Deism and Cultural Religions

“Deism” is a name given to the only religion that is known to all human beings regardless of time and place. Deism is called “natural” religion because its principles are known from nature and human reasoning.

In contrast to Deism (which is a universal religion), there are many “cultural” religions, such as Judaism, Islam, Trinitarian Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, Shintoism, and others, which were developed in particular societies by individuals and groups living in certain geographical areas.

A cultural religion is taught to persons born in or living in an area where the cultural religion is dominant. For example, if you were born in Saudi Arabia, you would probably be a Muslim (Islamic religion); if you were born in China, you would probably be a Buddhist; if you were born in Spain, you would probably be a Catholic (Trinitarian); if you were born in Salt Lake City, you would probably be a Mormon, etc.

Of course, some individuals leave the cultural religions that they learned as children, but most persons never leave their cultural religions because such religions are interwoven into the cultural fabric of their particular society. Membership in the cultural religion is expected if a person wants to be “in good standing” in a particular community or society.

Unfortunately, most cultural religions are “exclusive” religions; that is, each cultural religion claims to possess “truths” that have been revealed only to the founder or leaders of that cultural religion. Often the claim is made that God revealed these “truths” through “supernatural means” such as “angels, mystical visions, and tablets of stone or gold.” The alleged benefits of a cultural religion are available only to those persons who know of and “believe in” that cultural religion. All other persons are viewed as “unbelievers” and “infidels” who, allegedly, will be punished by God for their “unbelief.”

The so-called “supernatural truths” in a cultural religion are written into a book, such as “The Holy Bible,” “The Holy Qur’an (aka Koran),” “The Book of Mormon,” etc., which must be revered and obeyed by “believers” who expect a reward for their obedience. These “believers” often shun and sometimes persecute the “unbelievers” or “infidels.”

The history of the world has repeatedly shown what happens when two “cultural” religions clash in a particular geographical area. Often, political leaders use their cultural religion as an excuse for expanding political control over other countries in order to seize the natural resources of those other countries.

For example, when the Jews invaded Canaan and eventually took political control of the land, the Jews claimed that God had given Canaan to the Jews so they could establish the Kingdom of Israel and replace the Canaanite religion with the Jewish “true” religion. When the Arab Muslims invaded the same land about 1,800 years later, the Muslims claimed that they had been commanded by God to conquer the land and establish the Islamic “true” religion there. It is clear that the Jewish and Arab political leaders used their cultural religions to fan the flames of religious zeal to motivate their people to conquer other lands and take control of the natural resources.

Today, the Israeli Jews and the Arab Muslims battle for control of the same land, and their political leaders use religious leaders to enflame their people in the conflict. In their blind religious zeal, both sides commit inhumane acts in the name of their God: Jehovah or Allah. In following the dictates of their own “cultural” religions, many of the Israeli Jews and the Palestinian Muslims are violating God’s natural law that requires love, or compassion, for all “neighbors,” (including those “neighbors” who are viewed as “enemies”), as taught by the deist Jesus (Luke 10:30-37; Luke 6:27; Matthew 5:44).

The man known as Jesus of Nazareth was as Jew. His cultural religion was an ancient form of Judaism which led the Jews to conquer the land of Caanan by military force and rule it politically. In Jesus’ day, the Jews had lost political control of the land and were ruled by the Roman Empire.

Jesus joined a religious/political revolutionary movement which was led by John the Baptizer. The purpose of the revolutionary movement was to free the Jews from the Romans and reestablish the Kingdom of Israel, which the Jews called the “kingdom of heaven” (aka “kingdom of God”), and in which the Jews expected to enjoy peace and prosperity. Like John the Baptizer, Jesus initially viewed the “Kingdom of God” as exclusively for the Jews. When Jesus sent his disciples out into the countryside to announce the coming of the “kingdom of God,” Jesus instructed his disciples to “Go nowhere among the Gentiles (non-Jews), and enter no town of the Samaritans (people of mixed race and religion), but go rather to the house of Israel (the Jews). And preach as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand’.” (Matthew 10:5-7)

As Jesus preached his message about the coming of the “Kingdom of God,” he encountered Gentiles, Samaritans, and Romans who had the same human needs and hopes that the Jews had (Matthew 15:22-28; Matthew 8:5-13; John 4:46-53: Luke 7:1-9). Jesus revised his view of the “Kingdom of God” to include everyone who was willing to love God and “neighbor” (Mark 12:28-34) and Jesus gave up the idea that the “rule of God” would come on earth through military force (Matthew 26:52). Jesus preached “repentance” (turning away from lovelessness) and “forgiveness” of others as the way to establish the “Kingdom of God” on earth.

Jesus tried to reform his “cultural” religion. Jesus said that “love your neighbor” meant more than just loving your “Jewish” neighbor. It meant having compassion on anyone who is suffering, even those who are considered “enemies” (Matthew 5:43-47; Luke 10:29-37). Jesus taught that evil behavior begins with evil thoughts (Matthew 5:21-22, 27-28). He taught that good deeds can be done any time, even on the Sabbath that ordinarily is a day of rest (Matthew 12:9-14). He opposed the commercializing of religion by the money-changers who earned their living off of pilgrims who came from distant places to worship in the temple at Jerusalem (Matthew 21:12-13). He opposed the blood sacrifices that were part of the temple rituals which were intended as atonements for sin (Mark 12:32-33; Matthew 12:7). He urged people to pray in private, and not make a public display of prayer or giving of alms to the poor (Matthew 6:1-6).

It is no wonder that the religious leaders of the Jewish “cultural” religion viewed Jesus as a dangerous heretic and a revolutionary who might also offend the Roman rulers and cause them to take revenge on the Jews by destroying the Jewish temple and the Jewish capital city, Jerusalem (John 11:48).

Jesus’ determination to preach his vision of the “Kingdom of God on earth” eventually led to his crucifixion. After surviving his brief crucifixion, the wounded Jesus met briefly with his disciples to charge them with the mission of preaching “repentance and forgiveness of sins” to all nations (Luke 24:47). Some days later, Jesus departed from his disciples. Various and conflicting stories are told about Jesus’ departure. Some of his disciples believed that Jesus had temporarily “ascended to God in heaven” and would return to the earth during the disciples’ lifetimes. But Jesus was never seen again by his disciples.

During the next four hundred years, a “cultural” religion was created around Jesus. This religion was based on the teachings of a man named Paul from the city of Tarsus. Paul claimed that Jesus was the divine Son of God who was sent by God the Father to die as a sacrifice to atone for the sins of humankind (Philippians 2:6). Paul was a Jew who compared Jesus’ crucifixion to the Jewish practice of blood sacrifice in the temple as an atonement for sins (Romans 5:8-9).

Church leaders took Paul’s view that Jesus was the only divine “Son of God” and added that Jesus, together with “God the Father” and the “Holy Spirit,” was to be worshipped as one God, officially stating this doctrine of the “trinity of God” at the Council at Constantinople in the year 381 (of the Christian Era) and reaffirming this doctrine at the Council at Chalcedon in 451 CE. Church leaders, such as Athanasius, also adopted Paul’s theory that Jesus’ crucifixion was a “blood sacrifice” to atone for the sins of humankind. This theology became known as “trinitarianism,” and this is the cultural religion taught in Trinitarian Christian churches today.

Actually, Jesus’ own religious beliefs have nothing to do with the theology which is taught in Trinitarian Christian churches. Jesus was a “deist” because he taught the truth which he discovered in himself. Jesus described himself as only “a man who has told you the truth which I heard from God” (John 8:40) but he made no exclusive claim to knowing God’s truth (or God’s will). Jesus said that everyone is taught directly by God (John 6:45), and those who seek to follow God’s truth, or God’s will, are able to recognize that Jesus taught this same truth, and are attracted to Jesus (John 6:45; John 7:17).

In the 17th and 18th centuries, some Deists in England began a reform movement to return Christianity to the natural religion, or deism, of Jesus. These Deists became known as “Christian Deists.” Christian Deists recognized that natural religion can be summarized as “love for God, and love for neighbor (everyone)” as Jesus taught. The practice of love for God and neighbor is necessarily accompanied by the practice of repentance and forgiveness.

We should repent of (turn away from) any failure to love, and seek forgiveness from God. When possible, we should also seek forgiveness from any person whom we have failed to love. We receive forgiveness from God if we are willing to forgive other persons who repent of their failures to love us (Luke 11:4; Matthew 6:14-15). Christian Deists believe that by love, repentance, and forgiveness, we are doing God’s will that brings us a sense of inner peace and joy, and helps to create the “kingdom of God” on earth where people can live together in unity and peace.

The Religion of The Golden Rule

CHRISTIAN DEISM: RELIGION OF THE GOLDEN RULE

Deism is natural religion. The name “Deism” comes from the Latin word (Deus) for “God.” Deists believe that humankind originated intentionally, not accidentally. Since life comes to human beings through no decision or action of their own, this is evidence that life comes from a Source beyond themselves. From the intricate and purposeful designs seen in the world and human beings, Deists infer the existence of an intentional Creator (ordinarily called “God”). Deists do not presume to describe God but they believe that God is what gives life to human beings.

Each person is faced with the question, “How shall I live the life that I have received?” Deists believe that the answer to this question is found in the design of human nature. From observation, experience, and reasoning, Deists recognize that human beings are designed to be interdependent creatures. We are dependent on each other for survival and for satisfaction in living. As infants, we are totally dependent on others for survival. Gradually, as we grow up, we take more responsibility for our own care and for giving care to others.

From the design of human nature, it is natural for a human being to love (value) his or her own self. This “self-love” is the means for evaluating human behavior. If another person’s action is hurtful or uncaring to you, you instinctively know that this action is “wrong.” Using your power of reason (logical thinking), you recognize that your actions that are hurtful or uncaring toward other persons are also “wrong.”. This natural knowledge of “wrong” is sometimes called “conscience.” It is the basis for human morality. This knowledge enables human beings to usually avoid doing “wrong,” or to recognize when they have done “wrong.” In a mentally normal person, the ability to recognize “wrong” behavior increases as that person matures and learns from his or her observations and experiences.

Wrong behavior violates the design of human nature, and is disturbing to the mind of the violator to the extent of his or her ability to know right and wrong. Wrong behavior causes self-condemnation (guilt) and loss of self-respect within a person of normal mentality and sufficient maturity (age).

In religious terms, wrong behavior is called “sin.” Relief from guilt can come from repentance by the violator (wrong-doer). Repentance is a process in which the violator recognizes his or her wrong behavior, feels remorse over it, stops the behavior, and seeks to make amends for the wrong, if possible. Repentance of wrong behavior enables a person to feel relief from guilt, and to regain self-respect and peace of mind.

Some Deists recognize that the principles of deism were taught by a Jewish rabbi named Jesus from Nazareth. These Deists are called “Christian Deists” because they are disciples (students) of Jesus. The name “Christian” comes from the Greek word “christos” which means “anointed one.” The earliest disciples of Jesus were called “Christians” because they believed that Jesus was “anointed” (chosen) by God to establish the “Kingdom of God” on earth. Today, the name “Christian” is used as a general term by all persons who claim to be followers of Jesus regardless of their dfferences in beliefs about him.

Christian Deists believe that Jesus was simply a human being who understood and taught the way that God intends for people to live. Jesus described himself as “a man who told you the truth which I heard from God” (John 8:40) but Jesus did not make any exclusive claim to learning this truth from God. Jesus said, “It is written in the prophets (Isaiah 54:13), ‘And they shall all be taught by God’ (John 6:45).” Christian Deists believe that people are taught by God through the power of reasoning that God has given to them, and from their own observation and experience.

WHAT ARE THE BASIC TEACHINGS OF JESUS?

FIRST, Jesus taught that God gives life to human beings. Jesus said, “God is spirit” (John 4:24) and “it is the spirit that gives life” (John 6:63). It is obvious to human beings that they receive life through no decision of action of their own. From this, Christian Deists infer the existence of a life-giver, called “God.”

