I have received e-mail from individuals whose personal beliefs are similar to those expressed in my essays on “Christian Deism.” Some readers ask, “How can I practice Christian deism?” as a personal religion.
In my responses to this question, I have promised to write about what it means to be a Christian deist and how Christian deism can be practiced each day as a personal religion, as I see it. I undertake this effort with the recognition that this task may be greater than my ability to accomplish, so I undertake it with a prayer that God will guide me in expressing my thoughts. I will try to do the best I can.
Let me begin by repeating what I wrote in the introduction to my web page. Your personal religion is “the beliefs that you live by.” A “belief” is a proposition which you think is true. If your behavior (words and actions) is guided by a particular belief, then this is a “belief that you live by.” If a particular belief is only a proposition that does not actually influence your behavior, such a belief is not a part of your personal religion.
What are the basic “beliefs” in Christian deism?
A “deist” is someone who recognizes that there is “design” in the natural world. Scientists have discovered “design” in the universe, such as the orbiting of the earth around the sun at a distance that enables life to exist on earth. The natural world appears to be designed to operate in accord with certain natural laws, such as the law of gravity in the orbiting of the planets. From the recognition of “design” in the natural world, deists infer the existence of an intelligent “designer” called “God.” In other words, a deist believes that the existence of the world is “intentional” rather than “accidental.”
The name “deist” comes from the Latin word “Deus” which means “God.” So a deist is someone who believes that God exists as the “designer” of the world. But to simply believe that God exists is not a personal religion. As a Jew, a man named Jesus certainly believed that the design of the universe reflects God’s creative power, as expressed in the Hebrew psalm, “The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament (sky) proclaims His handiwork” (Psalms 19:1) but Jesus also believed that God created human beings and provided certain laws (“commandments”) which are intended to govern our lives.
Christian deists believe that Jesus summarized these laws for humankind as “you shall love God” and “you shall love your neighbor.” Jesus said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And the second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:36-39).
Christian deists believe that love for God and love for neighbor are “natural laws” that are known to everyone because these laws are inherent in human nature. Jesus referred to God’s laws as God’s “commandments” or “word,” and Jesus said that this “word” is planted like a seed “in the heart” (Matthew 13:19). Since these natural laws are known by everyone, Christian deists find no need for any “supernatural” means of revelation of truth from God to humankind. Individuals can discover these laws for themselves and must choose whether to accept or reject God’s natural laws, as taught in Jesus’ parable of the “sower.” (See essay, “The Kingdom of God”)
In Christian deism, the two basic beliefs, or principles, which are intended to guide us in everyday living are “love for God” and “love for neighbor.” “Christians” (of all varieties) would agree with this. But the difference between a Christian deist and other kinds of Christians is that Christian deists believe that these two laws are known naturally by every human being and are the “sum and substance” of true religion. Christian deists find no need for doctrines held by trinitarian Christians such as the doctrines of original sin, divinity of Jesus, and substitutionary atonement (alleging that Jesus died in our place to save us from the “wrath of God”). From church history, we know that these doctrines were developed later and are not found in the teachings of Jesus.
As stated previously, love for God and love for neighbor are basic beliefs, or principles, in Christian deism. Jesus helps us to understand the meanings and implications of these beliefs through Jesus’ teachings which we call “parables.”
Our love (appreciation) for God is seen in how we use the life that God has given to us with the expectation that we will invest it to produce something good in the world, as taught in Jesus’ parable of the “talents.” (See essay, “How Can You Love God”) This means that we should use our time and abilities to help others and to make the earth a better place in which to live. This could be something as simple as a smile and kind word to others as we live each day. It could mean doing our jobs with a positive attitude that makes our workplace more pleasant for ourselves and others. It could mean using special abilities as a physician, teacher or research scientist to help others or find ways to improve living conditions on earth. Everyone has opportunities everyday to make the world a better place in which to live.
The parable of the “talents” also illustrates the truth that the life we receive from God must eventually be returned to God. When Jesus thought that death was near, Jesus prayed to God, “Into Thy hands, I commit my spirit (life)” (Luke 23:46).
Our love (appreciation) for “neighbor” (other human beings) is seen in how we relate to other persons. It is a failure to love our neighbor if we say or do anything that causes human suffering or if we do not try to relieve human suffering whenever we have the ability and opportunity to do so, as taught in Jesus’ parable of the “good Samaritan.” (See essay, “Love Your Neighbor”) This parable also teaches us to love (appreciate) anyone who acts compassionately to help others.
Although everyone knows that we should love God and “neighbor,” each person must choose whether or not to commit oneself to following these natural laws. If a person is truly committed to following these laws of love, such a person will feel remorse and regret over any failure to love God or neighbor, and will repent of such failure to love. Any failure to love God or neighbor is called “sin.”
The meaning of “repentance” from sin is found in Jesus’ parable of the “prodigal son.” (See essay, “Repentance and Forgiveness”) Since everyone fails to love sometimes, the ability and willingness to repent has an important place in the practice of Christian deism. A Christian deist should review his or her words and actions each day to identify any failure to love. A Christian deist should confess such sin, ask for forgiveness from God and any person offended, and seek to make amends, if possible. If a person experiences no remorse or regret over a failure to love or if a person is unwilling to repent of such sin, that person has not committed himself or herself to following God’s laws of love.
If we repent of our sins (our failures to love God or others) and we are willing to forgive others who repent of their sins against us, God forgives us. The importance of our forgiveness of those who sin against us is illustrated in Jesus’ parable of the “unmerciful servant” (Matthew 18:23-35). Our forgiveness of others is very important in the everyday practice of Christian deism.
Christian deists believe that the “gospel” or message of Jesus is “The kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:14). To Jesus, the “kingdom of God” comes “on earth” as God’s “will” is done (Matthew 6:10). Since it is God’s will that we love God and love our neighbor, it is obedience to God’s will that brings the “kingdom of God” into reality on earth.
Christian deists believe that each of us can contribute in some way toward creating the “kingdom of God” on earth by living as God intends for us to live. As a Jew, Jesus originally believed that God intended for the Jewish people to establish an independent nation which would be obedient to God. The Jews called this the “kingdom of God.” But Jesus’ encounters with non-Jewish persons (a Caananite woman concerned about her daughter, a Roman army officer concerned about his paralyzed servant, and a Samaritan woman’s interest in how to worship God) gave Jesus a deeper understanding of humanity and led him to a broader view of the “kingdom of God” that includes persons of “all nations.”
As we encounter persons who are different from ourselves, we can recognize that we share in a common humanity with mutual interests, needs and hopes. We outgrow our narrow and provincial view of humanity and develop a broader and inclusive view, just as Jesus outgrew his nationalistic concept of the “kingdom of God.”
In summary, the central beliefs in Christian deism are:
1. God is our Creator.
2. God intends for us to love God and to love each other.
3. We should repent of “sin,” which is any failure to love.
4. God forgives us if we repent of our sins and we forgive others who repent of their sins against us.
5. The “gospel” (good news) is that the kingdom of God is a reality on earth now for those who are committed to following God’s laws of love.
6. The life we have received from God must be returned to God eventually. If we try to live now as God intends for us to live, we can trust God to take care of the future.
These are some of the basic beliefs in Christian deism, as I see them. Each Christian deist can apply these beliefs in the ways that seem reasonable to the individual. The practice of Christian deism is an individual matter and no one is limited to my understanding of what it means to be a Christian deist. Christian deists believe that God gave us the ability to reason (think logically), and no person is required to believe anything that seems unreasonable to that individual.