DEISTS AND THE SCANDAL
For some time now, historians have regarded the first half of the eighteenth century in England as an "Age of Reason"1 that fairly overwhelmed visions of faith inherited from the Reformation and before. While there is much to be said for this perspective, we permit it to mislead us if we overlook the fact that even the shrillest arguments of the time for the supremacy of reason were grounded in a religious view of reality. A recent historian has noted that John Locke bequeathed to the age "an almost pathological fear of religious emotion."2 True enough, but Locke also assumed the divine origin of the New Testament, and all who claimed his mantle -- which includes nearly everyone who published on religion and philosophy in the eighteenth century -- were as committed as he to the principle that the stability of society depends on religion.
Indeed, the early eighteenth century in England can be viewed as a grand debate over what it means for God to be just and good. Although polemicists not infrequently branded their opponents as atheists, none accepted the name. All publicly affirmed the existence of God but disputed his nature. This was an age in which secularism as a principle of separation of church and state began to emerge, but it was not a secular age in the sense that God was excluded from public discussion. In fact, the most celebrated debates were contests between rival portraits of God, all of which claimed for the deity justice and goodness. The real disagreement was not about whether or not God existed, or whether or not belief in his____________________