As a Jew, Jesus expressed his belief in God as stated in the Shema, the traditional Jewish affirmation of belief in God. The Hebrew word “shema” means “hear” which is the first word in the Shema, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one; and you shall love he Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.” The Shema is found in the Hebrew scriptures (Deuteronomy 6:4). The authors of the books of Matthew and Mark give slightly different wording but it is clear that Jesus is referring to the Hebrew Shema (Matthew 22:34-38; Mark 12:28-30) when Jesus expressed his belief in God.

Jesus taught that we show love (appreciation) to God by how we use the life that is entrusted to us. Jesus illustrated this truth in his parable of the “Talents” (Matthew 25:14-30). In this story, an employer entrusted three of his servants with varying amounts of money (called “talents”) to invest for for the employer. Two of the servants did as they were instructed, so the employer entrusted them with more money to manage in the future. Another servant showed disrespect for the employer by refusing to invest the money which that servant had received, so the employer took back the money and the unfaithful servant lost his employment.

The parable of the “Talents” could be called the parable of “Life.” God gives us varying amounts of time, abilities, and opportunities to invest in this world. How we choose to live in this world shows our love for God or lack of love for God who entrusted life to us.

SECOND, Jesus taught that right behavior is based on self-love. Jesus said, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39) which means, You shall love your neighbor as you love yourself. Jesus taught that this self-love is the basis for knowing right behavior. Jesus said, “Whatever (good) you wish that other people would do to you, do so unto them” (Matthew 7:12). This has become known as the “Golden Rule.” This natural law is intended to govern the behavior of human beings.

What is distinctive in the teachings of Jesus is his definition of “neighbor.” As a Jew, Jesus had been taught to “love your neighbor as yourself” as stated in the book of Leviticus in the Hebrew Bible. Leviticus 19:18 states, you shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people but you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Here, “neighbor” is defined as “sons of your own people” or, in other words, your Hebrew (Jewish) neighbors. The only exception to this definition is made in Leviticus 19:33, “When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall do him no wrong. The stranger who sojourns with you shall be as a native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you (the Jews) were strangers in the land of Egypt . . .”

The book of Leviticus defines “neighbor” as “sons of your own people” (Leviticus 19:18) and “strangers who sojourn with you in your land” (Leviticus 19:33). In other words, “neighbor” only included persons who were Jews, or other persons who were allowed to live in the Jew’s country. There was no requirement that the Jews love anyone else, and this was clearly demonstrated when Moses ordered the Hebrew army to kill people who were considered “enemies” as the Hebrews marched through other countries on the way to invade the land of Caananites (Deuteronomy 20:10-17).

Jesus defined “neighbor” to include everyone, even “enemies.” Jesus said, ” You have heard it said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He (God) makes the sun rise on the evil and the good, and sends the rain on the just and the unjust” (Matthew 5:43-45). Of course, sunshine and rain are required to produce food needed by all human beings, the just and the unjust. We should follow God’s example in caring about the needs of all people. Deism is the religion of the Golden Rule, “Do good to others as you would have others do good to you.” The wisdom of the Golden Rule is recognized by people who profess various religions and by persons who profess no religion. It is the essential guide for human survival and satisfaction in living.

The Golden Rule is validated by human observation, experience, and reasoning. By doing good to others, normal persons reward themselves with a feeling of self-approval (happiness). By failing to do good to others, normal persons punish themselves with a feeling of self-disapproval (unhappiness).

THIRD, Jesus taught that the failure to love (value) others occurs when (1) we intentionally cause human suffering, or (2) we are indifferent to human suffering. Jesus illustrated this truth in his parable of the “Good Samaritan” (Luke 10:30-37). In this story, robbers caused human suffering by beating and robbing a Jew. Two other persons passed by the beaten man but they were indifferent to the suffering of the man and did not try to help him. Finally, a Samaritan came to the rescue of the beaten Jew and took care of him. At the time when Jesus told this story, the Jews and Samaritans were considered “enemies” to each other so this story illustrated the meaning of love to everyone, even enemies.

FOURTH, Jesus taught that failure to love (called “sin”) can be remedied by repentance. Jesus illustrated this truth in his parable of the “Prodigal Son” (Luke 15:11-24). In this story a young man asked his father for money which the son squandered in “loose living.” When the son realized that he had done wrong, the son was remorseful. The son confessed his “sin” to his father, and offered to make amends by working as a “hired servant” for the father. The father forgave the son and welcomed him back into the family. In this story, Jesus illustrated that repentance includes remorse for wrong behavior, stopping the behavior, confessing the wrong, and willingness to make amends for the wrong.

According to Jesus, God forgives our sins (failures to love) if we repent and we are willing to forgive others who repent of their sins against us. Jesus said, “If you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you but if you do not forgive men their trespasses (against you), neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14-15). Jesus said, “If you brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him; and if he turns to you seven times, and says, ‘I repent, you must forgive him (Luke 17:3-4).

Christian Deists reject the idea, taught by trinitarian Christians, that God requires that a “death penalty” for sins must be paid (by Jesus’ death) before God can forgive the sins of human beings. Jesus taught that God will “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us” (Matthew 6:12) and that repentance is the only prerequisite for receiving forgiveness (Luke 17:3-4).

FIFTH, Jesus taught that the “Kingdom of God” comes on earth as God’s “will is done” (Matthew 6:10), and God’s will is “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31). Christian Deists believe that we worship (honor) God by using our time, talents, and opportunities in doing God’s will to help make this world better for each other. Jesus called this better world the “kingdom of God.”

Christian Deists do not have places for public worship (such as churches, temples, mosques). Jesus said, “When you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by men. . . . But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:5-6). Jesus also said, “When you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you (Matthew 6:3-4).

SIXTH, Jesus taught that the life-giving spirit within human beings comes from God (John 4:24; 6:63) and is returned to God at the time of physical death. When Jesus thought that he was dying on the cross, he prayed to God, “Into Thy hands, I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46). Christian Deists do not presume to know what the future will bring after this life, but we can face death with confidence in God’s care. Christian Deists believe in God’s power to give life as evidenced by the life we have now through no decision or action of our own. It is reasonable to believe that what has already occurred can occur again.

Christian Deists recognize that the responsibility for giving life belongs to God, and the responsibiliy for living life belongs to us. If we sincerely try to live by love now, as God designed us to live, and we repent of our failures to love, we have done all that we can do. We can enjoy self-satisfaction in this life, and we can be content to leave our future in God’s care.

The Language of Christian Deism

Religious beliefs are expressed in words. Since a word may have several different meanings, it is important to know how a speaker or writer defines the meaning of a word.

Throughout the essays on Christian Deism in this web page, there are key words that carry specific meanings from the viewpoint of Christian Deism. Some of these words are used by Trinitarian Christians who give the words very different meanings. Therefore, I think it is important to define, in this essay, the meaning of key words as used in Christian Deism.

1. GOD. “God” refers to the Creator of the world, including human life. From the evidence of “intentional design” seen in the nature of the world and human beings, Christian Deists infer the existence of an “Intentional Designer” called “God.”

Christian Deists do not presume to describe God. Christian Deists view God in the same way that Jesus viewed God. Jesus said that “God is spirit” (John 4:24) and “It is the spirit that gives life” (John 6:63) to human beings. An individual’s “spirit” is the “life” or “personal self” that a person perceives within his or her physical body. Christian Deists believe that the “spirit” in a human being comes from, and is of the same essence, as God’s “spirit.”

It is the “spirit” within our bodies that gives us consciousness and the power to “reason.” Reason is the ability to “think logically” about what we perceive through our five senses: sight, hearing, touch, smell, and taste. It is through the power of reasoning that we analyze and evaluate what we perceive through our senses concerning what is happening to us and around us. Then, based on our evaluation, we use our mental power to decide how to respond, and to initiate any physical and/or verbal response to what we perceive.

Christian Deists believe that God created the world to operate on its own and be governed by natural laws. These natural laws are inherent in the design of whatever exists. Human beings are designed to live in accord with two basic laws which can be discovered by any human being within his or her own nature. Jesus discovered these laws within himself and called these laws “God’s commandments” (Matthew 22:37-39).

2. NATURAL LAWS. “Natural laws” are the ways that God intends for the world to operate. Various natural laws are inherent in different things. For example, the planet called “Earth,” on which we live, is designed to revolve around the Sun at precise distances that allow life to exist on Earth. This is controlled through the natural laws of “gravity.” Likewise, the laws of gravity enable us and all other inhabitants of the Earth to remain on this planet instead of being hurled into outer space as the planet Earth zooms at 67,000 miles per hour around the Sun.

Also, natural laws are inherent in the design of seeds, soil, and rain that enable plants and trees to reproduce and provide food required by human beings. From our own observation of ourselves, we know that our “happiness,” or personal satisfaction in living, is determined by whether we choose to live as we have been “designed” to live. Jesus identified two natural laws by which God intends for human beings to live: (1) love for God and (2) love for “neighbor” (Matthew 22:37-39). Failure to love is destructive to ourselves because we are acting contrary to human nature.

3. LOVE. Jesus used the word “love” to mean “respect for” or “appreciation” for God and “neighbor.” Respect for God is based on the recognition that our individual life is a gift, from God, to be enjoyed and to be invested in making the world more enjoyable for all others. Respect for God also includes caring for the natural resources of the Earth that God has provided for the maintenance of life.

Love for “neighbor” means respecting the value of every human life. As a Jew, Jesus had been taught to “love your neighbor as (you love) yourself,” as stated in the Hebrew Bible (Leviticus 19:17). But this law only required Jews to love (value) their “Jewish neighbors,” defined as “sons of your own people” (Leviticus 19:17), and any “stranger” who “sojourns (lives for awhile) with you in your land” (Leviticus 19:33-34). Jesus expanded the definition of the word “neighbor” to mean ALL persons, including persons who are different from ourselves, and even persons whom we consider to be our “enemies” (as seen in the parable of the “good Samaritan,” Luke 10:30-37).

Jesus defined the word “love” to mean “do good” to others. Jesus said, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you” (Luke 6:27). “Love your enemies and do good …. for He (God) is kind to the ungrateful and selfish. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:35-36). “You have heard it said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends his rain on the just and the unjust” (Matthew 5:43-45).

As God is good to all persons, we must be ready to “do good” and “be merciful” to all persons, even those whom we consider our “enemies.”

It is important to notice that “love your neighbor” should be “as (you love) yourself.” Respect or appreciation for oneself is something that God expects of us. Our own life is valuable and is to be appreciated. We show our respect for ourselves by the way we treat our bodies and minds as valuable. Living in a way that is harmful to our physical and mental health shows a lack of appreciation for the life that God has given to us.

4. KINGDOM OF GOD. Jesus used the term “Kingdom of God” to refer to wherever God’s will is obeyed. Jesus prayed to God, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). As a Jew, Jesus originally viewed the Kingdom of God in a nationalistic way. According to their tradition, the Jews believed that God had promised their ancestor, Abraham, that his descendants would have a land of their own if they were obedient to God. Jews equated the “Kingdom of God” with the political “Kingdom of Israel” and attempted to establish it by military force. The Jews were defeated and controlled by Assyria, Babylonia, Persia, Greece, Egypt, Syria, and the Roman Empire.

In Jesus’ time, the Jews were ruled by the Romans. Jesus joined the religious/political movement of John the Baptizer calling for the reestablishment of the “Kingdom of God” (Kingdom of Israel) to provide peace, freedom, and plenty for the Jewish people. As he preached the coming of the “Kingdom of God,” Jesus came to recognize that persons of all nationalities yearned for the same good life that the Jews were seeking. Jesus began preaching a new kind of “Kingdom of God” based on love for all people. Jesus called for people to repent (turn away from) their lovelessness so the Kingdom of God could become a reality in the hearts of individuals and in society.

Jesus’ new view of the “Kingdom of God” was considered heretical by the Jewish religious leaders, and Jesus was considered a Jewish revolutionary by the Romans. Jesus was crucified, as a political revolutionary, by the Romans but he survived his brief crucifixion and met with his disciples for a short time before leaving them. Some of his disciples believed that Jesus would return as the Jewish “messiah” during their lifetime but this did not happen. When Jesus’ teachings were recollected and written between the years 70 CE and 100 CE, it became apparent that the “Kingdom of God” that Jesus envisioned was different from the “Kingdom of Israel” that the Jews expected.

