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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.”

John Locke, Christian Deist

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Importance of Beliefs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    The Trinity of God

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

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

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

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

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

    The Divinity, Incarnation, and Sacrificial Death of Jesus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Original Sin, Predestination, and Salvation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Free Will and Good Works

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

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

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

    Hell and the Devil

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Christian Deism as a Personal Religion

    I have received e-mail from individuals whose personal beliefs are similar to those expressed in my essays on “Christian Deism.” Some readers ask, “How can I practice Christian deism?” as a personal religion.

    In my responses to this question, I have promised to write about what it means to be a Christian deist and how Christian deism can be practiced each day as a personal religion, as I see it. I undertake this effort with the recognition that this task may be greater than my ability to accomplish, so I undertake it with a prayer that God will guide me in expressing my thoughts. I will try to do the best I can.

    Let me begin by repeating what I wrote in the introduction to my web page. Your personal religion is “the beliefs that you live by.” A “belief” is a proposition which you think is true. If your behavior (words and actions) is guided by a particular belief, then this is a “belief that you live by.” If a particular belief is only a proposition that does not actually influence your behavior, such a belief is not a part of your personal religion.

    What are the basic “beliefs” in Christian deism?

    A “deist” is someone who recognizes that there is “design” in the natural world. Scientists have discovered “design” in the universe, such as the orbiting of the earth around the sun at a distance that enables life to exist on earth. The natural world appears to be designed to operate in accord with certain natural laws, such as the law of gravity in the orbiting of the planets. From the recognition of “design” in the natural world, deists infer the existence of an intelligent “designer” called “God.” In other words, a deist believes that the existence of the world is “intentional” rather than “accidental.”

    The name “deist” comes from the Latin word “Deus” which means “God.” So a deist is someone who believes that God exists as the “designer” of the world. But to simply believe that God exists is not a personal religion. As a Jew, a man named Jesus certainly believed that the design of the universe reflects God’s creative power, as expressed in the Hebrew psalm, “The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament (sky) proclaims His handiwork” (Psalms 19:1) but Jesus also believed that God created human beings and provided certain laws (“commandments”) which are intended to govern our lives.

    Christian deists believe that Jesus summarized these laws for humankind as “you shall love God” and “you shall love your neighbor.” Jesus said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And the second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:36-39).

    Christian deists believe that love for God and love for neighbor are “natural laws” that are known to everyone because these laws are inherent in human nature. Jesus referred to God’s laws as God’s “commandments” or “word,” and Jesus said that this “word” is planted like a seed “in the heart” (Matthew 13:19). Since these natural laws are known by everyone, Christian deists find no need for any “supernatural” means of revelation of truth from God to humankind. Individuals can discover these laws for themselves and must choose whether to accept or reject God’s natural laws, as taught in Jesus’ parable of the “sower.” (See essay, “The Kingdom of God”)

    In Christian deism, the two basic beliefs, or principles, which are intended to guide us in everyday living are “love for God” and “love for neighbor.” “Christians” (of all varieties) would agree with this. But the difference between a Christian deist and other kinds of Christians is that Christian deists believe that these two laws are known naturally by every human being and are the “sum and substance” of true religion. Christian deists find no need for doctrines held by trinitarian Christians such as the doctrines of original sin, divinity of Jesus, and substitutionary atonement (alleging that Jesus died in our place to save us from the “wrath of God”). From church history, we know that these doctrines were developed later and are not found in the teachings of Jesus.

    As stated previously, love for God and love for neighbor are basic beliefs, or principles, in Christian deism. Jesus helps us to understand the meanings and implications of these beliefs through Jesus’ teachings which we call “parables.”

    Our love (appreciation) for God is seen in how we use the life that God has given to us with the expectation that we will invest it to produce something good in the world, as taught in Jesus’ parable of the “talents.” (See essay, “How Can You Love God”) This means that we should use our time and abilities to help others and to make the earth a better place in which to live. This could be something as simple as a smile and kind word to others as we live each day. It could mean doing our jobs with a positive attitude that makes our workplace more pleasant for ourselves and others. It could mean using special abilities as a physician, teacher or research scientist to help others or find ways to improve living conditions on earth. Everyone has opportunities everyday to make the world a better place in which to live.

    The parable of the “talents” also illustrates the truth that the life we receive from God must eventually be returned to God. When Jesus thought that death was near, Jesus prayed to God, “Into Thy hands, I commit my spirit (life)” (Luke 23:46).

