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About John Lindell

This is my personal story. You can skip it, if you choose, and go directly to my essays concerning deism, and its historical and theological background. But I feel that an author should tell something about himself or herself so the reader can know “where the author is coming from.”

I am 79 years old. My wife and I have a fine family including two sons, a daughter, two daughter-in-laws, one son-in-law, four grandchildren, one granddaughter-in-law, and two great grandchildren. I have a degree in religion from Baylor University, 1952, and a master’s degree in social work from the University of Texas, 1957. After a very brief ministry in a Baptist church, I was a social worker for 33 years before retiring.

For over 50 years, I have been a student of religion, the New Testament, and Christian church history. My essays are an effort to share what I have learned in my search for an understanding of religion and life.

The first interpretation of the meaning of life was given to me in Baptist churches that I attended as a child. I was taught that human beings are naturally “sinful” (bad) and would be punished by burning forever in a horrible place called “hell.” I was told that the only way that a person could be “saved” from this punishment was to become a “Christian” by believing that God sent His “only Son” Jesus to die in my place to “pay the death penalty” for my sins.

As an 11 year-old child, I was frightened by this but I believed it because adults taught this to me. (Children usually believe what adults tell them.) I became very concerned about people “going to hell” so, at age 14, I decided that I would become a Baptist minister.

After graduating from high school, I entered a Baptist university and became a ministerial student. In my freshman year, I threw myself wholeheartedly into efforts to “save people from hell” by joining other students in preaching on street corners and at the city jail. In my sophomore year, I became overwhelmed by the thought that most people would never hear about Jesus so they would have no opportunity to be “saved” from everlasting punishment in “hell.” This did not seem fair to me. I could no longer believe that God would torture people forever just because they did not “believe Jesus died on a cross to save them.”

I began to question what I had been taught about Jesus. I had been taught that God became a human being, named Jesus, so his death (as a human being) on the cross could serve as a “substitute” to pay the “death penalty” incurred by human beings because of their sins.

The idea that Jesus was God in human form is contained in the doctrine of the “Trinity” of God as “Father, Son (Jesus), and Holy Spirit.” I found this idea very puzzling. In one of my religion classes, I chose to write a term paper on the “Trinity of God.” I read the entire New Testament, making notes on the relationships of “the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit.” I concluded that Jesus did not consider himself to be the same as, or equal to, God.

As I searched for what I could believe as a Christian, I graduated from the university, got married, and entered Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. I also became pastor of a Baptist church in a very small town. In my seminary class on “Missions,” the professor lectured on the importance of sending missionaries to foreign countries because people were going to “hell” if they did not hear about Jesus. I remember feeling very upset by this.

How could a fair and loving God condemn people to “hell” when they had never even heard about Jesus. This did not make sense to me. The idea of unending torture in “hell” for not “believing in Jesus” implies that God is sadistic and fiendish. Certainly no rational person could respect or love a “God” like that.

I dropped out of the seminary after only a few months, but I continued as minister of the small Baptist church. In the “gospel” which I preached at that time, I emphasized the “resurrection” of Jesus as “evidence” of God’s power to give life, and I emphasized the necessity of repentance to obtain forgiveness of sins. I simply avoided the subjects of “hell” and “being saved by Jesus’ death on the cross.”

But I was confronted again by these subjects during a funeral at my church. I agreed to assist in a funeral for a man who was not a member of our church. The funeral was conducted by an old Baptist minister who had known the family in previous years. In his “sermon,” the old minister made it very clear that he did not consider the deceased man to be a Christian, and then the old minister proceeded to preach an evangelistic sermon about only Christians going to heaven. In effect, the old minister preached the deceased man into “hell” as the man’s wife and children sat in the front pew.

I was appalled by the old minister’s lack of sensitivity. I only hoped that the widow and her children did not hear what the minister said. But I heard it. I had heard this as a child in a Baptist church, I had heard it in a Baptist university, and I had heard it in a Baptist seminary. I finally had to face the fact that I did not believe this, and I would not preach this.

After only one year, I resigned as minister and began my search for a different understanding of life. I was convinced that God cares about everyone, not just “Christians.” This became a guiding belief in my personal religion.

At 24 years of age, I began a new career as a social worker. I obtained a master’s degree in social work and became very involved in family and children’s work, especially child protective services. I also became busy with my own family, as my wife and I had two sons and a daughter during our first seven years of marriage.

Like many parents, my wife and I felt a responsibility to give our children some religious education and identity. We made a decision to join a Methodist church so our children could avoid the experiences that my wife and I had in growing up in Baptist churches. The Methodist church was trinitarian but Methodists did not sing songs like “Washed in the Blood of the Lamb” and I never heard a sermon on “hell” during the 20 years our family belonged to Methodist churches. If I did not believe the words in a creed or hymn, I simply remained silent. From age 30 until age 50, I was a member of Methodist churches.

During these years, I continued to search for what I could honestly believe. At the age of 38 (in 1968), I wrote a little book describing my personal religion which I called “Eso,” a Greek word meaning “within” because I found “truth” within my human nature. My little book was entitled, Book of Eso: A Guide to the Principles and Practice of Natural Religion.

The following are excerpts from my little “Book of Eso:”

“Eso is the oldest religion of humankind. It began when humankind began. It exists wherever people are. It is innate in each human being. It is inherent in the very design of human nature. Eso, which means “within,” is a name given in this world but the name is not important. It would be the same under any other name or no name at all.”

“Considering the apparent intelligence required in creating each human personality, or individual being, and the complex physical body in which each one dwells, as well as the ordered universe which surrounds humankind, it is improbable that such an able Creator would fail to provide some guide which every person can follow in living the Way intended for humankind and for the purpose intended for humankind.”

“This means that people cannot depend upon their environments, societies, or cultures to provide an explanation of life — for these surroundings are not the same for all people throughout all times.”

“It is apparent that all people have only one thing in common, that is, human nature. Certainly this suggests that a person must look within himself or herself — look within human nature — for a trustworthy guide in living.”

“All that we need to know about the way and purpose of life is within us.”

“The gift of life, which we possess through no choice or effort of our own, evidences a Creator, the infinite spirit of life, called “God.”

“People have discovered two important facts about the design of human nature: First, we have discovered that when we live in accord with the principle of love for others, we find joy. From this, we have learned that we are designed to live by love. Our basic human nature contains this guide for how to live.

“Secondly, we have observed within ourselves the fact that the more we live by love, our inner capacity to experience joy increases. But when we fail to love — whether by indifference to the needs of others, or by expressing or demonstrating hatred or hostility toward others –our inner capacity to experience joy shrinks and is reduced.”

“The inner capacity for joy is the measure of the amount of life within each person. As you live by love, you become more alive. As you fail to live by love, you become less alive.”

“Since the way of life intended for humankind is eso, that is, within every person, all possess the truth about life. This means that no one must depend upon any book or teacher or anything outside of himself or herself to show the way. A person has sufficient light within himself or herself.”

“When people follow that which is outside of themselves, they are in danger of idolatry. That is, they sometimes worship a book as “holy” or they deify a teacher by considering that teacher as more than human. This idolatry dishonors God the Creator who provided every person with the truth in the very being or nature of everyone.”

