From Christian to Deist – a Soldier’s Journey
by General Maximus Decimus Meridius
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”; 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. 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” by Margaret Atwood, or watch the movie “V for Vendetta”.
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. 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.”
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. 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.
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.” 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.
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. 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.
When confronted with such ‘informational problems’, I attempt to pull out of the detail and view the matter from a macro perspective (I try to see the whole forest rather than the individual trees), based on a simple maxim:
“What you say, I can’t hear; but what you do speaks volumes!”
As a consequence, I tried to examine what Christ ‘actually did’ from where he was supposed to go and for what purpose, rather than what people attributed to him (and analysed what I think he was trying to do at a strategic level if you like).
The conclusion I came to was that Jesus was only trying to achieve two fairly basic objectives in his ministry: (1) to get people back to God, and (2) to have them treat each other as they would like to be treated. He also appears to have been trying to get people to think about their situation under a repressive church leadership and Roman rule. It was probably for these reasons that the Romans and the senior Jewish leaders of his time (Caiaphas et al) saw him as a heretic and potential insurrectionist. In many ways, if I strip away all of the distorted myths, untruths and religious agendas attributed to Jesus and his life, there is an uncanny resemblance to a Deist...
Having just liberated myself from my former faith, I still held an unshakable belief in God, the creator. I still prayed every day – nothing had changed – but I felt somewhat isolated. I wasn’t an atheist. I wasn’t an agnostic. So what was I? It was during this latter part of my research as I sifted through the remnants of my former faith that I came across an oblique reference to Thomas Paine, in particular his insightful work, “The Age of Reason”. I picked it up and was emotionally moved as I read it. Its impact on me at that time in my life was absolutely profound. The revelation that my view of the world, of God, of creation, of man’s role and relationship to his fellow man were shared by others, many, many others was cathartic. Having basically converted to Deism ‘from first principles’, and once I discovered Paine’s work (and Voltaire’s et al) I started to look for literature and associations for Deists, which led me to the World Union of Deists (WUD).
My membership with the WUD is not for personal reasons. I am firmly convinced that the future of humanity rests in our ability to find inclusive ways of moving the world forward in order to avert social, economic and environmental catastrophe. All of humanity needs to unify for humanity’s sake; needs to share scarce resources; and needs to protect and preserve the planet whilst there is still time. The adage, “united we stand, divided we fall” could not be more apt. But more than that, humanity needs to come to terms with the true God – the God of creation; and to start treating each other as we would like to be treated across the globe, without fear or favour, or discrimination of any kind by race, creed, colour, age, gender, sexual preference or religious beliefs.
Whether we like it or not, the single greatest threat to the future and security of humanity is humanity itself. How ironic it is that humanity is also our only hope for survival. Therein lays the greatest conundrum of all.
How many roads must a man walk down
Before you call him a man?
Yes, 'n' how many seas must a white dove sail
Before she sleeps in the sand?
Yes, 'n' how many times must the cannon balls fly
Before they're forever banned?
The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind,
The answer is blowin' in the wind.
How many times must a man look up
Before he can see the sky?
Yes, 'n' how many ears must one man have
Before he can hear people cry?
Yes, 'n' how many deaths will it take till he knows
That too many people have died?
The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind,
The answer is blowin' in the wind.
How many years can a mountain exist
Before it's washed to the sea?
Yes, 'n' how many years can some people exist
Before they're allowed to be free?
Yes, 'n' how many times can a man turn his head,
Pretending he just doesn't see?
The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind,
The answer is blowin' in the wind.
Bob Dylan, 1962.
 Attributed to Thucydides
2 A number of religious apologists are quite uncomfortable with Hitler’s religious convictions and subsequent behaviour – as they are about the various Crusades conducted in the name of the faith; the assorted inquisitions over the centuries; and the Church’s endorsement of the Malleus Maleficarum, amongst other ‘inspired’ works developed by the church over the ages.
A small sample of Hitler’s beliefs is set out below. It should also be noted that little change in these beliefs were apparent after he came to power.
“And so I believe to-day that my conduct is in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator. In standing guard against the Jew I am defending the handiwork of the Lord.” Hitler, A. Mein Kampf, http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks02/0200601.txt, Volume 1, Chapter 2, 1925.
“I had so often sung DEUTSCHLAND ÜBER ALLES and so often roared 'HEIL'
that I now thought it was as a kind of retro-active grace that I was
granted the right of appearing before the Court of Eternal Justice to
testify to the truth of those sentiments.” ibid, Volume 1, Chapter 5.
