I recently had a brief but spirited conversation on my Deism Facebook page with an old Christian friend who asked a very interesting question. He wanted to know, in light of his own, personal assessment, how this God of Deism/Nature was “better” than the God of the Bible, with which he was most familiar. His complaint was that the God of the books of the Christian Bible did not seem “good” considering that he would consign all unbelievers to eternal Hell fire for their failure to accept him and his gift of salvation.
He seemed to understand that there was an innate conflict in the idea that God could be both benevolent and vindictive. I second his concern.
My own journey out of Christianity was a painful deconstruction of lifelong beliefs in a God who I readily admit was a conundrum of seemingly good and evil behavior, as well as, attitude.
My friend’s question was actually a response to my own question regarding the balance between the criticism of the belief in the God of revealed religion over against the explanation of the God of Nature/Creation. Many of us Deists have been accused of being overly critical of religion.
To be fair, I came across, as I often do, in a very critical way. It has always been my tact to draw attention first to the contradiction of seeing the God of the Bible as a good God. My own journey is a testament to that process of peeling away the layers of deception that shroud God in such a positive light. Most of us who come from religious backgrounds can attest to that.
I wholeheartedly believe that the best path out of a revealed-type religion is to first get to the heart of who this God is and what he actually demands of his followers. Christianity is exemplary in its concealment of God’s true nature. And it is the tactics of fear and guilt that keep adherents from challenging any dogma of God and his attributes.
When we as Deists challenge the basis of the Christian faith, we are challenging the one authority that has any meaning and value to the Christian. It is no wonder then that we are met with resistance, even hostility.
From one who attended seminary in order to become the best witness for Jesus Christ and his kingdom, I can attest to the importance of God’s character; my job was to defend “The One True God”. It always felt like the worst kind of offense to hear anyone cast aspersion on God.
My friend was understandably put-off by the assertion that the Bible was in error about God, and reiterated his desire for an explanation as to the superiority of the God we Deists proclaim. This is where it gets tricky.
Since Deism has basically one doctrine- that being the existence of God- it can be difficult to compare the God of Nature to the God of the Bible, or Jehovah. One can easily turn to any number of passages of scripture to give a cursory, though rarely complete, picture of the Almighty.
Deists have no such document from which a description of the God of Nature can be drawn. And yet we do have something far more reliable to which we can turn. And though many complain that nature paints too vague and incomplete a caricature of the Creator, we know that nature is the only unaltered, “eternal” story of God.
It occurred to me during my discussion with this Christian friend that he would never be satisfied with anything outside of a doctrinal treatise, preferably cross-referenced, on the nature and attributes of this God.
Perhaps this is the rub in the discussion of the difference between the God/s of revealed religion and the simple truth of a God who is outside of any man-made box. Believers long for a God who can be defined and quantified. Much like the way we do politics here in America, if only God were either Republican or Democrat we could cope with whatever that means to our minds. In this way my experience becomes the measuring stick of my God.
But to ask someone who is steeped in religious dogma to accept that anything, be it God or morality or spirituality, might possibly be the sole provenance of the individual and their own conscience is amazingly unimaginable! It is this indoctrination that makes such a wide chasm to cross.
You see, Deism is not a religion, not in the traditional sense. It is impossible to define God beyond what we see of him in his creative acts. And yet he has given us limitless potential to do just that: define him in the simplicity of creation!
What is it that makes the God of Deism and Nature a benevolent God? It is quite simply that he enables his creation with unlimited potential to make our world the best we can imagine. Examine the idea that “God gave us reason, not religion.” Man most certainly has demonstrated the ability to create a plethora of Gods and systems in which to house him/them. Yet these Gods rob man of any freedom or creativity, and consign them to slavery and subjection.
But even religions have to admit that all we truly know of God is what we can see of him in the real world. The Apostle Paul allegedly expounded this ideology at the beginning of his correspondence with the Roman Church. He claimed that God’s image was “clear” and that this image communicated his will to us, his creatures. Paul allegedly claimed that this was sufficient evidence to condemn or exonerate every person.
I know from my own, painful experience, that one who has been of a religious mindset must first understand that God could never be contained within, or revealed by, the pages of any man-centered books.
My friend was struggling with his faith, and his perception that his viewpoint of God was flawed, and yet he refused to listen to reason and see the evidence that should have been as plain as the sun at high noon.
Deism does not, nor will it ever, ask a person to accept anything on blind faith. It is not necessary to suspend reason, and, in fact, is counterintuitive to a reason for the hope that is within us. The hope of the Deist is not based upon empty promises, but on the sure word of God- his creation.
I now remember how much work it took to ”…give to every man that asks you a reason for the hope that is within you.” God needed so much defending that without a seminary education the task was much more than the average believer could handle! Very few today will offer anything more than platitudes for why they cling to a belief in a God of such contradicting character.
I am truly at peace, having transitioned to a faith that is founded on reason. The belief in the simplicity of the God of Nature brought so much relief, following an arduous journey out of blindness and imprisonment. It may never cease to amaze me that others will so steadfastly resist what has brought so much satisfaction to my life.
Understanding the chains of religion only makes it more imperative that we as Deists do all that we can to shed the light of truth on the curse of revelations and the cruel God they portray.
If we can first deconstruct the ideas upon which religions are built, we can then share the beauty of Nature and its God to a world that is lost in superstition and mythology. These two ideas go hand in glove, and we must learn to show the world the greatness and goodness of God.