It is strange where inspiration comes from but I was considering writing this article mainly because I had been thinking along these lines and then I had an email reply from Bob Johnson discussing other matters when he suggested that I might have time for another article! I had been thinking about writing about living Deistically and was trying to get my thoughts together when I got up early this morning and idly put on the TV. Well a chap called Creflo Dollar came on and I sat and watched this man amazed. I won't put on paper what I thought of him but a Christian conference was also advertised and one speaker was shown saying "God's gift to me is my potential and my gift to Him is what I do with it". And I thought that actually encapsulated in one sentence how I try to live my life Deistically.
Of course the difference between me and the Christians I saw on that TV show is that they consider the greatest potential that God gave them is their ability to believe where there is no evidence which is called "having faith". The greater capacity they have to believe where there is no evidence at all, or even in the face of incontrovertible evidence, the greater they consider the potential they have received from God. The gift they then give to God by what they do with this potential is acted out in the world by trying to persuade other people to "have faith" and believe in things without evidence. Of course this view is in diametrical opposition to my understanding of what God wants us to do as Deists.
To a Deist, God's greatest gift is our potential to think, and above all to Reason. To Reason is to look at all the evidence available and then to arrive at conclusions by the application of intelligence which is also a gift of God, (as all things are in reality - all we can do is utilise God's creation). The way we can give our gift to God is by what we do with that ability to think and Reason, and one of the greatest ways I think Deists can use this gift is to encourage other people to use their Reason to reach their own conclusions.
We do not seek to "convert" people to Deism like Christians and others of the Abrahamic tradition or of any other of the world's religions that seeks to convert people to its point of view. That would be impossible while at the same time encouraging people to think for themselves. All we can do is present the evidence we have at the time and hope people come to the same conclusions as us.
Note I say "present the evidence we have at the time" because through the use of Reason and the application of intelligence the evidence we have available over time changes. Through the use of the scientific method what we know about God's creation changes both in theory and practise over time, although, of course, the underlying principles remain unchanged. (I believe this to be so even though the manifestation of those principles can change over time. Indeed this is the ultimate goal of some scientists - to find the underlying unifying factor of all that exists in the universe.)
Of course the approach of Reason like this is in direct opposition to the approach of religion which relies on faith. Abrahamic religions along with the other world religions seek to convert people to believe with no evidence in their so-called "eternal " "revealed" "truths" written down usually in some archaic book. This is so in spite of the evidence of science that completely refutes, for example, their various narratives of explaining creation itself, usually through stories that defy even the intelligence of very young children. Of course some of the more sophisticated members of these religions, especially Christians, sometimes try to take scientific findings to verify their version of, for example, creation as told by their holy book - The Christian Bible. They call this "Intelligent Design". Of course this is not the same as Intelligent Design as understood by Deists which will not be discussed here, but for readers interested in further understanding this please refer to this article.
Suffice it to say that all they create is a pseudo scientific theory that is not taken seriously by any real scientist and creates tortuous mental gymnastic for those of us, like me, who are not scientists! If I had enough space and time I could refute their findings but I do not. However I can say that I find it strange that if they put such a value on faith which is to believe things without evidence it seems intellectually if not also morally disingenuous to then try to back that up with science which relies on evidence and refutes faith. Why use one mutually exclusive method of understanding the world to try to back up another? It defies all logic and Reason!
Now readers may ask what all of this has to do with living Deistically? The answer I would give is that it is important to know what people believe because that usually informs their behaviour and to live Deistically is to live our lives out according to Reason. I truly think, as empirical evidence will show, that the average person is more influenced by how people behave rather that by what people profess to believe.
So, for example, if a Christian is acting in a cruel way - like a priest abusing a child - this will cause people to question whether he really is a Christian following Jesus' commandment to love his neighbour as himself. Or it will cause a person to question whether the Christian teaching itself is actually true and from God. Either way it will cause people to question the validity of Christianity and to most people such a priest saying he believes in the precepts of Christianity is completely irrelevant when he does not practise them. Or they will conclude that the precepts themselves are morally wrong. And this would also be true of Deism if anyone acted in an abusive manner.
If a person professes to be a Deist and to believe in Reason but lives their lives in an irrational manner, either people will conclude the he is not really practising Deism or there is actually something wrong with Deism itself. A person's behaviour must reflect what they say they believe otherwise this will lead to cognitive dissonance in observers who will then, for example, in the case of Deism, if they use Reason themselves, reject it because of the person's irrational behaviour. In other words, while we as Deists are not seeking to "convert" other people to our point of view, we are seeking to spread Deism and the best way to do this in my opinion, is to live it out.
For example, recently I was in a situation where I was discussing the setting up of food banks in the town where I live. As usual many of the people who got involved in this charitable action were from a religious background. The problem was that they proposed that 50% of the time used for the setting up of the food bank should be spent doing practical action but the other 50% of the time should be spent in prayer asking God to help the project and the project users. They then proposed to close the meeting I was in with a prayer. Of course I objected and said I could not pray with them and neither would I spend 50% of my time on the project in prayer!
