What Is The Gospel?

The word “Gospel” means “good news.” The good news is given through a message. In the New Testament, there are two different messages that are called “the gospel.” One is given by Jesus and one is given by Paul, a man who called himself an “apostle” (messenger) but was not among the original followers of Jesus.

According to the book of Mark in the New Testament, “Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel'” (Mark 1:14-15).

To understand what Jesus was talking about, we must put his statement into historical context.

Jesus was a Jew. According to their traditions, the Jews believed that God had promised their ancestor, Abram (later called Abraham) that his descendants would become a great nation by which “all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:2-3).

According to the book of Genesis in the Hebrew Bible, “The Lord appeared to Abram, and said to him, ‘I am God Almighty, walk before me and be blameless. And I will make my covenant between me and you, and will multiply you exceedingly. (Genesis 17:1-2) And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your descendants after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your descendants after you. And I will give to you, and to your descendants after you, the land of your sojournings, all the land of Caanan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God’.” (Genesis 17:7-8) As a sign of this covenant, it was agreed that all male decendants of Abram (Abraham) would be circumcised.

Some of the descendants of Abraham, through his son Isaac and grandson Jacob (whose name was changed to “Israel”), migrated to Egypt where their numbers multiplied. Israel’s twelve sons were heads of families which became known as the “twelve tribes of Israel,” or Israelites. The Israelites (also called Hebrews) left Egypt, under the leadership of Moses, and eventually migrated to the land ruled by the Caananites about 1,200 years before Jesus.

The twelve tribes of Israelites were eventually organized into a kingdom ruled by a succession of kings: Saul, David, and Solomon. About 922 BCE (Before Christian Era) , the kingdom divided into two kingdoms, known as Judah (two southern tribes) and Israel (ten northern tribes). Two hundred years later, in 722 BCE, Israel was conquered by the Assyrians. In 587 BCE, Judah was conquered by the Babylonians. Many of the Hebrew people were dispersed to other countries. The leading families of Judah were taken into exile in Babylonia.

When Persia conquered Babylonia, the Persian king Cyrus allowed the people of Judah to return to their homeland, in 538 BCE, and they began rebuilding their temple in Jerusalem. Nevertheless, the Jews continued to be ruled by Persia until being conquered by Alexander the Great of Greece in 332 BCE. After the death of Alexander the Great, the Greek empire was divided among his four generals — two of whom were Ptolemy who ruled from Egypt and Seleucus who ruled from Syria. At first, the Jews were ruled by the Ptolemaic rulers from Egypt but in 198 BCE the Seleucid rulers from Syria took over control of the Jews.

The Jews hoped that someday a messiah (an anointed one) would be sent by God to re-establish the Kingdom of Israel in fulfillment of their expectation that the descendants of Abraham would become a great nation by which “all the families of the earth would be blessed.”

The Jews revolted against their Syrian ruler and gained their independence in 164 BCE. After 101 years, the Jews lost their freedom again when the Romans took control of the Jews in 63 BCE. Once again, the Jews began longing for their independence as a nation. Some Jews found hope in the book of Daniel which was written by an unknown Jewish writer just before the Jews obtained their freedom from Syria. The book encouraged the Jews to expect their freedom at that time. The book describes a series of dreams which the Hebrew prophet Daniel allegedly had when the Jews were ruled by Babylon and were longing for their freedom then.

In one of his dreams, the prophet Daniel saw “one like a son of man” who was given an everlasting kingdom by the “Ancient of Days” (God). The term “son of man” means “human being.” This “son of man” symbolized the kingdom of Israel which was predicted to come. In the time of Jesus, the term “son of man” was used sometimes to refer to a leader (messiah) who would come to re-establish the kingdom of Israel.

Based on their own interpretation of the book of Daniel, some Jews believed that the “messiah” was due in Jesus’ time. You can imagine the excitement when a man called John the Baptizer (or Baptist) appeared in the wilderness near the Jordan river preaching, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Of course, those who heard John the Baptist interpreted his message to mean that the time for the liberation and restoration of the kingdom of Israel was near.

John the Baptist called for the people to “repent” of their sins in preparation for the coming of the “kingdom” from God. Those who repented were baptized (immersed) by John in the Jordan river, symbolizing that their repentance had cleansed them from their guilt.

Jesus was among the Jews who were baptized by John the Baptist. John the Baptist was arrested and later executed by Antipas, a puppet ruler appointed by the Roman emperor. “Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Gallilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.’ ” (Mark 1:14-15) Jesus was joined by others including some former followers of John the Baptist.

Originally, Jesus’ concept of the “kingdom of God” was a nationalistic one. When he sent his twelve disciples out to preach the coming of the kingdom, Jesus told them, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles (non-Jews), and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And preach as you go, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 10:5-7). And Jesus told the Canaanite woman, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 15:24).

When Jesus began preaching, his concept of the “kingdom of God” was similar to the view held by other Jews who were hoping that the re-establishment of the kingdom of Israel would enable the Jews to fulfill their national mission of being a blessing to all of the families of the earth. These Jews believed that the “son of man” (messiah) would come suddenly “with his angels” to establish the rule of God on earth. It would be a dramatic event.

But then, Jesus began talking about the coming of the “kingdom of God” in other terms. He said that the “kingdom of God” was something that could be discovered and could grow gradually. Jesus used about two-thirds of his parables to describe his new concept of the “kingdom of God” on earth. It is doubtful that his disciples ever understood what Jesus was talking about. They had joined Jesus in a revolutionary movement to re-establish the kingdom of Israel. And then Jesus began teaching “love for enemies” and used a “Samaritan” (a person of mixed race and unorthodox religion) as an example of a good neighbor. It is no that wonder that Judas reported Jesus to the religious authorities. Jesus had become a “heretic” with his unorthodox beliefs.

Neither did the Roman authorities understand Jesus’ concept of the “kingdom of God.” They saw his call for the coming of a new “kingdom” on earth as a revolutionary movement so they crucified him, the usual Roman punishment for political revoluntaries.

The only “gospel” that Jesus preached was “The kingdom of God is at hand.” To understand what he meant by this, we must turn to the parables of Jesus. (See my essay on “The Kingdom of God.”)

Soon after the time of Jesus, a man named Paul began preaching his own “gospel.” Paul was a Jew with some theological training. Paul never claimed to have seen or heard Jesus except in some kind of mystical “vision” that convinced Paul that Jesus was the Jewish “messiah.” But there was nothing in traditional Jewish beliefs about the “messiah” that could explain why Jesus was crucified. So Paul drew upon his religious training to present his theory that Jesus’ crucifixion was like the sacrifice of a “ram without blemish” as a guilt offering to atone for sins (as described in the book of Leviticus in the Hebrew Bible).

