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A Man Named Jesus

I view Jesus as a human being, like you and me, but living in a different time and place. Jesus was a Jew, almost 2,000 years ago, and he shared the Jewish belief that God intended for the descendants of Abraham (the Jews) to become a nation. (Genesis 12:2).
The Jewish nation, known as the Kingdom of Israel, had a history of being dominated by other nations including Assyria, Babylonia, Persia, Greece, Egypt, and Syria. In Jesus’ day, the Jews were ruled by the Romans. The Jews looked forward to the day when they would become what Abraham had envisioned — an independent nation obedient to God’s laws.

When John the Baptist began preaching, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3:2), some Jews believed that the time had come for a messiah (“anointed one”) to liberate the Jews and reestablish an independent Kingdom of Israel. Jesus joined this movement and was baptized by John the Baptist.

“Now after John was arrested, 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 1:14-15).

At that time, Jesus’ concept of the “kingdom of God” was a nationalistic one. When Jesus sent his disciples out to preach the coming of the kingdom, Jesus told them, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles (non-Jews), and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel (the Jews). And preach as you go, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 10:5-7).

(Note: The terms “kingdom of God” and “kingdom of heaven” are synonymous.)

In the beginning, Jesus was clearly a Jewish revoluntionary and he was eventually crucified as such by the Romans. But as Jesus traveled and preached the coming of the “kingdom of God,” Jesus’ concept of the kingdom began to change.

When Jesus encountered a Caananite (non-Jewish) woman from the district of Tyre and Sidon, the woman asked Jesus to heal the woman’s daughter.

Jesus said, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” (Note: At that time, Jesus was a Jewish revolutionary and he thought that his mission was only to help the Jews.)

But the woman came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord (sir), help me.” Jesus replied, “It is not fair to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” (Note: In this statement, Jesus expressed a prejudice that was common among the Jews at that time. Jesus referred to the Jews as the “children” of God and to the Caananites, non-Jews, as “dogs,” implying that non-Jews were inferior to Jews.)

The Caananite woman replied, “Yes, lord (sir), yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.” Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith. Be it done for you as you desire.” And the woman’s daughter was healed, according to the book of Matthew (15:22-28).

It seems that Jesus learned a lesson in humility and faith from this Canaanite woman. As Jesus encountered persons of other nationalities and religions, Jesus gradually overcame his prejudices against such persons. Jesus ended his days on earth telling his disciples to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). And Jesus used a Samaritan (a non-Jew) as an example of a “good neighbor” in the parable of the “good Samaritan” (Luke 10:29-37).

As Jesus’ concept of the “kingdom of God” grew, he used parables (stories) to try to explain his new concept. Many of Jesus’ parables begin with the statement, “The kingdom of heaven is like ….” It is in Jesus’ parables that we find the “kingdom of God” defined as the reign of God’s laws (commandments) in the hearts of individuals and in the reformation of society. Jesus prayed to God, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10).

Jesus summarized the laws, or commandments, of God as follows: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And the second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the (Mosaic) law and (teachings of) the prophets” (Matthew 22:36-40).

Jesus, as a Jew, probably never gave up his hope that someday the Kingdom of Israel would be reestablished as an independent nation obedient to God’s laws but Jesus’ concept of the “kingdom of God” contained the hope that God’s law of love would rule in every human heart and in all of human society.

Jesus believed that he had been “anointed” to preach the gospel (good news) that the “Kingdom of God is at hand, repent, and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15). In the synagogue in Nazareth, Jesus read from the book of Isaiah, “The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news ….” (Luke 4:18). The Greek word “christos” means “anointed one” so Jesus eventually became known as Jesus “the christos.” And the followers of Jesus eventually became known as “Christians.”

Jesus knew that he was risking crucifixion by the Romans because Jesus was preaching the coming of the kingdom of God. The Romans viewed this message as words of a Jewish revolutionary seeking to liberate the Jews from the Romans. Crucifixion was the Roman punishment for revolutionaries.

Jesus took this risk and was crucified by the Romans. Although Jesus survived his crucifixion, at least for some days, his cross became a symbol of unconditional love for others and a commitment to the mission of spreading the gospel of God. Jesus said to his disciples, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:12-13).

Later, a man named Paul misinterpreted the meaning of Jesus’ crucifixion. Paul believed that Jesus died on the cross as a sacrifice to pay a death penalty on behalf of humankind to save people from the “wrath” of God. Paul believed that Jesus was a divine and sinless being who sacrificed his life as a “substitute” to atone (make amends) for the sins of humankind, like a “ram without blemish” was sacrificed as a “guilt offering” to God in the Jewish temple, 2,000 years ago (Leviticus 6:6-7). Today, the so-called “substitutionary theory of the atonement” is based on Paul’s belief.

But Jesus saw himself only as a “man who has told you the truth which I heard from God” (John 8:40) and Jesus did not see his cross as a “substitute” for anyone. In fact, Jesus made it very clear that he expected his disciples to risk their own lives if they chose to follow him. Jesus said, “Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me, cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:27).