“One of the dangers in religions of the world is that many lead people into idolatry. There is one God, our Creator, and only God is to be worshipped.” (End of quotation)

I did not know that my religion, which I named “Eso” in 1968, had been known as “deism” for three hundred years. I had never heard of deism when I wrote my little “Book of Eso,” but I had read some Quaker literature about being guided by a “light within” and I had concluded that this “light” was inherent in the design of human nature, rather than some kind of “mystical” experience.

In 1980, when I was 50 years old, my wife and I were still members of a Methodist church but I was finding it harder to ignore the trinitarian theology found in worship services, especially in “communion” services where the “wine” (grape juice) represented Jesus’ blood “which was shed for you for the forgiveness of sin.”

From what I had read about Unitarian Christianity, I came to identify myself as a “Unitarian Christian.” In 1981, I decided to join a local Unitarian Church that belonged to the Unitarian Universalist Association. The American Unitarian Association and the Universalist Church of America had merged in 1961 to form the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA).

The by-laws of the Unitarian Universalist Association stated that it would “cherish and spread universal truths taught by the great prophets and teachers of humanity in every age and tradition, immemorially summarized in the Judeo-Christian heritage as love to God and love to humankind.” This statement was printed on the Sunday “Order of Service” at the local Unitarian church on my first visit. At last, I thought, I had found the church that I had been looking for.

But the UUA was undergoing a great change when I joined the local Unitarian church.

American Unitarianism became a structured denomination in 1865 with the formation of the National Conference of Unitarian Churches that identified itself as consisting of “Christian Churches of the Unitarian Faith.”

In 1894, a statement by the National Conference affirmed that “These churches accept the religion of Jesus, holding in accordance with his teaching, that practical religion is summed up in love to God and love to man(kind)” but the Conference also stated that “Nothing in this Constitution is to be construed as an authoritative test; and we cordially invite to our working fellowship any who, while differing from us in belief, are in general sympathy with our practical aims.”

In effect, Unitarian churches in the United States became “non-creedal” organizations. During the early 1900’s, the Unitarian Christians became outnumbered by those members who differed from them “in belief,” especially non-theist humanists who appreciated the humanitarian “aims” of the Unitarian churches but affirmed no belief in God.

By 1981, only 30% of the members of UUA churches professed a belief in God. With the majority of its members being non-theists (either agnostics or atheists) the UUA changed its by-laws by dropping its reference to “love for God” in 1985. The UUA voted to become a “pluralistic” organization that included persons of all religious or philosophical beliefs. A survey of the local Unitarian church that I joined showed that only 13% of the members viewed themselves as “Unitarian Christians.”

I was very active in the local Unitarian church, serving as president of the Board of Trustees twice. I had hoped that a “pluralistic” church would be satisfactory for me but by 1994, the UUA leadership was primarily non-theist and the local congregation offered nothing for Unitarian Christians. I resigned from the church but still considered myself a “Unitarian Christian.”

I had never heard of deism until I read Thomas Paine’s book The Age of Reason in 1998. I admire Thomas Paine, and his book led me to explore deism in more depth. After reading Matthew Tindal’s book, Christianity As Old As Creation, A Republication of the Religion of Nature (1730), I realized that Thomas Paine’s understanding of deism was somewhat limited, and that I am a “Christian Deist.”

Most of the early Deists in the 17th and 18th centuries considered themselves to be “Christians” but “unitarian” in the purest theological sense. They agreed that Jesus was only a human being and that there is one God, our Creator. The deists’ beliefs in natural and universal religion appealed to me. I recognize that I have been a Deist since age 38 when I wrote my little “Book of Eso.”

During the past ten years, I have studied the writings of Deists, and it is my intention to make the history and beliefs of Christian Deism better known. I believe that many people may be happy to discover that they are “Christian Deists.”

What Is The Gospel?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Man Named Jesus

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

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

“Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:14-15).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who was Jesus?

This essay is written in response to readers who have asked me to write some more about the identity of Jesus, and the relationship between Jesus and God.

It is understandable that there is confusion about this. In trinitarian Christian churches, the name “Jesus” is used interchangeably with the terms “Son of God” and “God” in sermons and hymns. Trinitarians worship Jesus as divine.

The idea that Jesus is the only divine Son of God came originally from Paul of Tarsus, who called himself an “apostle” (messenger) of Jesus. Paul wrote, “. . . . Christ Jesus, who though he was in the form of God did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped (sought), 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 the death of the cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:5-11).

Although Paul viewed Jesus as the divine Son of God, Paul did not view Jesus as equal to “God.” Paul wrote, “Yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist” (I Corinthians 8:6). “When all things are subjected to him (Jesus), then the Son himself will also be subjected to Him (God the Father) who put all things under him (Jesus), that God may be everything to everyone” (I Corinthians 15:28).

Paul believed that God the Father had chosen Jesus to be the “messiah” or “lord” (ruler) of the world, but that Jesus is subordinate to God the Father. Paul also believed that God the Father used Jesus to create the world and humankind. This latter belief reflects the influence of Greek philosophy. The Greek philosopher Heraclitus, six centuries before the Christian Era, believed that a “logos” (a creative intelligence, or “mind”) created the order of the world. Paul was from the city of Tarsus where Greek ideas were well-known. This idea of the “logos” is also seen in the Gospel of John where the unknown writer claimed that the “logos” that created the world was incarnated (became flesh) in Jesus (John 1:1-14).

The idea that the “Son of God” existed before being born as a man (Jesus) posed a problem for the early Christian church. It appeared that Christians worshipped two Gods, although one ranked higher than the other. This is called “polytheism” (worship of more than one God). The relationship of Jesus to God the Father became a matter of debate among Christians during the first three centuries of Christianity.

A Christian priest, named Arius, in Alexandria, Egypt, taught that God the Father had “created” Jesus as the Son of God before the world was created, and that Jesus was subordinate to God the Father. A church council was convened in Nicaea, in 325 C.E., to settle the controversy about Jesus and his relationship to God the Father.

Arius’ view, called Arianism, was condemned by the Council of Nicaea, and the Council produced the “Creed of Nicaea” which declared that Jesus was the “Son of God” who was “only-begotten, that is, of the substance of the Father, God of God, Light of Light, true God of true God, begotten and not made, of one substance with the Father, through whom all things were made, things in heaven and on earth.”

The Creed of Nicaea declared that the Son of God had always existed and was the creator of the world: “But those who say, ‘There was (a time) when he (the Son of God) was not (in existence)’ and ‘Before he (the Son of God) was begotten, he was not (in existence)’ . . . . the Catholic and Apostolic Church anathematizes (condemns).”

The Creed of Nicaea did not say that the Son of God was subordinate to God the Father. The creed claimed that the Son of God was begotten “of one substance with the Father,” suggesting that the Son of God existed within God the Father even before the Son was “begotten.” This was apparently an effort to refute the charge that Christians believed in two Gods, or “polytheism.”

So when did God the Father “beget” (i.e., “become the father of”) the “only begotten Son of God?” A church council in Chalcedon, in 451 C.E., affirmed in a creed known as the “Nicene Creed” that the “Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God” was “begotten before all ages” and “for us men and for our salvation came down from the heavens, and was made flesh of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, and became man and was crucified under Pontius Pilate, and suffered and was buried, and rose again on the third day according to the Scriptures, and ascended to the heavens, and sitteth on the right hand of the Father, and cometh again with glory to judge living and dead, of whose kingdom there shall be no end; . . . .”

According to the creeds of 325 C.E. and 451 C.E., the Son of God had always existed as “one substance with the Father” and was “begotten before all ages” before coming “down from the heavens” to be “made flesh of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary” and become known as Jesus.