Paul claimed that Jesus was “without sin” of his own because he was the divine Son of God who had come to earth in human form to sacrifice his life to pay the death penalty which humankind had incurred because of sin. Then Paul claimed that God rewarded Jesus by raising him from the dead and making him ruler (Lord) over all humankind. According to Paul’s “gospel,” whoever accepts Jesus as “Lord” and believes that God raised Jesus from the dead will be “saved” from death (of the soul). (The details of Paul’s theology are presented in my essay on “The Theology of Paul”.)

Paul began preaching his “gospel” in missionary journeys to many countries while the leaders among the original disciples of Jesus remained in Jerusalem, waiting for Jesus to reappear to “establish the kingdom of Israel.” After the Jews revolted against Rome in 66 CE (Christian Era), the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and the Jewish temple in 70 CE. By that time, Paul and nearly all of the original disciples of Jesus were dead. The “gospel” that Paul preached had taken root in “churches” far away from Jerusalem. These congregations consisted mostly of non-Jews who were attracted to the offer of “eternal life” and had no interest in the re-establishment of the “kingdom of Israel.”

By 70 CE, Jesus had not reappeared and the world had not come to an end, as some of his original followers expected, so unknown writers began collecting whatever had been written or could be remembered about Jesus’ life and teachings. The teachings of Paul were available through letters that he wrote to congregations he had established or visited. The books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John present their versions of the life and teachings of Jesus. Jesus’ “gospel” of the “kingdom of God” is found in parables presented in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. The book of John was written later (probably about 100 CE) by an unknown writer who evidently had “insider” information from an associate of Jesus but the book reflects the influence of the Greek philosophy (as seen in “logos” theory which came from the Greek philosoper Heraclitus about 500 years before Jesus).

The “gospel” of Jesus, as presented by the writers of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, and the “gospel” of Paul as presented in his letters can be found in the book called the New Testament. The “gospel” of Paul, as modified over four centuries by many church “councils,” became the trinitarian theology which is dominant in “Christian” churches today.

The ancient thought forms (blood sacrifice, etc.) in which Paul cast his theological concepts are not meaningful to many people today. Many have disregarded “Christianity” and “Jesus” because of the grotesque images and concepts that Paul’s “gospel” presents. I am hopeful that some will be willing to take a look at the “gospel” of Jesus, “The kingdom of God is at hand,” as explained by Jesus in his parables.

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.

What Is A Christian Deist?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An Overview of Christian Deism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Deist” and “Christian Deist”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Creed of A Christian Deist

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

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

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


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.

Bible Study and Prayer

I have written other essays relating to the practice of Christian deism as a personal religion. In the essay, “Christian Deism as a Personal Religion,” I focused on what it means to “love God” and “love neighbor” as we live each day. I also focused on repentance by us, and our forgiveness of others. In the essay, “Christian Deists: Christians Without Churches,” I focused on the meaning of worship “in spirit and in truth.”

In this essay, I will try to address the subjects of Bible study and prayer in the practice of Christian deism.

In regard to “Bible study,” my focus as a Christian deist is on the teachings of Jesus found in the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John in the New Testament. Preceding these books in the “Bible” is the Hebrew Bible, which Christians erroneously refer to as the “Old Testament.”

The Hebrew Bible presents the story of a primitive people (the Jews) struggling to survive in an environment of conflict with other nations. In that conflict, the Jewish leaders clearly believed that “might makes right” even if it meant the slaughter of innocent women and children of other nations in the Jews’ pursuit of a land of their own (Numbers 31:13-17). What makes this even worse is that this brutality was allegedly done in obedience to “God’s will.” Although there are some valuable passages in the “Old Testament,” these are too few to be of much value to a Christian deist.

Following the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, the book called “The Acts of the Apostles” provides some history about the early years of the Christian movement, at least as it was viewed by the writer about fifty years (or more) later. The remainder of the “New Testament” includes letters that Paul (a Jew from Tarsus) wrote, expressing his interpretation of Christianity which varies significantly from the teachings of Jesus. Also included are some letters and books, by unknown writers, reflecting late first Christian century theology, much of which was influenced by Paul.

Finally, in the New Testament, there is a book called “Revelation” predicting an imminent end of the world to encourage persecuted Christians to hope for a “new heaven and a new earth” after the destruction of “evil doers.” This fantasy writing continues to inspire modern-day “end-of-the-world” fanatics to lead their followers to disappointment (at best) and destruction (at worst). Christian deists should view this book as useless.

In reading the books of the New Testament, a Christian deist must put each idea to the test of reason. The basic theology of Paul, with his idea of the crucifixion of Jesus being a sacrifice to pay for the sins of humankind, should be summarily dismissed. However, a Christian deist can identify with Paul’s statements about faith, hope, and love in the letter called First Corinthians, chapter 13. Unfortunately, the scope of Paul’s love did not include persons of a different sexual orientation.

In studying the life and teachings of Jesus, a Christian deist should keep in mind that Jesus was a human being like ourselves. Some of his ideas simply express the cultural views common among Jews two thousand years ago in a pre-scientific age. Some ideas, such as “demons” causing epilepsy, have no validity. The idea of a “devil” tempting and misleading people is also a sign of that time, and has no place in a religion based on reason.

Let me say this clearly: If you find an idea in the Bible that does not seem reasonable to you, you do not have to believe it. God gave you a mind to use, so use it.

In the New Testament, it is clear that Jesus began his career as a Jewish revolutionary who was seeking liberation of the Jews from the Romans, but Jesus gradually came to recognize that the rulership of God (the “kingdom of God”) on earth would not become a reality by military force but by the gradual recognition of God’s laws “in the heart” of individuals. This concept was too “unorthodox” for his compatriots to accept at the time, but Jesus’ view of the “kingdom of God” came to be understood later when Jesus’ teachings, especially his parables, were collected.

Now, let us think about prayer. What is the meaning of prayer to me as a Christian deist? Put quite simply, prayer is communion with God. Jesus taught that “God is spirit” and it is the “spirit that gives life” to us as individuals (John 4:24 and 6:63). In other words, the essence of God and our own being is spirit. This is not an idea that originated with Jesus. Ancient Greek philosophers, such as Heraclitus over 500 years before Jesus, recognized that a “creative intelligence” (they called “logos”) was responsible for the creation of order in the world, and for the creation of “intelligence” in individual human beings. In other words, there is a “Mind” which we call “God” and we each have a “mind” through which we can communicate “mind-to-Mind.”

Prayer was important to Jesus, and we can learn much from how Jesus prayed. Usually, Jesus prayed by himself, away from the company of others (Matthew 14:23; Matthew 26:36; Luke 6:12). Sometimes Jesus prayed in the presence of a few close friends (Luke 9:28; John 17:1). Jesus cautioned against making a public display of prayer (Matthew 6:5) and he urged his disciples to “go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret” (Matthew 6:6).

Jesus urged his disciples to pray simply. He said, “And in praying, do not heap up empty phrases …. for your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Matthew 6:7-8).

Some Christians have a misconception about prayer based on their reading of Jesus’ statement (Mark 11:24), “Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you will receive it, and you will.” Many Christians are disappointed when they fail to receive what they pray for. Some blame themselves for not having a strong enough “faith,” or belief that they will receive what they have prayed for. Others blame God for failing to keep Jesus’ promise.