    Our love (appreciation) for “neighbor” (other human beings) is seen in how we relate to other persons. It is a failure to love our neighbor if we say or do anything that causes human suffering or if we do not try to relieve human suffering whenever we have the ability and opportunity to do so, as taught in Jesus’ parable of the “good Samaritan.” (See essay, “Love Your Neighbor”) This parable also teaches us to love (appreciate) anyone who acts compassionately to help others.

    Although everyone knows that we should love God and “neighbor,” each person must choose whether or not to commit oneself to following these natural laws. If a person is truly committed to following these laws of love, such a person will feel remorse and regret over any failure to love God or neighbor, and will repent of such failure to love. Any failure to love God or neighbor is called “sin.”

    The meaning of “repentance” from sin is found in Jesus’ parable of the “prodigal son.” (See essay, “Repentance and Forgiveness”) Since everyone fails to love sometimes, the ability and willingness to repent has an important place in the practice of Christian deism. A Christian deist should review his or her words and actions each day to identify any failure to love. A Christian deist should confess such sin, ask for forgiveness from God and any person offended, and seek to make amends, if possible. If a person experiences no remorse or regret over a failure to love or if a person is unwilling to repent of such sin, that person has not committed himself or herself to following God’s laws of love.

    If we repent of our sins (our failures to love God or others) and we are willing to forgive others who repent of their sins against us, God forgives us. The importance of our forgiveness of those who sin against us is illustrated in Jesus’ parable of the “unmerciful servant” (Matthew 18:23-35). Our forgiveness of others is very important in the everyday practice of Christian deism.

    Christian deists believe that the “gospel” or message of Jesus is “The kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:14). To Jesus, the “kingdom of God” comes “on earth” as God’s “will” is done (Matthew 6:10). Since it is God’s will that we love God and love our neighbor, it is obedience to God’s will that brings the “kingdom of God” into reality on earth.

    Christian deists believe that each of us can contribute in some way toward creating the “kingdom of God” on earth by living as God intends for us to live. As a Jew, Jesus originally believed that God intended for the Jewish people to establish an independent nation which would be obedient to God. The Jews called this the “kingdom of God.” But Jesus’ encounters with non-Jewish persons (a Caananite woman concerned about her daughter, a Roman army officer concerned about his paralyzed servant, and a Samaritan woman’s interest in how to worship God) gave Jesus a deeper understanding of humanity and led him to a broader view of the “kingdom of God” that includes persons of “all nations.”

    As we encounter persons who are different from ourselves, we can recognize that we share in a common humanity with mutual interests, needs and hopes. We outgrow our narrow and provincial view of humanity and develop a broader and inclusive view, just as Jesus outgrew his nationalistic concept of the “kingdom of God.”

    In summary, the central beliefs in Christian deism are:

    1. God is our Creator.

    2. God intends for us to love God and to love each other.

    3. We should repent of “sin,” which is any failure to love.

    4. God forgives us if we repent of our sins and we forgive others who repent of their sins against us.

    5. The “gospel” (good news) is that the kingdom of God is a reality on earth now for those who are committed to following God’s laws of love.

    6. The life we have received from God must be returned to God eventually. If we try to live now as God intends for us to live, we can trust God to take care of the future.

    These are some of the basic beliefs in Christian deism, as I see them. Each Christian deist can apply these beliefs in the ways that seem reasonable to the individual. The practice of Christian deism is an individual matter and no one is limited to my understanding of what it means to be a Christian deist. Christian deists believe that God gave us the ability to reason (think logically), and no person is required to believe anything that seems unreasonable to that individual.

    Practicing Christian Deism

    Deism is based on the premise that life is a gift. A gift is something that we receive because someone intended for us to have it.

    The fact that we have life through no decision or action of our own is evidence that life has been given to us. In using the word “life,” I am referring to the individual “self” or personal consciousness that you perceive within your physical body. This is sometimes called “soul” or “spirit” or “being.”

    Jesus used the term “spirit.” He said, “It is the spirit that gives life, the flesh is of no avail,” that is, the physical body is of no value without the spirit (John 6:63). This, of course, is stating the obvious because without “life” we cannot have consciousness, and our physical body is of no use without personal consciousness.

    Deists believe that a Creator (usually called “God”) intentionally created the world and humankind. Deists infer this from the complex designs observed in nature–both in the world and in humankind. Based on this premise, deists believe that we should show our appreciation to God for the gift of human life and the natural world that sustains life.

    We show appreciation to God in three ways: (1) by respecting the value of one’s own life, (2) by respecting the value of life in other persons, and (3) by respecting the value of the natural resources of the Earth on which human life depends.

