Tuesday, April 3, 2012

What's Deism?

I need to credit Chris Dunham of the Maine Genealogy Network for the information about Cyrus Buck and the picture in this post. If you haven't checked out this great web site for those with Maine roots, you really should.  This is a link to his original post

In the Greenwood City Cemetery (Martin Cemetery) in Greenwood, Maine, one headstone bears an unusual epitaph. The stone is inscribed with the name "CYRUS M. BUCK" and gives his birth and death dates but it is the rest of the inscription that draws attention. "God is nature; Bible a humbug written by wicked, vulgar priests. Death was a debt I owed. I have paid that debt, so must you. To do good was my religion."  Chris posted an article from the Lewiston Evening Journal of 18 Dec. 1935 that gives some explanation of the life and views of Cyrus Buck. It states that the inscription was requested by Cyrus. The short story is that Cyrus underwent a great change in outlook after the death of his mother. The author of the article said he began to follow the philosophy of "Tom Payne" and "made himself think he was an atheist." 

My connection to this headstone is that Cyrus was married to the grand-daughter of my 4th great-grandfather, Rev. Edward M. Whittle, a Methodist preacher. I hadn't found information that Edward had more children than my 3rd great-grandmother Martha who married Moses Yates. However, if Lydia Whittle was his grand-daughter then Martha must have had a brother. This makes Lydia Whittle Buck my 1st cousin, 4 times removed. 

A point of correction is that the philosophy of Thomas Paine was not atheism but Deism. Deism was a common philosophy among the founding fathers. Deists believe in the existence of God based on reason and nature but do not accept the Bible as the infallible word of God. They believe that after creation, God has left the universe to run on its own according to natural laws. Looking at the quotes of Thomas Paine give context to the epitaph of Cyrus Buck. 

"I believe in the equality of man; and I believe that religious duties consist in doing justice, loving mercy, and endeavoring to make our fellow-creatures happy." 

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." 

"I do not believe in the creed professed by the Jewish Church, by the Roman church, by the Greek Church, by the Turkish Church, by the Protestant Church, nor by any Church that I know of. My mind is my own Church." 

Given Deism's rejection of the Bible and Christianity, it is easy to see how one  might mistake Cyrus an atheist. However, Deists marvel in the beautiful order and harmony of the natural world and believe this proves the existence of God. Since Deism isn't an organized religion but merely a philosophy, it is not possible to make a list of famous Deists. However, some famous people who expressed views in accordance with Deism include: Abraham Lincoln, Albert Einstein, Benjamin Franklin, Charles Darwin, Ethan Allen, George Washington, John Locke, James Madison, Mark Twain, Thomas Edison, and Thomas Jefferson. It would seem that Cyrus Buck's views were not so unusual after all. 


  1. Edward Millwood and Elizabeth (Higgins) Whittle had four children who lived to adulthood: Martha (m. Moses Yates); Richard (m. Lydia Pool); Edward (m. Caroline Amelia Hobbs); and Mary (m. Joseph Stevens). Lydia Ann (Whittle) Buck was the daughter of Richard and Lydia.

    1. Thanks Chris. I had pieced together a good guess that Lydia Buck was the probable daughter of Richard and Lydia (Pool) Whittle but was still unsure about the other siblings.

  2. Lydia Buck's gravestone bears a similar epitaph: "I was willing to go and nothing to fear / To do good was my Religion"

    Of course, Cyrus would have been the one who gave instructions for carving the stone, so this might not reflect his late wife's actual views on the subject.

    Two of Cyrus and Lydia's three children died of diphtheria in November 1877. Their only surviving child, Seaver Burton Buck, attended Harvard and was the founder and long-time headmaster of the Berkshire School in Sheffield, Mass.