The truth is that Jesus often taught by hyperbole (exaggeration). In the verses preceding Mark 11:24, Jesus told his disciples, “Have faith in God. Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘be taken up and cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him” (Mark 11:22-23). This is an example of a hyperbole to express the importance of faith in God when we pray. But even Jesus did not believe that whatever he prayed for would come to pass.

In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed that he would not die (“let this cup pass from me”), but he prefaced his prayer request with the words, “If it be possible” (Matthew 26:39). Here, Jesus recognized that sometimes what he asked for in prayer was not possible. We, too, must accept the fact that sometimes what we seek is not possible. Nevertheless, we may not know what is possible or not possible, so we should express our hopes in prayer. Believing that something is possible may be a deciding factor in something becoming a reality. Personal faith has been proven to be a factor in healing some illnesses, but not all illnesses can be healed by faith. And faith healing is not a substitute for medical treatment.

To me, prayer is more than just “talking” to God. It is also “listening” to God. I do not mean that God’s voice will come “out of the clouds,” but I am convinced that God can help us think of some solutions to our problems. Prayer provides a means of focusing our attention on problems in a way that may open our minds to possible solutions. I have prayed about a problem at bedtime and have awakened to find a possible solution in my mind the next morning. Perhaps this is the way God communicates with us.

I also believe that prayer is a channel through which we can receive strength to cope with our problems. Jesus told his disciples to “pray that you may have strength” so they would not be “weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life” (Luke 21:34-36). The Hebrew psalmist wrote, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1).

I believe that prayer is not just “communication” with God. Prayer is COMMUNION with God. In some way when we direct our thoughts to God in prayer, we join our individual spirit with the Spirit that gives us life. The Hebrew psalmist claimed that God spoke these words, “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). Without saying a word, we can pray by just being still and knowing that God is with us.

Jesus taught his disciples to pray by giving them an example which we call the “Lord’s Prayer.”

“Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven; Give us this day our daily bread; And forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us; And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” (Matthew 6:9-13).

As we know, Jesus viewed God as being like a loving father. In this prayer, Jesus distinguishes God from a human father by referring to God as a heavenly Father. Then Jesus expresses respect for the sacred authority of God by using the words “hallowed” (sacred) and “name” (authority).

Then Jesus gets to the heart of the prayer by seeking the coming of God’s kingdom (rule) on earth, which Jesus equates with “God’s will.”

The request for “daily bread” is a recognition of the fact that we are dependent on God for the very basics for life (such as bread) that come from what God provides (such as seed, earth, rain). This recognition of God’s gifts is also an implied expression of thanksgiving to God for these provisions. Thanksgiving should always be a part of our prayers.

The request for God’s forgiveness of our sins (our failures to love others) is directly tied to our obligation to forgive those who repent of their sins against us.

Finally, the prayer concludes with a request for strength to resist temptation to do evil, and a request for help in protecting ourselves against those who would do evil against us.

This prayer is a good model to guide us in our own praying.

This short essay certainly does not cover all that should be said about Bible study and prayer, but I hope that it is enough to suggest an approach consistent with our beliefs as Christian deists.

What About Hell?

This essay is written in response to email asking “What do Christian Deists believe about hell?” “Hell” is often defined as a place where human souls are tortured forever by fire because these persons failed to accept some particular religion during their time on earth.

The idea of “everlasting torment in hell” was well known in Zoroastrianism many centuries before the “Christian Era” and eventually spread to other religions including Christianity, Islam, and some parts of Judaism.

Deists believe that every idea must be tested by human reasoning. No idea can be accepted just because someone said it or wrote it in a book. The idea that God would torture anyone forever in “hell” fails the test of reason. If this idea were true, it would mean that God is so cruel and sadistic that no one could love or respect a God like that. The idea of everlasting torment in “hell” is truly an insult to the goodness of God.

Some claim that the idea of hell as a place of everlasting torment comes from “the Bible.” The “Bible” refers to the Hebrew Bible (erroneously called the “Old Testament” by Christians) and the New Testament. Since this claim is frequently made by trinitarian Christian preachers, let us examine this claim.

The Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) makes no reference to “eternal torment” in “hell.” In the Hebrew Bible, the words “sheol” and “hades” simply refer to “the grave” or “death.” In fact, no theory of “life after death” is found in the Hebrew Bible. The psalmist prayed, “For I am thy passing guest, a sojourner, like all my fathers. Look away from me, that I may know gladness before I depart and be no more (Psalms 39:12-13).

During the two centuries before the Christian Era, some Jews began to accept the belief of life after death but others did not. The debate between the Pharisees (who believed in life after death) and the Sadducees (who did not believe in life after death) is seen during the time of Jesus, as reflected in the New Testament. Those Jews who believed in life after death saw this as a time when righteous Jews would be rewarded in “heaven” and wicked persons (especially foreign oppressors) would be destroyed in hell.

In the New Testament, the Greek word “gehenna” is always translated “hell.” I will explain the meaning of “gehenna” later in this essay. The Greek word “tartarus” is used only once in the New Testament and is translated as “hell.” The Greek word “hades” usually refers to “the grave” or “death,” and is often left untranslated as “hades,” but it is sometimes translated as “hell.” The writer of the New Testament book of “Acts” uses the word “hades” to mean “the grave” in referring to “the resurrection of Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption (decomposition)” (Acts 2:31). This statement is attributed to Peter, so this apostle did not view “hades” as a place of punishment.

In the four gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John), the word “hades” (translated “hell”) is described only one time as a place of everlasting torture (Luke 16:19-31). In this instance, the writer of Luke tells a story about a “rich man” suffering eternal torment in “hell” because he neglected the needs of a poor man named “Lazareth.” However, the purpose of the story was not to describe “hell” but to express the writer’s anger at Jews for refusing to accept the Christian claim that Jesus had risen from the dead (verse 31). This story of the “rich man and Lazareth” obviously did not come from Jesus whose alleged “resurrection” had not yet occurred in the story of Jesus’ life. Of course, when “Luke” wrote his gospel, he knew of the “resurrection” and used it to condemn the Jews for their unbelief.

The idea of hell being a place of everlasting torment comes primarily from the book of Revelation in the New Testament. This book was written during the reign of the Roman Emperor Domitian (81 AD – 96 AD) who claimed to be divine and insisted on being worshipped. The Christians who refused emperor worship were subject to persecution and execution. The writer of the book of Revelation wrote his book to encourage Christians to remain firm in the face of persecution, and the writer envisioned a time when God would punish the Roman emperor (called the “beast”) and the “false prophet” (who promoted emperor worship), along with the “devil” or “Satan.”

The writer of Revelation envisioned a time when “the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night for ever and ever” (Revelation 20:10). Then the writer envisioned a judgment day, “And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and the books were open. Also another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, by what they had done. And the sea gave up the dead in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead in them, and all were judged by what they had done. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire; and if anyone’s name was not found in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:12-15).