Here, Jesus is clearly saying that a person must be prepared to pay whatever it costs to live by the commandments — to love God and neighbor. The cost to Jesus was crucifixion. However, it is our willingness to bear our own cross (whatever it may be) that identifies each of us as a disciple of Jesus. The cross of Jesus serves as an example to be followed; it does not serve as a substitute to save us from anything.

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.

Matthew Tindal, Christian Deist

In 1730, a Christian deist named Matthew Tindal wrote a book entitled Christianity as Old as the Creation: or, the Gospel, a Republication of the Religion of Nature . As implied in this title, Tindal takes the position that the essential truths in Christianity have always been known by all human beings since the creation of the world. According to Tindal, any claim to receiving an exclusive “revelation” of truth by anyone, or the church, must be tested by human reason. Any such “revealed” truth that cannot be verified through human reason is either invalid or non-essential in Christianity.

Tindal finds that a number of church doctrines fail to pass the test of human reason but Tindal explains that the essential truths in Christianity are known naturally and universally. Tindal explains that whatever “honors God and is good for mankind” is in accord with God’s will and should guide human behavior. This, of course, is Tindal’s paraphrase of what Jesus described as love for God and love for “neighbor,” which Christian deists believe is the essence of Christianity.

Since I use the terms “Christian deism” and “Christian deist” in my essays, I have received e-mail asking whether these terms are “oxymorons,” figures of speech in which the words have opposite meanings. A Calvinist web page, which is opposed to “Christian deism,” claims that the term is internally “contradictory.” In response to these questions and comments, I would like to explain that the concept and term “Christian deist” is not my creation. The term was used in 1730 by Matthew Tindal in his book Christianity as Old as the Creation.

Some have asked the question, “Can a Deist be a Christian?” The reason for this question is that some persons equate “Christianity” with “trinitarianism.” Trinitarian Christians believe in the doctrines of original sin, the divinity of Jesus, substitutionary atonement through the death of Jesus, supernatural revelation of truth, and miracles to prove the authority of Jesus. Deists reject these trinitarian views. Even Thomas Paine, a deist whom I greatly admire, made the mistake of equating “Christianity” with “trinitarianism,” so when Paine contrasted “Deism” with what he called “Christianity,” he was really criticizing “trinitarian” doctrines.

“Deism” is a religious perspective based on the premises that all human beings at all times have known that a Creator, called “God,” exists and that all human beings have known how God intends for people to live. This knowledge comes from “nature” and human “reason.” “Nature” includes both human nature and the natural world around us. Human “reason” refers to our individual ability to observe and think logically about ourselves and our relationships with each other and our Creator. Deists believe that as a person lives in harmony with the design of human nature, the individual is living in obedience to the will of God which is the basis for all happiness in this life and beyond.

On the other hand, trinitarian Christians claim that “Christianity” is a religion based on “revelations” of “truths” not known to all persons but supernaturally revealed by Jesus to a man named Paul of Tarsus, and later modified and adopted by church councils and church leaders such as the Catholic pope. Those who view “Christianity” as based on “revelations” known only in trinitarian churches claim that this version of “Christianity” is the sole source of “salvation” from sin and its alleged penalty, everlasting torture in a place called “hell.” Of course, Christian deists reject this idea because it is an insult to the goodness of God.

Matthew Tindal’s book, Christianity as Old as the Creation, answers the question, “Can a deist be a Christian?” and refutes the trinitarian claim to an exclusive knowledge of God’s truth.

Matthew Tindal (1650?-1733) was educated as a lawyer at Exeter College, Oxford University. He earned three degrees and taught at All Soul’s College, Oxford, from 1678 until his death in 1733. He was also an advisor to the English government on international law. Tindal was a Christian deist, a member of the Anglican church, and a prolific writer. In his book, Christianity as Old as the Creation, Tindal set forth the basic views of Christian deism in 391 pages. The book is written in English but reflects Tindal’s broad education from his frequent quotations in Latin and Greek from ancient philosophers and “church fathers.”

Tindal takes the position that the basic teachings of Jesus are validated by human reason but church leaders have added many doctrines and practices that are either contradictory to the teachings of Jesus or are non-essential in Christianity.

Reprints of Tindal’s book are available but are rather expensive ($120) so the book is not widely read by the general public today. Since the book is lengthy, it is not feasible to present much of its content in one essay, but I will offer some excerpts from it.

The book, Christianity as Old as the Creation, consists of fourteen chapters. Each of the first thirteen chapters presents a proposition in Deism which Tindal supports by the content of the chapter. In the fourteenth chapter of the book, Tindal refutes a publication by a “Dr. S. Clark” who wrote that, while there is value in natural religion (deism), the special “revelation” of truth possessed exclusively by the Christian church is distinct from, and superior to, natural religion.

