Wednesday, December 31, 2008
A few weeks ago I posted the question Why would God make it so difficult for anyone to choose the right religious system that will get them to Heaven?
Of course the question assumes that there is a God, Heaven, and a way to get there. With that assumption we mus first attempt, with our feeble mortal minds, to figure out the "why". Whatever labels that any of us may have for the divine are just that, labels. For God to be God He (she/it? more labels...) would have to transcend all known human thought and labels. Even the word God is a label but we would have to break out of our ever expanding snowglobe of a universe to see if our labels match up with what we consider reality. So without going into a discussion about what truly is reality or what God may or may not be is beyond our understanding. Let's keep it in the context of a "loving Christian God" since that is how most Americans perceive God.
When Adam and Eve bit into the forbidden fruit they doomed us all. Not because of the fruit but because of disobedience. They broke the Law and sin entered into the Human experience. And ever since then we are bound, cursed by that one act. But there is hope. God sent his only begotten Son (God incarnate) to pay the price. But who is collecting? To rephrase the question, since God set the rules and God paid the price then is God also bound to his own rules? Can God not pardon us directly wiping away all sin (including Original Sin) without God sacrificing Himself? Does that mean that the Law God created is now God since he is also bound to it? If he were not there wouldn't be a need for Jesus' sacrifice and we could come to Him directly. It almost seems as if God is powerless to the Law He himself created. But what hope do we have if even Almighty God is powerless?
Jesus? Maybe, maybe not.
If there wasn't a Law established by God there would be complete Cosmic chaos so we all have to play by the rules, including God. Since the Law demands death to anyone that sins only a divine sinless being can fulfill this demand. The belief in this sacrifice is what saves the mortal soul.
Sound difficult? Your safe as long as you have the right belief. The Law, not God, is asking you to have the right belief but with thousands of religions and beliefs over the ages the odds are astronomically against you in picking the right one. If, as in the previous post, the Mormons have the correct belief then one can come close to salvation but still burn if you are a protestant. They're both under the umbrella of Christianity but only one sect has the truth.
So how can the human mind with limited time and energy pick the Right belief? We can't! We can either be lucky enough to be born a Mormon or willing to speak to their evangelists and convert when they knock on your door.
I came to this understanding after a long long spiritual crisis that I will cover in detail at a later time. I came to the point where I could no longer claim myself a Christian. I found myself sitting on a fence between two religions and I cornered myself into believing that I had to choose one! Period. I was torturing myself by my loss of faith in Christianity but was also tormented by the fact that if I do choose another religion how long will it be before I leave it and return to fence sitting? That's when I realized that I would never be free of the torment of choosing the right religion because there is no right religion. I can spend a lifetime scrutinizing and sifting through religions looking for scientific, moral, historical, and theological flaws desperately searching for the right one but I would never find it. I was trying to save my life only to realize I was slowly losing it. So I let go. I stopped trying to save my life and slowly I have felt a richer love for God and my fellow man then I had in my previous life.
I can not say that I am doing the right thing and eventually I might just pick up a religious system that helps to express my spirituality. But I can not believe that Almighty God (if there even is a God) expects our feeble and mortal minds to pick the correct belief. I do not worship God out of fear of Hell or to receive Heaven as a reward. The gift of life itself and the chance to worship my Creator is Heaven enough for me.
Peace be upon you all.
Monday, December 29, 2008
[Now before we go to deeply into this I'd like to touch on a few things. First, it's just a cartoon and the creators' main intentions are entertainment. Second, there is a book entitled The Gospel According to The Simpsons: The Spiritual Life of the World's Most Animated Family by Mark I. Pinsky that I have yet to read but I thought I'd mention for anyone that is interested.]
Is this an accurate representation of American Spirituality? Do Americans pray for personal desires only to completely ignore God when He fails to respond the way we want him to, and then proceed to feed on his syrupy goodness?