5. GOSPEL. The word “gospel” means “good news.” “Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the gospel'” (Mark 1:14). Eventually, Jesus came to view the “kingdom of God” as coming “on earth” as people followed God’s “commandments” or laws of love for God and for each other. This is the “gospel,” or message, found in the parables of Jesus. Unfortunately, after the time of Jesus, a man named Paul began preaching another “gospel” based on his belief that Jesus had died (by crucifixion) like a lamb was sacrificed in the Jewish temple to atone for the sins of people. Paul never claimed to have seen or heard Jesus, except in some kind of “vision” after the time of Jesus. Paul’s “gospel” promised “eternal life” to those who believed Paul’s theory about Jesus. Paul’s message was rejected by the Jews but was received by many Gentiles (non-Jews) in Asia Minor and Greece.

Paul established congregations, or churches, that later assumed leadership in the Christian movement after the deaths of Jesus’ closest disciples. Paul’s gospel, as modified by church councils, eventually became dominant in Trinitarian churches.

6. SIN. “Sin” is a word that refers to disobedience to God. Since it is God’s will for human beings to love God and love each other, any failure to love is “sin.” We sin against God if we fail to appreciate and use our life as God intends for us to use it, or if we fail to take care of the natural resources of the Earth on which life depends. We sin against other human beings if we cause human suffering or if we are indifferent to human suffering, as illustrated in Jesus’ parable of the “good Samaritan” (Luke 10:30-37).

7. REPENTANCE. “Repentance” was a central theme in the teachings of Jesus. When Jesus proclaimed that “The Kingdom of God is at hand,” he said “Repent” and believe this good news (“gospel”). The word “repentance” means “turning away from.” It is used in relation to “sin.”

Jesus defined “repentance” by his parable of the “prodigal son” (Luke 15:11-24). The process of repentance includes:

1. The recognition of and acceptance of personal responsibility for sin.

2. A sincere feeling of remorse and sorrow for having sinned.

3. A conscious decision to stop the wrong-doing.

4. An actual “turning away from” the sin. This is a change of direction in behavior.

5. A confession of sin and a humble request for forgiveness. The request is made to God and (if possible) to any person who has been hurt by the sin.

6. An offer to make amends for the hurt that was caused by the sin.

Jesus said that we should “believe in the gospel (good news)” that the “kingdom of God is at hand.” The reign of God is a reality here and now for those who commit themselves to love God and to love each other. How do we know if we are committed to God’s way of love? We know by our experience of “repentance” whenever we fail to love.

If we have chosen to follow God’s natural laws of love, we will experience remorse and sorrow whenever we fail to love. This should lead us to repent (turn away from) such unloving behavior and to seek forgiveness. If a mentally competent person is not committed to following God’s natural laws, such a person will not feel remorse or sorrow over a failure to love.

The ability to repent of any failure to love is evidence that a person is truly committed to trying to follow God’s will for us to live by love.

8. FORGIVENESS. In his parable of the “unmerciful servant” (Matthew 18:23-35), Jesus taught that God will forgive us of our sins in the same way that we are willing to forgive those persons who repent of their sins against us. In the prayer that Jesus taught his disciples, Jesus makes this same point, “And forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us” (Luke 11:4).

Jesus said, “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him; and if he sins against you seven times in a day and turns to you seven times, and says, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him” (Luke 17:3-4). Also, Jesus said, “If you forgive men their sins (against you), your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive men their sins (against you), neither will your Father forgive your sins” (Matthew 6:14-15).

Christian Deists reject Paul’s theological theory that God cannot forgive sin unless the “death penalty for sin” is paid by Jesus’ dying as a “substitute” for humankind. The theologian Athanasius, the architect of the Creed of Nicaea (325 C.E.), adopted Paul’s theory of “salvation by the death of Jesus” and this “substitutionary theory of atonement” became central in Trinitarian churches.

Christian Deists believe Jesus who taught that God forgives us of our sins if we repent of our sins and we are willing to forgive those who sin against us. Christian Deists totally reject Paul’s “substitutionary theory of atonement.”

Jesus said, “Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice'” (Matthew 9:13). Here, Jesus is quoting the Hebrew prophet Hosea who claimed to be quoting God: “I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice; the knowledge of God, rather than burnt offerings” (Hosea 6:6).

9. JESUS. Christian Deists believe that Jesus was only a human being. Jesus described himself simply as “a man who told you the truth which I heard from God” (John 8:40) but Jesus did not make any exclusive claim to “hearing” the truth from God. Jesus said, “It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God’ (Isaiah 54:13). Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me” (John 6:45). Jesus only claimed to know the truth in the same way that “all” can know the truth about how God intends for us to live.

Jesus did not claim to be “God.” Those who claim that Jesus is “God,” or “the only Son of God,” usually quote John 10:30 where Jesus said, “I and the Father are one.” But those who claim that Jesus was more than a human being fail to read John 17:11 and John 17:21-23 where Jesus explains what he meant by being “one” with God.

Let us examine John 10:30-38. “(Jesus said,) ‘I and the Father are one.’ The Jews took up stones again to stone him (to death). Jesus answered them, ‘I have shown you many good works from the Father; for which of these do you stone me?’ The Jews answered him, ‘We stone you for no good work but for blasphemy; because you, being a man, make yourself God.’ Jesus answered them, ‘Is it not written in your law*, ‘I said you are gods?'” (*Note: Jesus is quoting Psalms 82:6, “I say, You are gods, sons of the Most High, all of you.”)

“(Then Jesus said,) ‘If he (the psalmist) called them gods to whom the word of the God came, do you say …. ‘You are blaspheming’ because I said that I am (a)** son of the God? If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me; but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father’.” (**Note: Greek manuscripts do not have a definite article “the” before the word “son” so this should be read as “a son of God” not “the son of God.”)

The unity, or “oneness,” that Jesus claimed with God did not mean that Jesus claimed to be God because Jesus prayed that his disciples “may be one, even as we (Jesus and God) are one” (John 17:11). Later, Jesus prayed that his followers will “all be one, even as Thou, Father, are in me and I in Thee, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that Thou hast sent me. The glory which Thou has given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and Thou in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that Thou hast sent me and hast loved them even as Thou hast loved me” (John 17:21-23).

The “oneness” that Jesus had with God was a “oneness” that Jesus wanted his followers to have with each other, with Jesus, and with God. According to Jesus, it is through our love for God and each other that we experience a “oneness” with God and each other, and we come to know that God “hast loved them (us) even as Thou hast loved me (Jesus).”

Although Jesus spoke of spiritual unity that he and we can have with God and each other, Jesus clearly distinguished between himself and God.

When someone addressed Jesus as “Good teacher,” Jesus replied, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone” (Mark 10:18). Jesus refused to be called “good” like God.

Jesus prayed to God on many occasions. In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus “fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. And he said, ‘Abba, Father, all things are possible to Thee; remove this cup (danger of death) from me; yet not what I will, but what Thou wilt'” (Mark 14:35-36). Jesus’ “will” was clearly separate from God’s “will.”

Jesus said, “For I have not spoken on my own authority; the Father who sent me has Himself given me commandment what to say and what to speak” (John 12:49). Jesus did not claim to have the same authority that God had.

Jesus told his disciples, “You heard me say to you, ‘I go away, and I will come to you.’ If you loved me you would have rejoiced, because I go to the Father; for the Father is greater than I” (John 14:28). Jesus claimed that he did not have equal status or rank with God.

When Jesus was being crucified, Jesus “cried with a loud voice, ‘Eli, Eli, lama sabschthani ?’ that is, ‘My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34). Here, Jesus felt “forsaken” by God. Jesus clearly viewed God as Someone other than Jesus.

After he emerged from his tomb, Jesus was surprised to see that he was still alive on earth. He told Mary Magdalene, “Do not hold me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brethren and say to them, I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and to your God” (John 20:17). Here, Jesus refers to his relationship with God as being the same as the relationship between his “brethren” and God. Again, Jesus did not claim to be God.

There are other verses in which Jesus distinguishes between himself and God, including John 14:1, 14:24, 14:31, 15:15, 16:28, and Matthew 20:23.

Jesus was conscious of his “inner self” or “spirit” within his physical body, just as every human being is conscious of one’s own “spirit” within. Jesus viewed this “spirit” as coming from, and having the same essence as, God. But Jesus did not claim to be more that any other human being. Jesus viewed God as the Source of the life-giving spirit that is in every human being, including Jesus himself.

Jesus believed that when a human body dies, the person’s life-giving spirit returns to God. When Jesus thought that he was about to die on the cross, Jesus prayed to God, “Father, into Thy hands I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46), trusting God’s care for the future. This is the prayer that Christian Deists should pray, trusting in God’s care beyond the life we have now.

Deists believe that God designed human beings to love (care for) each other, and if a person tries to do this, and repents of failures to love, that person will enjoy the inner peace that comes from satisfaction with oneself in this life, and will have reason to hope for another life from God in the future.

What Is A Christian Deist?

A deist is a person who believes that God designed and created the world and governs it through natural laws that are inherent in everything. These natural laws can be discovered through observation, experience, and reasoning.

Deism is a religion based primarily on nature and reasoning, in contrast to other religions that are based on alleged “revelations” that come through some “supernatural” means. Deists believe that human beings have “free will” and have responsibility for choosing how they live in relation to natural laws that govern the world.

It is sometimes said that deists believe that God created the world, set it in operation, and then took no further interest in it. But this idea comes from a misunderstanding of an old analogy that compared God to a “watchmaker” and the world to a “watch.” This old analogy was only intended to say that from the “intelligent” design of a watch, it is logical to infer the existence of an “intelligent” watchmaker. Likewise, from the “intelligent design” that is seen in the universe, deists infer the existence of an “intelligent” maker, called “God.”

Christian Deists believe that God does take an ongoing interest in the world and humanity but God does not control the world or humanity. Human beings are “free agents in a free world.” A “free agent” is someone who has authority and ability to choose his/her actions and who may make mistakes. A “free world” is one which ordinarily operates as it is designed to operate but failures and accidents may occur.

Christian deism is opposed to the doctrine of predestination in which everything that happens is thought to be “the will of God.” John Calvin was a proponent of the theory of predestination in which God allegedly determines everything that happens, whether good or bad. For example, this theory is heard when a person is killed in an automobile accident and someone says, “God must have a purpose in this.” Christian Deists reject this kind of belief.

Christian Deists believe that it is never “God’s will” for anyone to be sick or injured. Christian Deists believe that anything that is destructive to human life is “bad.” These bad things may be caused by accident or by human action. For example, a respiratory illness may be caused by an accidental infection or may be caused by a person choosing to smoke cigarettes. God does not make a person sick or well. Our health is partly within our own control and sometimes beyond our control. God gives our bodies and minds certain natural powers to heal many illnesses but God does not directly intervene to heal by some “supernatural” action.

If God directly intervened in human events, we would no longer be “free agents in a free world.” We would be like puppets controlled by God. Such control by God would cost us the very thing that makes us individual human beings — our freedom to think and act for ourselves.

God can indirectly intervene in the world through human beings. For example,God can heal through the efforts of physicians and nurses. God can care for the poor through charitable persons and through programs designed by compassionate leaders and legislators. According to Jesus, our mission is to create the “kingdom of God on earth.” God can work through each of us if we will follow God’s law of love for each other. We are God’s representatives on earth if we do God’s will. Each of us can contribute in some way toward the development of the Kingdom of God on earth.

Christian Deists believe that Jesus was a deist. Jesus taught that there are two basic laws of God governing humankind. The first law is that life comes from God and we are to use it as God intends, as illustrated in Jesus’ parable of the talents (money). The second law is that God intends for human beings to live by love for each other, as illustrated in Jesus’ parable of the good Samaritan. (Note: The parable of the talents is explained in the essay “How Can You Love God? The parable of the good Samaritan is explained in the essay “Love Your Neighbor.”)