In this essay, I will present the three propositions stated as titles of the first three chapters of Tindal’s book and I will offer some excerpts from each of these chapters.

Please note that this book was written over 270 years ago so the punctuation, capitalization, spelling, and the meaning of some words are different today. Where clarification is needed, I have provided this, but I have left the text essentially as Tindal wrote it. Of course, Tindal uses the words “he” and “him” when referring to God, as traditionally done in Tindal’s day, but this does not mean that Tindal’s concept of God is “anthropomorphic.”

The following is from Matthew Tindal’s book, Christianity as Old as the Creation:

CHAPTER 1.

Proposition: “That God, at all Times, has given Mankind sufficient Means of knowing what he requires of them; and what those Means are.”

Excerpts from Chapter 1:

“…. if God has given Mankind a Law, he must have given them likewise sufficient means of knowing it; he would, otherwise, have defeated his own Intent in given it; since the Law, as far as it is unintelligible, ceases to be a Law. Shall we say, that God, who had the forming of human Understanding, as well as his own Laws, did not know how to adjust the one to the other?”

“If God at all times was willing all Men should come to the knowledge of his Truth, could not his infinite Wisdom and Power, at all times, find sufficient means, for making Mankind capable of knowing what his infinite Goodness designed they should know?”

“…. Christianity, tho’ the Name is of a later date, must be as old, and as extensive, as human Nature; and the Law of our Creation, must have been Then implanted in us by God himself.”

“And if God designed all Mankind should at all times know, what he wills them to know, what he wills them to know, believe, profess, and practice; and has given them no other Means for this, but the Use of Reason; Reason, human Reason must then be that Means: For as God has made us rational Creatures, and Reason tells us, that ’tis his Will, that we act up to the Dignity of our Natures; so ’tis Reason must tell when we do so.”

“If then Reason was given to bring them to the Knowledge of God’s Will, that must be sufficient to produce its intended Effects, and can never bring Men to take that for his Will, which he designed they, by using their Reason, should avoid as contrary to it.”

“And therefore I shall attempt to shew you, That Men, if they sincerely endeavor to discover the Will of God, will perceive, that there is a Law of Nature, or Reason; which is so called, as being a Law which is common, or natural, to all rational Creatures;….”

“So that True Christianity is not a Religion of Yesterday, but what God, at the beginning, dictated, and stills continues to dictate to Christians as well as others.”

“Since none then that believe there’s a God, who governs Mankind, but believes he has given them a Law for the governing their Actions; this being imply’d in the very Notion of Governour and Governed; And since the Law by which he governs Men, and his Government must commence together, and extend alike to all his Subjects;….”

“….must there not always have been an universal Law so fully promulgated to Mankind, that they could have no just Plea from their Ignorance, not to be tried for it. And could any thing less than its being founded on the Nature of Things, and the Relation Men stand to God and one another, visible at all times to all, make it thus universally promulgated?”

CHAPTER 2.

Proposition: “That the Religion of Nature consists in observing those Things, which our Reason, by considering the Nature of God and Man, and the Relation we stand in to him and one another, demonstrates to be our Duty; and that those Things are plain; and likewise What they are.”

Excerpts from Chapter 2.

“By Natural Religion, I understand the Belief of the Existence of a God, and the Sense and Practice of those Duties which result from the Knowledge we, by our Reason, have of him and his Perfections; and of ourselves, and our own Imperfections; and of the relation we stand in to him and our Fellow-Creatures; so that the Religion of Nature takes in every thing that is founded on the Reason and Nature of things.”

“….’tis evident by the Light of Nature, that there is a God; or, in other words, a Being absolutely perfect, and infinitely happy in himself, who is the Source of all other Beings; and that what Perfections soever the Creatures have, they are wholly derived from him.”

“Since then, it is demonstrable that there is such a Being, it is equally demonstrable that the Creatures can neither add to, or take from the Happiness of that Being; and that he could have no Motive in framing his Creatures, or in giving Laws to such as them as he made capable of knowing his Will, but their own Good.”

“It unavoidably follows, nothing can be a part of the divine Law, but what tends to promote the common Interest, and mutual Happiness of his rational Creatures; and every thing that does so, must be a part of it.”

“As God can require nothing of us, but what makes for our Happiness; so he …. can forbid us those Things only, which tend to our Hurt;….”

“From our Consideration of these Perfections, we cannot but have the highest Veneration, nay, the greatest Adoration and Love for this supreme Being; who, that we not fail to be as happy as possible for such Creatures to be, has made our acting for our present, to be the only Means of obtaining our future Happiness; so that we can’t sin against him, but by acting against ourselves, i.e., our reasonable Natures: These Reflections …. not only force us to express a never-failing Gratitude …. but make us strive to imitate him in our extensive Love to our Fellow-Creatures:….”

