There is a lot packed into William’s passing paragraph on the rise of Deism in Britain in the 17th century.
Deism, with its Pelagian man (soon to be turned into the Noble Savage) its judicious reason, its social morals, spread widely in England, and was with some difficulty argued down in the eighteenth century by the orthodox, who at one time entertained a hope that the Whig Government would suppress it by force.
But the Government had other things to do; it was, unintentionally, creating the British Empire, and was, intentionally, neglecting philosophy.
The quality of disbelief had become a gentlemanly minimum of belief; and the eternal co-inherence of all mankind had been narrowed, at best, into the virtue of benevolence exercised according to the general understanding of the directions of “the absentee landlord” of the universe.
-Charles Williams, The Descent of the Dove, p.196
Williams see’s Pelagianism and it’s denial or Original Sin to be the trapdoor through which Christians fall into all sorts of flakiness. Once man isn’t really evil deep down, he doens’t need a savior. He doesn’t really need a God either, though he may keep him around for posterity.
It doesn’t take much of this before someone starts telling parents that their children don’t need a spanking either. A general adherence to social morals is so deep within us that it will stay intact even though it’s foundation is neglected. Only a concentrated destructive effort can take it out. Since philosophy was neglected, this wasn’t actively attacked until later.
It’s too bad the orthodox were hoping the government might do something about this. That sounds more like what their opponents would hope. If there is no close God to pray to and man has plenty of potential to not be corrupt, then the obvious replacement savior from (fill in the blank problem) is the state. They should have appealed to the Lord of Heaven and Earth.
Does this sound familiar? How about us Christians in America propping up the Republican party, hoping they will save our people from moral decay? Oops. There’s history again. Time to appeal to the Lord.