    Respect for the value of one’s own life is shown by:

    1. Taking care of your health. We should not neglect or abuse our bodies by abusing alcohol and other drugs, eating unhealthy foods, eating too much or too little, failing to exercise and rest, or neglecting personal cleanliness.

    2. Doing your share of work required to maintain human society. We should not neglect the care of our home or family. To the extent we are able, we should support ourselves and contribute to the economy of the community.

    3. Enjoying your life. A person can find much joy in common things and everyday experiences. Enjoyment does not depend on having wealth or expensive pleasures.

    Respect for the value of life in other persons is shown by:

    1. Not doing anything that causes human suffering.

    2. Trying to relieve human suffering whenever possible.

    3. Taking care of other persons, or helping them to take care of themselves, as a situation requires.

    Respect for the value of the natural resources of the Earth is shown by:

    1. Using the natural resources wisely, renewing them, and by sharing them fairly with all other persons.

    2. Not damaging the land, water, and air by neglect, exploitation, or pollution.

    3. Avoiding overpopulation that depletes limited natural resources. The population of the Earth has increased from 2 billion to 6 billion persons in the last 50 years. This uncontrolled growth of population is depleting the natural resources of the Earth, and is the underlying cause of most wars. Population growth must be halted by means of education, contraceptives, and voluntary sterilizations. However, in my view, abortion should not be used for birth control, and rarely used for other purposes.

    “Worship” means “to honor” or “to respect.” Deists believe that we worship God by showing respect for the value of human life and the world in which we live. Deism is called “natural” religion because its principles can be discovered through our observation, experience, and reasoning. The principles of deism have been recognized and taught by great teachers in many different cultures.

    A man named Jesus expressed the essence of deism in terms that came from his Jewish culture. Jesus said, “The Lord our God is one; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength” and “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:29-31). Christian Deists see the premise and principles of Deism in these statements but we must understand what Jesus meant by these words.

    These statements begin with the premise of deism, an affirmation that God exists (“The Lord our God is one”).

    Then the first principle of deism is stated as, “You shall love God with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.” This means loving God with your whole self–soul (conscious being), mind (intelligence), and strength (body). You should show respect to God by what you are, by what you think and say, and by what you do. In other words, you should live in a way that shows that you appreciate the gift of life that you have received. Above, I have suggested how this may be done in practical ways.

    The second principle of deism is stated as, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Note that “love for neighbor” is related to “as yourself.” This is important. The requirement to “love your neighbor” is based on the assumption that you love yourself. In other words, you must first recognize the value of your own life, or love yourself (have self-respect) before you can fully appreciate the value of your “neighbor’s” life.

    This leads me to believe that God wants us to love our own life–enjoying it as a gift. In my view, gifts are for the enjoyment of the receiver, and for the joy of the giver. I believe that God wants us to enjoy our lives and help others enjoy theirs. From experience, we know that much joy in life comes from giving love (care) to others, and receiving love (care) from others.

    Now I would call your attention to something that is usually overlooked, or ignored, in the teachings of Jesus. When Jesus said, “You shall love . . . God,” he was essentially quoting from the Hebrew scriptures (Deuteronomy 6:4). And when Jesus said, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” he was quoting from the Hebrew scriptures (Leviticus 19:18). But in Jesus’ definition of “neighbor,” he went far beyond the definition in the Jewish religion of his day.

    The Hebrew book of 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) neighbor. Only one exception to this definition is made in Leviticus 19:33, “When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him 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; . . .”

    Leviticus is known as one of the “books of Moses.” Obviously, this book defines “neighbor” as “sons of your own people” (Leviticus 19:18) and “strangers who sojourn in your land” (Leviticus 19:33). In other words, “neighbor” only included Hebrews and other persons who lived in their country. There was no requirement to love anyone else, and this was clearly demonstrated when Moses ordered the Hebrew army to slaughter or enslave people of other countries as the Hebrews marched toward Canaan to invade it (Deuteronomy 20:10-17).

    When Jesus was asked, “Who is my neighbor?,” he answered with the parable of the “good Samaritan” (Luke 10:30-37). In this parable, Jesus defined “neighbor” as EVERYONE, even those who are considered “enemies.” The Jews and the Samaritans viewed each other as “enemies” but, in his parable, Jesus used a Samaritan as an example of a “good neighbor” who came to the rescue of a suffering Jew who had been beaten and robbed. This story must have shocked the Jewish audience.

    On another occasion, 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 his rain on the just and the unjust” (Matthew 5:43-45).

    We may resist the idea of “love your enemy” because our “enemies” are persons who have offended us or have threatened us in some way. What did Jesus mean by “love your enemy?”