“Our Reason, which gives us a Demonstration of the divine Perfections, affords us the same concerning the Nature of those duties God requires; not only in relation to himself, but to ourselves and one another; These we can’t but see, if we look into ourselves, consider our own Natures, and the Circumstances God has placed us in with relation to our Fellow-Creatures, and what conduces to our mutual Happiness: Our Senses, our Reason, the Experiences of others as well as our own, can’t fail to give us sufficient Information.”

“With relation to ourselves, we can’t but know how we are to act; if we consider, that God has endowed Man with such a Nature, as makes him necessarily desire his own Good; and therefore, he may be sure, that God, who has bestowed this Nature on him, could not require any thing of him in prejudice (*detriment) of it; but on the contrary, that he should do every thing which tends to promote the Good of it. The Health of the Body, and the Vigor of the Mind, being highly conducing to our Good, we must be sensible (*aware) we offend our Maker if we indulge our Senses to the prejudice (*detriment) of these: And because not only irregular Passions, all unfriendly Affections carry their own Torment with them, and endless Inconveniences attend the excess of sensual Delights; and all immoderate Desires (human Nature being able to bear but a certain Proportion) disorder both Mind and Body; we can’t but know we ought to use great Moderation with relation to our Passions, or in other Words, govern all our Actions by Reason; That, and our true Interest being inseparable.” (*Note: Brother John has inserted some words parenthetically in this paragraph to clarify the meaning of certain words which Tindal wrote in 1730).

“As to what God expects from Man with relation to each other; every one must know his Duty, who considers that the common Parent of Mankind has the whole Species alike under his protection, and will equally punish him for injuring others, as he would others for injuring him; and consequently, that it is his duty to deal with them, as he expects they should deal with him in like Circumstances.”

“All Moralists agree, that human Nature is so constituted, that Men can’t live without Society and mutual Assistance; and that God has endowed them with Reason, Speech, and other Faculties, evidently fitted to enable them to assist each other in all Concerns of Life; that, therefore, ’tis the Will of God who gives them this Nature, and endows them with these Faculties, that they should employ them for their common Benefit and mutual Assistance. And the Philosophers, who saw that all Society would be dissolved, and Men soon become destitute of even the Necessaries of Life, and be prey to one another, if each Man was only to mind himself and his own single Interest; and that every thing pointed out the Necessity of mutual Benevolence among Mankind; did therefore rightly judge, that Men were by their Nature framed to be useful to one another; “Ad tuendos conservandojq; omines hominem natum effe,” says Cicero. Therefore, every Man, for the sake of others as well as himself, is not to disable his Body or Mind by such Irregularities, as may make him less serviceable to them.”

“In short, considering the variety of Circumstances Men are under, and these continually changing, as well as being for the most part unforeseen; ’tis impossible to have Rules laid down by External Revelation for every particular Case; and therefore, there must be some standing Rule, discoverable by the Light of Nature, to direct us in all such Cases.”

“In a word, as a most beneficient Disposition in the supreme Being is the Source of all his Actions in relation to his Creatures; so he has implanted in Man, whom he has made after his Image, a Love for his Species; the gratifying of which in doing Acts of Benevolence, Compassion, and Good Will, produces a Pleasure that never satiates; as on the contrary, Actions of Ill-Nature, Envy, Malice, etc. never fail to produce Shame, Confusion, and everlasting Self-reproach.”

“From those Premises, I think, we may boldly draw this Conclusion, That if Religion consists in the Practice of those Duties, that result from the Relation we stand in to God and Man, our Religion must always be the same. If God is unchangeable, our Duty to him must be so too; if Human Nature continues the same, and Men at all times stand in the same Relation to one another, the Duties which result from thence too, must always be the same: And consequently our Duty both to God and Man must, from the Beginning of the World to the End, remain unalterable; be always alike plain and perspicuous; neither changed in Whole, or Part; which demonstrates that no Person, if he comes from God, can teach us any other Religion, or give us any Precepts, but what are founded on those Relations.”

“To sum up all in a few words: …. it being impossible for God, in governing the World, to propose to himself any other End than the Good of the Governed: and consequently, whoever does his best for the Good of his Fellow-Creatures, does all that either God or Man requires.”

“Hence, I think, we may define, True Religion to consist in a constant Disposition of Mind to do all the Good we can; and thereby render ourselves acceptable to God in answering the End of his Creation.”

CHAPTER 3.

Proposition: “That the Perfection and Happiness of all rational beings, supreme as well as subordinate, consists in living up to the Dictates of their Nature.”

Excerpts from Chapter 3:

“The Principle from which all human Actions flow, is the Desire for Happiness; and God who does nothing in vain, would in vain have implanted this Principle, This only innate Principle in Mankind, if he had not given them Reason to discern what Actions make for, and against their Happiness.”

