe that but also I do not respect the belief itself, so I am not going to say that I do.

Likewise, in the Bible it says to spare the rod is to spoil the child, in other words the Bible endorses beating children with a rod. Well I consider that child abuse, so I am certainly not going to respect any religion whose holy book endorses that and I will say so.

Respect as a noun according to the Oxford English Dictionary has three meanings but I will only look at the first two. One is:-

1 [mass noun] a feeling of deep admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities, or achievements:

With regard to that definition I think I can safely say that it does not apply to the way I feel about various religions as exemplified above. However, there is another definition of the noun respect and it is this:-

2 due regard for the feelings, wishes, or rights of others:

Now this definition is one that I agree with. We should always give due regard to the feelings, wishes and rights of others and perhaps, because it is a sensitive subject, especially so in the case of religion. However, respecting a person and their right to hold beliefs should not be confused with having respect for their beliefs themselves and it should not interfere with intelligent discussion either.

As Deists we have a responsibility to use our God-given Reason when evaluating the beliefs of others and to say so politely, but honestly, in discussion with them. Some people try to stifle discussion by saying that they feel "offended" at people opposing their points of view or that their feelings are "hurt" or that they find opposing views "abusive". While some people may or may not know it, this is little more than emotional blackmail. They cannot defend their views logically so they fall back on accusing their interlocutor of being emotionally damaging.

If you know that you have been polite in how you put your views, there is no blame on you whatsoever for these people claiming to be offended, hurt or who feel that you have been abusive. I always say it is a person's right to feel offended if they so choose. The right to free speech, within civilised parameters, is one of the hallmarks of Western civilisation and should be defended. It is also paramount to Reasoned discussion. If everything is to be decided by an appeal to the emotions, this is the opposite of Reason and will stifle any meaningful discussion by Deists.

I would suggest that people are not encouraged to "respect" other religions blindly without investigating them. This is opposite of the Deistic approach which is to evaluate everything, including religion, through the use of Reason. This appeal for others outside of a religion of blind "respect" is little more than an extension of the requirement of those inside it to blindly believe everything they are told through "faith". It is basically an extension of asking people to believe without evidence rather that use their God-given Reason to look at it. The most obvious reason for doing this is because if people did use their Reason to critique all the "revealed" religions it would not take long for most intelligent people to realise that they are not following the word of God, (which is, in fact, Nature).

I think what people should be expected to do is to tolerate other people's religions and points of view. In fact that is another hallmark of a free society that Deists believe in. It is also interesting to note that most of the religions that hold strongly to faith would be amongst the first to deny this freedom to those who they now demand respect their right to practise their religion.

With regard to this Thomas Paine concludes:-

"All national institutions of churches, whether Jewish, Christian or Turkish, appear to me no other than human inventions, set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolize power and profit."

And also:-

"I have always strenuously supported the right of every man to his own opinion, however different that opinion might be to mine. He who denies to another this right, makes a slave of himself to his present opinion, because he precludes himself the right of changing it."

That now brings us to reverence which is the opposite of the first quote and a close cousin of the second.

Reverence, the noun, is defined by the Oxford English dictionary as thus:-


[mass noun]

deep respect for someone or something:

Now it is possible to have very little respect for someone's beliefs but also to have respect for that person. It is also possible to have very little respect for someone's beliefs and also to have very little respect for a person also - but yet to treat them with respect. How is this so? I will give an example.

I used to work in child protection specialising in children who had been abused by paedophiles - most specifically those who had taken pictures of themselves abusing children, so there was no possibility that these people were innocent. They were also in the business of selling these pictures on the Internet for large profits. Some of them really did not believe they were doing anything wrong but some knew that what they were doing would irretrievably harm the children involved for life and did not care because they were driven by profit.

Now with these men, (they were mostly men), I both had total disrespect for their motivation, (profit), and also character, (hard heartedness and cruelty) and I had very little respect for them as people. However because I respected my own values I treated them with "respect" that is civilly because I choose to live in a civilised and Reasoned way. The way I treated them was more to do with respect for myself rather than any real level of respect for them as individuals.

However it was also because of another reason - reverence. Did I reverence them as individuals - no. Then what did I reverence? I reverenced the Life Force within them. The Life that was their first gift from God. Remember, as Deists we hold that there are two gifts from God that we are grateful for. The first is Life itself and the second is Reason.

If I had ceased to reverence the Life Force within these individuals then I would not have been using my Reason since my Reason told me that their Life came from God. That being the case, who was I not to reverence it even in individuals who had abused and corrupted it?

Respect is something people earn, in my view, through their action; it should not be bestowed as a gift or demanded as a right as is so often the case these days. Usually by those who least deserve it, or always appear to fail to give it to deserving others. However, reverence for that which God creates is unconditional. It is that which stopped me many times from enacting upon these individuals what I often wanted to do to them. Apart from the fact that it would have put me in prison for life! (I am not talking about the death sentence here - I am thinking about the desire to enact torturous revenge - I am only human after all! The death sentence is another debate). It is a really tough call to do that but my Reason also told me that unless I revered the Life Force within them I could hardly be morally repulsed that they had failed to do the same to the innocent children they harmed.

Deists are called upon to reverence the Life that God creates but we can personally chose who we respect. We are also called upon to be tolerant of views that are different from our own because our Reason calls upon us to challenge people by intelligent discussion not, through force.

Deism calls upon us to tolerate other people's opinions even when we may not respect them. To treat others with respect until they act in a way that demonstrates they do not deserve this respect and even then, when personal respect for that person is not present, to still treat them in a civil manner because Reason demands this if we wish to be treated in the same manner. And Deism, most difficult of all, Deism calls upon us to reverence the Life in all, even the most degraded, because it is the first Gift from God and not enact violence except in self defense.

If we want to change/improve the world, we are called upon to set high standards which is very hard, but we live out now how we want the world to be in the future. I as a Deist believe in a loving God but there are plenty of people out there who are called upon to practise cruelty as part of their religion. Any brief study of the history and theology of the so called three main Abrahamic "revealed" religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam shows this to be the case and as Thomas Paine said:-

"Belief in a cruel God makes a cruel man." I think we Deists can do things much better!

1,738 views3 comments

Related Posts

See All


A reasoned argument. One might well suggest within the context of that same reason that, as Deists, that we will (must) respect every person's rights, if not any given person for their actions and/or beliefs - however irrational we take them to be. So, I do think though that a calm and rational explanation of Deism (and one can hope rational discussion to follow) is the more productive path vice bludgeoning people as they are (and have been) hammered by their religion. Yes?


Unknown member
Jul 01, 2023

I think the word “revere“ is the wrong word here. In the Webster English dictionary the word means “to have great respect for (someone or something) : to show devotion and honor to (someone or something”. Maybe you can change that word to “show regard” or “acknowledgment” as one of God’s creation. Reverence is more used as a religious terminology for a minister, priest, nun, or any higher authority in religion. Deism fortunately does not have such authorities, except for God, our Creator. We should only show Him reverence.


I think H. L. Mencken had it exactly right: "We must respect the other fellow's religion, but only in the sense and to the extent that we respect his theory that his wife is beautiful and his children smart."

Mencken was certainly no friend to religion; however only a boor would, out of the blue and without any good reason or provocation, say or suggest that a person's spouse is not beautiful or that his or her children are not smart.

bottom of page