Yes, and we also have turned him into a genie in a lamp (or in this case Our Lord Savior wish-granting waffle) awaiting to fulfill our every desire. If a shopper is searching for their ideal parking spot, he/she prays. If a teenage hopes her parents don't find out what she did last week, she prays. Or even if a little boy fears his pet (or his favorite toy car) won't be in heaven, he prays. I'm not saying that prayer is useless or that prayers aren't heard that's not the point. People misuse prayer to satisfy their human needs and wants for selfish gain. Even praying for a safe trip (which I do often) is asking my everlasting syrupy Lord to watch over my own hide.
Even when our prayers seem to be answered we ungratefully ask for more. So we go back to His Maple Majesty and ask him to shower us with his blessings. Eventually God becomes a crutch where you depend entirely on Him for every single aspect of our lives. Why pay the bills when after a quick prayer, and enough faith God will find a way to take care of them.
[This is a picture of an actual product called the Jesus Pan. If you ever accidentally eat your Maplely Lord and Savior you can always replace him using the Jesus Pan. It imprints the image of Jesus Christ right onto your pancake making your Sunday morning breakfast Sacrilicious!]
Should we then abandon prayer? Absolutely not! Both mind and body benefit from prayer as a form of meditation that reduces stress, lowers blood pressure, and clears the mind. Prayer connects the Creation with its Creator and with one another. When we pray we keep love and understanding for our fellow man alive.
No harm can be done in prayer except for harmful words. When we pray for our enemies downfall what does that tell us about ourselves? What do we get out of rejoicing in the suffering of other human beings? How can Christians follow in Christ's footsteps of humility while praying for a certain football team to win or to get a bigger Christmas bonus? I am not a pastor I honestly do not know but I can tell you what I pray for. I pray for the ability to understand and love my fellow man in hopes that we may kindle peace. I pray to be more compassionate so that I may share what little I have with those that have much less. I pray for courage so that I might face any injustice I may come across. I pray that if these prayers go unanswered that I have the strength to stand on my own and become a better man.
Wednesday, December 24, 2008
- Sol Invictus
- And any other Deities that I may have left out
Monday, December 22, 2008
If you don't have an open mind about learning and/or accepting other faiths as possibly valid then you should probably skip this post entirely so that I don't waste your valuable time. And time is valuable so why waste it on reading something that will irritate you for the rest of the day?
A little over a week ago I wrote about a South Park clip that touched on the topic over which religion will (possibly) keep you out of Hell. You can read the original post here. In the post I described the frustration one may get when "shopping" for a religion as a huge train station with dozens of trains all departing for Heaven. The Passenger has a ticket bearing a single word, Faith. All the trains look similar and all state they're heading for the same destination but which one do you board?
Are they really all heading in the same direction? Why even board a train, why not drive (or walk) there yourself? Would that be easier? Which is more rewarding: riding a train following a predetermined set of tracks to your destination or making your own trail?
I use the word "shopping" as a reflection of the American attitude (or maybe reflex) towards everything in life including religion. Too impatient to reach Enlightenment, try the gift of God, given freely by Christ's sacrifice, found in Christianity. Theological concepts in Christianity too difficult or too contradictory to scientific evidence, try some Jewish Mysticism. The point is that America is blessed with a large (if not the largest) selection of religions available to them. Or is it a curse?
Yesterday at church the pastor gave a very touching, heart warming, while interesting sermon on the true meaning of Christmas. With Christmas almost upon us I believe most churches delivered similar sermons focusing on Christ as the focal point of the holiday season. He started by going over the Gospel accounts on the birth of Jesus and how we as Christians can rely on the Word of God as factual truth. We are to focus on that truth as we celebrate Christmas regardless of what society may say. Society promotes inclusiveness saying it's "alright to worship Muhammad, or Buddha equally as we worship Jesus". We must put society's view on inclusiveness beneath us since Jesus is King of Kings and Lord of Lords. So not only is Christianity a valid way to Heaven it's the ONLY way.
