leader of the Church of Scotland, who endeavoured to move that church away from the fierce Calvinism of the seventeenth century towards a rational Christianity emphasizing practical morality and toleration. Such tendencies also had a powerful influence on a generation of European monarchs, who used Enlightened precepts as justifications for exercising an increased control over the churches within their domains. 'Enlightened despots', among them Frederick II of Prussia, Charles III of Spain, and above all Joseph II of Austria, issued sweeping edicts ranging from the imposition of toleration to the reorganization of churches and even the seizure of some ecclesiastical lands and the suppression of certain clerical orders.
While most proponents of the Enlightenment remained within a broadly defined Christian orthodoxy, many were drawn away from a strict dependence upon scriptural revelation to embrace a natural religion, which viewed reason as a sufficient guide to truth. What was the need for scriptural revelation, they asked, if reason and the natural laws revealed the mind of the Creator? Such a path led some to deism, or the belief in a first cause, a divine Creator, who had instilled in humans an innate knowledge of his attributes and the fundamentals of the ethical life. For deists, like John Toland or Voltaire, this innate human knowledge of the godhead lay at the foundation of all the great world religions, and Enlightened men and women could now strip away the accretions and corruptions of the centuries, and embrace the essential truths of God's existence and his moral imperatives. Other Enlightened thinkers, however, went beyond deism to a radical scepticism about the existence of God or of any divinely ordained morality. Such thinkers, to be sure, were a minority, but they included such influential figures as Denis Diderot, the baron d'Holbach and possibly David Hume. In its more extreme expressions the later Enlightenment could be conceived as fundamentally opposed to Christianity and as a precursor of a purely secular world-order.
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