“This whole winter of 1919-20 was one continual struggle to strengthen confidence in our ability to carry the movement through to success and to intensify this confidence until it became a burning faith that could move mountains.” ibid, Volume 1, Chapter 12.
“And so, internally armed with faith in the goodness of God and the impenetrable stupidity of the electorate, the struggle for what is called 'the reconstruction of the REICH' can now begin.” ibid, Volume 2, Chapter 1.
“Everybody who has the right kind of feeling for his country is solemnly bound, each within his own denomination, to see to it that he is not constantly talking about the Will of God merely from the lips but that in actual fact he fulfils the Will of God and does not allow God's handiwork to be debased. For it was by the Will of God that men were made of a certain bodily shape, were given their natures and their faculties. Whoever destroys His work wages war against God's Creation and God's Will. Therefore everyone should endeavour, each in his own denomination of course, and should consider it as his first and most solemn duty to hinder any and everyone whose conduct tends, either by word or deed, to go outside his own religious body and pick a quarrel with those of another denomination.” ibid, Volume 2, Chapter 10.
3 1985, McClelland and Stewart (Publisher)
4 Released in 2005 Starring Natalie Portman, Hugo Weaving and John Hurt. Based on ‘V for Vendetta’ by Alan Moore and David Lloyd, Directed by James McTeigue, produced by Virtual Studios, and Distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures.
5 “Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive.” Sir Walter Scott (Marmion, 1808)
6 Bible - KJV New Testament - John 8:32 [I am unable to refer to the Bible as ‘Holy’. If that offends some people, I apologise.]
7 Supplications to me were tantamount to saying that God isn’t omniscient, and the supplications in question were really requests for what amounted to ‘corrective action’ ie ‘Dear Lord, please grant my prayer I implore you (as you’re getting it wrong and it needs to be fixed, and, oh yes, I almost forgot, may I also have a Porsche please?)’. (?????)
8 The Old Testament is replete with endorsed instances of mundicide, virtual omnicide, genocide, urbicide, homicide, fratricide, infanticide, femicide, filicide, ecocide, ethnocide, tauricide, vaccicide, misogyny, rape, sexual slavery, procuring for sex, indiscriminate slaughter of animals, and general hatred on a grand strategic scale.
9 Bible - KJV New Testament – Matthew 5:17
10 The following are just a couple of the hundreds of abhorrent examples in point:
Bible - KJV Old Testament – Numbers: 31:12 And they brought the captives, and the prey, and the spoil, unto Moses, and Eleazar the priest, and unto the congregation of the children of Israel, unto the camp at the plains of Moab, which are by Jordan near Jericho. 31:13 And Moses, and Eleazar the priest, and all the princes of the congregation, went forth to meet them without the camp. 31:14 And Moses was wroth with the officers of the host, with the captains over thousands, and captains over hundreds, which came from the battle. 31:15 And Moses said unto them, Have ye saved all the women alive? 31:16 Behold, these caused the children of Israel, through the counsel of Balaam, to commit trespass against the LORD in the matter of Peor, and there was a plague among the congregation of the LORD. 31:17 Kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him. 31:18 But all the women children, that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves! – [you have got to be kidding… and these are the good guys (?)]
Bible - KJV New Testament – Matthew: 10:21 And the brother shall deliver up the brother to death, and the father the child: and the children shall rise up against their parents, and cause them to be put to death.
Bible - KJV New Testament – 1 Corinthians: 10:8 Neither let us commit fornication, as some of them committed, and fell in one day three and twenty thousand. 10:9 Neither let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed of serpents.
11 I came to conclude that, “Of all the systems of religion that ever were invented, there is none more derogatory to the Almighty, more unedifying to man, more repugnant to reason, and more contradictory in itself, than this thing called Christianity. Too absurd for belief, too impossible to convince, and too inconsistent for practice, it renders the heart torpid, or produces only atheists and fanatics. As an engine of power, it serves the purpose of despotism; and as a means of wealth, the avarice of priests; but so far as respects the good of man in general, it leads to nothing here or hereafter.” Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason, Chapter III, Conclusion.
12 A modified version of that attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson: "What you do is so loud; I can't hear what you say".
13 Aesop - Greek slave and fable author (620 BC - 560 BC).
14 I would exhort every rational human being to read The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and to mandate its application across the Globe. The following is of its Preamble to prick the interest of the reader:
“Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world,
Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people,
Whereas it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law…”