When I heard this I didn't feel offended, hurt, or even mad. I felt a deep sense of sadness not for myself but for the message that Jesus brought and displayed with his life. Now I know this is a church that exists to spread a certain message about Jesus but it got me thinking. Of course it depends how you interpret the Life of Jesus although some may say there is only one interpretation. Was he not inclusive when he wined and dined with sinners, thieves, and whores? Was he not inclusive when he said "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these." [Matthew 19:14 NIV] Now some may say there is a difference between being inclusive to all people but not to all walks of life. Who can say that your personal lifestyle and religious views (or lack thereof) are not directly tied to your psyche? I'm not saying that we can't attack other religious viewpoints because it might destroy someone's sense of reality (or feelings), I'm just saying what's the point in battling over religious viewpoints we can't prove? People are going to naturally defend their view since it's part of their psyche. If we each firmly believe that we're getting on the right train why should we dissuade others from boarding another?
"Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them.."
If the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to the little children can we not also learn to return to that age of innocence and love? If children are born without a sense of prejudice and instinctively know how to love and accept others for who they are how did we, as grownups, stray?
Thursday, December 18, 2008
[Note: I am not a professional religious scholar but these are just my views on some of the symbolism I've noticed in the game series. I've focused on the plots in A Link to the Past, Ocarina of Time, Majora's Mask, Wind Waker, and Twilight Princess. I apologize if I've left anything out. Enjoy!]
Part 1- The Golden Goddesses
The Legend of Zelda owes part of its success to the richness of its in game mythology and legends. A pantheon of gods, magical creatures, relics, and heroes all make an integral contribution to the world of Hyrule. But every story has a beginning and this story begins with the creation of Hyrule. It is said that the three Golden Goddesses (Din, Farore, and Nayru) had come "before time began, before spirits and life existed" to create order out of the chaos that was Hyrule.
Din, the Goddess of Power, cultivated and shaped the earth with arms of fire. She molded and laid the foundation of the world. The elements of Earth and Fire are under her domain. Those that hold power and strength as their virtue pray to Din. She is worshiped as the Sand Goddess by the Gerudos, the desert dwelling, amazonian tribe that bears a single male every 100 years. As the goddess of Earth, Din may also be worshiped by the Gorons, a mountain-dwelling, rock-consuming tribe that uphold virtues of brotherhood, power, and physical strength.
Nayru, the Goddess of Wisdom, established the Laws of Nature, Science, and Wizardry with her divine Wisdom. She is associated with the element of Water and is worshiped as the Goddess of the Seas. The Zoras, a piscine humanoid race, personify Naryu's essence the best of all the races and may even worship Nayru at their underwater temples. Since she is the creator of the laws of time and space she is also called the Goddess of Time in Majora's Mask.
Farore, the Goddess of Courage, created all the lifeforms of Hyrule to uphold Nayru's Laws. She is associated with the element of Wind and is worshiped as the Goddess of Wind as mentioned in The Wind Waker. The Kokiri, a tribe of ageless young children ( similar to Peter Pan's Lost Boys) and the Deku, a plant-like race, are both associated and probably consider Farore as their patron goddess at the Forest and Wind Temples.
Even though the different tribes and races of Hyrule appear to be monolatrists the goddesses are still respected, recognized, and loved by the symbol they left behind when they created their world, the Triforce. I would like to note that elements of Shinto, Christianity, Islam, Manichaeism, and a wide variety of other religions can be found throughout the series. I do not believe the creators intended in inserting anything religious into the games, but they had created a mythology that bears resemblance to the mythologies in the real world thus touching upon certain spiritual truths. There are dozens of actual religious symbols that have appeared in the game series that I will touch on later. Even though the average gamer does not notice the subtle symbolism found within the game the basic themes of Good vs. Evil, Love, and Justice jump out of the screen.
The Creation of Hyrule
The Triforce binds the inhabitants of Hyrule as a symbol of love, compassion, and justice. The symbol is used as part of the royal family crest and is seen throughout Hyrule on monuments, temples, and tombs. One could even argue that the three goddesses are co-equal in a godhead similar to Christianity's theology of the Trinity. They are three distinct yet complementary beings that when together represent the highest level of perfection. The Triforce merely echoes this concept only when it remains in one piece.