Jesus summarized these two basic “commandments” (or laws) of God as “love for God and love for neighbor.” These two commandments were known to Jesus from the Hebrew scriptures but Jesus expanded the definition of “neighbor” to include everyone. “Love for God” means having appreciation for God as the creator of the world and the source of human life. “Love for neighbor” means having appreciation for the value of every human life. These are not laws or “truths” that Jesus received through some supernatural “revelation.” In his “parable of the sower,” Jesus taught that the “word of God” is known naturally because it is sown “in the heart” of everyone.

Even the apostle Paul, who was a Jew, recognized that God’s laws are known naturally by everyone. Paul wrote, “When Gentiles (non-Jews) who do not have the (Mosaic) law do by nature what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the (Mosaic) law. They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts” (Romans 2:14-15).

In his teachings, Jesus used examples from the natural world and from human nature to explain basic truths about life. In his parables, Jesus spoke of mustard seeds, wheat, weeds, fishing nets, pearls, vineyards, fig trees, salt, candle light and sheep to illustrate his points. Jesus also used illustrations from human nature to teach basic concepts such as repentance, forgiveness, justice, and love.

Jesus believed that it is God’s will for people to love (appreciate) God and to love (appreciate) each other. God should be loved (appreciated) as creator of the the world and as the source of human life. We should show our love (appreciation) for each other because happiness comes to us as we live in harmony, or unity, with each other. Christian deism is based on appreciation for all creation and on appreciation for every human life.

Christian Deists do not worship Jesus as God and do not believe in the theory of atonement that claims that Jesus had to die as a sacrifice to pay the “death penalty” for humankind and save them from the “wrath” of God. Christian Deists do not view God as a whimsical tyrant who sends plagues and pestilence to punish people on earth and who plans to torture people in “hell” in the future. Christian Deists reject these superstitious ideas as products of human hatred and a failure to recognize God’s natural laws of love for others.

Christian Deists consider themselves to be disciples (students) of Jesus because Jesus taught the natural laws of God. But Christian Deists recognize that Jesus was only human. Jesus had to struggle with his own times of disappointment, sorrow, anger, prejudice, impatience, and despair, just as other human beings struggle with these experiences. Jesus never claimed to be perfect but he was committed to following God’s natural laws of love.

Jesus called for people to follow God’s laws (commandments) so the “kingdom of God” could come “on earth as it is in heaven.” As Jesus preached the “gospel” (good news) that the “kingdom of God is at hand,” the Romans viewed Jesus as a Jewish revolutionary seeking to liberate the Jews from Roman rule. Jesus refused to stop preaching his “gospel” even though he knew that he was risking crucifixion, the usual Roman penalty for revolutionaries. Jesus called for his followers to take this same risk, “If a man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it” (Mark 8:34-35).

After his crucifixion, Jesus’ cross became a symbol of commitment to establishing the “kingdom of God” (obedience of God’s laws) on earth. Christian Deists are committed to following God’s natural laws, as summarized in the two “commandments” to love God and love our neighbor.

An Overview of Christian Deism

How you live your life and the happiness you find are largely dependent upon your view of yourself and the world that you live in. Your view of life is known as your “worldview,” or “religion,” or “philosophy of life.”

Your understanding of life comes from what you are taught by others, and by what you learn from your own sense perception, experience, and reasoning. Sense perception refers to what you learn through your five senses: sight, hearing, touch, taste, and smell. Experience refers to what you learn from what happens to you as you interact with the world around you. Reasoning refers to what you learn from thinking about what you perceive and experience.

The word “religion” comes from the Latin word “religio” which is related to the verb “religare” meaning “to bind” or “place an obligation on.” The World Book Dictionary defines “obligation” as “duty” meaning “a thing that a person ought to do, or a thing that is right to do.” In other words, “religion” deals with “how a person ought to live” or “what is right to do.”

When we look around us, we see many different “organized religions” such as Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and others. These “religions” offer different views of life, and offer instructions about “how a person ought to live.” Some religions claim that their teachings came from “supernatural revelations” received by particular individuals such as Moses, Muhammad, or Paul of Tarsus.

These so-called “revealed” religions make exclusive claims to knowing the “truth” from God, and the followers of other religions are frequently viewed as “infidels” or “unbelievers.” This has led to hostility, oppression, persecution and wars between the followers of different religions.

In contrast to so-called “revealed” religions, there is another kind of religion called “natural” religion. Whereas “revealed” religion claims that truth about life comes through some supernatural revelation from a source beyond human knowledge and experience, “natural” religion is based on what human beings can discover from their own sense perceptions, experiences, and reasoning.

One of the greatest teachers of natural religion was a man named Jesus from Nazareth. Jesus was a Jew, reared in an ancient form of Judaism, but his personal perceptions, experiences, and thinking led him to a deeper understanding of life, and how it is intended to be lived. Jesus described himself simply as “a man who told you the truth which I heard from God” (John 8:40) but Jesus did not claim to have any special revelation of truth from God.

Jesus said that everyone knows the truth, “It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me” (John 6:45). Jesus also said, “My teaching is not mine, but His who sent me; if any man’s will is to do His (God’s) will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority” (John 7:16-17). According to these statements, people already know God’s will and those who are seeking to follow it can recognize that Jesus is teaching the truth, and they will be attracted to Jesus.

Jesus summarized God’s truth or “commandments” (laws) as “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37-39). The word “love” means “to appreciate” or “to value.” We should appreciate God as the giver of life, and we should value life in other persons as much as we value life in ourselves.

We show our appreciation to God by how we use the life we have been given. We show our appreciation for the value of life in others by how we treat them. Human nature is designed for living by love. Everyone knows that our Creator intends for us to live by love because failure to love is destructive to life, our own and others. We know this from our own perceptions, experiences, and thinking. This truth is the foundation of natural religion.

Failure to love is acting against our human nature. We fail to love God when we waste the gift of life that God has given to us. We fail to love other persons when we cause human suffering or when we do not try to relieve human suffering when we have the ability and opportunity to do so.

In his parable of the “talents” (Matthew 25:14-30), Jesus taught that we show our love to God by how we use the life that God has entrusted to us. In his parable of the “good Samaritan” (Luke 10:30-37), Jesus taught that we fail to love others when we cause human suffering or when we do not try to relieve human suffering when we can do so.

In his parable of the “good Samaritan,” Jesus expanded the definition of “neighbor” to include everyone, even those who are viewed as “enemies.” Jesus said, “You have heard it said, ‘You shall love your neighbor but hate your enemy,’ but I say to you, Love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you, so you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust” (Matthew 5:43-45).

Jesus added, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you” (Luke 6:27). Love your enemies and do good . . . . for He (God) is kind to the ungrateful and selfish. Be merciful, even as your Father (God) is merciful” (Luke 6:35-36). Jesus went far beyond the religion that he had been taught in his day. Just as God provides the necessities of sunshine and rain to all persons, including the “good and evil” and the “just and unjust,” we must be ready to “do good” and “be merciful” to all persons, even those we consider our “enemies.”

The failure to love God or “neighbor” (all persons) is called “sin.” The only remedy for sin is repentance. Jesus taught the meaning of “repentance” in his parable of the “prodigal son” (Luke 15:11-24). According to Jesus, repentance is the prerequisite for receiving forgiveness of sins, “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him; and if he sins against you seven times in a day and turns to you seven times, and says, ‘I repent,” you must forgive him” (Luke 17:3-4). Also, Jesus said, “If you forgive men their trespasses (against you), your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive men their trespasses (against you), neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14-15).

In the teachings of Jesus, we see the essence of natural religion.

Unfortunately, soon after Jesus’ lifetime, a man named Paul of Tarsus began proclaiming a very different message. Paul never claimed to have seen or heard Jesus during Jesus’ lifetime, but claimed that Jesus had appeared later to Paul in some kind of vision after the death of Jesus. Paul began preaching that Jesus “was in the form of God, . . . . but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death of the cross” (Philippians 2:6-7).

Paul viewed the crucifixion of Jesus as a sacrifice to God to atone for the sins of humankind. Paul wrote, “But God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ (Jesus) died for us. Since therefore we are now justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved from the wrath of God” (Romans 5:8-9). According to Jesus, we are forgiven by God if we repent of our sins and we are willing to forgive others who sin against us, but Paul taught that Jesus had to die as a human sacrifice to obtain God’s forgiveness and save us “from the wrath of God.” Paul’s teaching, or “gospel,” was very different from Jesus’ gospel.

Paul claimed that his “gospel” was revealed directly to Paul by Jesus after the death of Jesus. Paul wrote, “For I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not man’s gospel. For I did not receive it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through a revelation of Jesus Christ” (Galatians 1:11-12).

It is clear that Paul replaced Jesus’ natural religion with a so-called “revealed” religion. In all of his letters found in the New Testament, Paul never quotes the teachings of Jesus. Jesus’ gospel calling for people to repent of their failures to love, and to forgive each other, was replaced with Paul’s “gospel” of blood sacrifice to appease an angry God. A series of church councils in the fourth century compounded the errors of Paul by making Jesus equal to God and institutionalizing Paul’s “substitutionary theory” of atonement.

In the seventeenth century, in England, a movement called “deism” began in opposition to the doctrines that had been adopted by the church after the time of Jesus. The deists opposed the doctrines of original sin, the virgin birth and divinity of Jesus, the “trinity” of God, blood atonement by the death of Jesus, and “hell” as a place of unending torture. The deists viewed so-called “miracles” as unverifiable, and they viewed so-called “supernatural revelation of truth” as unnecessary.

The deists believed in natural religion rather than revealed religion. Most of the deists viewed themselves as “Christians” who were seeking to return to the natural religion taught by a man named Jesus. The words “deism” and “deist” come from the Latin word “Deus” which means “God.” Deists believe in one God and they view Jesus as simply a human being. Christian Deists view Jesus as a great teacher of deism.

“Deist” and “Christian Deist”

Recently, a college student wrote to me, asking, “What is the difference between a ‘deist’ and a ‘Christian deist’?” My reply is, a “deist” believes that God created the world, including humankind, and God governs the world through natural laws which may be known through observation, experience, and reasoning. A “Christian deist” believes this, too. A “Christian deist” also believes that Jesus was a “deist” because he taught that the two natural laws governing humankind are “love for God” and “love for neighbor (each other).”

The first premise of deism is “God is the Creator of the world, including humankind.” As explained in my essay entitled How Can You Love God?, we show our love, or respect, for God as our Creator by investing our time and abilities, that God has given to us, to produce something good in the world (that is, to help create the “kingdom of God” on earth).

The second premise of deism is “God governs the world, including us, through natural laws.” From the design of our human nature, we find that God intends for us to love each other. As explained in my essay entitled Love Your Neighbor, we show our love, or respect, for our “neighbor” (other human beings) by not doing anything that causes human suffering and by doing whatever we can to relieve human suffering. Violation of this natural law is destructive to ourselves because we are acting against our nature.

As explained in my essay entitled The Kingdom of God, everyone knows the two natural laws which are intended to govern human beings–love for God and love for each other. Jesus said that God’s laws (word) are sown like seed “in the heart” but each of us, as individuals, must choose whether to follow God’s laws of love, or not follow them. The choice is ours to make.

As explained in my essay entitled Repentance and Forgiveness, the “failure to love” is called “sin.” We fail to love God when we do not use our time and abilities to do whatever we can to make this world more enjoyable for everyone. We fail to love our “neighbor” (anyone) when we cause human suffering or do not try to relieve human suffering when we can.

If we, as individuals, are committed to following God’s laws of love, we know when we fail to love. You cannot escape your own judgment of yourself. Your dissatisfaction with yourself, and your feelings of remorse, can be relieved only by repenting from your sin (failure to love), and by asking God for forgiveness. And, if possible, you must seek forgiveness from anyone you have sinned against. You must also be willing to forgive others who have sinned against you. According to Jesus, God forgives us when we repent of our sins and we are willing to forgive others who sin against us.