The Nicene Creed, in 451 C.E., also declared a belief in “the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Life-giver, who proceeded from the Father, who with the Father and the Son is worshipped together and glorified together . . . .” Thus the doctrine of the “Trinity of God” (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) was affirmed as the “orthodox” trinitarian view of God. It should be noted that the Holy Spirit “proceeded” from God the Father, and the Son of God was “begotten” from “one substance with the Father” indicating that the Holy Spirit and the Son of God were part of God, and were to be worshipped “together” with God the Father. This has led trinitarian Christians to worship Jesus, and to equate Jesus with God the Father in trinitarian Christian churches.

The apostle Paul probably did not recognize the problem created by his view that Jesus was divine but subordinate to God the Father. Paul believed that Jesus was the “messiah” (anointed one) who would return to the earth during Paul’s lifetime to rule all humankind in the “Kingdom of God” (First Corinthians 7:29-31; First Thessalonians 4:16-17; First Corinthians 15:24-28).

Paul sometimes referred to Jesus as “lord” meaning “ruler” of the Kingdom of God. Since the term “Lord” is also used in the “Old Testament” to refer to God as the “ruler” of the universe, trinitarian Christians often refer to Jesus as “Lord,” meaning “God” without distinguishing between Jesus and “God the Father” as Paul did (Philippians 2:9-11).

The Gospel of John also depicts Jesus as the divine Son of God but separate from and subordinate to God the Father:

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

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

In John 14:1, Jesus said, “Let not your hearts be troubled; believe in God, believe also in me.” Again, Jesus was not identical with God the Father.

In John 14:24, Jesus said, “. . . . the word which you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me.” Jesus believed that he had been sent by God the Father.

In John 14:31, Jesus said, “I do as the Father has commanded me, so the world may know that I love the Father.” Jesus was not talking about loving himself.

In John 15:15, Jesus said, “. . . . all that I have heard from the Father, I have made known to you.” Again, the Father is someone separate from Jesus.

Jesus certainly did not view himself as being identical with God the Father. This is clearly seen in the fact that Jesus frequently prayed to God the Father.

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

Incidentally, this scripture also shows that Jesus did not believe that God had sent him to die as a sacrifice to God to save humankind from the “death penalty” for sin. If Jesus had believed that God had sent Jesus for the purpose of dying, it would have been nonsense for Jesus to ask God to “remove this cup (death) from me.”

Also, when Jesus was being crucified, Jesus “cried with a loud voice, ‘Eli, Eli, lama sabschthani,’ that is, “My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34). Again, this scripture shows that Jesus did not view himself as identical with God. Here, Jesus felt “forsaken” by God. Also, this scripture shows that Jesus did not see his crucifixion as the intended purpose of his life. The so-called “substitutionary theory of the atonement by the death of Jesus” collapses if we take the words of Jesus seriously.

Trinitarian Christians often quote Jesus saying, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30) to support their belief that “Jesus” and “God the Father” are simply different terms for referring to the same God. But trinitarian Christians should continue reading John 10:31-38 and the 17th chapter of John.

Here is John 10:31-38: “The Jews took up stones to stone him. Jesus answered them, ‘I have shown you many good works from the Father, for which of these do you stone me?’ The Jews answered him, ‘We stone you for no good work but for blasphemy; because you, being a man, make yourself God.'”

“Jesus answered them, ‘Is it not written in your law, ‘I said, you are gods?'” (Note: Jesus is referring to Psalms 82:6, “I say, You are gods, sons of the Most High, all of you.”)

“(Then Jesus said,) ‘If he (the psalmist) called them gods to whom the word of God came (i.e., the Jewish people), do you say of him whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming’ because I say that I am son of God?'” (Note: some English translations say “the” son of God, but Greek manuscripts do not have the article “the” before “son of God.”)

“(Then Jesus said,) ‘If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me; but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.'”

The “oneness” that Jesus claimed with God the Father did not mean that Jesus was identical with God the Father because Jesus also prayed that his disciples “may be one even as we (Jesus and God the Father) are one” (John 17:11).

Later, Jesus prayed that his followers would “all be one as Thou, Father are in me and I in Thee, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that Thou has sent me. The glory which Thou has given me, I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and Thou in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that Thou has sent me and hast loved them even as Thou has loved me” (John 17:21-23).

The “oneness” that Jesus had with God, the Father, was a “oneness,” or unity, that Jesus wanted his followers to have with each other, with Jesus, and with God. According to Jesus, it is through this experience of “oneness” with each other that we can know that God loves us. God’s love is experienced through our love for each other, as evidenced by works of love, just as Jesus’ works of love evidenced his “oneness” with God.

In his prayer for his disciples, Jesus repeatedly referred to his making God’s “word” known to them. Jesus prayed, “I have given them the words which Thou gavest me” (John 17:8). “Sanctify them in the truth, Thy word is truth. As Thou did send me into the world, so I have sent them into the world” (John 17:17-18). “I do not pray for these only, but also for those who are to believe in me through their word, that they may all be one; even as Thou, Father art in me, and I in Thee, that they may be in us . . . .” (John 17:20-21).

Jesus said, “By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in His love. These things I have spoken to you, that your joy may be full. This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:8-13).

Jesus uses the term “God’s word” to refer to God’s commandments to “love God and love your neighbor as yourself” and Jesus emphasized “that you love one another.” It is through love for each other that individuals experience the “oneness” that Jesus claimed with God the Father.

It should be noted that Jesus said that it is through keeping God’s commandments that our “joy may be full.” Our personal happiness, or joy, comes from living by love for God and each other.

Jesus was eventually crucified by the Romans who viewed Jesus as a Jewish revolutionary calling for new Jewish “Kingdom.” There is no doubt that originally Jesus was a Jewish revolutionary, and follower of John the Baptist who referred to the Kingdom of Israel as the “Kingdom of heaven.”

When Jesus began preaching the message of John the Baptist, “Repent, for the kindom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17), Jesus was referring to a political kingdom of Israel. When Jesus sent his disciples out to preach the coming of the kingdom, Jesus told them, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles (non-Jews), and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel (the Jews), and preach as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand’ ” (Matthew 10:5-7).

As Jesus traveled through the countryside, preaching “the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe the gospel (good news)” (Mark 1:15), something remarkable happened. As Jesus encountered non-Jews, Jesus’ concept of the “kingdom of God” began to change.

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

Jesus said, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But the woman came and knelt before him, saying “Lord (sir), help me.”

Jesus replied, “It is not fair to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” (Note: Here Jesus was expressing a prejudice that was common among Jews at that time. Jesus referred to the Jews as the “children” of God and referred to non-Jews as “dogs,” implying that non-Jews were inferior to Jews.)

The Caananite woman replied, “Yes, lord (sir), yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”

Evidently, Jesus was impressed that this woman was even willing to endure insult in order to get help for her daughter whom she loved. Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith. Be it done for you as you desire.” According to the book of Matthew, the woman’s daughter was healed (Matthew 15:22-28). And Jesus learned a lesson in humility and love from this woman.

When Jesus encountered a Roman centurion (commander of 100 soldiers) in Capernaum, the Roman officer asked Jesus to heal the officer’s servant who was “lying paralyzed at home, in terrible distress.” The officer believed that his servant would be healed if Jesus would “say the word.” Jesus “marveled, and said to those who followed him, ‘Truly, I say to you, not even in Israel have I found such faith’ ” (Matthew 8:5-13).

