From Christian to Deist - A Soldier's Story

My story is one of a simple man who spent his entire working life in the military, rising from the lowest non-commissioned ranks to eventually retire on the General List as a very Senior Military Officer. During my 39 years of military service, I have commanded several major defence establishments with compliments of up to 4,000 personnel. Academically, I obtained a range of qualifications including several Masters Degrees; however, my primary discipline was in Electronics Engineering. I had nearly completed a PhD in History when another academic released a book that covered my methodology and contribution, and unfortunately there are no prizes for second at this level of academic endeavour. However, the training and experience has kept me in good stead. I have received various forms of recognition and accolades from my assiduous application to my duties which have more than compensated for this disappointment, having been both Honoured and Decorated by the Queen.

Prior to joining the military, I was already a Christian, having been ‘born-again’ at 15 years of age. I was an adopted child, and whilst I grew up in a single parent family, it was a very loving and caring environment, and a highly intellectual one. My mother was an incredibly bright woman, who completed her PhD in History at age 82 after having completed a series of Masters Degrees in History in the preceding decades. Whilst our family was atypical (lower class, single parent, adopted child) we initially attended church on Sundays for many years. However, my mother became progressively disenchanted with organised religion, changing her faith from Roman Catholic to Anglican over the formers continued subordination of women within both church and wider society. Some 20 years later she walked away from the Anglican Church in disgust over its public support of several contentious government policies (again to do with human rights), being a staunch believer in the separation of the church from the machinery of the state.

I understood my mother’s concerns regarding the need to separate the church from the machinery of the state; and I have a deep personal foreboding for any society living under ‘religious fundamentalism’ of any kind; and ‘faith’ or ‘ideology’ based political system, particularly in weak democracies, or worse, under autocratic regimes. Given that “history is philosophy teaching by example”[1]; it will continue to repeat itself until man’s maturity as a sentient being improves significantly. The numerous wars, Religious crusades, inquisitions, pogroms and continued misogyny are evidence of that reality. Whilst some apologists would vehemently disagree, Adolf Hitler was an individual of both deep political and religious conviction. Even a cursory read of Mein Kampf highlights that fact.[2] The abhorrent violations of human rights carried out by the Nazis demonstrate the excesses such regime can perpetrate if left unchecked by the stultifying effects of reason. Even today, the North Korean Regime, Iran and Israel are of genuine concern for similar reasons and the list goes on and on. For those interested in a fictional futuristic take on this aspect, read “The Handmaid’s Tale”[3] by Margaret Atwood, or watch the movie “V for Vendetta”[4].

In my adolescence my mother started to share a number of her closely held beliefs and convictions on religion with me which really pricked my mind on the accuracy of the Bible, and started me on a 40 year long journey to Deism. My mother had an extensive religious library and had researched the scriptures thoroughly and knew them well. During this time I raised numerous religious queries with her, or listened to her explain a number of religious ambiguities in the scriptures, and her answers or explanations could not have been more insightful. For example, I asked her about the Immaculate Conception, and she just smiled and quietly told me that the translators had incorrectly translated the Bible, as Mary hadn’t been ‘a virgin’ as described - the actual words in Greek were ‘young woman’, which immediately threw a ‘cat amongst the pigeons’ concerning the ‘virgin birth’ in my mind and screamed ‘myth’. To put the icing on the cake, she continued to quietly assert that if it was an immaculate conception, then the lineage from David to Jesus was broken, as David’s line was to Joseph, not Mary; so if Joseph wasn’t the father of Jesus, then the Old Testament prophesy of the coming Messiah being of David’s line simply couldn’t be fulfilled.[5] I am certain that she was sowing seeds and encouraging me to research it for myself:

“Seek ye the truth, and the truth will set you free.”[6]

And where do you find the truth – in the Bible. I am also convinced (in hindsight) that my mother had arrived at Deism as I was starting my journey. It is to her that I really owe my liberation from mysticism and superstition. She knew I’d work it out, once I had the inclination to look, which she lovingly provided.

Once I commenced my military career, I never again attended Church, yet held a firm belief in both God and Christ, and prayed daily. However, I was never comfortable with supplications of any kind – I was firmly convinced that God knew what he was doing and it seemed extremely arrogant and grossly insubordinate for man to ask God to intervene in anything.[7] I also found it quite uncomfortable to listen to prayers asking for God’s blessing for things: outcomes of battles, safe passage of ships, full harvest of crops etc. In stark contrast, my prayers have always been very simple ‘thanks you’s’: thank you for life; thank you for love; thank you for my wonderful family and everything I’ve been given; and thank you for the opportunity to experience this mind boggling thing called creation.

Whilst I was growing up, I had an illustrated copy of a Good News Version of the New Testament, and hadn’t spent time trying to decipher the Old Testament in my mother’s King James Version – that joy was to come. As I got older and acquired broader life experiences I found myself questioning more of what I was reading in the Bible. Apart from the ever growing list of ambiguities and fantastic distortions, there were a number of fairly serious and glaring moral dilemmas staring me right in the face throughout almost all of the Old Testament from the moment I commenced to peruse it in depth. I have spent my entire adult life willing to put my life on the line to protect the life, liberty and human rights of those unable or incapable of defending themselves, and I quickly got to a stage in my perusal of the Old Testament that I simply had to reject it in toto as being an anathema to everything I believed and stood for.[8]

Being good at my discipline, I looked to ‘engineer’ around the problem in an attempt to delink the Old Testament from the New. However, I struck a number of initial problems commencing with the Gospel of Matthew in which Jesus is purported to have said, “Don't misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the Law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose.”[9] This was the beginning of a fairly serious personal crisis of faith that led me to an intensive period of analysis of the New Testament to see if it was at all possible to separate Jesus from the horrors and injustices replete throughout the Old Testament – particularly towards women and children.

To my great dismay, the more I perused (without Bible Notes and Scripture Study Guides) the New Testament, the more it became apparent that the Bible was not inerrant at all (far from it), and for the most part I couldn’t see how or where it was ‘revealing’ a loving God. There is more hate and condemnation in the Bible than I suspect in any other series of books ever written, including Mein Kampf. In short, the more I ‘independently’ read and researched the Bible, the more incredible and disgusting it became.[10]

Having done my ‘literature review’, I tried to piece together the remnants of my former faith to see what I had left. It was apparent from the literature that many of the Books of the New Testament were not written by the Authors attributed to them, and appeared to lack divine inspiration – or not by a loving God at least. Even the texts that dealt specifically with the various teachings and miracles of Christ appeared to have been contrived, distorted or fabricated, including those accounts that relate his trial, death, resurrection and ascension. As a result, I couldn’t place credence in any of them – the Gospels in particular.[11] The only truth I could see (if I may use that term) was that Jesus probably lived, that he appeared to have tried to spread the doctrine of ‘love of god’ and ‘love of our fellow man’, but in doing so upset the establishment and paid the supreme sacrifice for his beliefs and principles.