The writer of Revelation uses the Greek word “hades” (the grave) to describe where the dead must await a judgment day on which “the Lord” decides whether a person receives eternal life or is “thrown into the lake of fire” (called the “second death”) to be “tormented day and night for ever and ever.”

The New Testament book called “Second Peter,” written by an unknown writer in the second Christian century, uses the Greek word “tartarus” (which is translated “hell”) to refer to “pits of nether gloom” where the God would “keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment” (Second Peter 2:4-10). The New Testament book called “Jude,” also written by an unknown writer, claims that persons who “acted immorally and indulged in unnatural lust” would be kept in “eternal chains in the nether gloom until the judgment of the great day” (Jude 1:6-7). Both “Second Peter” and “Jude” refer to the story of the angels (Genesis 6) whose lust for human females led to the angels being cast into “nether gloom” to await judgment.

The writer of Revelation envisioned the coming of a “new heaven and a new earth” and he heard a voice saying, “Behold the dwelling of God with men. He will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe away every tear from their eyes and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things are passed away” (Revelation 21:3-4).

No doubt, the writer’s vision was an encouragement to those Christians who had seen their friends and relatives “beheaded for their testimony to Jesus and the word of God, and who had not worshipped the beast (emperor) or its image” (Revelation 20:4). But it must be recognized that the writer’s view of “hell” comes from an alleged personal mystical “vision” that has no verification. The vision tells us more about the anger of the writer toward the Roman persecutors than it tells us about “hell.”

The idea of “hell” as a place of unending punishment and torment has been expressed by others whose anger reflects a sadistic tendency by envisioning a time when Christians would enjoy seeing “unbelievers” suffer. The prominent Catholic Thomas Aquinas declared, “In order that nothing be wanting to the happiness of the blessed in heaven, a perfect view is granted to them of the tortures of the damned.” The famous Protestant preacher Jonathan Edwards wrote, “The sight of hell’s torments will exalt the happiness of the saints forever, it will give them a more lively relish.” No rational or compassionate person would share Thomas Aquinas’ or Jonathan Edward’s beliefs about “hell.”

Preachers of trinitarian Christianity have used the threat of “hell” to coerce persons into thinking that God is going to send their souls to this “eternal torment” if they do not believe that Jesus died on a cross as a sacrifice to appease the wrath of God. This idea that Jesus died as a sacrificial offering to God came from Paul of Tarsus. Jesus said that God desires no sacrificial offerings (Matthew 9:13; 12:7; Mark 12:32-33) but desires that we have “mercy” (kindness) and love toward each other.

In the religion of Islam, the book called “The Qur’an” (or Koran) is filled with repetitive threats of eternal punishment in “the Fire” (hell) for “infidels” (unbelievers).

Considering the great emphasis that trinitarian Christian preachers put on “hell” in their sermons, most persons are surprised to find that the word “hell” seldom appears in the New Testament. In fact, the word “hell” never appears in the gospel of John, nor does it ever appear in any of the letters of Paul.

In the New Testament, the Greek word “gehenna” is translated as “hell.” In the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), the word “hell” (gehenna) appears only twelve times.

The word “gehenna” refers to the “Valley of Hinnom” near Jerusalem where once child-sacrifice had been offered to the god “Moloch” by the Hebrew king Ahaz (II Chronicles 28:3) and by the Hebrew king Manasseh (II Chronicles 33:6) who burned their sons as sacrificial offerings. At a later date, the Valley of Hinnom (gehenna) was the city’s refuse dump where rubbish was burnt. It is easy to see how “hell” (gehenna) came to be described as a place where the “worm does not die and the fire is not quenched” (Mark 9:48) but a refuse dump is a symbol of “destruction,” not a symbol of unending torment.

What did Jesus believe about “hell?” What did he envision “hell” to be? Most persons are surprised to find that Jesus referred to “hell” (gehenna) on only four occasions. Let us examine those references.

Occasion #1

In Matthew 5:21-22, Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said to men of old, ‘You shall not kill; and whoever kills shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that every one who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment; whoever insults (says ‘raca’ to) his brother shall be liable to the council, and whoever says, ‘You fool (moros)’ shall be liable to the hell (gehenna) of fire.”

In the statement above, Jesus appears to be teaching that an action, such as killing a person, originates from negative feelings, such as anger, toward others. Such feelings are ultimately destructive to the person who holds these feelings. Jesus advises that a person get rid of these negative feelings by becoming reconciled with the other person (verses 23-24).

It is interesting to note that while Jesus said that using the abusive language “You fool” (moros) makes a person “liable to the hell of fire,” this is the very word (moros) that Jesus, himself, used when he was angry at the scribes and Pharisees, and called them “You blind fools (moros)” (Matthew 23:17). I guess this supports Jesus’ view that he was not perfect (Mark 10:18). But I do not think that Jesus went to “hell” for his offense.

Jesus’ next reference to “hell” (gehenna) comes in Matthew 5:27-30 in reference to adultery. “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that every one who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and throw it away; it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell (gehenna). And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell (gehenna).”

The above statement seems to be based on the same theory that a person’s action (in this case, adultery) begins in a person’s thoughts. Then Jesus seems to suggest that a person should do whatever is necessary to prevent one’s thoughts from leading to an act of adultery. Jesus was well-known for using hyperbole (exaggeration) to make his points in his teachings. The idea of plucking out one’s eye or cutting off one’s hand to prevent an action is clearly a hyperbole.

It is interesting that Jesus refers to the “whole body” going into “hell.” If we remember that under the Mosaic law, adultery was a capital offense (Leviticus 20:10), perhaps Jesus’ statement was a warning that the “whole body” may be executed if one’s thoughts led to an act of adultery.

Occasion #2

Jesus’ next reference to “hell” (gehenna) is found in Matthew 10:28-31:

“And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell (gehenna). Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground without your Father’s will. But even the hairs on your head are numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.”

This same teaching is recorded in Luke 12:4-7:

“I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. But I warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has power to cast into hell (gehenna); yes, I tell you, fear him! Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten by God. Why even the hairs on your head are numbered. Fear not, you are of more value than many sparrows.”

The two references above were apparently intended to encourage Jesus’ followers to stand firm in the face of persecution and physical death at the hands of human persecutors. The view expressed in these verses is that the threat of physical death may cause fear, but it is far worse to be disloyal to God who can “destroy both soul and body in hell (gehenna).” Apparently, Jesus viewed “hell” (gehenna) as meaning the total loss of life.

Occasion #3

Jesus’ next references to “hell” (gehenna) are recorded in both Mark and Matthew.

Mark 9:33-37; 42-48 is as follows:

“And they came to Capernaum; and when he (Jesus) was in the house he asked them (the disciples), ‘What were you discussing on the way?’ But they were silent; for on the way they had discussed with one another who was the greatest. And he sat down and called the twelve; and he said to them, ‘If any one would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.”