Jesus encountered a Samaritan woman who asked how to worship God, whether by the religious tradition of the Jews or by the religious tradition of the Samaritans. Jesus replied that “true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth . . . .” regardless of religious tradition (John 4:21-24).

From his encounters with persons of other nationalities and religions (Canaanites, Romans, and Samaritans), Jesus came to recognize that all people have the same concerns and needs. Jesus revised his concept of the “kingdom of God” to include everyone who was willing to follow God’s commandments “to love God and neighbor (everyone).” Jesus ended his days on earth telling his disciples to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). And Jesus used a Samaritan (non-Jew) as an example of a “good neighbor” in the parable of “the good Samaritan” (Luke 10:29-37).

Jesus’ new vision of the “kingdom of God” is defined in his parables. About two-thirds of his parables define the “kingdom of God.” These include the parables of the sower, the hidden treasure, the pearl, the mustard seed, the leaven, and many more (See my essay on “The Kingdom of God”). These parables do not describe the “Kingdom of God” as a restored political kingdom of Israel.

Jesus’ concept of the “kingdom of God” is seen in his conversation with a Jewish scribe. “The scribe said to Jesus, ‘You are right, teacher, you have truly said that He (God) is one and there is no other (God) but Him; and to love Him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is much more than burnt offerings and sacrifices.’ And when Jesus saw that he (the scribe) answered wisely, he (Jesus) said to him, ‘You are not far from the kingdom of God.’ ” (Mark 12:32-34). Clearly, Jesus was not referring to a political “kingdom.”

The scribe was “not far from the kingdom of God” because he recognized that God’s basic laws for humankind are “love for God” and “love for neighbor as oneself.” The discovery, or recognition, of God’s natural laws is the first step toward the reign of God’s laws in an individual’s life. The next step would be for the scribe to “enter” the kingdom of God by obeying these natural laws.

The central theme of the “gospel” according to Jesus is the “kingdom of God” in which love rules. Connected with this theme is the necessity of repentance and forgiveness. If a person chooses to follow the way of love for others, that person will repent of any failure to love, and seek forgiveneess from God and from any person hurt by the failure to love.

Repentance is evidence that a person is committed to trying to live by love. The meaning of repentance is seen in Jesus’ parable of the “prodigal son” (Luke 15:11-24). (See my essay on “Repentance and Forgiveness.”)

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

Jesus taught his disciples to pray, “And forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us” (Luke 11:4). The idea that God cannot forgive us unless Jesus “died to pay the penalty for our sins” is contrary to the teachings of Jesus. Repentance and a willingness to forgive others are the prerequisites for obtaining God’s forgiveness of our failures to love.

Now we come back to the question, “Who was Jesus?” The Apostle Paul and the unknown writer of the Gospel of John believed that Jesus was the divine “Son of God” who existed with God the Father in heaven before coming to earth as a human being, but they also believed that Jesus was not identical with God the Father nor equal with God the Father in rank. In effect, they believed in two Gods.

The writers of the books of Matthew, Mark, and Luke make no mention of this so-called “pre-existence” of Jesus before his birth on earth. These gospel writers describe Jesus as a human being, a Jew, who was the “messiah” whom Jesus’ disciples expected to reestablish the political Kingdom of Israel on earth. Even after his crucifixion, when Jesus, (wounded but physically alive) met with his disciples, they asked him, “Lord (sir), will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6).

History has proven that Jesus was not the Jewish “messiah” who would reestablish the “kingdom of Israel,” and there is no reason to believe that Jesus was the incarnation of the “logos” of Greek philosophy. To believe that Jesus was divine but subordinate to another “God” would only mean that Christianity is a polytheistic religion, akin to that found in Greek mythology.

I believe that the best answer to the question, “Who was Jesus?” is found in John 8:40, where Jesus described himself as “a man who has told you the truth which I heard from God.” And Jesus made no exclusive claim to “hearing” God’s truth. Jesus said, “It is written in the prophets, ‘They shall all be taught by God.’ Every one who has heard and learned from the Father will come 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 7:17). God’s truth, or will, that we should “love God and love our neighbor as oneself” is known naturally by everyone. Any person who “wills (chooses) to do His (God’s) will” can recognize that Jesus taught God’s truth.

What a person believes about “who Jesus was” is not essential in following Jesus. Jesus said, simply, “you are my disciples if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).

Deism and Cultural Religions

“Deism” is a name given to the only religion that is known to all human beings regardless of time and place. Deism is called “natural” religion because its principles are known from nature and human reasoning.

In contrast to Deism (which is a universal religion), there are many “cultural” religions, such as Judaism, Islam, Trinitarian Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, Shintoism, and others, which were developed in particular societies by individuals and groups living in certain geographical areas.

A cultural religion is taught to persons born in or living in an area where the cultural religion is dominant. For example, if you were born in Saudi Arabia, you would probably be a Muslim (Islamic religion); if you were born in China, you would probably be a Buddhist; if you were born in Spain, you would probably be a Catholic (Trinitarian); if you were born in Salt Lake City, you would probably be a Mormon, etc.

Of course, some individuals leave the cultural religions that they learned as children, but most persons never leave their cultural religions because such religions are interwoven into the cultural fabric of their particular society. Membership in the cultural religion is expected if a person wants to be “in good standing” in a particular community or society.

Unfortunately, most cultural religions are “exclusive” religions; that is, each cultural religion claims to possess “truths” that have been revealed only to the founder or leaders of that cultural religion. Often the claim is made that God revealed these “truths” through “supernatural means” such as “angels, mystical visions, and tablets of stone or gold.” The alleged benefits of a cultural religion are available only to those persons who know of and “believe in” that cultural religion. All other persons are viewed as “unbelievers” and “infidels” who, allegedly, will be punished by God for their “unbelief.”

The so-called “supernatural truths” in a cultural religion are written into a book, such as “The Holy Bible,” “The Holy Qur’an (aka Koran),” “The Book of Mormon,” etc., which must be revered and obeyed by “believers” who expect a reward for their obedience. These “believers” often shun and sometimes persecute the “unbelievers” or “infidels.”

The history of the world has repeatedly shown what happens when two “cultural” religions clash in a particular geographical area. Often, political leaders use their cultural religion as an excuse for expanding political control over other countries in order to seize the natural resources of those other countries.

For example, when the Jews invaded Canaan and eventually took political control of the land, the Jews claimed that God had given Canaan to the Jews so they could establish the Kingdom of Israel and replace the Canaanite religion with the Jewish “true” religion. When the Arab Muslims invaded the same land about 1,800 years later, the Muslims claimed that they had been commanded by God to conquer the land and establish the Islamic “true” religion there. It is clear that the Jewish and Arab political leaders used their cultural religions to fan the flames of religious zeal to motivate their people to conquer other lands and take control of the natural resources.

Today, the Israeli Jews and the Arab Muslims battle for control of the same land, and their political leaders use religious leaders to enflame their people in the conflict. In their blind religious zeal, both sides commit inhumane acts in the name of their God: Jehovah or Allah. In following the dictates of their own “cultural” religions, many of the Israeli Jews and the Palestinian Muslims are violating God’s natural law that requires love, or compassion, for all “neighbors,” (including those “neighbors” who are viewed as “enemies”), as taught by the deist Jesus (Luke 10:30-37; Luke 6:27; Matthew 5:44).