This sparked controversy and interest because they knew I believed in God and they could not reconcile that belief with someone who refused to pray so they asked me why I objected to it. Of course this lead to a discussion on Deism, which was completely unknown to them. At the end of the meeting some people sided with me after coming to the conclusion that actually they could be Deists. This had lead to a weekly meeting in my home of five people and myself discussing Deism.
I realise of course that not everyone either could, or would want to, confront people as I do concerning Deism, but as long as a person's behaviour is not against the central principle of Deism, which is to live your life based on Reason, I think they are still bearing witness to it. I was not militant in my refusal to pray. I was very reasoned and gentle - but it was still a confrontation.
In the past I have avoided this because I was worried about reactions and not "fitting in" in the small town where I live. However, some people knew I was a Deist and did not believe in praying to God for intervention but they saw me, in the past, going along with prayer, for example, when I was at a funeral recently. This made them question me and confront me and ask me why I did not practise what I said I believed. I realised at that point that people do notice how you behave and make judgements based on it. That is human nature.
So I could not get out of acting as a Deist if I professed to be one. My compromise regarding prayer was being noticed. That is why I decided to take a stand and it was also influenced by a Deist who I am in contact with who lives in a fundamentalist Muslim country but refused to go to the Mosque and that got noticed and lead to conversations regarding Deism. I was so impressed by his courage that I thought I also had to take a stand.
Quite a few people in my town know I am a Deist and I have invited my Deist friend in the Muslim country to come to England to improve his English and help spread Deism here. I also hope to have an annual Deist convention in town.
Like Bob Johnson has a vision of having Deist Reason Centres where people can learn about Deism and also get free science based medical help if needed, I also think it is important for Deists to take a stand in how charities are run and show people that you do not have to be religious to be moral. And that Reason is not a cold and hard approach to life, but that in actual fact it leads to loving actions. That is because, at least to me, it makes sense to help our fellow man based on empathy, as it is the right thing to do, and also a sense of community, because one day I might need that help. I would call that enlightened self interest. It does not mean that I am just looking out for myself, but based on Reason I know that I live in a society with other people and that using Reason I know that reciprocal loving actions between people bears better fruit than the Christian convert seeking model of charity of which I have been a recipient and intensely disliked and now want to avoid at all costs.
The Christian model of charity, at least as I experienced it, is based on doing a social service to people who are often in bad circumstances through no fault of their own, but in doing it, forcing their religion down people's throats. I was a recipient of such charity when, for a time, I was homeless because I had been caught up in the 7/7 London bombings in 2005 and had post traumatic stress disorder. I was not getting any mental health help and was wandering around London looking for my husband who had died due to complications caused by the bombings. I refused to accept he had died and I was chaotic and irrational and lost my home in the process.
I had to go to Christians for food and emotional help because there was no-one else. They in turn offered me food and shelter after I had listened to a sermon and this was a requirement every day as well as prayers. In my deepest mind I knew that accepting Jesus Christ as my saviour was not the answer to my situation but I also resented that the Christians exploited my desperate situation to try to convert me to their religion.
Of course they saw it a different way and called it "love". Personally all I wanted was food and a place to sleep. I did not want to listen to stories about a strange irrational sadomasochistic God who had to kill part of Himself in order to redeem mankind from original sin committed by Adam and Eve who the Christians themselves said never existed since the story was purely metaphorical. Therefore I realised that their God had killed Himself for original sin that did not exist anyway! But I had to listen to all this in order to get my food and bed for the night. I thought that was wrong and still do.
If there had been a Deist Reason Centre around I am sure that I would have met people who would have treated me in a Reasonable way who would have realised that my problems stemmed from factors affecting me in the material, that is the physical world, and could not be cured by superstition and superstition rituals, (that is Christianity in this case.) And that then through Reason my material needs would have been met and I would be free to develop my own Reason based spirituality. I think this approach is closer to God's Will than any other religious or philosophical model.
And that is why we need to live Deistically so we can develop a society and a world that is based on our innate God-given Reason and help people out of their problems and make it possible for everyone to develop their potential. Their entire God given potential, especially their Reason. If we do this we will have accepted that we are responsible for sorting out the problems we have on Earth because we have created them. Not a non-existent being such as Satan and that God will not solve them by appeals and petitionary prayer. He created us and gave us the capacity to Reason so we could create our own world through our own free will.
When we have fully accepted that responsibility and realised that we are God's representatives on Earth, (as all people are but as Deists who have realised it we have an extra responsibility), we will have succeeded in our God given mission - to create God's kingdom on Earth.* And then we will have realised our full potential and given our gift back to God.
* I realise this is a metaphor that will not appeal to everyone but I hope you accept the spirit of it even if you don't like the wording. I just don't know any other way to express what I mean in creating a world based on God-given Reason and manifested through Love which is God's True Essence in my understanding.