Deism is based on the premise that life is a gift. A gift is something that we receive because someone intended for us to have it.
The fact that we have life through no decision or action of our own is evidence that life has been given to us. In using the word "life," I am referring to the individual "self" or personal consciousness that you perceive within your physical body. This is sometimes called "soul" or "spirit" or "being."
Jesus used the term "spirit." He said, "It is the spirit that gives life, the flesh is of no avail," that is, the physical body is of no value without the spirit (John 6:63). This, of course, is stating the obvious because without "life" we cannot have consciousness, and our physical body is of no use without personal consciousness.
Deists believe that a Creator (usually called "God") intentionally created the world and humankind. Deists infer this from the complex designs observed in nature--both in the world and in humankind. Based on this premise, deists believe that we should show our appreciation to God for the gift of human life and the natural world that sustains life.
We show appreciation to God in three ways: (1) by respecting the value of one's own life, (2) by respecting the value of life in other persons, and (3) by respecting the value of the natural resources of the Earth on which human life depends.
Respect for the value of one's own life is shown by:
1. Taking care of your health. We should not neglect or abuse our bodies by abusing alcohol and other drugs, eating unhealthy foods, eating too much or too little, failing to exercise and rest, or neglecting personal cleanliness.
2. Doing your share of work required to maintain human society. We should not neglect the care of our home or family. To the extent we are able, we should support ourselves and contribute to the economy of the community.
3. Enjoying your life. A person can find much joy in common things and everyday experiences. Enjoyment does not depend on having wealth or expensive pleasures.
Respect for the value of life in other persons is shown by:
1. Not doing anything that causes human suffering.
2. Trying to relieve human suffering whenever possible.
3. Taking care of other persons, or helping them to take care of themselves, as a situation requires.
Respect for the value of the natural resources of the Earth is shown by:
1. Using the natural resources wisely, renewing them, and by sharing them fairly with all other persons.
2. Not damaging the land, water, and air by neglect, exploitation, or pollution.
3. Avoiding overpopulation that depletes limited natural resources. The population of the Earth has increased from 2 billion to 6 billion persons in the last 50 years. This uncontrolled growth of population is depleting the natural resources of the Earth, and is the underlying cause of most wars. Population growth must be halted by means of education, contraceptives, and voluntary sterilizations. However, in my view, abortion should not be used for birth control, and rarely used for other purposes.
"Worship" means "to honor" or "to respect." Deists believe that we worship God by showing respect for the value of human life and the world in which we live. Deism is called "natural" religion because its principles can be discovered through our observation, experience, and reasoning. The principles of deism have been recognized and taught by great teachers in many different cultures.
A man named Jesus expressed the essence of deism in terms that came from his Jewish culture. Jesus said, "The Lord our God is one; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength" and "You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Mark 12:29-31). Christian Deists see the premise and principles of Deism in these statements but we must understand what Jesus meant by these words.
These statements begin with the premise of deism, an affirmation that God exists ("The Lord our God is one").
Then the first principle of deism is stated as, "You shall love God with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength." This means loving God with your whole self--soul (conscious being), mind (intelligence), and strength (body). You should show respect to God by what you are, by what you think and say, and by what you do. In other words, you should live in a way that shows that you appreciate the gift of life that you have received. Above, I have suggested how this may be done in practical ways.
The second principle of deism is stated as, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." Note that "love for neighbor" is related to "as yourself." This is important. The requirement to "love your neighbor" is based on the assumption that you love yourself. In other words, you must first recognize the value of your own life, or love yourself (have self-respect) before you can fully appreciate the value of your "neighbor's" life.
This leads me to believe that God wants us to love our own life--enjoying it as a gift. In my view, gifts are for the enjoyment of the receiver, and for the joy of the giver. I believe that God wants us to enjoy our lives and help others enjoy theirs. From experience, we know that much joy in life comes from giving love (care) to others, and receiving love (care) from others.
