My Personal Statement of Theology

by Donna Lee Henry, Deist

In building my personal theology, there are four elements which I use. They are: 1) fact, 2) reasonable hypothesis, 3) belief, and 4) myth, legend, and fairy tale. These are defined below.

1) Fact. This is something which can be proven. Using a strictly scientific method, the same results can be duplicated or observed by others. These have led to realities like space travel, surgery with anesthesia, even the computer on which these words are composed. We have observed, for instance, that the earth is round and moves around the sun and that smoking cigarettes is bad for your health. While one is certainly free to discredit facts and continue to believe that the earth is flat or that smoking is actually good for you, such practice would make you look foolish at the very least.

2) Reasonable Hypothesis. These are ideas whose statements appear logical, but for which no proof has been given. Referring to the above examples, Galileo was forced to recant his round, earth-in-motion theory. This didn't mean the earth wasn't round; the proof just came later. In the early days of cigarette smoking, there were only a few scattered physicians advising their patients not to smoke for health reasons.

There were no formal studies or tests from which they drew their conclusions, no documented proof. They were statements based on their educational expertise and their personal observations. Again, the proof came later. One is always free to ignore such hypotheses as well. But, I think it is wise to hold such "seems-reasonable" ideas somewhere in mind as proof often does come later.

3) Belief. These are the things which may have a validity to them, but they are usually vague concepts with statements attached like: "maybe" or "it's possible" or "it could be that". These things have no proof and, in fact, may not be provable. They may include ideas that prompt the listener to look at me and say, "Whoa, she's nuts!"

However, I don't retain these beliefs arbitrarily. They are held up to a personal barometer of "gut instinct" and past personal experience. They are things for which the overall sensation I have is a sense of rightness, or at the very least, a possibility of rightness.

These fall out of the area of reason and rationality. However, in light of past experience with these "gut instincts" or life events, it seems irrational to me to totally ignore them. For instance, if every time I eat green beans, I get violently ill, I will say, "Green beans make me sick, so I won't eat them anymore".

There's no proof that green beans are the actual culprit of my illness and, in fact, it could all be in my imagination. However, if I want to avoid a violent episode of illness, I avoid green beans. You are under no obligation to do the same. In fact, it would be unreasonable for you to do so when you have no such reaction and evidence shows green beans to be very healthy for you.

4) Myth, Legend, and Fairy Tales. These are human-designed stories told to impart a lesson or moral, serve as an example of an intangible principle, or provide an understanding of that which (at the time of the original writing) is incomprehensible. They are easy to recognize in other cultures, but we often tend to equate our own with reality.

These have value in that ancient tales give us insight into the mind set of ancient peoples, and in as much as they are held on to today, the mind set of their descendants (and followers of same). They may contain pieces of wisdom, but in light of new information, may contain a number of falsehoods as well.

They may also contain pieces of truth and refer to real events or places such as in The Wizard of Oz. Kansas, tornadoes, and houses all exist. People really do own dogs and women really do ride bicycles. But elements of truth don't make an entire story true. The Wizard of Oz remains a work of fiction. I personally find a nice little gem of wisdom in it, as in: I already have what I say I want; I'm just not looking in the right place. No one, however, is obliged to see anything other than what it is, a work of fiction. To take such works as fact is utter foolishness.

This represents the hierarchy of the elements that form my personal theology. Items at the top of the list bear greater weight than those at the bottom. Obviously, all of this is too lengthy to write on forms asking your religious affiliation; and who should have to listen to a lengthy diatribe just because they were curious enough to ask you. You could respond with "none of your business", but what's the purpose of having a theology if you want to keep it hidden?

Certainly, the subject isn't appropriate in every conversation. Just as my method of rearing a child, sexual preferences, or something as mundane as food tastes isn't appropriate to every conversation. After all, would you tell your homophobic boss that you are gay when the bank is just about ready to repossess your car if you don't get that next payment in on time, or Grandma the dinner she just spent 6 hours preparing tastes like dog food?

But if your theology is not used in some worthwhile endeavor, why bother with one at all? Reserving it for appropriate use and disclosure, I understand; but keeping it totally hidden? You may as well discard it; the effect is the same.

So, in an effort to simplify and be a part of something larger than myself, I say I am a Deist, my religion is Deism. A Deist is someone who believes in God on the basis of reason and nature. A Deist rejects the superstitions of revealed religions. I am a Deist; I don't proclaim to be a perfect Deist.

I've known Catholics who use birth control, Christians who believe Jesus was a spiritual teacher not the Son of God, and Jews who eat ham sandwiches. If I am guilty of anything, it is merely the same human imperfection also exhibited by the so-called believers.

But, Deism offers me opportunities revealed religions do not: the right to refuse superstition without fear of retribution and the chance to study fact as fact and not fiction as fact. The Creation is everywhere around us, accessible by everyone, and is the only work directly attributable to the Creator.

Let me relate this analogy regarding the difference between Deism and revealed religions: Would you rather entrust your body to a heart surgeon who studied the heart or one whose only qualifications are that he read a book by an unknown author who fought in several wars and saw a lot of people get heart wounds?

Much of the bible is war stories told by unknown authors of an ancient people who claim that God was on their side; this supposedly makes them God experts. There are countless contradictions within it as well as facts that don't hold up to study of the physical universe. Revealed religions require that you study their books to know God, the Creator.

Deism says to study the Creation to know God, the Creator. This seems a more logical method of study. My mind and my spirit are as important to me as the body in which I dwell. I would no more place them in the hands of the unlearned faithful, than I would my body in the hands of an unskilled surgeon.

In summary, the short version of my theology is thus: I am a Deist. The longer version grows as I do. Deism, not fixed on ancient tales but using the expanding knowledge provided by science, gives me room to do just that, grow.