Repentance and forgiveness are central in the teachings of Jesus. When Jesus preached the “good news” (gospel) that the “kingdom of God is at hand,” he called for people to “repent” and believe the good news. It is through love, repentance, and forgiveness that the “kingdom of God” (the rule of God) becomes a reality in the lives of individuals and in human society.

It is important to recognize that forgiveness cannot be “earned” or “deserved” by doing something, or “bought” by paying something. We must repent of (turn away from) our sins in order to open ourselves to receive forgiveness, but we can do nothing to earn, deserve, or purchase forgiveness. This is why Christian deists reject the theory that Jesus died on a cross to “pay” the “death penalty for sin” so God can forgive people. This “substitutionary theory of atonement,” which came from Paul of Tarsus and is central in trinitarian theology, is an insult to God. God’s forgiveness is not “for sale.” Jesus taught that God freely forgives us when we repent of our sins and we are willing to forgive others who sin against us.

The everyday practice of “Christian deism,” as a personal religion, is based on love, repentance, and forgiveness. When we awaken each morning, let us say a little prayer, thanking God for the day and asking God to guide us in living by love. When we go to bed at night, let us review the day to recognize any failure to love. In prayer, we should confess any failure to love, and ask for God’s forgiveness. We should also determine to seek forgiveness from those we failed to love.

The teachings of the human Jesus about love, repentance, and forgiveness help me to understand the principles of deism. I am a “disciple” (student) of Jesus because I learn from his life and teachings. Jesus believed that he had been “anointed” (chosen) to preach the good news (gospel) that the “kingdom of God” comes on earth through love, repentance, and forgiveness. The term “Christian” refers to any follower of Jesus “the christos” (which means “anointed one”). This is why I call myself a “Christian deist.”

Creed of A Christian Deist

A creed is a statement of beliefs. From the title above, you can see that this page contains a statement of beliefs of “a” Christian Deist, namely myself. Christian Deism is an individual religion so each Christian Deist must state his/her beliefs in his/her own way. It is not my intention to impose my beliefs on anyone else but I offer my “creed” as a statement of beliefs that others may find to be similar to their own. This creed represents my definition of “Christian Deism.”

I consider myself a “deist” because I believe that God created the world and rules it through natural laws. I am a “Christian” because I believe that Jesus was a man who was “anointed” by God to preach the gospel (good news) that the Kingdom of God is “at hand” for persons who are willing to obey God’s laws for humankind, namely, love for God and love for each other. The title “christ” means “anointed one,” and a “Christian” is a follower of Jesus, the “anointed one.”

The following is my effort to state my beliefs as a Christian Deist:

I BELIEVE:

1. God created all that exists, including humankind.

2. God rules the world through natural laws. Obedience to these laws is life-creative; disobedience to these laws is life-destructive.

3. God’s laws for humankind are known to every person because these laws are inherent in the design of human nature. It is God’s will, or intention, for us to love God and love each other.

4. Jesus was a human being who discovered that God’s laws are planted like a seed “in the heart” of each person.

5. Jesus believed that he had been “anointed” to preach the “gospel” (good news) that the “Kingdom of God” becomes a reality on earth as human beings obey God’s basic laws of love for God and each other.

6. Jesus taught that causing human suffering or being indifferent toward human suffering are violations of God’s laws of love (see parable of the Good Samaritan). A violation of God’s law is called “sin.”

7. Jesus called for people “to repent” (turn away) from sin and “believe in the gospel (good news)” that “the kingdom of God is at hand” on earth as God’s laws are obeyed by individuals.

8. An individual who is committed to follow God’s laws of love will experience “repentance” whenever the individual fails to love. Repentance is the prerequisite for forgiveness.

9. By obeying God’s laws of love, a person experiences life on a higher level which Jesus described as “abundant” and “eternal.”

10. God created us as free agents in a free world. We are responsible for our own actions within the limits of our individual abilities and opportunities.

11. In a free world, bad things can happen to people by accident or by human intention. God does not intend for bad things to happen but God cannot directly intervene. We must accept the fact that accidents can happen in a free world. We must oppose wrong human intentions.

12. Although God cannot directly intervene in human affairs, God may intevene through us as God’s agents in creating the “kingdom of God on earth.” For example, God can heal through the efforts of physicians and nurses. Each of us should do what we can to create the kingdom of God on earth.

13. If we try to live today as God intends for us to live in this world, we can trust God to take care of us beyond this world (as taught by Jesus in his “parable of the talents”). The fact that we have life now through no action of our own is evidence that God has the power to give life. We must recognize our dependence on God for life now and in the future.

History of Christian Deism

In the 17th century CE (Christian Era or Common Era), in England, some individuals began to openly oppose church doctrines that appeared unfair or unreasonable. These individuals, who were called “deists,” were opposed to such doctrines as “original sin” which claims that human nature is inherently corrupt or evil because of the “original sin” of “Adam,” the so-called “first” human being according to the story in the book of Genesis in the Hebrew Bible.

The doctrine of “original sin” provided a foundation for the entire structure of trinitarian theology which was eventually adopted by the Christian church after several centuries. According to trinitarian theology, the corruption of human nature leads all persons to sin (disobey God) which is punishable by death in “hell,” a place of everlasting torment. The church claimed that human beings can only be saved from this punishment by believing that God’s divine son became a human being, Jesus, whose death was a “sacrificial atonement” to pay the death penalty as a “substitute” for humankind. The Deists rejected the church doctrine that belief in Jesus’ death provides “salvation” from sin because most human beings have never heard of Jesus during the history of the world. Deists believe that God would not treat people so unequally and unfairly. With its claim to holding the “keys to heaven and hell,” the church exerted a tremendous influence after Christianity became an institutional religion officially recognized by the Roman empire in the 4th century.

In the 5th century, the Roman empire began to crumble. Germanic tribes (barbarians) invaded from the north and conquered the city of Rome. The Roman emperor in Constantinople abandoned the western part of the empire (Italy, France, etc.). The Christian church filled the leadership vacuum in the west as Christian clergy performed civil administrative duties in addition to church duties.

Beginning in the sixth century (about 500 CE), Europe entered a period known as the “dark ages.” Life for most people was depressing and tenuous because of poverty, disease, and war. The promise of a better life in the “hereafter” had great appeal, and the threat of “hell” for those who refused the offer of “salvation” gave the church power over the illiterate masses of people. The church also used the threat of “excommunication” to exercise power over government leaders. With its growing power, the church gained wealth, especially in land.

In western Europe, where the nations of Italy, Spain, Portugal, France, and Germany developed, the Christian church was a dominating force, politically and intellectually. The church insisted that the Bible (Old and New Testaments), as interpreted by the church, was the final authority in all matters–religious, scientific, or otherwise.

Beginning about 1300 C.E., the Renaissance came. There was renewed interest in the culture of the ancient Romans and Greeks, including literature, law, architecture, philosophy, and art. Interest in what the ancient Roman and Greek writers said in their original texts led to the development of textual criticism which could also be applied to the Bible. Questions began to be raised about the text of the Vulgate (Latin) Bible used by the Roman Catholic Church.

The literature of ancient Rome and Greece offered a positive view of human nature and human potential. It did not have the negative and depressing view of human nature which is found in the church doctrine of “original sin.” Roman and Greek culture emphasized the good and beauty in the world, and the responsibility of individuals for their own behavior.

Trade with the Far East (China and Japan) led to the discovery of cultures that existed continuously from before the time of “Noah” when the Bible claimed that the world had been destroyed by a flood. This raised questions about the reliability of the Bible.

Discovery and exploration of the “New World” (America) brought new wealth to European countries. Scientific discoveries in astronomy discredited the belief that the earth was the center of the universe as taught by the church. The invention of Gutenberg’s printing press, about 1450, enabled the printing of thousands of religious tracts in the 1500s and later.

The Protestant Reformation began in the 1500s, leading to the development of Lutheran and Reformed (Calvinistic) churches. The Protestant reformers opposed the authority of the Roman Catholic pope but made no effort to reform trinitarian theology.

The Renaissance and the Protestant Reformation brought religious, philosophical, and political changes to Europe and England. The 1600s brought scientific advances in medicine, chemistry, physics, and astronomy. Isaac Newton’s theories about the universe and gravity presented new ways of looking at the world.

In the latter half of the 1600s (the seventeenth century), a number of Anglican ministers and other writers began to question trinitarian doctrines that appeared to be contrary to nature and reason. These writings continued through the 1700s, and the name “deism” was given to the views expressed by these writers.

Deism was not an organized religious movement. It was an effort by individual writers to reform Christian theology by ridding the church of certain doctrines that were inconsistent with the teachings of Jesus. Deists also rejected the concept of “supernatural revelation” of truth, and belief in “miracles” contrary to nature.

Deists opposed the doctrines of original sin, divinity of Jesus, and substitutionary atonement through the death of Jesus. Deists also rejected the Calvinistic doctrine of “predestination” that claimed that individuals were either “saved” or “lost” (condemned to “hell”) before they are born. This gloomy doctrine made God appear to be a cruel and arbitrary tyrant.

In contrast to trinitarian doctrines, the English deists wrote that (1) the existence of a Creator (God) is known through nature and reasoning, (2) individuals should worship (honor) God by virtuous behavior (love for others), (3) individuals are accountable for their behavior, and (4) repentance is the means for obtaining God’s forgiveness for wrong-doing. The writings of the English deists occurred mostly in the 1600s and 1700s. Lord Edward Herbert of Cherbury (1581-1648) was an early proponent of natural and universal religion based on human reason. Although Herbert was not a deist, some of his ideas were adopted later by deists.

Charles Blount (1654-1693) was the earliest identifiable deist in England. He wrote a book Religio Laici (“Layman’s Religion”) in 1683, based on Edward Herbert’s book De Religione Laici (“A Layman’s Religion”) which was published in 1645.

Blount also published a book, entitled Oracles of Reason, in 1693, containing an article “A Summary Account of the Deists Religion,” the earliest known published statement of deist beliefs. Blount rejected the doctrines of the “Trinity of God” and “substitutionary atonement” through the death of Jesus. Blount questioned the stories of “miracles” in the Bible, and he believed that much of traditional Christianity has been invented by priests and other religious leaders.

The English philosopher John Locke (1632-1704) was not a deist, but he wrote a book On the Reasonableness of Christianity, in 1695. Locke viewed Jesus as the “messiah” or “Son of God” whom God sent to confirm the truths that could be known through human reasoning. Locke did not deny the idea of “supernatural revelation” but he believed that any alleged revelation had to be reasonable. Locke also was willing to accept some church doctrines that were “mysteries,” or beyond human comprehension, if such doctrines were not contrary to reason. Locke considered himself an Anglican Christian but he admitted that human reason could discover the same truths that were taught by Jesus. Locke wrote this book in an effort to support what Locke considered to be “orthodox” Christianity, in opposition to deism, but his book unintentionally gave support to deist beliefs, and led trinitarian clergy to accuse Locke of being an antitrinitarian.

John Toland (1670-1722) published a book Christianity Not Mysterious, in 1696 (one year after Locke’s book mentioned above), in which Toland wrote that any doctrine that was “mysterious,” or beyond human comprehension, was not essential in Christianity. Toland believed that God would not expect anyone to believe something that was beyond human comprehension or was contrary to reason. The trinitarian clergy recognized that Toland was questioning the doctrine of the “Trinity of God.” Toland’s book was burned in Ireland, and the Church of England brought charges against Toland.

Thomas Woolston (1669-1733) was an Anglican minister who believed that the events recorded in the Old and New Testaments should not be taken literally and historically, but had to be interpreted allegorically. These included the stories of the virgin birth and miracles of Jesus. Woolston was imprisoned for “blasphemy” which was considered a religious and civil offense.

Matthew Tindal (1657?-1733) was an Anglican lawyer and writer who wrote Christianity As Old as Creation, or the Gospel a Republication of the Religion of Nature, in 1730. Tindal believed that God’s revelation came through nature as understood through human reasoning. Tindal rejected the doctrine of “original sin.” Tindal believed that God’s truth cannot be limited to a particular place or time, as it is as old as creation.