Now I would call your attention to something that is usually overlooked, or ignored, in the teachings of Jesus. When Jesus said, "You shall love . . . God," he was essentially quoting from the Hebrew scriptures (Deuteronomy 6:4). And when Jesus said, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself," he was quoting from the Hebrew scriptures (Leviticus 19:18). But in Jesus' definition of "neighbor," he went far beyond the definition in the Jewish religion of his day.
The Hebrew book of Leviticus (19:18) states, "You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself." Here, "neighbor" is defined as "sons of your own people" or, in other words, your Hebrew (Jewish) neighbor. Only one exception to this definition is made in Leviticus 19:33, "When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. The stranger who sojourns with you shall be as a native among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt; . . ."
Leviticus is known as one of the "books of Moses." Obviously, this book defines "neighbor" as "sons of your own people" (Leviticus 19:18) and "strangers who sojourn in your land" (Leviticus 19:33). In other words, "neighbor" only included Hebrews and other persons who lived in their country. There was no requirement to love anyone else, and this was clearly demonstrated when Moses ordered the Hebrew army to slaughter or enslave people of other countries as the Hebrews marched toward Canaan to invade it (Deuteronomy 20:10-17).
When Jesus was asked, "Who is my neighbor?," he answered with the parable of the "good Samaritan" (Luke 10:30-37). In this parable, Jesus defined "neighbor" as EVERYONE, even those who are considered "enemies." The Jews and the Samaritans viewed each other as "enemies" but, in his parable, Jesus used a Samaritan as an example of a "good neighbor" who came to the rescue of a suffering Jew who had been beaten and robbed. This story must have shocked the Jewish audience.
On another occasion, Jesus said, "You have heard it said, 'You shall love your neighbor but hate your enemy.' But I say to you, Love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you, so you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends his rain on the just and the unjust" (Matthew 5:43-45).
We may resist the idea of "love your enemy" because our "enemies" are persons who have offended us or have threatened us in some way. What did Jesus mean by "love your enemy?"
Jesus certainly did not mean that we should be passive toward someone who seriously threatens our lives. On the night that Jesus was arrested, he and his disciples obviously felt that they were in danger because Peter said, "Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison or death" (Luke 22:33). Then Jesus urged his disciples to arm themselves with swords (Luke 22:36). Jesus obviously believed in the right of self-defense. But later, when one of his disciples made a "first strike" with his sword, Jesus condemned the action, saying, "No more of this" (Luke 22:50-51).
So what did Jesus mean when he said, "love your enemy"?
Jesus said, "Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you" (Luke 6:27). Love your enemies and do good . . . for He (God) is kind to the ungrateful and selfish. Be merciful, even as your Father (God) is merciful" (Luke 6:35-36).
While retaining the right of self-defense, we should try to "do good" and "be merciful" to our "enemies." This may turn an "enemy" into a "friend" or, at least, we can find out whether there is any chance to solve the conflict by peaceful means.
In teaching "love your enemy," Jesus went far beyond the religion that he had been taught in his culture. Just as God provides the necessities of sunshine and rain to all persons, including the "good and evil" and the "just and unjust," we must be ready to "do good" and "be merciful" to all persons, even those we consider our "enemies."
Loving your enemies is a keystone in the religion taught by Jesus.
Today, in our world, we see how fear and hatred can lead people to see others as "enemies" who must be destroyed. The hatred expressed in the cycle of revenge--an eye for an eye-- has blinded people from recognizing that their "enemies" are often persons who are suffering from poverty, disease, ignorance, exploitation, and hopelessness. They need help. What would happen if someone tried to "do good" and "be merciful" to them?
What would happen if we sat down with our "enemies" to find out what they need from us, and to tell them what we need from them? Maybe we could find some ways to help each other, and achieve a better world for all of us--a world that Jesus called "the kingdom of God" on earth.
Call this "unrealistic" if you wish, but you must admit that the leaders on all sides of every violent conflict in the world today are accomplishing nothing but death and destruction. No causative problems are being solved. It is time to try a different approach. Jesus has a radical idea and, as a Christian Deist, I am ready to be a radical. How about you?
September 29, 2003
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