“The Happiness of all Beings whatever consists in the Perfection of their Nature; and the Nature of a rational Being is most perfect, when it is perfectly rational; that is, when it governs all its Actions by the Rules of Right Reason; for then it arrives at the most perfect, and consequently the happiest State a rational Nature can aspire to: and every Deviation from the Rules of Right Reason, being an Imperfection, must carry with it a proportionable Unhappiness; and a Man’s Happiness and Duty must consist of the same things, ….”

“…. Men, according as they do, or do not partake of the Nature of God, must unavoidably be either happy, or miserable; And herein appears the great Wisdom of God, in making Mens Misery and Happiness the necessary and inseparable Consequence of their Actions; and that rational Actions carry with them their own Reward, and irrational their own Punishment: ….”

“The end for which God has given us Reason, is to compare Things, and the Relation they stand in to each other; and from thence to judge the Fitness and Unfitness of Actions; and could not our Reason judge soundly in all such Matters, it could not have answered the End for which infinite Wisdom and Goodness bestowed that excellent Gift; and for which we can’t enough adore the goodness of God.”

“…. since ’tis impossible in any Book, or Books, that a particular Rule could be given for every Case, we must even then have had recourse to the Light of Nature to teach us our Duty in most Cases; especially considering the numberless Circumstances which attend us, and which, perpetually varying, may make the same Actions, according as Men are differently affected by them, either good or bad.”

“Thus, I think, I have fully proved from the Nature of God and Man, and the Relations we stand to him and one another, that the divine Precepts can’t vary; and that these Relations, which are the permanent Voice of God, by which he speaks to all Mankind, do at all times infallibly point out to us our Duty in all the various Circumstances of Life.”

The Importance of Beliefs

  • (NOTE TO READER: This essay is based on two religious documents written over 300 years ago when spelling and sentence structure were sometimes very different from today. So this essay will not be easy reading, but I will provide some help along the way. Good luck. BJ)
  • How you live is determined by your beliefs. A belief is an idea that you accept as true or factual. Your beliefs come from your own observation, experience, and reasoning, and from what you accept from reading or hearing the beliefs or teachings of other persons. The beliefs that influence how you live are ordinarily called a “philosophy of life” or “religion.”

    Some beliefs are true and some beliefs are false. It is important for you to examine your beliefs to assess the validity or invalidity of the ideas represented in your beliefs. It is also important for you to know the source of your beliefs, and why you hold your beliefs.

    Beliefs, or ideas, may become part of a religious system that is passed down from generation to generation in a particular society or culture. The antiquity of a belief may give an idea the appearance of “authority” although the idea is actually erroneous. For centuries, it was believed that the sun circled the earth, but this was eventually proven to be a false idea. It can be personally dangerous for a person to challenge an ancient belief, as Copernicus and Galileo found out. It takes courage to do this.

    In England, beginning in the seventeenth century of the Christian Era (or Common Era), a number of persons began questioning the validity of some beliefs stated in the national Church of England’s creed known as the 39 “Articles of Religion.” The 39 Articles, officially adopted in 1571, were based on ideas from Roman Catholicism as modified by Reformers such as Martin Luther and John Calvin.

    I am quoting the “Articles of Religion” in some detail in this essay so you, the reader, will recognize that most of the doctrines found today in Trinitarian Christian churches came from such sources.

    This essay examines some of the ideas codified in the 39 Articles of Religion that Deists rejected and refuted. These included doctrines concerning the Trinity of God, the divinity of Jesus, original sin, the sacrificial death of Jesus as an atonement for sin, predestination, and “hell” as a place of unending torment for non-Christians.

    This essay also examines the earliest known published statement of deist beliefs, “A Summary Account of the Deists Religion” published in 1693 in a book entitled The Oracles of Reason. The contrast between the “39 Articles of Religion” and “A Summary Account of the Deists Religion” is amazing and, I think, quite enlightening.

    The Trinity of God

    “Article I” of the 39 Articles of Religion, entitled “Of Faith in the Holy Trinity,” states that “There is but one living and true God, everlasting, without body, parts or passions; of infinite power, wisdom, and goodness; the Maker, and Preserver of all things both visible and invisible. And in unity of this Godhead there are three Persons, of one substance, power, and eternity; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.”

    The word “Son,” of course, refers to Jesus and this Article claims that Jesus is divine, or God. In the 17th and 18th centuries, denial of the “divinity” of Jesus was an offense under English (and French) civil law and was punishable by imprisonment or execution. Writers who denied the divinity of Jesus used various devices to protect themselves from prosecution. Some published their writings anonymously, or attributed their views to ancient writers who were deceased. Others put their views in the mouths of fictional characters in a story or in an imaginary debate.

    The earliest known published statement of deist beliefs was in a book, The Oracles of Reason, containing writings from Charles Blount and others in 1693. One article, entitled “A Summary Account of the Deists Religion,” began with (Chapter I) “The Deists Opinion of God” which stated “Whatever is Adorable, Amiable and Imitable by Mankind, is in one Supreme infinite and perfect Being, Satis est nobis Deus unus” (Latin is translated: “One God is enough for us.”)