Thomas Morgan (169?-1743) was ordained as a Presbyterian minister in 1717 and later became a medical doctor. He wrote a book The Moral Philosopher, in 1737, in which he identified himself as a “Christian Deist.” Morgan agreed with Matthew Tindal that Christianity is essentially a republication of truths found in “natural religion” which is known as “deism.”

Henry St. John (1672-1751), also known as Viscount Bolingbroke, was a prominent politician who served as Secretary of State and Secretary of War at various times in the government of England. When his political party was out of power, St. John began studying philosophy and became a deist in his religious philosophy. He was personally acquainted with Voltaire who had a high regard for St. John as a philosopher. St. John was also aquainted with the poet Alexander Pope whose poetry was influenced by St. John’s deism. St. John’s belief in the existence of God was based on “intelligent design” seen in nature. He wrote, “When we contemplate the works of God . . . they give us very clear and determined ideas of wisdom and power, which we call infinite . . . ”

Thomas Chubb (1679-1747) was a humble candle-maker and brilliant writer. His writings brought him to the attention of some Unitarians with whom he associated in London for a few years but he later returned home to his life as a candle-maker and writer. In 1739, he published The True Gospel of Jesus Christ Asserted. Chubb considered himself to be a Christian Deist, and his writings brought deism to ordinary people.

Peter Annet (1693-1769) was a schoolmaster and prolific writer. In Deism Fairly Stated, in 1744, Annet wrote that “Deism . . . is not other than the Religion essential to Man, the true, original religion of Reason and Nature; such as was believed and practised by Socrates, and others of old . . .” Annet questioned the validity of miracles and held a very low opinion of the “apostle Paul.” Annet also questioned the records of the “resurrection of Jesus.”

Annet was the editor/publisher of a periodical called Free Enquirer in which he questioned Old Testament history. For this he was imprisoned for one month and had to stand in pillory. Later, in his sixties, Annet was arrested again for “blasphemous libel” and was sentenced to one year of hard labor in prison. After his release, he returned to school teaching in a grammar school until his death.

Thomas Paine (1737-1809), a deist, emigrated from England to America in 1774, and became famous for his writings which inspired Americans to seek independence from England. Paine was active in the American Revolutionary War, and his writings were credited by George Washington for rallying financial and moral support for the American army when it appeared that America was losing the war for independence. Paine wrote his deistic book The Age of Reason, in 1794, opposing both traditional Christianity and atheism. Paine would not call himself a “Christian” because the only “Christianity” he knew was trinitarian Christianity.

Religious and political conditions in England prepared the way for the development of deism in the 17th century. Anglican ministers and university professors were familiar with rationalism since the days of Richard Hooker (1554-1600), an Anglican theologian. The English revolution of 1688 brought changes in civil government, and eventually some freedom of the press. The Protestant Reformation gave rise to various Christian denominations in England.

But the Protestant Reformation was not aimed at reforming trinitarian theology. The deists undertook this task by trying to remove the doctrines that had been developed by the church after the time of Jesus. Deists saw themselves as carrying the Protestant Reformation to its logical conclusion by reforming the theology of the church.

In England, deism was never an organized movement. It existed in the writings of individuals who expressed their personal religious beliefs. Occasionally, there were private meetings of small groups for discussion. In France, during the French revolution, an effort was made to replace the Roman Catholic Church with a form of non-Christian deism. The Catholic Church and the French monarchy were viewed as allies in suppressing the French people, so the church and the monarchy were attacked simultaneously. During the revolution, the Notre Dame cathedral in Paris was renamed “The Temple of Reason.” But the effort to replace the Catholic Church with the “Cult of the Supreme Being” did not succeed. Non-Christian deism was too abstract to attract the devotion of the people.

In the United States, English deism did have some influence in the 18th and 19th centuries. English philosophy and religion came to the United States through books and personal communications between individuals in both countries.

Ethan Allen (1737-1788), a hero in the American Revolution, was the first well-known deist in America when it was under British rule. In 1762, Allen moved to Salisbury, Connecticut, where he became a deist after becoming acquainted with Dr. Thomas Young, a physician and deist, who lived just north of Salisbury in New York. Allen and Young began to write a book on deism but Young moved to Albany, New York, in 1764, and took the manuscript with him. In 1781, Allen acquired the manuscript from Dr. Young’s widow and completed the book, “Reason the Only Oracle of Man or a Compendious System of Natural Religion,” in 1782. The book was not published until 1784 because Allen had difficulty in finding money for the printer. Since Allen claimed to have never read any writing by a deist, the deistic content of the book apparently came from Dr. Thomas Young.

Dr. Thomas Young (1731-1777) was a prominent physician who practiced medicine in western New York, in Boston, Massachusetts, and in Philadelphia, Pennsysvania. Young was a patriot in the American independence movement, and a leader in the “Boston Tea Party,” one of the events that led to the start of the American Revolution.

Dr. Young was a frequent writer of medical and political articles in newspapers and a magazine. His religious views were well-known, and his deistic creed was published as a letter in a newspaper, the Massachusetts Spy, in 1772. This is the earliest published creed by an identifiable deist in America. Also, Young was apparently the primary author of a manuscript on which Ethan Allen based his book, “Reason the Only Oracle of Man,” published in 1784 after Young’s death.

Dr. Young wrote that his religion was based on two principles: “1st. To believe that God is, and is the rewarder of all those that diligently seek him. 2nd. To do justly, and to love mercy among us being, As ye would that others do unto you do also unto them in like manner.” Young’s statement is a concise summary of deism: (1) Believe that God exists, and (2) Do justly, and love mercy (kindness). The “do justly and love mercy” comes from the Hebrew prophet Micah (6:8). The remainder of Dr. Young’s statement paraphrases Jesus, “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do so unto them” (Matthew 7:12) which is now called the “Golden Rule.”

Dr. Young wrote, “I believe that in the order of nature and providence, the man who most assiduously endeavors to promote the will of God in the good of his fellow creatures, receives the most simiple reward of his virtue, the peace of mind and silent applause of a good conscience, which administers more solid satisfaction than all of the others enjoyments of life put together.”

Deism is clearly present in the personal beliefs of Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826). When Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence, he referred to “the laws of nature and nature’s God.” Although he was reared in the Episcopal Church and participated in the parish, Jefferson held deistic views. In a letter to John Adams, Jefferson wrote, “I hold (without appeal to revelation) that when we take a view of the Universe, in its parts general and particular, it is impossible for the human mind not to perceive and feel a conviction of design, of consummate skill, indefinite power in every atom of composition….it is impossible, I say, for the human mind not to believe that there is….a fabricator of all things.”

Jefferson believed that the teachings of Jesus had “been disfigured by the corruptions of schismatizing followers” but he believed that Jesus taught “the most sublime and benevolent code of morals which has ever been offered to man.” Jefferson made his own “Bible” by extracting what he found to be valid in the life and teachings of Jesus. This “cut and paste” version is now called “The Jefferson Bible.” It omits the “miracles” of Jesus and makes no reference to the “resurrection” of Jesus.

To Jefferson, religion was a private matter. He wrote, “I have ever thought religion a concern purely between God and our consciences for which we are accountable to him, and not to priests.”

Elihu Palmer (1764-1806), an ex-Presbyterian minister, was a deist who was active in preaching deism and organizing Deistical Societies in New York and Pennsylvania. He also edited and published deistic newspapers and wrote the “Principles of Nature” (1801) as follows:

1. The universe proclaims the existence of one supreme Deity, worthy of the adoration of intelligent beings.

2. Man is possessed of moral and intellectual faculties sufficient for improvement of nature, and the acquisition of happiness.

3. The religion of nature is the only universal religion; that it grows out of the moral relations of intelligent beings, and it stands connected with the progressive improvement and common welfare of the human race.

4. It is essential to the true interest of man, that he love truth and practice virtue.

5. Vice is every where ruinous and destructive to the happiness of the individual and of society.

6. A benevolent disposition, and beneficient actions, are fundamental duties of rational beings.

7. A religion mingled with persecution and malice cannot be of divine origin.

8. Education and science are essential to the happiness of man.

9. Civil and religious liberty is essential to his interests.

10. There can be no human authority to which man ought to be amenable for his religious opinions.

11. Science and truth, virtue and happiness, are the great objects to which the activity and energy of human faculties ought to be directed.

Elihu Palmer’s statement of “Principles” would certainly gain approval from most intelligent and civilized individuals today but, in my view, the “Deistical Society of New York” was a mistaken effort to organize “deism” apart from its Christian foundation in the teachings of Jesus.

Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790), was reared in the Calvinism of the Presbyterian Church but, as a youth working in his brother’s printshop, he saw some anti-deist literature which had the opposite effect on Franklin. Franklin said that he briefly became a “thorough deist” but, at age 19, he adopted a materialistic philosophy. Franklin then returned to the Presbyterian Church, in Philadelphia, but he ceased attending this church when Franklin was 22 years of age. Then Franklin wrote his own “Articles of Belief and Acts of Religion” returning to his deistic views of religion. Near the end of his life, Franklin wrote, “I believe in one God, Creator of the Universe. That he governs it by his Providence. That he ought to be worshipped. That the most acceptable Service we render him is doing good to his other Children. That the soul of Man is immortal, and will be treated with Justice in another Life respecting its Conduct in this. These I take to be the fundamental Principles of all sound Religion . . . .” Franklin’s deism is apparent in this statement, but there is no agreement among deists that the soul is immortal. Deists do agree that God’s power to give life is not limited.

Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson kept their deism very private because both were prominent political leaders, and they wanted to avoid controversy over religion. Ethan Allen published his (and Dr. Thomas Young’s) book, The Oracle of Reason, only after Young’s death and shortly before Allen’s death, so this book had little or no influence on the deist movement in the United States at that time. Thomas Paine and Elihu Palmer both opposed the irrationality of trinitarian theology but failed to accept the English deists’ view of Jesus as a teacher of the natural religion of deism. The deaths of Paine and Palmer ended their efforts to organize local non-Christian deistical societies.

In recent years, there has been a revival of interest in deism. The internet has provided more communication between individuals who are interested in natural religion based on human observation, experience, and reasoning. Individuals are experimenting with ways to bring deists together for mutural support and the promotion of deism. I believe that the life and teachings of Jesus make the principles of deism understandable and provide a personal religion that can be practiced every day. I hope that my essays may assist others in identifying themselves as “Christian deists” who choose to follow the human Jesus. May God bless you.

Edward Herbert: What Is Truth?

In 1624, an Englishman named Edward Herbert (also known as Lord Herbert of Cherbury) wrote a book entitled De Veritate (“Concerning Truth”). Herbert (1583-1648) was later called “the Father of Deism.” Actually, Herbert was not a deist, and he lived and wrote before the deist movement in England. But Herbert proposed that truth can be discovered by the use of reason and other innate human “faculties” which Herbert described and applied to the subject of religion.

The World Book Dictionary defines “truth” as “that which is in accordance with the fact or facts; that which is true, real, or actual; reality.” How we live each day, and the countless decisions that we make depend largely upon what we, as individuals, perceive as “reality” or “truth” in any matter.

How can we know the “truth?” This is the question that philosophers, theologians, scientists, and others have wrestled with for centuries.

In his book, De Veritate, Herbert began with this question, “How can we know the truth?” According to Herbert, human beings have innate “faculties” that can be used in determining the truth in any matter. Herbert divided these faculties into four groups which he called: (1) basic instinct, (2) internal sense, (3) external sense, and (4) reason.

While Herbert wrote over 200 pages in describing his methodology for determining truth, I will give a brief, and somewhat oversimplified, description of the four kinds of innate “faculties” that Herbert proposed.

“Basic Instinct” was defined by Herbert as a person’s natural inclination to search for happiness. Under “Internal Sense,” Herbert grouped a number of “faculties” which, taken together, meant “conscience.” By “External Sense,” Herbert meant the five senses (sight, hearing, touch, taste, and smell) by which a person perceives objects. And by “Reason,” Herbert meant the intellectual ability to assess the meaning of what is perceived, but Herbert believed that “reason” is guided by all of the other “faculties.”

