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


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.


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.

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:


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.

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:


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?”


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.”


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.