“And he (Jesus) took a child, and put him in the midst of them; and taking him in his arms, he said to them, ‘Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.’. . . . Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung round his neck and he were thrown into the sea. And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off; if is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go to hell (gehenna) to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell (gehenna). And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell (gehenna), where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched. ”

Matthew 18:1-9 is as follows:

“At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, ‘Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’ And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them, and said, ‘Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.’

‘Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me; but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened round his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe to the world for temptations to sin! For it is necessary for temptations to come, but woe to the man by whom temptation comes! And if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to enter life maimed or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and throw it away; it is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell (gehenna) of fire.'”

As you can see, the verses quoted above, warning against causing others to sin, are similar to the verses warning against thoughts that lead to murder and adultery. No one can take seriously the idea that a person’s eyes, hands, and feet cause a person to sin. Jesus is using hyperbole to press his point that a person should do whatever is necessary to avoid sinning or causing others to sin. Again, Jesus uses “hell” as a symbol of total destruction of life.

Occasion #4

Next, Jesus uses the word “hell” (gehenna) in lashing out with fury against the “scribes and Pharisees” in the 23rd chapter of Matthew:

Jesus said, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because you traverse sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell (gehenna) as yourselves (Matthew 23:15).” And two verses later, Jesus calls the scribes and Pharisees “blind fools” (moros) which, according to Jesus’ statement in Matthew 5:22, makes Jesus “liable to the hell of fire” for such an offense.

In Matthew 23:29-34, Jesus said, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous, saying, ‘If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ Fill up, then the measure of your fathers, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell (gehenna). Therefore I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom you will scourge in your synagogues and persecute from town to town . . .”

In the above verses, Jesus is condemning the Jewish scribes and Pharisees for what Jesus predicts will be persecution of Christian missionaries in the future. Of course, the writer of Matthew was already witnessing such persecution by the time these verses were written. So this prediction comes with the 20/20 hindsight of the writer.

In summary, the New Testament describes only four occasions on which Jesus referred to “hell” (gehenna), as quoted above. These references indicate that Jesus viewed “hell” as being a permanent and total loss of life as most clearly stated in the phrase, “destroy both body and soul in hell” (Matthew 10:28). Other statements attributed to Jesus in the New Testament appear to confirm this. “Enter the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (Matthew 7:13-14).

In Jesus’ day, it was commonly believed that each person would be finally judged by his or her deeds. Those who were compassionate and helpful toward others would obtain eternal life, but those who were indifferent to the needs of others could be sent “to the eternal fire” (Matthew 25:31-46). Jesus, who was a man of his times, apparently shared this view but Jesus rejected the idea that “hell” would be a place where persons would be “tormented day and night for ever and ever” as described by the writer of the book of Revelation (Revelation 20:10). Jesus viewed “hell” as meaning the total destruction of both “body and soul” (Matthew 10:28).

Although Jesus made a few references to “hell,” he did not answer the question, “How bad would a person have to be in order to totally “lose his soul?” I doubt that anyone would agree that calling someone a “fool,” or looking lustfully at a woman would deserve such a penalty.

Now, back to the question: “What do Christian Deists believe about hell? Certainly, Christian Deists do not believe that God tortures people in “hell.” If God did that, no one would have any respect for God. It is ridiculous to think that a loving God would torture people.

In this essay, I have quoted the teachings attributed to Jesus in regard to “hell” but a Christian deist is not required to believe what Jesus believed. We can certainly agree with Jesus that God does not torture people in “hell.” But some Christian Deists would not agree that anyone’s life ends in “total destruction” or “annihilation.”

Matthew Tindal, the Christian Deist who wrote, Christianity As Old as Creation, in 1730, would be considered a “universalist” because he believed that God would not punish a person except to reform him/her. Tindal wrote, “It was for the sake of Man that He (God) gave him Laws, so He (God) executes them purely for the same reason, since upon His (God’s) account, He can’t be the least bit affected, whether His Laws be, or be not observed; and consequently in punishing, no more than rewarding, does He act as a Party, much less an injured Party, who wants Satisfaction, or Reparation of Honour. And indeed, to suppose it, is highly to dishonor Him, since God, as He can never be injured, so He can never want Reparation.”

Tindal continues, “Do we not bring God down to ourselves, when we suppose He acts like us poor indigent Creatures, in seeking Worship and Honour for His own sake; nay, do we not cloath Him, who hath neither parts nor passions, with the worst of our Infirmities, if we represent Him as an ambitious, suspicious, wrathful, and revengeful Being?”

Tindal adds, “If we dare consult our Reason, it will tell us that Jealousy in point of Honour and Power, Love of Fame and Glory can only belong to limited Creatures; but are as necessarily excluded from an unlimited, absolutely perfect Being, as Anger, Revenge, and such like Passions; which would make the Deity resemble the weak and impotent part of our Nature, rather than the noble and generous.”

Tindal states that God “acts purely for the Good of His Creatures; and the effects of his Justice, they never extending to Annihilation, must not only be for the Good of others, but even of the Persons punished; because God, whose Love infinitely exceeds that of mortal parents, chastises his Children (and all mankind are alike his Offspring) because He loves them, and designs their Amendment: and the Reason why God in Scripture is said to be Love, must be because all his Acts, by what Name soever you call them, are Acts of pure, impartial, and disinterested Love.”

Tindal writes, “All Punishment for Punishment’s sake is meer Cruelty and Malice, which can never be in God; nor can He hate any thing He has made, or be subject to such Weakness or Impotence as to act arbitrarily, or out of Spite, Wrath, Revenge, or any Self-Interest; and consequently, whatever Punishment He inflicts, must be a Mark of His Love, in not suffering (allowing) his Creatures to remain in that miserable State, which is inseparable from Sin and Wickedness.”

Finally, Tindal adds, “As God’s infinite Goodness appears in the Sanctions as well as the Matter of His Laws, so His infinite Wisdom knows how to adjust the Punishment to the Offense; that it may be exactly fitted to produce the desired Amendment.”

Some may view Matthew Tindal as overly optimistic regarding the reforming affect that punishment may have on human beings, but his view challenges us to recognize that the power of God is far greater than we can imagine, so Tindal’s view remains a possibility.

Another view of what happens to a person who fails to live as God intends for us to live comes from Ralph Waldo Emerson, the philosopher, writer, and former Unitarian minister. Emerson believed that God does not punish anyone but we, in effect, punish ourselves to the extent that we violate God’s natural laws.

Emerson expresses his views in his “Divinity School Address” which he delivered to the Senior Class at Harvard Divinity School on July, 15, 1838.

Emerson spoke on the subject of “virtue.” Emerson said that a person’s heart and mind should be open to the sentiment of virtue. According to Emerson, “The sentiment of virtue is a reverence and delight in the presence of certain divine laws” that enable a person to know the good that “he ought” to do.