    Jesus certainly did not mean that we should be passive toward someone who seriously threatens our lives. On the night that Jesus was arrested, he and his disciples obviously felt that they were in danger because Peter said, “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison or death” (Luke 22:33). Then Jesus urged his disciples to arm themselves with swords (Luke 22:36). Jesus obviously believed in the right of self-defense. But later, when one of his disciples made a “first strike” with his sword, Jesus condemned the action, saying, “No more of this” (Luke 22:50-51).

    So what did Jesus mean when he said, “love your enemy”?

    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 (God) is merciful” (Luke 6:35-36).

    While retaining the right of self-defense, we should try to “do good” and “be merciful” to our “enemies.” This may turn an “enemy” into a “friend” or, at least, we can find out whether there is any chance to solve the conflict by peaceful means.

    In teaching “love your enemy,” Jesus went far beyond the religion that he had been taught in his culture. 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.”

    Loving your enemies is a keystone in the religion taught by Jesus.

    Today, in our world, we see how fear and hatred can lead people to see others as “enemies” who must be destroyed. The hatred expressed in the cycle of revenge–an eye for an eye– has blinded people from recognizing that their “enemies” are often persons who are suffering from poverty, disease, ignorance, exploitation, and hopelessness. They need help. What would happen if someone tried to “do good” and “be merciful” to them?

    What would happen if we sat down with our “enemies” to find out what they need from us, and to tell them what we need from them? Maybe we could find some ways to help each other, and achieve a better world for all of us–a world that Jesus called “the kingdom of God” on earth.

    Call this “unrealistic” if you wish, but you must admit that the leaders on all sides of every violent conflict in the world today are accomplishing nothing but death and destruction. No causative problems are being solved. It is time to try a different approach. Jesus has a radical idea and, as a Christian Deist, I am ready to be a radical. How about you?

    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.

    The Christian Deists: Christians Without Churches

    People often ask, “Why don’t Christian deists have churches?”

    The word “church” usually refers to religious organizations that have professional ministers, and buildings for public worship. Christian deists do not have these.

    Why don’t Christian deists have churches?

    Primarily, the answer is, “Christian deism is a personal religion. Churches are not necessary in the practice of Christian deism.” But there are other reasons why Christian deists do not have “churches,” in the usual sense of this word.

    As a Jew, Jesus attended the synagogue in Nazareth and, on special holy days, he went to the Jewish temple in Jerusalem. But Jesus was well aware of the problems that can accompany religious organizations.

    In Jesus’ day, the Jerusalem temple had become a place of business where animals were sold for sacrifices and money-changers made profits from Jewish pilgrims exchanging their foreign currency (Mark 11:15). Jesus tried to remedy the commercializing of religion by driving the merchants and money-changers from the temple. The commercializing of Christianity is an enormous problem today, as blatantly evidenced by the numerous TV and radio “evangelists” seeking money donations in exchange for audio tapes, books, and other “gifts.”

    Even in local churches, where many sincere ministers earn their livings, money often becomes a divisive issue among church members as they debate how much to pay the minister, how much to spend on new buildings, and other money-related matters. Often the amount of money spent on their churches far exceeds the amount spent on relieving human suffering.

    Jesus’ view about places of worship is seen in his conversation with a Samaritan woman (John 4:20-24). The woman said, “Our fathers worshipped on this mountain (a temple on Mount Gerizim in Samaria); and you (Jews) say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father . . . . the hour is coming, and now is, when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for such the Father seeks to worship him.”

    According to Jesus, true worship takes place only in “spirit and truth.” The word “spirit” refers to the inner self of a person. It refers to a person’s attitude and thoughts.

    The meaning of the word “truth” can be found in Jesus’ statement in John 3:20-21, where the New Testament Greek word for “truth” is translated “true.” Jesus said, “for every one who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does what is true comes to the light, that it may be clearly seen that his deeds have been wrought in God.” According to Jesus, “truth” means doing “what is true,” or good deeds.

    Christian deists agree with Jesus that buildings for worship are not necessary. As Jesus said, “True worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth.” We worship (honor) God through our good atttitude and thoughts, and by our good deeds.

    Christian deists do not believe that Jesus intended to organize an institutional church. Those who claim that Jesus founded the “Christian church” point to Matthew 16:16-19. Here, the disciple Peter proclaimed his belief that Jesus was the Jewish messiah, and Jesus responded by saying to Peter, “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” This, of course, is the scripture that the Roman Catholic Church uses to claim that the church holds the keys to heaven. It is alleged that Peter became the first “bishop” in the City of Rome, and Peter passed on the “keys” to the bishops (popes) who succeeded Peter.