The man known as Jesus of Nazareth was as Jew. His cultural religion was an ancient form of Judaism which led the Jews to conquer the land of Caanan by military force and rule it politically. In Jesus’ day, the Jews had lost political control of the land and were ruled by the Roman Empire.

Jesus joined a religious/political revolutionary movement which was led by John the Baptizer. The purpose of the revolutionary movement was to free the Jews from the Romans and reestablish the Kingdom of Israel, which the Jews called the “kingdom of heaven” (aka “kingdom of God”), and in which the Jews expected to enjoy peace and prosperity. Like John the Baptizer, Jesus initially viewed the “Kingdom of God” as exclusively for the Jews. When Jesus sent his disciples out into the countryside to announce the coming of the “kingdom of God,” Jesus instructed his disciples to “Go nowhere among the Gentiles (non-Jews), and enter no town of the Samaritans (people of mixed race and religion), but go rather to the house of Israel (the Jews). And preach as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand’.” (Matthew 10:5-7)

As Jesus preached his message about the coming of the “Kingdom of God,” he encountered Gentiles, Samaritans, and Romans who had the same human needs and hopes that the Jews had (Matthew 15:22-28; Matthew 8:5-13; John 4:46-53: Luke 7:1-9). Jesus revised his view of the “Kingdom of God” to include everyone who was willing to love God and “neighbor” (Mark 12:28-34) and Jesus gave up the idea that the “rule of God” would come on earth through military force (Matthew 26:52). Jesus preached “repentance” (turning away from lovelessness) and “forgiveness” of others as the way to establish the “Kingdom of God” on earth.

Jesus tried to reform his “cultural” religion. Jesus said that “love your neighbor” meant more than just loving your “Jewish” neighbor. It meant having compassion on anyone who is suffering, even those who are considered “enemies” (Matthew 5:43-47; Luke 10:29-37). Jesus taught that evil behavior begins with evil thoughts (Matthew 5:21-22, 27-28). He taught that good deeds can be done any time, even on the Sabbath that ordinarily is a day of rest (Matthew 12:9-14). He opposed the commercializing of religion by the money-changers who earned their living off of pilgrims who came from distant places to worship in the temple at Jerusalem (Matthew 21:12-13). He opposed the blood sacrifices that were part of the temple rituals which were intended as atonements for sin (Mark 12:32-33; Matthew 12:7). He urged people to pray in private, and not make a public display of prayer or giving of alms to the poor (Matthew 6:1-6).

It is no wonder that the religious leaders of the Jewish “cultural” religion viewed Jesus as a dangerous heretic and a revolutionary who might also offend the Roman rulers and cause them to take revenge on the Jews by destroying the Jewish temple and the Jewish capital city, Jerusalem (John 11:48).

Jesus’ determination to preach his vision of the “Kingdom of God on earth” eventually led to his crucifixion. After surviving his brief crucifixion, the wounded Jesus met briefly with his disciples to charge them with the mission of preaching “repentance and forgiveness of sins” to all nations (Luke 24:47). Some days later, Jesus departed from his disciples. Various and conflicting stories are told about Jesus’ departure. Some of his disciples believed that Jesus had temporarily “ascended to God in heaven” and would return to the earth during the disciples’ lifetimes. But Jesus was never seen again by his disciples.

During the next four hundred years, a “cultural” religion was created around Jesus. This religion was based on the teachings of a man named Paul from the city of Tarsus. Paul claimed that Jesus was the divine Son of God who was sent by God the Father to die as a sacrifice to atone for the sins of humankind (Philippians 2:6). Paul was a Jew who compared Jesus’ crucifixion to the Jewish practice of blood sacrifice in the temple as an atonement for sins (Romans 5:8-9).

Church leaders took Paul’s view that Jesus was the only divine “Son of God” and added that Jesus, together with “God the Father” and the “Holy Spirit,” was to be worshipped as one God, officially stating this doctrine of the “trinity of God” at the Council at Constantinople in the year 381 (of the Christian Era) and reaffirming this doctrine at the Council at Chalcedon in 451 CE. Church leaders, such as Athanasius, also adopted Paul’s theory that Jesus’ crucifixion was a “blood sacrifice” to atone for the sins of humankind. This theology became known as “trinitarianism,” and this is the cultural religion taught in Trinitarian Christian churches today.

Actually, Jesus’ own religious beliefs have nothing to do with the theology which is taught in Trinitarian Christian churches. Jesus was a “deist” because he taught the truth which he discovered in himself. Jesus described himself as only “a man who has told you the truth which I heard from God” (John 8:40) but he made no exclusive claim to knowing God’s truth (or God’s will). Jesus said that everyone is taught directly by God (John 6:45), and those who seek to follow God’s truth, or God’s will, are able to recognize that Jesus taught this same truth, and are attracted to Jesus (John 6:45; John 7:17).

In the 17th and 18th centuries, some Deists in England began a reform movement to return Christianity to the natural religion, or deism, of Jesus. These Deists became known as “Christian Deists.” Christian Deists recognized that natural religion can be summarized as “love for God, and love for neighbor (everyone)” as Jesus taught. The practice of love for God and neighbor is necessarily accompanied by the practice of repentance and forgiveness.

We should repent of (turn away from) any failure to love, and seek forgiveness from God. When possible, we should also seek forgiveness from any person whom we have failed to love. We receive forgiveness from God if we are willing to forgive other persons who repent of their failures to love us (Luke 11:4; Matthew 6:14-15). Christian Deists believe that by love, repentance, and forgiveness, we are doing God’s will that brings us a sense of inner peace and joy, and helps to create the “kingdom of God” on earth where people can live together in unity and peace.

The Religion of The Golden Rule

CHRISTIAN DEISM: RELIGION OF THE GOLDEN RULE

Deism is natural religion. The name “Deism” comes from the Latin word (Deus) for “God.” Deists believe that humankind originated intentionally, not accidentally. Since life comes to human beings through no decision or action of their own, this is evidence that life comes from a Source beyond themselves. From the intricate and purposeful designs seen in the world and human beings, Deists infer the existence of an intentional Creator (ordinarily called “God”). Deists do not presume to describe God but they believe that God is what gives life to human beings.

Each person is faced with the question, “How shall I live the life that I have received?” Deists believe that the answer to this question is found in the design of human nature. From observation, experience, and reasoning, Deists recognize that human beings are designed to be interdependent creatures. We are dependent on each other for survival and for satisfaction in living. As infants, we are totally dependent on others for survival. Gradually, as we grow up, we take more responsibility for our own care and for giving care to others.

From the design of human nature, it is natural for a human being to love (value) his or her own self. This “self-love” is the means for evaluating human behavior. If another person’s action is hurtful or uncaring to you, you instinctively know that this action is “wrong.” Using your power of reason (logical thinking), you recognize that your actions that are hurtful or uncaring toward other persons are also “wrong.”. This natural knowledge of “wrong” is sometimes called “conscience.” It is the basis for human morality. This knowledge enables human beings to usually avoid doing “wrong,” or to recognize when they have done “wrong.” In a mentally normal person, the ability to recognize “wrong” behavior increases as that person matures and learns from his or her observations and experiences.

Wrong behavior violates the design of human nature, and is disturbing to the mind of the violator to the extent of his or her ability to know right and wrong. Wrong behavior causes self-condemnation (guilt) and loss of self-respect within a person of normal mentality and sufficient maturity (age).