Emerson said, “The intuition of the moral sentiment is an insight of the perfection of the laws of the soul. These laws execute themselves. They are out of time, out of space, and not subject to circumstance. Thus, in the soul of man there is a justice whose retributions are instant and entire. He who does a good deed, is instantly ennobled. He who does a mean deed, is by the action itself contracted. . . . Its operation in life, though slow to the senses, is, at last, sure in the soul. By it, a man is made the Providence (action of God) to himself, dispensing good to his goodness, and evil to his sin. . . . Benevolence is absolute and real. So much benevolence as a man hath, so much life hath he. . . . . While a man seeks good ends, he is strong by the whole strength of nature. In so far as he roves from these ends, he bereaves himself of power, of auxiliaries; his being shrinks out of all remote channels, he becomes less and less, a mote, a point, until absolute badness is absolute death.”

Emerson continues, “This sentiment (virtue, or goodness) is divine and deifying. It is the beatitude of man. It makes him illimitable. Through it, the soul first knows itself. It (shows) the fountain of all good to be in himself, and that he, equally with every man, is an inlet into the deeps of Reason. When he says, ‘I ought;’ when love warms him; when he chooses, warned from on high, the good and great deed; then, deep melodies wander through his soul from Supreme Wisdom. Then he can worship, and be enlarged by his worship.”

In Emerson’s view, the affects of “good deeds” and “mean deeds” on a person’s soul or personal existence are immediate. It is not a matter of being judged in the future. Justice comes instantly as life in the soul increases or decreases, depending on how we choose to live each day.

Perhaps Emerson answers the question that Jesus failed to answer. Bad deeds diminish life in the soul by degrees, until “absolute badness is absolute death.”

A Christian Deist must use his or her own observations, experiences, and reasoning in determining one’s own beliefs, but we can discard the theory that God tortures human beings endlessly in a place called “hell.” A person can believe in “everlasting torment in hell” or a person can believe in a good God, but a person cannot believe in both. I believe that God is good.

Religious Education for Children

I have received a number of letters from parents asking how their children may obtain a “religious education” outside of a church setting. These parents are familiar with trinitarian churches where children are taught that human beings are naturally bad, and all people will be punished by eternal torture in “hell” unless they believe that Jesus died as a sacrifice to appease God’s wrath. These parents do not want their children to be taught such irrational and inhumane beliefs.

I am writing this essay in response to these parents and others who are interested in religious education for their children. In my view, religious education is too important to turn over to anyone other than parents (or whoever is rearing the child). I am writing this essay from a Christian Deist viewpoint.

Let me begin by recognizing that most parents want to help their children grow and develop as healthy and happy individuals. Parents usually know (or can learn) how to meet the physical and intellectual needs of their children. Parents know that a child needs good food, exercise, rest, and medical care to develop a healthy body. Parents know that a child needs education to develop academic knowledge and skills.

But parents also know that a child needs some kind of overall view of life that will help the child (now and as an adult) to cope with the questions and experiences that he or she will inevitably face in life. This “overall view of life” may be called a “philosophy of life” or “religion.”

I will use the term “religion” in referring to an individual’s “life view.” A person’s “religion” provides a framework that is useful in evaluating life experiences and choosing personal responses to those experiences.

“Deism” is a name given to a religion known naturally by everyone. Deists who recognize the principles of deism in the teachings of Jesus are called “Christian Deists” because the name “Christian” is commonly used to refer to whoever claims to follow the teachings of Jesus.


Jesus was a man who lived about 2,000 years ago. He summarized his religion as “The Lord our God is one; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength” and “You shall love your neighbor as (you love) yourself” (Mark 12:29-30).

Christian Deists believe that religious education should be based on love for God, love for “neighbor,” and love for oneself. Before proceeding with a discussion of religious education, it is important to define the words “neighbor” and “love.”

Jesus was a Jew and his statements above refer to teachings found in the Hebrew “Bible.” The “Shema,” the basic affirmation of the Jewish faith, is stated in the book of Deuteronomy, chapter 6, verse 4: “Hear O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might.” In the book of Leviticus, chapter 19, verse 17, we find the statement, “You shall love your neighbor as (you love) yourself.”

So was Jesus only teaching what he had learned in his Jewish religion (which is now called “Judaism”)? The answer is “No” because Jesus defined “neighbor” in a very different way.

Leviticus 19:17, in its entirety, reads as follows: “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” This requirement meant that the Jews should love their “Jewish” neighbor. The only exception to this is found in Leviticus 19:33 which required the Jews to treat “sojourners,” or guests in their land, as “neighbors.”

“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 were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God” (Leviticus 19:33-34).

Jesus expanded the definition of “neighbor” in his parable about the “good Samaritan” (Luke 10: 30-37). In this parable, Jesus used a Samaritan as an example of a good “neighbor.” At that time, the Jews looked down upon the Samaritans as persons of mixed race and unorthodox religion. In fact, the Jews and Samaritans considered each other as “enemies.”

In the parable, a Samaritan rescued a Jew who had been beaten and robbed. The Jewish priest and Levite, in the story, appeared to be indifferent and uncaring toward the injured man. In this parable, Jesus not only redefined “neighbor” to include persons who are different from ourselves, Jesus also included “enemies” as persons who should be “loved.”

We usually think of an “enemy” as someone who has hurt us. So how can we “love” an enemy? We need to look at the meaning of the word “love.” To “love” someone does not necessarily mean that we approve of that person’s behavior. If someone does something wrong to us, we can defend ourselves but we should not seek revenge by doing something wrong in return.

So how shall we respond to injustices done to us? Jesus said, “You have heard it said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends his rain on the just and the unjust (Matthew 5;43-45).

Just as God does good to everyone, sending sunshine and rain for everyone including the “just and the unjust,” we should always be ready to do good to those who hate us.

Jesus said, “Love your enemies, and do good . . . . for he (God) is kind to the ungrateful and selfish. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:35-36). Here, Jesus defined “love your enemies” as meaning “be merciful.” We can be merciful even toward someone whom we view as an “enemy.” The parable of the “good Samaritan” teaches us to be merciful when we see our “enemy” suffering.

From the above discussion, we should recognize that Jesus used the word “neighbor” to refer to all human beings other than oneself.

The word “love” means having “respect for” or “appreciation for” someone. It means recognizing that someone has “value” or “worth”. Love is expressed by human behavior (words and deeds). Words and deeds come from what we think (our thoughts).


Religion, as described by Jesus, consists of three parts: Love for God, love for all human beings, and love for oneself. A person shows respect or appreciation for God, other human beings, and oneself by particular kinds of behavior (words and deeds) which we call “good.” These good behaviors are also called “virtues.”

Religious education consists of the processes by which a child (or adult) develops the kinds of behavior (words and deeds) that demonstrate respect for oneself, other persons, and God. A child learns these behaviors from other persons and from the child’s own observations and experiences. In the beginning, a child learns primarily from the child’s caretaker, usually the parent or other person who provides daily care for the child.