    This statement affirms the Deist belief in the unity of God, and specifically omits any reference to Jesus as part of a “Godhead” or “three Persons.” Such a denial of the “divinity” of Jesus, of course, was considered “heresy” and subject to prosecution by civil authorities.

    It was generally believed that Charles Blount wrote “A Summary Account of the Deists Religion” but Blount’s name does not appear on the document in the book. On the page just preceding the “Summary Account,” Blount published a letter that he wrote to a “Dr. Sydnham” stating that Blount had seen a statement of “the Deists Arguments” and “according to my promise I have herewith sent them to you.” Blount was careful not to say whether he agreed with the “Deists Arguments.” In fact, Blount wrote “that human Reason like a Pitcher with two Ears, may be taken on either side” and “undoubtedly, in our Travails to the other World the common Road is the safest,” referring to traditional Christianity. By this device, Blount protected himself from civil authorities but Church of England clergy viewed Blount as a deist in disguise.

    The Divinity, Incarnation, and Sacrificial Death of Jesus

    Article II of the 39 Articles of Religion, entitled “Of the Word or Son of God, which was made very Man,” states that “The Son, which is the Word of the Father, begotten from everlasting of the Father, the very and eternal God, and of one substance with the Father, took Man’s nature in the womb of the blessed Virgin, of her substance: so that two whole and perfect Natures, that is to say, the Godhead and Manhood, were joined together in one Person, never to be divided, whereof is one Christ, very God and very Man; who truly suffered, dead, and buried, to reconcile His Father to us, and to be a sacrifice, not only for original sin, but also for all actual sins of men.”

    This Article II is intended to explain how the “Son of God” became a human being (Jesus) without relinquishing his “divinity.” This was allegedly accomplished through a “virgin birth.” This doctrine of the “virgin birth” is essential in trinitarian theology. It enables Jesus to acquire a human nature so he could represent humankind, and it allows him to be “sinless” by not inheriting a “corrupt human nature” (from Adam’s original sin) that made sinning inevitable for human beings born in the ordinary way. As a “sinless” human being, Jesus could offer his life as a sacrifice “without spot” to atone for the sins of others, and thus “reconcile His Father to us,” according to the 39 Articles of Religion.

    The “sinless” human nature of Jesus and his “sacrifice” for humankind are also stated in Article XV of the 39 Articles of Religion, entitled “Of Christ alone without Sin” which states that “Christ in the truth of our nature was made like unto us in all things, sin only except, from which he was clearly void, both in his flesh, and in his spirit. He came to be the Lamb without spot, who by sacrifice of himself, once made, should take away the sins of the world, and sin, as Saint John saith, was not in him. . . . ”

    “A Summary Account of the Deists Religion” refutes the idea that God requires a sacrifice. In Chapter II “Concerning the manner of Worshipping God,” it is stated that it is not “By Sacrifice; for sponsio non valet ut alter pro altero puniatur;” (Translated: “it is not a valid agreement that one man can be punished for another”) and “no such sponsio (agreement) can be made with a bruit Creature (man); nor . . . can any External Rite, or Worship reinstate the Creature (man), after sin, in his (God’s) favor, but only repentance, and obedience, for the future; ending in an Assimulation to himself, as he (God) is the highest Good, . . .” This statement contains the basic Deist belief that repentance, followed by trying to be like God in goodness, is sufficient to obtain God’s forgiveness of sins. Deists specifically reject the belief that the death of Jesus was a sacrifice required for obtaining God’s forgiveness. (Note: words are added in parentheses to clarify meaning.)

    “A Summary Account of the Deists Religion” rejects the idea that God can be worshipped through “any External Rite.” It is stated that “this is the first error in all Particular Religions; that external things or bare opinions of the mind, can after sin propituate God;” In other words, in “particular” (commonly known) religions, external rituals and theological opinions cannot atone for sin or please God.

    It is then added that “hereby (the use of external things and opinions of the mind) Legislators (religious law makers) have endeared themselves, and flattered their Proselytes (followers) into good opinions of themselves (the religious lawmakers), and mankind (has) willingly submitted to the cheat; Enim facilius est superstitiose, quam juste vivere (translated: “Indeed, it is easier to live superstitiously than to live justly/rightly.”)

    Chapter II of “A Summary Account of the Deists Religion,” gives three reasons for why Deists do not believe in a “Mediator” to reconcile us with God: “first, it is unnecessary; Miserecordia Die being sufficiens justitiae suae (Translated: “the mercy of God being enough to satisfy God’s justice”); secondly, God must appoint this Mediator, and so (God) was really reconciled to the World before. And, thirdly, a Mediator derogates (detracts) from the infinite mercy of God . . .”

    Chapter II of the “Summary Account” also states that Deists do not believe in using images to worship God because it is an “impossibility” for “an infinite mind (God) to be represented in matter.”

