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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 Language of Christian Deism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Is A Christian Deist?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An Overview of Christian Deism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Deist” and “Christian Deist”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Matthew Tindal, Christian Deist

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CHAPTER 1.

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

Excerpts from Chapter 1:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CHAPTER 2.

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

Excerpts from Chapter 2.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CHAPTER 3.

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

Excerpts from Chapter 3:

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Natural Religion of Jesus

Each of us came into existence through no decision or action of our own. So each of us may wonder, “Why do I exist?” and “How shall I live the life I have?” These are the questions that “religions” attempt to answer.

The word “religion” comes from the Latin word “religio” which has a meaning influenced by the verb “religare” to bind, in the sense of “place an obligation on” (World Book Dictionary).

The World Book Dictionary defines “obligation” as “duty” which, in turn, is defined as “a thing which a person ought to do; a thing which is right to do.”

In other words, religion deals with “how a person ought to live” or what is “right to do.” What duties or obligations do we, as individuals, have in living our lives?

When we look around us, we see many different “organized religions” such as Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and others. In their attempts to say “how a person ought to live” or “what is right to do,” these organized religions place many different “obligations” on their members. Since these organized religions began at various times and in various geographical locations, none of these religions have been known by all human beings in all places and at all times on earth.

Is there any “religion” which is known by all humankind? The answer is “yes.” It is a natural religion that “places some obligations (duties) on” everyone. How is this natural religion known to everyone, and what are the obligations (duties) that are placed on everyone?

This natural religion has had many proponents through the centuries. The proponent who is best known to me was an intinerant Jewish rabbi (teacher) named Jesus. An “organized religion,” called “Christianity,” has developed over the centuries based on theological theories “about Jesus” but this organized religion has very little to do with the natural religion “of Jesus.” By disregarding the theological theories “about Jesus,” we can discover the basic principles of natural religion in the teachings “of Jesus.”

Jesus was considered a religious heretic by the leaders of the organized religion in his time and place. Jesus was a Jew and his cultural religion was the traditional Jewish religion (an ancient form of what we now call “Judaism”). In his day, Judaism had accumulated a complex structure of religious “obligations” that were placed on Jews. The natural religion of Jesus reduced these obligations to two: love for God and love for neighbor.

Jesus referred to these two obligations as God’s “commandments” (laws) or God’s “word” (truth). Jesus taught that these two obligations are known by everyone because they are planted like a seed sown “in the heart” (Matthew 13:18-23).

Natural religion, as taught by Jesus, is based on these two natural laws that are inherent in human nature. Violation of these two laws by anyone is life-destructive. Obedience of these two laws is life-creative. This is known through human experience.

What Jesus meant by “love for God” and “love for neighbor” is defined by Jesus in his stories called “parables.” Jesus believed that it was his mission, and ours, to establish the “kingdom of God” on earth. Jesus used the term “kingdom of God” to refer to the rule of God’s laws in the lives of individuals and in human society.

We should note that the “gospel” that Jesus preached was, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15). In his “gospel,” Jesus said nothing about “saving” anyone by Jesus’ death (the “gospel” which is preached today in trinitarian churches). Obviously, Jesus’ death had not occurred at the time he asked people to “believe in the gospel.” Jesus’ “gospel” (good news) was about the “kingdom of God” on earth. This was the only “gospel” that Jesus knew.

The so-called “gospel” heard in trinitarian churches today was developed by church councils over a period of four centuries. These councils modified the theology of Paul, a man who never claimed to have seen or heard Jesus except in an alleged “vision” after the lifetime of Jesus. Paul was a Jew who interpreted Jesus’ crucifixion as a human sacrifice to God to atone for the sins of humankind. At the time when Jesus and Paul lived, a “ram without blemish” was sacrificed in the Jewish temple as a “guilt offering” to God as an atonement for sins. Paul used this as an analogy to interpret the crucifixion of Jesus as a sacrifice to atone for sins. (Romans 5:6-10; Ephesians 5:2).

Jesus taught that God required no sacrifices to atone for sins. Jesus said, “Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice’.” (Matthew 9:13). Here, Jesus is quoting the Hebrew prophet Hosea who claimed to be quoting God: “I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice; the knowledge of God, rather than burnt offerings” (Hosea 6:6).

The theological theory that Jesus sacrificed his life, as a substitute for us, to atone for (pay for) the sins of humankind is called the “substitutionary theory of the atonement.” This theory, which was adopted in trinitarian Christianity, is contrary to the teachings of Jesus. Jesus made it very clear that God forgives us if we repent of our sins and we are willing to forgive others who sin against us (Matthew 18:23-35; Luke 11:4; Luke 17:3-4; Matthew 6:14-15; Luke 15:11-24).

It is important to know what Jesus meant by love for God, love for neighbor, repentance, forgiveness, and the kingdom of God on earth. These are key concepts in the natural religion of Jesus. Jesus explained the meanings of these concepts which I will present in this Web Page. In my view, life becomes more understandable from what we can learn from these teachings.