    The Roman Catholic Church has misinterpreted Jesus’ statement, “I will build my church.” At the time of Jesus’ and Peter’s conversation, Jesus and his followers believed that they were participating in a revolutionary movement to reestablish the Kingdom of Israel, which the Jews called the “kingdom of heaven” or “kingdom of God.” When Peter proclaimed his belief that Jesus was the Jewish messiah who would reestablish the “kingdom,” Jesus said that Peter would have a place of leadership in the movement, as indicated in the statement that Peter would be given the “keys” to the “kingdom of heaven.”

    As a leader in the movement, Peter would have authority, as indicated in the statement that “whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” This is a phrase that Jesus uses elsewhere (Matthew 18:15-18) to say that someone has authority to make decisions.

    In Matthew 18:15-18, Jesus told his disciples how to resolve any conflicts between themselves, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained a brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.* Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

    (*Note: “Gentiles” and “tax collectors” for the Romans are examples of persons who were usually excluded from Jewish groups.)

    Note that in Matthew 18:15-18, Jesus said to all of his disciples the same thing that Jesus said to Peter, “whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” In this instance, the phrase refers to decisions made by the “church” when settling disputes among the disciples of Jesus. The “church” would have final authority to make a decision in the dispute. What did Jesus mean by the word “church?” He certainly was not referring to the Roman Catholic Church, or any other Christian church, since no Christian church existed during Jesus’ lifetime.

    The New Testament Greek word which is translated “church” is “ekklesia” which means an “assembly” or group of people. In Matthew 18:15-18, Jesus was referring to his group of followers, then and there. Jesus was simply saying that his group of followers had authority to make decisions to settle disputes among themselves. It was the practice among some Jewish sects to discipline their members for offenses, and even exclude offenders from the group (as seen in the Dead Sea Scrolls sect of Jews).

    It is clear from Matthew 16:16-19 and Matthew 18:15-18, that the phrase about “binding and loosing” simply meant “having authority to make decisions.” It is also clear that the word “church” simply referred to Jesus’ “group” of followers. When Jesus said that he would “build my church” in Matthew 16:16-19, Jesus was saying that personal commitment to the “kingdom of heaven,” as expressed by Peter, would be the foundation (“rock”) on which Jesus would “build” his group or assembly (ekklesia) of followers.

    It should be noted that Jesus used a word which is translated as “church” in only two verses in the New Testament (Matthew 16:18 and 18:17). The word used in New Testament Greek manuscripts is “ekklesia” which actually means an assembly, or group, of people, not an organization of any kind. If Jesus had intended to “build” an institutional “church,” like the Roman Catholic Church, certainly Jesus would have said more about it.

    Why don’t Christian deists have professional ministers?

    Christian deists believe that everyone is responsible for “ministering” to, or serving, others. But Christian deists do not believe that a person should be paid for doing this. When Jesus sent his disciples out to preach the coming of the “kingdom of God,” Jesus said, “You have received without pay, give without pay” (Matthew 10:8). On their missionary journeys, the disciples were allowed to accept only room and board from their hosts, and the disciples were prohibited from accepting money payments. This sounds like good advice.

    How do Christian deists worship God?

    As explained previously, Christian deists believe that we should worship “in spirit and in truth.”

    For Christian deists, worship is a personal matter. This follows the example of Jesus. Jesus prayed by himself and with close friends in private homes. He opposed the public display of religious practices.

    Jesus said, ” Beware of practicing your piety before men in order to be seen by them; for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.

    “Thus when you give alms, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by men. Truly, I say to you, they have their reward. But 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.

    “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by men. Truly, I say to you, they have their reward. 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.

    “And in praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” (Matthew 6:1-8)

    In summary, Christian deists believe that religion is a personal and private matter. Christian deists are not opposed to “getting together” for fellowship and religious education, but Christian deists do not believe in public worship “services” because such activity can easily become a hypocritical display of pretended religion.

    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.

    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).

    RELIGIOUS EDUCATION

    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.

    VIRTUES SHOWING SELF-RESPECT
    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

    VIRTUES SHOWING RESPECT FOR OTHER PERSONS
    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

    VIRTUES SHOWING RESPECT FOR GOD
    1. Faithfulness

    2. Obedience

    3. Prayerfulness

    4. Reverence

    5. Service

    6. Thankfulness

    7. Trust

    8. Unity

    COMMENTS REGARDING THE FAMILY VIRTUES GUIDE

    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.

    VIRTUES AND GOD

    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.”

    PARENTS AS RELIGIOUS EDUCATORS

    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.

    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.