In religious terms, wrong behavior is called “sin.” Relief from guilt can come from repentance by the violator (wrong-doer). Repentance is a process in which the violator recognizes his or her wrong behavior, feels remorse over it, stops the behavior, and seeks to make amends for the wrong, if possible. Repentance of wrong behavior enables a person to feel relief from guilt, and to regain self-respect and peace of mind.

Some Deists recognize that the principles of deism were taught by a Jewish rabbi named Jesus from Nazareth. These Deists are called “Christian Deists” because they are disciples (students) of Jesus. The name “Christian” comes from the Greek word “christos” which means “anointed one.” The earliest disciples of Jesus were called “Christians” because they believed that Jesus was “anointed” (chosen) by God to establish the “Kingdom of God” on earth. Today, the name “Christian” is used as a general term by all persons who claim to be followers of Jesus regardless of their dfferences in beliefs about him.

Christian Deists believe that Jesus was simply a human being who understood and taught the way that God intends for people to live. Jesus described himself as “a man who told you the truth which I heard from God” (John 8:40) but Jesus did not make any exclusive claim to learning this truth from God. Jesus said, “It is written in the prophets (Isaiah 54:13), ‘And they shall all be taught by God’ (John 6:45).” Christian Deists believe that people are taught by God through the power of reasoning that God has given to them, and from their own observation and experience.

WHAT ARE THE BASIC TEACHINGS OF JESUS?

FIRST, Jesus taught that God gives life to human beings. Jesus said, “God is spirit” (John 4:24) and “it is the spirit that gives life” (John 6:63). It is obvious to human beings that they receive life through no decision of action of their own. From this, Christian Deists infer the existence of a life-giver, called “God.”

As a Jew, Jesus expressed his belief in God as stated in the Shema, the traditional Jewish affirmation of belief in God. The Hebrew word “shema” means “hear” which is the first word in the Shema, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one; and you shall love he Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.” The Shema is found in the Hebrew scriptures (Deuteronomy 6:4). The authors of the books of Matthew and Mark give slightly different wording but it is clear that Jesus is referring to the Hebrew Shema (Matthew 22:34-38; Mark 12:28-30) when Jesus expressed his belief in God.

Jesus taught that we show love (appreciation) to God by how we use the life that is entrusted to us. Jesus illustrated this truth in his parable of the “Talents” (Matthew 25:14-30). In this story, an employer entrusted three of his servants with varying amounts of money (called “talents”) to invest for for the employer. Two of the servants did as they were instructed, so the employer entrusted them with more money to manage in the future. Another servant showed disrespect for the employer by refusing to invest the money which that servant had received, so the employer took back the money and the unfaithful servant lost his employment.

The parable of the “Talents” could be called the parable of “Life.” God gives us varying amounts of time, abilities, and opportunities to invest in this world. How we choose to live in this world shows our love for God or lack of love for God who entrusted life to us.

SECOND, Jesus taught that right behavior is based on self-love. Jesus said, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39) which means, You shall love your neighbor as you love yourself. Jesus taught that this self-love is the basis for knowing right behavior. Jesus said, “Whatever (good) you wish that other people would do to you, do so unto them” (Matthew 7:12). This has become known as the “Golden Rule.” This natural law is intended to govern the behavior of human beings.

What is distinctive in the teachings of Jesus is his definition of “neighbor.” As a Jew, Jesus had been taught to “love your neighbor as yourself” as stated in the book of Leviticus in the Hebrew Bible. Leviticus 19:18 states, you shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people but you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Here, “neighbor” is defined as “sons of your own people” or, in other words, your Hebrew (Jewish) neighbors. The only exception to this definition is made in Leviticus 19:33, “When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall do him no wrong. The stranger who sojourns with you shall be as a native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you (the Jews) were strangers in the land of Egypt . . .”

The book of Leviticus defines “neighbor” as “sons of your own people” (Leviticus 19:18) and “strangers who sojourn with you in your land” (Leviticus 19:33). In other words, “neighbor” only included persons who were Jews, or other persons who were allowed to live in the Jew’s country. There was no requirement that the Jews love anyone else, and this was clearly demonstrated when Moses ordered the Hebrew army to kill people who were considered “enemies” as the Hebrews marched through other countries on the way to invade the land of Caananites (Deuteronomy 20:10-17).

Jesus defined “neighbor” to include everyone, even “enemies.” Jesus said, ” You have heard it said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He (God) makes the sun rise on the evil and the good, and sends the rain on the just and the unjust” (Matthew 5:43-45). Of course, sunshine and rain are required to produce food needed by all human beings, the just and the unjust. We should follow God’s example in caring about the needs of all people. Deism is the religion of the Golden Rule, “Do good to others as you would have others do good to you.” The wisdom of the Golden Rule is recognized by people who profess various religions and by persons who profess no religion. It is the essential guide for human survival and satisfaction in living.

The Golden Rule is validated by human observation, experience, and reasoning. By doing good to others, normal persons reward themselves with a feeling of self-approval (happiness). By failing to do good to others, normal persons punish themselves with a feeling of self-disapproval (unhappiness).

THIRD, Jesus taught that the failure to love (value) others occurs when (1) we intentionally cause human suffering, or (2) we are indifferent to human suffering. Jesus illustrated this truth in his parable of the “Good Samaritan” (Luke 10:30-37). In this story, robbers caused human suffering by beating and robbing a Jew. Two other persons passed by the beaten man but they were indifferent to the suffering of the man and did not try to help him. Finally, a Samaritan came to the rescue of the beaten Jew and took care of him. At the time when Jesus told this story, the Jews and Samaritans were considered “enemies” to each other so this story illustrated the meaning of love to everyone, even enemies.

FOURTH, Jesus taught that failure to love (called “sin”) can be remedied by repentance. Jesus illustrated this truth in his parable of the “Prodigal Son” (Luke 15:11-24). In this story a young man asked his father for money which the son squandered in “loose living.” When the son realized that he had done wrong, the son was remorseful. The son confessed his “sin” to his father, and offered to make amends by working as a “hired servant” for the father. The father forgave the son and welcomed him back into the family. In this story, Jesus illustrated that repentance includes remorse for wrong behavior, stopping the behavior, confessing the wrong, and willingness to make amends for the wrong.

According to Jesus, God forgives our sins (failures to love) if we repent and we are willing to forgive others who repent of their sins against us. Jesus said, “If you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you but if you do not forgive men their trespasses (against you), neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14-15). Jesus said, “If you brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him; and if he turns to you seven times, and says, ‘I repent, you must forgive him (Luke 17:3-4).

Christian Deists reject the idea, taught by trinitarian Christians, that God requires that a “death penalty” for sins must be paid (by Jesus’ death) before God can forgive the sins of human beings. Jesus taught that God will “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us” (Matthew 6:12) and that repentance is the only prerequisite for receiving forgiveness (Luke 17:3-4).

FIFTH, Jesus taught that the “Kingdom of God” comes on earth as God’s “will is done” (Matthew 6:10), and God’s will is “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31). Christian Deists believe that we worship (honor) God by using our time, talents, and opportunities in doing God’s will to help make this world better for each other. Jesus called this better world the “kingdom of God.”

Christian Deists do not have places for public worship (such as churches, temples, mosques). Jesus said, “When you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by men. . . . But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:5-6). Jesus also said, “When you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you (Matthew 6:3-4).