    After rejecting the ideas of worshipping God through images, sacrifice, and mediator, the “Summary Account of the Deists Religion” states that Deists believe that true worship is expressed “by an inviolable adherence in our lives to all things naturally good by an imitation of God in all his imitable Perfections, especially his goodness and believing magnificently of it.” In other words, we honor God by trying to imitate God’s goodness, and by trusting in God’s goodness. This is a common theme found in the writings of the early Deists: worship (show respect for) God by virtuous (good) behavior.

    Original Sin, Predestination, and Salvation

    Article IX of the 39 Articles of Religion, entitled “Of Original and Birth-Sin,” states that “Original Sin . . . is the fault and corruption of the Nature of every man, that naturally is ingendered of the offspring of Adam; whereby man is very far gone from original righteousness, and is of his own nature inclined to evil, so that the flesh lusteth always contrary to the spirit; and therefore in every person born into this world, it deserveth God’s wrath and damnation. . .”

    Article XVII of the 39 Articles of Religion, entitled “Of Predestination and Election,” states that “Predestination to Life is the everlasting purpose of God, whereby before the foundations of the world were laid, he hath constantly decreed by his counsel secret to us, to deliver from curse and damnation those whom he has chosen in Christ out of mankind, and to bring them to everlasting salvation, as vessels made to honor. . . . (But) for curious and carnal persons, lacking the Spirit of Christ, to have continually before their eyes the sentence of God’s Predestination, is a most dangerous downfall, whereby the Devil doth thrust them either into desperation, or to wretchedness of most unclean living, no less perilous than desperation.”

    Article XXXI of the 39 Articles of Religion, entitled “Of the Oblation of Christ finished upon the Cross,” states that “The Offering of Christ once made is that perfect redemption, propitiation, and satisfaction, for all the sins of the whole world, both original and actual; and there is none other satisfaction for sin, but that alone. . . .”

    Article XI of the 39 Articles of Religion, entitled “Of the Justification of Man” states that “We are accounted righteous before God, only for the merit of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ by Faith, and not for our own works or deservings; . . .”

    Article XVIII of the 39 Articles of Religion, entitled “Of obtaining Salvation only by the Name of Christ,” states that “They are also to be had accursed that presume to say, That every man shall be saved by the Law or Sect which he professeth, so that he be diligent to frame his life according to that Law, and the light of Nature. For the holy Scripture doth set out unto us only the Name of Jesus Christ, whereby men must be saved.”

    Articles IX, quoted above, presents a view that human beings inherit a corrupt nature at birth and cannot avoid sinning, thus deserving “God’s wrath and damnation.” Article XVII claims that God, before the creation of the world, chose some persons “out of mankind to bring them to everlasting salvation,” and persons not chosen by God will face “God’s wrath and damnation.” This is called “predestination,” an idea that John Calvin promoted and is central in “Calvinism.”

    Deists, of course, reject the idea that human nature is inherently corrupt. Deists also reject the idea that persons are predestined to be “saved” or “damned” before they are born. It would certainly be unfair and unloving for God to do this.

    Articles XXXI, XI, and XVIII, quoted above, claim that Jesus’ death on a cross is the only means for saving people from “God’s wrath and damnation,” and it is “only by the Name of Jesus Christ, whereby men must be saved.” Deists reject this claim because most people who have lived, or are living today, on the earth have never heard of Jesus. God would certainly be unfair to expect people to believe something that is unknown to them.

    Deists also reject the idea that God requires a human sacrifice to appease God’s “wrath” and to obtain God’s forgiveness. Deists believe that repentance is the universally known means for obtaining forgiveness from anyone who has been offended. According to one deist, God forgives us if we repent of our wrongs against others, and we are willing to forgive those who repent of their wrongs against us (Luke 11:4; Luke 17:3-4; Matthew 6:14-15). The deist’s name was Jesus.

    The 39 Articles of Religion depict God as wrathful, unfair, and vengeful. Deists believe that this false characterization is an insult to the goodness of God. According to one deist, this is “blasphemy against the Spirit (God)” and “whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit (God) will not be forgiven” (Matthew 12:31-32). Again, that deist was Jesus.

    Free Will and Good Works

    Article XI of the 39 Articles of Religion, entitled “Of Free-Will,” states that “The condition of Man after the fall of Adam is such, that he cannot turn and prepare himself, by his own natural strength and good works, to faith, and calling upon God; Wherefore we have no power to do good works pleasant and acceptable to God, without the grace of God by Christ preventing (enabling) us, that we may have a good will, and working with us, when we have that good will.”

    Article XIII of the 39 Articles of Religion, entitled “Of Works before Justification,” states that “Works done before the grace of Christ, and the Inspiration of his Spirit, are not pleasant to God, forasmuch as they spring not of faith in Jesus Christ, neither do they make men meet (prepared) to receive grace or deserve grace of congruity: yea, rather, for that they are not done as God hath willed and commanded them to be done, we doubt not but they have the nature of sin.”