Herbert proposed that by using all of the innate “faculties,” a person can arrive at truths, which Herbert called “common notions,” implying that they are given “universal assent” or generally accepted by people in all places and at all times. According to Herbert, these “common notions” should guide us in what we “ought” to do.

When Herbert applied his methodology to the subject of religion, he came up with five “common notions,” or religious truths, which he believed had universal assent. Herbert’s idea that “religious truths” could be discovered by ordinary individuals was very radical because the church taught that “religious truths” must come only from religious “authorities” and must be accepted unquestioningly by ordinary people on “faith.” Herbert’s approach to religion meant that each person had the power and responsibility for determining religious truths for himself or herself.

Before presenting the five “common notions” that Herbert identified in religion, I must say that during Herbert’s time (the seventeenth century) in England, writers who opposed the Church of England were subject to imprisonment or execution. Herbert escaped such punishment for a number of reasons. Herbert was from a prominent family and he was a personal acquaintance of the king. In fact, Herbert served as the English ambassador to France, and was a knight and prominent landowner. Also, he claimed to be a member of the Church of England, and none of Herbert’s “common notions” about religion conflicted with any specific doctrines of the church. In addition, Herbert took the precaution of writing his book in Latin and printing it in France.

It was only in the latter part of the 17th century that the book De Veritate got much attention because it was quoted by a deist, Charles Blount, in a book published in 1683, long after the death of Edward Herbert. Nevertheless, Herbert’s book De Veritate and other books written by Herbert promoted the idea of natural and rational religion, such as found in “Deism.”

In his book De Veritate, Herbert applied his methodology for determining truth to the subject of religion. He introduced this by writing the following:

“Every religion which proclaims a revelation is not (necessarily) good, nor is every doctrine which is taught under authority always essential or even valuable. Some doctrines due to revelation may be, (and) some of them ought to be, abandoned. In this connection the teaching of Common Notions is important; indeed, without them it is impossible to establish any standard of discrimination in revelation or even in religion.” (Note: “necessarily” and “and” added in parentheses for clarity.)

While Herbert accepted the idea that God may communicate truth through some supernatural “revelation,” Herbert believed that the validity of such revealed “truth” depends on whether it is consistent with “common notions” that are known through human “faculties.”

Herbert wrote, “Theories based on implicit faith, though widely held not only in our own part of the world but in the most distant regions, are here irrelevant. Instances of such beliefs are: (1) the human reason must be discarded, to make room for Faith; (2) that the Church, which is infallible, has the right to prescribe the method of divine worship, and in consequence must be obeyed in every detail; (3) that no one ought to place such confidence in his private judgment as to dare to question the sacred authority of priests or preachers of God’s word; (4) that the utterances, though they may elude human grasp, contain so much truth that we should rather lay them to heart than debate them; (5) that to God all the things of which they speak and much more are possible. Now these arguments and many other similar ones, according to differences of age and country, may be equally used to establish a false religion as to support a true one.” (Note: the numbers in parentheses were added to make this long paragraph more readable.)

Then Herbert wrote, “Anything that springs from the productive, not to say seductive seed of Faith will yield a plentiful crop. What pompous charlatan can fail to impress his ragged flock with such ideas? Is there any fantastic cult which may not be proclaiming under such auspices? How can any age escape deception, especially when the cunning authorities declare their inventions to be heaven-born, though in reality they habitually confuse and mix the truth with falsehood? If we do not advance toward truth upon a foundation of Common Notions, assigning every element its true value, how can we hope to reach any but futile conclusions? . . . . The supreme Judge requires every individual to render an account of his actions in the light, not of another’s belief, but of his own. So we must establish the fundamental principles of religion by means of universal wisdom, so whatever has been added to it by the genuine dictates of Faith may rest on that foundation as a roof is supported on a house.”

When Herbert applied his “faculties” to the subject of religion, he came up with the following five “Common Notions”:

1. “There is a Supreme God”

Herbert wrote that God is (1) “blessed” (Herbert did not define this term); (2) “the end to which all things move”; (3) “the cause of all things, at least in so far as they are good”; (4) “the means by which all things are produced” to meet the needs of humankind. This is called “providence”; (5) “eternal”; (6) “good”; (7) “just” and (8) “wise”.”

Deists would agree with Herbert that there is a God, the Creator and sustainer of humankind. In regard to God’s “providence” to meet the needs of humankind, Herbert recognized “Universal Providence” or “Nature” as a means of such provision (which all deists accept) but Herbert also believed in “particular” or “special” Providence when God provided “divine assistance in times of distress.” Herbert did not explain how God would provide this “special” assistance. Deists can accept the idea of God providing special assistance through natural means if available, but deists would reject the idea of God acting partially by performing some supernatural “miracles” for favored persons because it would be unfair for God to do this.

2. “This Sovereign Deity ought to be worshipped.”

Herbert wrote, “While there is no general agreement concerning the worship of Gods, sacred beings, saints, and angels, yet the Common Notion or Universal Consent tells us that adoration ought to be reserved for the one God.”

Herbert believed that “adoration” for God is based on recognition of and appreciation for God’s providential care, both Universal and Special. Herbert wrote, “Hence divine religion–and no race, however savage, has existed without some expression of it–is found established among all nations, not only because of the benefits which they received from general providence, but also their recognition of their dependence upon Grace, or particular providence.”

According to Herbert, this recognition of dependence on the providence of God has led people to worship God through “supplications, prayers, sacrifices, acts of thanksgiving; to this end were built shrines, sanctuaries, and finally for this purpose appeared priests, prophets, seers, pontiffs, the whole order of ministers.” Herbert saw “this external aspect of divine worship in any type of religion from every age, country and race” as evidence that worship of God is a “common notion” and that “the same religious faculties which anyone can experience within himself exist in every normal human being, though they appear in different forms and may be expressed without any external ceremony or ritual.”

Deists would agree with Herbert that recognition of and appreciation for God’s provisions to sustain life prompt “adoration” or love for God. Appreciation to God for the benefits of “Universal Providence” is certainly accepted by deists as a principle in religion. But Deists would disagree with Herbert’s statement, “The All Wise Cause of the universe . . . . bestows general Grace on all and special Grace on those whom it has chosen.” Herbert admitted that not everyone agreed with him in regard to “special Grace” or special providence. He wrote “Although I find that the doctrine of special providence, or Grace, was only grudgingly acknowledged by the ancients, as may be gathered from their surviving works, . . . .”

3. The connection of Virtue and Piety . . . . is and always has been held to be, the most important part of religious practice.”

The word “piety” refers to reverence for God. The word “virtue” refers to good behavior. Herbert’s third “common notion” is that a person’s reverence, or gratitude, toward God is expressed by the good behavior of the person. The connection between virtue and piety is recognized by deists as a basic principle in deism.

Herbert wrote, “No trait, therefore, is so excellent as gratitude, nothing so base as ingratitude. And when gratitude is expressed by more mature persons . . . . religion becomes enriched and appears in a greater variety of ways. . . . With the advantage of age, piety and holiness of life take deeper roots within the conscience, and give birth to a profound love and faith in God. . . . Nature itself instills men with its secret conviction that virtue constitutes the most effective means by which our mind may be gradually separated and released from the body and restore it to its lawful realm . . . .so that freed from the foul embrace of vice, and finally from the fear of death itself, it can apply itself to its proper function and attain inward everlasting joy.”

In a somewhat awkward way, Herbert explained that gratitude toward God expressed in virtuous behavior frees the mind from “vice” and “fear of death” and brings “inward everlasting joy” or feelings of happiness.

4. “The minds of men have always been filled with horror for their wickedness. Their vices and crimes have been obvious to them. They must be expiated by repentance.”

Herbert wrote, “There is no general agreement concerning the various rites or mysteries which the priests have devised for the expiation of sin.” . . . . “General agreement among religions, the nature of divine goodness, and above all conscience, tell us that our crimes may be washed away by true penitence, and that we can be restored to new union with God. For this inner witness condemns wickedness while at the same time it can wipe out the stain of it by genuine repentance, as the inner form of apprehension under proper conditions proves.”

Herbert recognized that individuals have an “inner witness,” or conscience, that “condemns wickedness” or sin in the individual. We are our own judges. At the same time, this “inner witness” tells us that repentance brings forgiveness as proven by the change in the “form of apprehension” (or relief) we feel within us. In Herbert’s words, we feel “restored to new union with God.” In the practice of deism, repentance is a basic principle.

Herbert makes another important point in writing, “This alone I assert, whatever may be said to the contrary, that unless wickedness can be abolished by penitence and faith in God, and unless Divine goodness can satisfy Divine justice (and no other appeal can be invoked), then there does not exist, nor ever has existed any universal source to which the wretched mass of men, crushed beneath the burden of sin, can turn to obtain grace and inward peace. If this were the case, God has created and condemned certain men, in fact the larger part of the human race, not only without their desire, but without their knowledge. This idea is so dreadful and consorts so ill with the providence and goodness, and even the justice of God, it is more charitable to suppose that the whole human race has always possessed in repentance the opportunity of being reconciled with God.” (Note: words in parentheses also belong to Herbert.)

Herbert added, “To declare that God has cut us off from the means by which we can return to Him, provided we play our part to the utmost of our ability, is a blasphemy so great that those who indulge in it seek to destroy not merely human goodness, but also the goodness of God.”

Herbert clearly opposed the idea that a particular religion that is unknown to many persons can provide the means for reconciliation with God. Herbert explained that repentance is the only means for obtaining forgiveness from God, and the “goodness” and “justice” of God require that this “common notion” be naturally known by all normal persons.

Deists recognize that the “common notion” of repentance is universal and essential in religion.

5. “There is reward and punishment after this life.”

Herbert wrote that “all religion, law, philosophy, and what is more, conscience, teach openly or implicitly that punishment or reward awaits us after this life.” This statement, of course, is not true. All religions and philosophies do not teach that “punishment or reward awaits us after this life,” nor is “conscience” known to forecast the future.

Individual deists hold various views about what happens to us after the life we have now. Deists would agree that the life we have now is evidence that God certainly has the power to give life. Whether God chooses to give us life in the future is unknown to us. Deists would agree that we should live our present life in a way that gives us reason to hope that God will choose to give us life again. Beyond this, deists are satisfied to leave the future in God’s care.

Herbert wrote, “That reward and punishment exist is, then, a Common Notion, though there is the greatest difference of opinion as to their nature, quality, extent, and mode.” After reciting various and conflicting beliefs about reward and punishment, Herbert concludes that “it is clearly a Common Notion . . . . that purity of life and courage of mind promote happiness.”

Deists believe that human nature is designed for virtuous living. When we act against our nature, we experience the discomfort of guilt unless we have lost touch with reality. We experience “reward and punishment” here and now in terms of our own feelings of self-respect or self-condemnation that come from our self-judgment. Inner feelings of satisfaction with oneself are called “happiness” and inner feelings of dissatisfaction with oneself are called “unhappiness.” If we refuse to live as we are designed to live, and we refuse to repent, we punish ourselves with feelings of self-dissatisfaction (unhappiness) as we live now, and we give God no reason to entrust us with life again. There is no need for any other punishment, so deists reject the absurd belief that God punishes people by endless torture in a fiery “Hell.”

Edward Herbert, Lord Herbert of Cherbury, lived and wrote four hundred years ago. In many ways he was far ahead of his times. His belief that human beings have natural “faculties” to help them discover the truth is very close to deist beliefs. Herbert identified the human instinctive search for happiness, conscience, observation through the five senses, and human reasoning as these “faculties.” In my essays, I have referred to deists using “observation, experience, and reason” as the means of discovering truth. Some of the parallels are obvious.

Herbert’s “common notions” included belief in God who should be worshipped (honored) by gratitude and virtuous living, belief in repentance for failures to live virtuously, and belief that human beings are accountable for how they live. These “common notions” certainly sound familiar to deists. While deists would agree with much of what Herbert believed, it is more important to appreciate Herbert as a pioneer in encouraging individuals to use their own natural “faculties” as the means for answering the question, “What is truth?”