SIXTH, Jesus taught that the life-giving spirit within human beings comes from God (John 4:24; 6:63) and is returned to God at the time of physical death. When Jesus thought that he was dying on the cross, he prayed to God, “Into Thy hands, I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46). Christian Deists do not presume to know what the future will bring after this life, but we can face death with confidence in God’s care. Christian Deists believe in God’s power to give life as evidenced by the life we have now through no decision or action of our own. It is reasonable to believe that what has already occurred can occur again.

Christian Deists recognize that the responsibility for giving life belongs to God, and the responsibiliy for living life belongs to us. If we sincerely try to live by love now, as God designed us to live, and we repent of our failures to love, we have done all that we can do. We can enjoy self-satisfaction in this life, and we can be content to leave our future in God’s care.

The Language of Christian Deism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Is A Christian Deist?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An Overview of Christian Deism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edward Herbert: What Is Truth?

In 1624, an Englishman named Edward Herbert (also known as Lord Herbert of Cherbury) wrote a book entitled De Veritate (“Concerning Truth”). Herbert (1583-1648) was later called “the Father of Deism.” Actually, Herbert was not a deist, and he lived and wrote before the deist movement in England. But Herbert proposed that truth can be discovered by the use of reason and other innate human “faculties” which Herbert described and applied to the subject of religion.

The World Book Dictionary defines “truth” as “that which is in accordance with the fact or facts; that which is true, real, or actual; reality.” How we live each day, and the countless decisions that we make depend largely upon what we, as individuals, perceive as “reality” or “truth” in any matter.

How can we know the “truth?” This is the question that philosophers, theologians, scientists, and others have wrestled with for centuries.

In his book, De Veritate, Herbert began with this question, “How can we know the truth?” According to Herbert, human beings have innate “faculties” that can be used in determining the truth in any matter. Herbert divided these faculties into four groups which he called: (1) basic instinct, (2) internal sense, (3) external sense, and (4) reason.

While Herbert wrote over 200 pages in describing his methodology for determining truth, I will give a brief, and somewhat oversimplified, description of the four kinds of innate “faculties” that Herbert proposed.

“Basic Instinct” was defined by Herbert as a person’s natural inclination to search for happiness. Under “Internal Sense,” Herbert grouped a number of “faculties” which, taken together, meant “conscience.” By “External Sense,” Herbert meant the five senses (sight, hearing, touch, taste, and smell) by which a person perceives objects. And by “Reason,” Herbert meant the intellectual ability to assess the meaning of what is perceived, but Herbert believed that “reason” is guided by all of the other “faculties.”

Herbert proposed that by using all of the innate “faculties,” a person can arrive at truths, which Herbert called “common notions,” implying that they are given “universal assent” or generally accepted by people in all places and at all times. According to Herbert, these “common notions” should guide us in what we “ought” to do.

When Herbert applied his methodology to the subject of religion, he came up with five “common notions,” or religious truths, which he believed had universal assent. Herbert’s idea that “religious truths” could be discovered by ordinary individuals was very radical because the church taught that “religious truths” must come only from religious “authorities” and must be accepted unquestioningly by ordinary people on “faith.” Herbert’s approach to religion meant that each person had the power and responsibility for determining religious truths for himself or herself.

Before presenting the five “common notions” that Herbert identified in religion, I must say that during Herbert’s time (the seventeenth century) in England, writers who opposed the Church of England were subject to imprisonment or execution. Herbert escaped such punishment for a number of reasons. Herbert was from a prominent family and he was a personal acquaintance of the king. In fact, Herbert served as the English ambassador to France, and was a knight and prominent landowner. Also, he claimed to be a member of the Church of England, and none of Herbert’s “common notions” about religion conflicted with any specific doctrines of the church. In addition, Herbert took the precaution of writing his book in Latin and printing it in France.

It was only in the latter part of the 17th century that the book De Veritate got much attention because it was quoted by a deist, Charles Blount, in a book published in 1683, long after the death of Edward Herbert. Nevertheless, Herbert’s book De Veritate and other books written by Herbert promoted the idea of natural and rational religion, such as found in “Deism.”

In his book De Veritate, Herbert applied his methodology for determining truth to the subject of religion. He introduced this by writing the following:

“Every religion which proclaims a revelation is not (necessarily) good, nor is every doctrine which is taught under authority always essential or even valuable. Some doctrines due to revelation may be, (and) some of them ought to be, abandoned. In this connection the teaching of Common Notions is important; indeed, without them it is impossible to establish any standard of discrimination in revelation or even in religion.” (Note: “necessarily” and “and” added in parentheses for clarity.)

While Herbert accepted the idea that God may communicate truth through some supernatural “revelation,” Herbert believed that the validity of such revealed “truth” depends on whether it is consistent with “common notions” that are known through human “faculties.”

Herbert wrote, “Theories based on implicit faith, though widely held not only in our own part of the world but in the most distant regions, are here irrelevant. Instances of such beliefs are: (1) the human reason must be discarded, to make room for Faith; (2) that the Church, which is infallible, has the right to prescribe the method of divine worship, and in consequence must be obeyed in every detail; (3) that no one ought to place such confidence in his private judgment as to dare to question the sacred authority of priests or preachers of God’s word; (4) that the utterances, though they may elude human grasp, contain so much truth that we should rather lay them to heart than debate them; (5) that to God all the things of which they speak and much more are possible. Now these arguments and many other similar ones, according to differences of age and country, may be equally used to establish a false religion as to support a true one.” (Note: the numbers in parentheses were added to make this long paragraph more readable.)

Then Herbert wrote, “Anything that springs from the productive, not to say seductive seed of Faith will yield a plentiful crop. What pompous charlatan can fail to impress his ragged flock with such ideas? Is there any fantastic cult which may not be proclaiming under such auspices? How can any age escape deception, especially when the cunning authorities declare their inventions to be heaven-born, though in reality they habitually confuse and mix the truth with falsehood? If we do not advance toward truth upon a foundation of Common Notions, assigning every element its true value, how can we hope to reach any but futile conclusions? . . . . The supreme Judge requires every individual to render an account of his actions in the light, not of another’s belief, but of his own. So we must establish the fundamental principles of religion by means of universal wisdom, so whatever has been added to it by the genuine dictates of Faith may rest on that foundation as a roof is supported on a house.”

When Herbert applied his “faculties” to the subject of religion, he came up with the following five “Common Notions”:

1. “There is a Supreme God”

Herbert wrote that God is (1) “blessed” (Herbert did not define this term); (2) “the end to which all things move”; (3) “the cause of all things, at least in so far as they are good”; (4) “the means by which all things are produced” to meet the needs of humankind. This is called “providence”; (5) “eternal”; (6) “good”; (7) “just” and (8) “wise”.”

Deists would agree with Herbert that there is a God, the Creator and sustainer of humankind. In regard to God’s “providence” to meet the needs of humankind, Herbert recognized “Universal Providence” or “Nature” as a means of such provision (which all deists accept) but Herbert also believed in “particular” or “special” Providence when God provided “divine assistance in times of distress.” Herbert did not explain how God would provide this “special” assistance. Deists can accept the idea of God providing special assistance through natural means if available, but deists would reject the idea of God acting partially by performing some supernatural “miracles” for favored persons because it would be unfair for God to do this.

2. “This Sovereign Deity ought to be worshipped.”