A parent can help a child develop his or her virtues, or good behaviors, by giving recognition when the child demonstrates a particular virtue. A parent can also help a child recognize when the child needs to develop a virtue that will help the child deal more successfully with some situation or problem.

Some kinds of behaviors (virtues) are primarily related to self-respect, or to respect for other persons, or to respect for God. Some virtues may relate to respect for self and/or other persons and/or God.

For a clear definition of individual “virtues,” why each is needed, and how to practice each one, I would refer parents to a book The Family Virtues Guide by Linda Kavelin Popov, a Plume Book published by the Penquin Group.

This book also offers some good advice to parents about how to help children develop their virtues. Christian Deists view personal religion as the demonstration of love, or respect, for oneself, other persons, and God, so the essence of religious education is learning to practice “virtues.”

The “virtues” described in The Family Virtues Guide are generally recognized in all cultures but you can use your own judgment regarding which should be emphasized, or omitted, in your own use of the book. Also, you may choose to identify some virtues that are not mentioned in the book.

Below, I have taken the virtues mentioned in the book and divided them into those that relate primarily to (1) self-respect, (2) respect for other persons, or (3) respect for God. Of course, some virtues may relate, in part, to more than one of these categories.

1. Assertiveness

2. Cleanliness

3. Confidence

4. Courage

5. Creativity

6. Determination

7. Enthusiasm

8. Flexibility

9. Honor

10. Humility

11. Idealism

12. Joyfulness

13. Moderation

14. Modesty

15. Orderliness

16. Patience

17. Purposefulness

18. Reliability

19. Responsibility

20. Self-discipline

21. Steadfastness

22. Trustworthiness

1. Caring

2. Compassion

3. Consideration

4. Courtesy

5. Forgiveness

6. Friendliness

7. Generosity

8. Gentleness

9. Helpfulness

10. Honesty

11. Justice

12. Kindness

13. Mercy

14. Obedience

15. Peacefulness

16. Service

17. Tact

18. Thankfulness

19. Tolerance

20. Truthfulness

21. Unity

1. Faithfulness

2. Obedience

3. Prayerfulness

4. Reverence

5. Service

6. Thankfulness

7. Trust

8. Unity


The Family Virtues Guide lists “love” and “respect” as virtues. As I explained previously, I consider that “love” means “respect.” And I consider all “virtues” to be the expressions of love (respect) through good words and deeds (that come from good thoughts). So I did not include the words “love” and “respect” as separate “virtues” in the lists above. Nevertheless, there are some good thoughts about “love” and “respect” under these titles in the book.

Also, three other virtues are described in the book but are not included in the lists above. These include “detachment” and “excellence” which are worthwhile virtues, as they are defined in the book, but I am not sure the words “detachment” and “excellence” are the best way to label them. The other is “loyalty” which is a virtue only if the loyalty is related to something good. There is no virtue in being loyal to a wrong cause or wrong persons.

One important virtue, which is not listed in the book, is “self-judgment.” Self-judgment is the ability to evaluate one’s own behavior and recognize when some behavior is hurtful to others or to oneself. It includes being willing to admit hurtful behavior. Self-judgment is of no value unless it leads to “repentance” which is a desire to stop hurtful behavior and to make amends, if possible. Repentance leads to seeking forgiveness from anyone who has been offended. Repentance is important in the practice of Christian Deism.

The Family Virtues Guide is an excellent book, in my opinion, but no book is perfect. I question two statements in the book. One is about “treating holy books and other sacred things as very special.” Christian Deists do not view any book as “holy.” Some so-called “holy books” contain untrue statements and bad ideas.

Another statement is “Believe that there is some good in everything that happens.” This is not true because there is no good in some things that happen. Of course, sometimes a tragic happening motivates someone to do something good. I’ll buy that.

Anyway, you do not have to be a slave to a book but The Family Virtues Guide can give you some good ideas that you can use with your children in their religious education.


I would like to point out the importance of relating the practice of “virtues” to a belief in a Creator with the intelligence to design the world and govern it through natural laws that are inherent in everything.

Jesus’ statement about love for self, other persons, and God begins with an affirmation of belief in the existence of God. As stated in the Jewish Shema, quoted by Jesus, “The Lord our God is one.” So let me comment on the Christian Deist concept of God as our Creator.

Christian Deists believe that it was necessary for God to create the world to operate on its own in order for us to be individuals with freedom to direct our own lives. The world is designed to operate according to natural laws inherent in everything, including human beings, but sometimes failures in operation occur accidentally or by human mistake or intention. The possibility of failure is an inherent risk in a free world.

The fact that God created the world to operate on its own does not mean that God is a “Great Watchmaker” who creates the world like a clock, winds it up, and takes no further interest in it. The “Great Watchmaker” description of God is an invalid stereotype used by the opponents of deism, but it does not represent the views of Christian Deists. An analogy of a watch and a watchmaker has been used by some deists to refer to “intelligent design” in the world as evidence of the existence of an Intelligent Designer (God) but the analogy was never intended to imply that God is aloof from and uninterested in the world. Christian Deists believe that God is interested in us, as human beings, to whom God gave the greatest gift of all — our freedom to live as individuals.

The world is not perfect. The creation of the world is an on-going process and we, as human beings, have a role in the development of the world. Jesus used the term, “Kingdom of God” to represent an ideal world in which God’s law of love reigns, and everyone can enjoy life. Jesus’ message, or gospel, is “The kingdom of God is at hand (here and now), repent (turn away from lovelessness) and believe the gospel (good news)” (Mark 1:14).

Children (and adults) need to know that they have a role to play in helping to create this “Kingdom of God on earth” that Jesus prayed for and worked for. Children need to know that each of us has been given a life to invest in making the Earth a better place for everyone to enjoy. This is our mission as Christians.

“Christian Deism,” as it has been called for the past three centuries, begins with the affirmation of belief in an intelligent Creator as evidenced in “intelligent design” that is found in the universe and in human nature. Christian Deists see “intelligent design” in how our planet Earth rotates around the sun at precise distances that allow life to exist on our planet. We see “intelligent design” in our human body. My hand is designed with my thumb opposite to my other four fingers. If this were not so, my hand would be almost useless. Modern biochemistry has discovered that the human body consists of trillions of cells which are complex “machines” that operate chemically, reflecting “intelligent design.”

Christian Deists do not presume to describe “God” but we believe that God is more than what we are. Since we have consciousness and intelligence, it is reasonable to believe that God has these powers and more. It is important for a child to have a belief in God as an intelligent Creator.

Some may believe that the “virtues” need not be related to a belief in God. This idea is most often promoted by persons who believe that the world and human life originated through an accidental process. If this were true, there would be no such thing as “good” or “bad” human behavior. If human life was never intended to exist in the first place, then it does not matter what a person does with his or her life, or how an individual lives in relation to others. If people were never intended to exist, there is no loss in killing them. “Virtues” are “virtues” only if human life is intended to exist.