John Locke, Christian Deist

In the early history of deism, four names stand out: Edward Herbert (known as Lord Herbert of Cherbury), Charles Blount, John Locke, and John Toland. I mention these four in my essay entitled History of Christian Deism, but there is much more to the story. John Locke (1632-1704) was a famous English philosopher who was opposed to deism so he wrote a book On the Reasonableness of Christianity intending to defend what he considered to be traditional Christianity. But Locke’s book turned out to support the deist’s view of Christianity, and was a tremendous boost to the Christian deist movement.

In this essay, I will describe the earliest beginnings of deism, and show the connections between Edward Herbert, Charles Blount, John Locke, and John Toland.

The term “Deism” became the common name for natural religion in England in the seventeenth century. The earliest mention of the term “deist” was in France in 1564. Pierre Viret, a leader in the Protestant Reformation used the term “deist” in a letter but he did not define the term or identify any specific deist. It appears that the term was used to refer to anti-trinitarians who believed in God but did not believe in the divinity of Jesus.

The earliest known use of the term “deist” in England was in 1621 by Robert Burton who did not define the term or identify any specific deist. Burton wrote that “too much learning makes them mad” which implies that deists may have been rationalists in religion. About fifty years later, the term “deist” was in common usage in England because Bishop Edward Stillingfleet, of the Church of England, wrote “Letter to a Deist” in opposition to deism in 1677. At that time, blasphemy laws and censorship prevented deists from openly publishing their views.

Edward Herbert (1583-1648), in England, was an early proponent of natural and universal religion. In 1624, Herbert published a book entitled, De Veritate (“Concerning Truth”) in which he claimed that “truth” can be discovered through innate human “faculties.” These natural “faculties” were (1) a natural inclination to seek happiness, (2) conscience, (3) sense perception through sight, hearing, touch, smell, and taste, and (4) reason (logical thinking).

Applying these “natural faculties” to the subject of religion, Herbert proposed five “religious truths” which he called “common notions” because he claimed that people all over the world gave “assent” to these notions.

Herbert’s five “common notions” in religion are: (1) There is a Supreme God, (2) God ought to be worshipped (out of gratitude for God’s “providence,” or all that God provides to humankind), (3) Piety (reverence for God) is best shown through virtue (good human behavior), (4) Repentance is the only remedy for the wrongs when our conscience convicts us, and (5) after this life, there is reward for good behavior and punishment for unrepented bad behavior.

In 1645, Edward Herbert repeated his “common notions” of religion in a book entitled, De Religione Laici (“A Layman’s Religion). Although Herbert promoted natural and universal religion in which human reason played a large part, he was not a deist.

In 1683, Charles Blount (1654-1693) published a book entitled Religio Laici which was based on Edward Herbert’s book of similar title (De Religione Laici). From this and other writings, Charles Blount is the first person who can be clearly identified as a “deist” although he did not publicly profess to be a deist because civil laws made this a punishable crime. Since Blount attributed the ideas in his book to Edward Herbert (by then deceased), Blount avoided prosecution.

In 1693, in a book entitled The Oracles of Reason, Charles Blount included an article “A Summary Account of the Deists Religion.” It is believed that Blount wrote this article in 1686 and circulated it privately for some years before publication in The Oracles of Reason. Blount was careful not to put his name on the article in the book. This article is the earliest known published statement of deism. (Details of this article are included in my essay, “The Importance of Beliefs.”)

In 1690, the famous English philosopher John Locke published An Essay concerning Human Understanding in which he proposed his theory of how human beings acquire “understanding” or knowledge. In this essay, Locke attacked Edward Herbert’s claim that his five “common notions” were true because they had “universal assent.” Locke pointed out that many people did not believe in the existence of God so this belief did not have “universal assent,” and humankind did not have “innate” knowledge of God’s existence.

Locke claimed that the only innate, or intuitive, knowledge that a person has is that of one’s own existence. According to Locke, from the knowledge of one’s own existence as a “cognitive” (knowing) being, a person can reason that there is a cognitive (knowing) Being called “God” because “something cannot come from nothing.”

Locke wrote that other than our intuitive knowledge of our own existence, human knowledge comes from “sensation” (perception through sight, hearing, touch, smell, and taste), and through “reflection” (the use of the mind to form ideas by using what we perceive).

Although Locke believed that human reason could lead a person to religious truths, he believed that most people failed to reason, and therefore needed to be given “truths” by individuals who received supernatural “revelations” from God. Locke referred to Hebrew prophets in the “Old Testament” and Jesus whom Locke viewed as the “Son of God.”

Locke’s opposition to deism led him to write a book entitled On the Reasonableness of Christianity in 1695. Locke believed that “Adam” had lost his “immortality” by disobeying God and therefore all human beings were born as “mortal” beings who would die. Locke rejected the idea that humankind had inherited “guilt,” or a corrupt human nature, from Adam’s sin but Locke believed that humankind had inherited “mortality” and needed to be saved from death.

According to Locke’s version of Christianity, a person would be saved from death if that person believed that Jesus was the “messiah” or “Son of God.” Locke wrote that belief in Jesus would be evident in a person’s repentance for his or her own sins, and a sincere effort to do good works as illustrated in Jesus’ parable about feeding the hungry, caring for the sick, etc. (Matthew 25:31-46).

Locke also believed that Jews who lived before the time of Jesus would be saved from death if they believed that God had promised to send a “messiah.”

By limiting “salvation” from death to those who believed that God promised to send a “messiah” or who believed that Jesus was the “messiah,” Locke recognized that he faced a serious question from deists. Locke, himself, stated the question, “What shall become of all the rest of mankind, who, having never heard of the promise or news of a Savior–not a word of a Messiah to be sent or that was to come–have had no thought or belief concerning him?”

Locke responded, “To this I answer that God will require of every man ‘according to what a man hath, and not according to what he hath not.’ “. . . . many to whom the promise of the messiah never came, and so were never of a capacity to believe or reject that revelation–yet God had, by the light of reason, revealed to all mankind who would make use of that light, that He was good and merciful.”

Locke continued, “The same spark of the divine nature and knowledge in man, which making him a man, showed him the law he was under, as a man, showed him also the way of atoning the merciful, kind, compassionate Author and Father of him and his being, when he transgressed that law. He that made use of this candle of the Lord, so far as to find what was his duty, could not miss to find also the way to reconciliation and forgiveness, when he had failed of his duty, though if he used not his reason this way, if he put out or neglected this light, he might, perhaps, see neither.”

Locke added, “The law is the eternal, immutable standard of right. And a part of that law is that a man should forgive, not only his children, but his enemies, upon their repentance, asking pardon, and amendment. And therefore he could not doubt that the Author of this law, and God of patience and consolation, who is rich in mercy, would forgive his frail offspring, if they acknowledged their faults, disapproved the iniquity of their transgressions, begged his pardon, and resolved in earnest, for the future to conform their actions to this rule, which they owned to be right. This way of reconciliation, this hope of atonement, the light of nature revealed to them; and the revelation of the gospel, having said nothing to the contrary, leaves them to stand or fall to their own Father and Master, whose goodness and mercy is over all his works.”

Deists must have been delighted to read Locke’s answer. Locke unintentionally made the Deists’ own case for a natural and universal religion based on reason.

Locke apparently realized this, too, because he then wrote, “It will here possibly be asked, ‘What need is there of a Savior? What advantage have we by Jesus Christ?’ ”

Locke tried to answer this question by saying that we cannot understand all of the purposes of God in sending a messiah. For example, “we know not what need there was to set up a head and chieftain in opposition to ‘the prince of this world, the prince of power of the air’ etc.” In other words, perhaps God needed someone to lead the battle against Satan or the Devil. (Note: Deists view the idea of “Satan or the Devil” as superstition.)

Then Locke offers other reasons for God sending a “Savior.” Locke wrote, “The evidence of our Savior’s mission from heaven is so great, in the multitudes of miracles he did before all sorts of people, that what he delivered cannot but be received as the oracles of God and unquestionable verity.” In other words, people would know the truth was from God because it is confirmed by the miracles of Jesus. (Note: Deists reject the idea that God intervenes in human affairs by performing supernatural “miracles” in violation of natural laws.)

Locke argued that although people could use reason to find God, they often did not do this because “lust blinded their minds,” or because of “careless inadvertency.” Locke also blamed heathen priests for “fill(ing) their heads with false notions of Deity” and “priests everywhere, to secure their empire, having excluded reason from anything having to do with religion.”

Locke wrote that “knowledge of morality by mere natural light makes but a slow progress and little advance in the world” so “. . . . it is plain there was need of one to give us such a morality–such a law, which might be a sure guide to those who had a desire to go right, and, if they had mind, need not mistake their duty, but might be certain when they had performed, (and) when failed in it. Such a law Jesus Christ hath given us in the New Testament . . . . by revelation.”

Locke added that Jesus “brought life and immortality to light.” “. . . . he has given us an unquestionable assurance and pledge of it in his own resurrection and ascension into heaven.”

At the end of his book, Locke wrote, “God, out of the infiniteness of his mercy, has dealt with man as a compassionate and tender Father. He gave him reason and with it a law, that cannot be otherwise than what reason should dictate, unless we think that a reasonable creature should have an unreasonable law. But considering the frailty of man, apt to run into corruption and misery, he promised a deliverer, whom in his good time he sent, and then declared to all mankind, that whoever would believe him to be the Savior promised and take him (now raised from the dead and constituted Lord and Judge of all men) to be their King and Ruler, should be saved.”

In his effort to present a “reasonable” Christianity, Locke emphasized that Jesus taught “repentance” and “virtuous living.” Locke also admitted that human beings could use reason to discover these same truths.

Locke’s lack of “orthodoxy” was immediately recognized by the English trinitarian clergy. Locke had said nothing about Jesus having to die on a cross to pay the penalty for sin, the central doctrine of atonement in trinitarian Christianity. Also, Locke’s view of Jesus and God differed from the church doctrine of the “Trinity” so Locke was accused to being a Socinian (anti-trinitarian).

In “An Essay concerning Human Understanding”, in 1690, Locke had expressed his belief that some truth that is “beyond reason” (i.e., beyond human comprehension) should be accepted if it comes through “revelation.” However, such truth must be examined to be sure that it is not contradicted by reason, and that there is evidence that the truth came from God. In his book, On the Reasonableness of Christianity, Locke wrote that the “miracles” performed by Jesus were evidence that Jesus taught the truth from God.

Almost immediately after Locke published his book On the Reasonableness of Christianity in 1695, a deist John Toland published a book Christianity Not Mysterious in 1696. In his book, Toland defined as “mysterious” any doctrine that was beyond human comprehension. Toland, who claimed to be a follower of Locke, wrote that any doctrine that was “mysterious” was not essential in Christianity. Toland wrote that God would not expect any person to believe a doctrine that was beyond human comprehension.

Toland wrote that his book Christianity Not Mysterious was the first in a series of three books that Toland intended to write, and in his second book, Toland would specify which Christian doctrines should not be accepted because they could not be validated by human reason. Toland never got the chance to publish the second book. Trinitarian clergy assumed that Toland was referring to the doctrine of the “Trinity of God” as “beyond human comprehension.” When Toland went to Ireland, his native country, the Irish clergy and government had Toland’s book burned by the hangman, and Toland had to leave the country to save his life.

Toland’s book started a firestorm of debate in England about deism, and a flood of deist books came during the next four decades. Six years after the publication of Christianity Not Mysterious, Toland had to defend himself against charges made by authorities in the Church of England.

John Locke’s books, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding and On the Reasonableness of Christianity, had a great impact on the development of deism in England. Although he was opposed to deism, Locke’s arguments in favor of reason, and his emphasis on repentance and virtuous behavior in Locke’s version of Christianity contributed to the recognition that Jesus taught the principles of deism.

In his book On the Reasonableness of Christianity, Locke admitted that the truths taught by Jesus can be discovered by the use of human reasoning. Although Locke believed that miracles by Jesus would convince people to accept God’s truth, Deists find no necessity for believing in miracles. The truth we need to know is self-evident to anyone who thinks about it.