Herbert wrote, “While there is no general agreement concerning the worship of Gods, sacred beings, saints, and angels, yet the Common Notion or Universal Consent tells us that adoration ought to be reserved for the one God.”

Herbert believed that “adoration” for God is based on recognition of and appreciation for God’s providential care, both Universal and Special. Herbert wrote, “Hence divine religion–and no race, however savage, has existed without some expression of it–is found established among all nations, not only because of the benefits which they received from general providence, but also their recognition of their dependence upon Grace, or particular providence.”

According to Herbert, this recognition of dependence on the providence of God has led people to worship God through “supplications, prayers, sacrifices, acts of thanksgiving; to this end were built shrines, sanctuaries, and finally for this purpose appeared priests, prophets, seers, pontiffs, the whole order of ministers.” Herbert saw “this external aspect of divine worship in any type of religion from every age, country and race” as evidence that worship of God is a “common notion” and that “the same religious faculties which anyone can experience within himself exist in every normal human being, though they appear in different forms and may be expressed without any external ceremony or ritual.”

Deists would agree with Herbert that recognition of and appreciation for God’s provisions to sustain life prompt “adoration” or love for God. Appreciation to God for the benefits of “Universal Providence” is certainly accepted by deists as a principle in religion. But Deists would disagree with Herbert’s statement, “The All Wise Cause of the universe . . . . bestows general Grace on all and special Grace on those whom it has chosen.” Herbert admitted that not everyone agreed with him in regard to “special Grace” or special providence. He wrote “Although I find that the doctrine of special providence, or Grace, was only grudgingly acknowledged by the ancients, as may be gathered from their surviving works, . . . .”

3. The connection of Virtue and Piety . . . . is and always has been held to be, the most important part of religious practice.”

The word “piety” refers to reverence for God. The word “virtue” refers to good behavior. Herbert’s third “common notion” is that a person’s reverence, or gratitude, toward God is expressed by the good behavior of the person. The connection between virtue and piety is recognized by deists as a basic principle in deism.

Herbert wrote, “No trait, therefore, is so excellent as gratitude, nothing so base as ingratitude. And when gratitude is expressed by more mature persons . . . . religion becomes enriched and appears in a greater variety of ways. . . . With the advantage of age, piety and holiness of life take deeper roots within the conscience, and give birth to a profound love and faith in God. . . . Nature itself instills men with its secret conviction that virtue constitutes the most effective means by which our mind may be gradually separated and released from the body and restore it to its lawful realm . . . .so that freed from the foul embrace of vice, and finally from the fear of death itself, it can apply itself to its proper function and attain inward everlasting joy.”

In a somewhat awkward way, Herbert explained that gratitude toward God expressed in virtuous behavior frees the mind from “vice” and “fear of death” and brings “inward everlasting joy” or feelings of happiness.

4. “The minds of men have always been filled with horror for their wickedness. Their vices and crimes have been obvious to them. They must be expiated by repentance.”

Herbert wrote, “There is no general agreement concerning the various rites or mysteries which the priests have devised for the expiation of sin.” . . . . “General agreement among religions, the nature of divine goodness, and above all conscience, tell us that our crimes may be washed away by true penitence, and that we can be restored to new union with God. For this inner witness condemns wickedness while at the same time it can wipe out the stain of it by genuine repentance, as the inner form of apprehension under proper conditions proves.”

Herbert recognized that individuals have an “inner witness,” or conscience, that “condemns wickedness” or sin in the individual. We are our own judges. At the same time, this “inner witness” tells us that repentance brings forgiveness as proven by the change in the “form of apprehension” (or relief) we feel within us. In Herbert’s words, we feel “restored to new union with God.” In the practice of deism, repentance is a basic principle.

Herbert makes another important point in writing, “This alone I assert, whatever may be said to the contrary, that unless wickedness can be abolished by penitence and faith in God, and unless Divine goodness can satisfy Divine justice (and no other appeal can be invoked), then there does not exist, nor ever has existed any universal source to which the wretched mass of men, crushed beneath the burden of sin, can turn to obtain grace and inward peace. If this were the case, God has created and condemned certain men, in fact the larger part of the human race, not only without their desire, but without their knowledge. This idea is so dreadful and consorts so ill with the providence and goodness, and even the justice of God, it is more charitable to suppose that the whole human race has always possessed in repentance the opportunity of being reconciled with God.” (Note: words in parentheses also belong to Herbert.)

Herbert added, “To declare that God has cut us off from the means by which we can return to Him, provided we play our part to the utmost of our ability, is a blasphemy so great that those who indulge in it seek to destroy not merely human goodness, but also the goodness of God.”

Herbert clearly opposed the idea that a particular religion that is unknown to many persons can provide the means for reconciliation with God. Herbert explained that repentance is the only means for obtaining forgiveness from God, and the “goodness” and “justice” of God require that this “common notion” be naturally known by all normal persons.

Deists recognize that the “common notion” of repentance is universal and essential in religion.

5. “There is reward and punishment after this life.”

Herbert wrote that “all religion, law, philosophy, and what is more, conscience, teach openly or implicitly that punishment or reward awaits us after this life.” This statement, of course, is not true. All religions and philosophies do not teach that “punishment or reward awaits us after this life,” nor is “conscience” known to forecast the future.

Individual deists hold various views about what happens to us after the life we have now. Deists would agree that the life we have now is evidence that God certainly has the power to give life. Whether God chooses to give us life in the future is unknown to us. Deists would agree that we should live our present life in a way that gives us reason to hope that God will choose to give us life again. Beyond this, deists are satisfied to leave the future in God’s care.

Herbert wrote, “That reward and punishment exist is, then, a Common Notion, though there is the greatest difference of opinion as to their nature, quality, extent, and mode.” After reciting various and conflicting beliefs about reward and punishment, Herbert concludes that “it is clearly a Common Notion . . . . that purity of life and courage of mind promote happiness.”

Deists believe that human nature is designed for virtuous living. When we act against our nature, we experience the discomfort of guilt unless we have lost touch with reality. We experience “reward and punishment” here and now in terms of our own feelings of self-respect or self-condemnation that come from our self-judgment. Inner feelings of satisfaction with oneself are called “happiness” and inner feelings of dissatisfaction with oneself are called “unhappiness.” If we refuse to live as we are designed to live, and we refuse to repent, we punish ourselves with feelings of self-dissatisfaction (unhappiness) as we live now, and we give God no reason to entrust us with life again. There is no need for any other punishment, so deists reject the absurd belief that God punishes people by endless torture in a fiery “Hell.”

Edward Herbert, Lord Herbert of Cherbury, lived and wrote four hundred years ago. In many ways he was far ahead of his times. His belief that human beings have natural “faculties” to help them discover the truth is very close to deist beliefs. Herbert identified the human instinctive search for happiness, conscience, observation through the five senses, and human reasoning as these “faculties.” In my essays, I have referred to deists using “observation, experience, and reason” as the means of discovering truth. Some of the parallels are obvious.

Herbert’s “common notions” included belief in God who should be worshipped (honored) by gratitude and virtuous living, belief in repentance for failures to live virtuously, and belief that human beings are accountable for how they live. These “common notions” certainly sound familiar to deists. While deists would agree with much of what Herbert believed, it is more important to appreciate Herbert as a pioneer in encouraging individuals to use their own natural “faculties” as the means for answering the question, “What is truth?”