    The two Articles, quoted above, claim that human beings have no “free will” to choose to do good works, and that any good works done by a non-Christian are “not pleasant to God.” Evidently, the writer of these articles was not familiar with the teachings of Jesus on this subject (Matthew 25:31-44). Deists believe strongly in human “free will” and personal responsibility for choices. Also, Deists believe that the best method of worshipping (honoring) God is by imitating the goodness of God, as demonstrated in “good works” based on love for others. Anyone can choose to do this. We do have “free will.”

    Hell and the Devil

    The 39 Articles of Religion contain a number of references to “damnation” for non-Christians and one reference to “Hell” and the “Devil.”

    Article III of the 39 Articles of Religion, entitled “Of the going down of Christ into Hell,” states that “As Christ died for us, and was buried, so also is it to be believed, that he went down into Hell.” The idea that Jesus “went down into Hell” does not come from the New Testament, but is found in early creeds of the Catholic Church. There are various theories behind this idea. Some say that Jesus went down into “Hell” to win a victory over the “Devil” who allegedly rules “Hell.” Others say that Jesus went down into “Hell” to pay the penalty for the sins of humankind. All of this, or course, is imaginary. No explanation is given in Article III but this Article is evidence that the creed of the Church of England includes a belief in “Hell.”

    Article XVII of the 39 Articles of Religion, entitled “Of Predestination and Election” refers to what happens to those persons who are not “predestined” for salvation from “curse and damnation.” Those “curious and carnal persons . . . . have continually before their eyes the sentence of God’s predestination, (which) is a most dangerous downfall, whereby the Devil doth thrust them into desperation, or into wretchedness of most unclean living, no less perilous than desperation.” Apparently, it was believed that persons who were predestined to Hell would be under the control of the “Devil” and would suffer “desperation” and “wretchedness.”

    The ideas of “damnation,” “Hell,” and the “Devil” were intended to strike fear in people, and give the trinitarian Christian church great power over people by the claiming that the church offered the only means of “salvation” from such threats. In the 17th century, the government used the national Church of England to control the people (i.e., discourage political dissent), and the Church used its power to obtain money to acquire land, construct buildings, and pay the clergy. Fear is an effective way to exert control over people. But that was the 17th century. Whether this is still true today, I will leave to the reader to judge.

    Needless to say, Deists reject the idea of everlasting torture of people in a fiery “Hell.” If a person refuses to live as God intends for us to live, God certainly has no obligation to give another life to that person. But Deists do not believe that God takes revenge by torturing people. The ideas of “Hell” and the “Devil” came from Zoroastrianism, and were adopted by other religions. As stated in A Summary Account of the Deists Religion, “Indeed, it is easier to live by superstition than to live justly/rightly.”

    In “A Summary Account of the Deists Religion,” Chapter III states that “A man that is endued with the same vertues as we have before mentioned need not fear to trust his Soul with God after death: For first, no Creature could be made with malevolent intent, the first Good who is also the first Principle in all Beings hath but one affection or Property, and that is Love; which was long before there was any such thing as Sin. Secondly, At death he goes to God, one and the same being, who in his own nature for sins of the Pentitent hath as well an inclination to Pity and Justice, and there is nothing dreadful in the whole Nature of God, but his Justice, no Attribute being terrible. Thirdly, Power is ever safe and need not revenge for self-preservation. Fourthly, However, Veri simile est, similem Deo a Deo, non negligi” (Translated: “It is probable that a man who is like God would not be neglected by God.”)

    The above paragraph is stated in the English of more than 300 years ago, and may sound complex and convoluted, so let me state the thoughts in modern English: A person who tries to be good to others should not fear to trust his/her Soul to God at the time of death, for four reasons: First, God has a loving nature and did not create humankind with any malicious intent. Second, God has as much Mercy as Justice, and a Penitent person will be forgiven of sins. Third, there is nothing that a person can do that is a threat to God, so God has no need to take revenge. Fourth, it is reasonable to believe that a person who tries be good like God will be cared for by God.

    The article “A Summary Account of the Deists Religion” is certainly more reasonable than the 39 “Articles of Religion.” Most of the 39 Articles of Religion contain doctrines found in Roman Catholic creeds, but some Articles reflect Protestant ideas. Some of the 39 Articles, not discussed in this essay, specifically rejected Roman Catholic doctrines related to the Pope, purgatory, and “transubstantiation” (the belief that bread and wine turned into the actual body and blood of Jesus in the “Eucharist” or “Lord’s Supper”).

    The beliefs found in the 39 Articles of Religion developed over fifteen centuries and became codified in church creeds and documents which gave the beliefs the appearance of authority from antiquity. The powers of civil authorities and church courts were used to enforce acceptance. Imprisonment and execution were used against those who dared to question Church doctrines. This leads me to admire the courage of the early Deists who risked their lives to promote a reasonable religion for those who choose to think.