Every child needs to know that he or she is a unique and special person who is important. A child can learn this from how a parent cares for and guides the child. In a way, a parent represents “God” to a child.

When a person is mature enough to wonder about his or her own existence, the person will face three “big” questions: “How did I get here?” “Why am I here?” and “What comes next?” In other words, the person is asking about the source, purpose, and future of human life, especially the person’s own life.

From a Christian Deist viewpoint, I have already addressed the first two questions. The answer to question number one is “God created us.” The answer to question number two is “To enjoy the world and make it more enjoyable for everyone.”

Question number three is, “What comes next?” The answer is, “It is God’s responsibility to GIVE life, and it is our responsibility to LIVE life. If we take care of our responsibility by living as God intends, we can count on God to take care of God’s responsibility. We know that God has the power to give us life. We are the evidence of this. We will trust in the goodness of God.”


And now, a word to parents about being “religious educators” for your children. I realize that many parents do not feel capable of doing this because they have had very little experience with organized religion or churches. Actually, this may be to these parents advantage because they have not been indoctrinated with negative beliefs.

For example, a man named Paul, who called himself an “apostle,” wrote: “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin which dwells within me (Romans 7:18-20). Here, Paul denies his personal responsibility for his actions, and he excuses his bad behavior by saying that he has no control over what he does. THIS IS EXACTLY WHAT CHILDREN SHOULD NOT BE TAUGHT !

Religious education for children should be based on the child taking responsibility for his or her actions. Children should not be taught that they are naturally bad, or helpless in resisting wrongdoing. Paul’s pessimistic view of human nature can damage a child’s mental health, and discourage a child’s efforts to develop the virtues that the child is capable of developing.

If you, as a parent, are wondering about your ability to be a “religious educator” for your child, I would say that you are ALREADY a “religious educator.” Your child is going to learn more from your thoughts, words, and deeds than from any other teaching source. Your role as “religious educator” started the first time you held your baby in your arms. How you demonstrate your loving concern and respect for the well-being of your child will teach your child more about “God” and “life” than anyone else can teach. In view of this fact, you may want to be a little more aware of what you think, say, and do.

The second thing I would suggest to parents is that you think about what you believe about life, God, and the “big” questions. This does not mean that you will come up with all of the answers about life. No one ever has. But you should try to be aware of what you do believe. If your personal beliefs are in agreement with the beliefs that are propagated by a particular organized religion, such as Judaism, Islam, or one of the many Trinitarian churches, you will find plenty of temples, synagogues, mosques, and churches ready to provide “religious education” to your children. Of course, Trinitarian churches teach that everyone who does not believe that Jesus died to “save” them is going to be punished by fire in “hell” forever. According to this theology, over five billion people in the world, today, are heading for “hell,” including over one billion Muslims. On the other hand, Muslims believe that all of the Trinitarian Christians are going to burn in “hell,” according to the Qu’ran, the “holy book” of Islam. So, parents, be aware of what your child will be taught in a Trinitarian church or an Islamic mosque.

The next thing I would say to parents is that your child needs some kind of “religious identity.” Many of the other kids at school are going to call themselves, “Methodists,” “Catholics,” “Muslims,” etc. These kids usually have no idea what these names mean, but these labels say that the child has a “religion” which has some social value in a peer group. So, if your child is not a member of a church, mosque, temple, or synagogue, what is your child going to call himself or herself in terms of a “religion?” Give your family religion a “name.” If you agree with the beliefs held by “Christian Deists,” you and your children are welcome to use this name. You do not have to join any religious organization to be a Christian Deist.

Some parents provide the academic education for their children at home instead of in a public or private school. These parents provide “homeschooling” for their children through special times for study and learning. If your children are not going to receive their “religious education” in a temple, synagogue, church, or mosque, you should consider providing special times for study and learning through “homechurching” your child.

The Family Virtues Guide contains suggestions for studying and discussing “virtues” at “family times.” This could be part of your “religious education” program. When your child asks “religious questions” about life, tell them honestly what you believe or do not believe without being “dogmatic” about them believing the same thing.

I would also suggest that parents remember that children need some kinds of routines as they grow up. In regard to religion, this usually takes the form of some kind of rituals. I remember, as a child, saying certain prayers at bed time and before meals. Unfortunately, the bed time prayer taught to me was:

“Now I lay me down to sleep; I pray Thee, Lord, my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake, I pray Thee, Lord, my soul to take. Amen.”

After I married and we had children, I questioned the advisability of a child going to sleep at night with the thought that he or she may die before morning. So I revised the bedtime prayer. I must confess that I did not do much better because I was a Trinitarian Christian at the time and I got Jesus and God all mixed up in the prayer! I would do a lot better today.

The “blessing” prayer that I was taught to say, as a child, before meals was:

“God bless our food. Amen.”

At least this prayer had brevity but I always wondered why I was praying for God to bless the mashed potatoes. I revised this prayer for our family as follows:

“God bless US at this table,

And accept our thanks

For the food upon it. Amen.”

I will confess that while our three children were growing up, I was still searching for what I could reasonably believe. I knew that I did not believe what I had been taught growing up in a Baptist church and in a Baptist university, so I looked for the least “evangelical” church I could find, and personally kept quiet when the words of hymns and creeds did not express what I believed. My children essentially received little or no formal “religious education” but they were spared the damage of growing up as fundamentalist Trinitarians. By the time I left the trinitarian church, our children had graduated from high school. So their childhood days were over.

Hopefully, our children learned something good from my wife and me, “by example,” but I wish I had clarified my own “religious identity” better while they were young. This is why I encourage parents to think about what they believe. Your children want to know what you believe.

When I was a member of a Unitarian Universalist Church, I was invited to speak to a junior high Sunday School class. The class was studying what different religious denominations believe. The purpose was to help the teenagers be more understanding and tolerant of the religious beliefs of others. As a former Baptist minister, I was ask to explain “What Baptists Believe.”

The class had gone through many weeks of hearing “what OTHERS believe.” When I finished speaking, a teenage girl asked, “But what do WE believe?” I had no answer for her because a survey of our church members had revealed that one-third believed in God, one-third were agnostics, and one-third were atheists. While I personally viewed myself as a Unitarian Christian, I could only think, “We” do not believe anything in particular. We were so proud of our religious “tolerance” and “freedom” that we left the children without a religious identity. This may be why very few children who grow up in Unitarian Universalist churches continue to be members as adults.

Children need some kind of religious identity, in terms of beliefs and practices, as well as a “name” for their religion. Parents who “homechurch” their children can provide this by having special times to talk about the kinds of behavior (virtues) that show respect for oneself, for other persons, and for God. (No preaching!) Readings and meditation time can be included. Prayers of thanksgiving before meals and at bed time, or other rituals, may remind a child (and ourselves) of our dependence on God. If your religion does not already have a “name,” give it one, for the sake of your child’s “identity.”

What I have written in this essay are just some suggestions. You must do your “religious education” in your own way. Be yourself. And be creative.