If that perfection is ever broken then the prophecies state that someone worthy of restoring it to its original splendor will appear. Only someone who is pure of heart and embodies the attributes of the Goddesses can restore that perfection and bring peace and prosperity back to Hyrule.
But what exactly is the Triforce? Where can one find this holy relic? What is its purpose? In the next part of my series on the religious and spiritual elements of The Legend of Zelda I will be focusing on the mysterious and much sought after relic of the gods, the Triforce.
Part 1-The Golden Goddesses
Part 2-The Triforce
Part 3-The Warrior Prophet
Part 4-He Who Split Time
Part 5-The Temples of Hyrule
Part 6-A Link to the Future
Or Click here to read them all back to back
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
[My Orginal post]
Last week the Saudi government launched a huge counter terrorism operation against an al-Qaida plan to launch a bloody assault on Muslim pilgrims taking part in the annual pilgrimage, the Hajj. I remember reading a similar story last year.This year the Saudi officials beefed up security
that included 20,000 ground forces, flights of combat helicopters and a large number of armored vehicles deployed at key locations, U.S. officials said. In and around Mecca, one of the two most holy sites in Islam, technical and other surveillance was increased and the site was monitored by 10,000 security cameras and Saudi agents mixed in with the pilgrims.[You can read the story here]
The article goes on to explain how the Saudi government relentlessly pursued al-Qaida operatives after suicide bombers targeted ordinary Saudis along with members of the House of Saud on May 12 and Nov. 8, 2003, which killed 93 people. Which begs the question, why is al-Qaida attacking their own people?
As an American who watches American news my impression of terrorism boils down to "they (the terrorist) hate the smell of freedom and democracy and will stop at nothing to bring down the West." Of course I don't feel this way at all but I'm assuming most Americans do feel this way. "They attacked us because they hate us and what we represent." Really? If that is the consensus then we must figure out who we're fighting. While watching the news the terms terrorist and Muslim almost seem interchangeable. And I honestly don't remember the last time they aired a criminal's religious affiliation on the news when arrested unless they were Muslim.
Who's the enemy?
Is it a country like Iraq or Iran? Well yes and no. We "successfully" took out Saddam Hussein and we would like someone else in charge of Iran that will cooperate with our agenda but the citizens of those countries are innocent.
Is it an ideology? Ideas are hard to squash, if they're even squashable in the first place. But then again if we're trying to spread Democracy then that contradicts the whole notion of ideology squashing. Unless you spread Democracy over any other ideologies like butter on toast. Spread not squashed.
Is it a religion? Our tongues may be saying no but I wholeheartedly believe that a few American guts are saying yes. Their is a lot of fear and hate towards Muslims because they have been labeled the enemy. Although if they were the enemy then we would have a real security issue since Islam is one of (if not the) fastest growing religions in America. Of course the terrorist watch list did receive it's 1 millionth customer last summer.
[Caution: That link takes you to ACLU.org so you might want to avoid it unless you want the Government to put you on the watch list too. Only terrorists are interested as to how many of them are on the list. Our government would never place any innocent people on their watch list.]
Is it a group or a person? At least this was our original motive. Get Bin Laden, get al-Qaida. Our President-elect has vowed to refocus our attention back to Bin Laden and the Legion of Doom. But of course if we do take Bin Laden and any top al-Qaida leaders down their movement could still remain intact. Martyrdom sure goes a long way to promoting a cause too bad there aren't any celebrities willing to die for the environment.
Yet even after establishing who the real enemy is the question still remains as to why they are attacking their own people?
I admit I have yet to read a detailed history of Islamic fundamentalists. From what little I know (and correct me if I'm wrong) they blame most of the world's current problems on secular (specifically Western) influences and believe that the path to peace and justice lies in the original message of Islam. So essentially they wish to turn back the clock to, what they believe to be, a golden era before any religious innovations or anti-Islamic ideologies. But before they can spread this message to the world they must first address their own house. They must convince their fellow Muslims, by any means necessary, to return to the original message and anyone that stands in their way is considered an enemy of God.
I personally believe this is hurting their cause more than anything, especially planning to attack pilgrims making their once in a lifetime pilgrimage to praise, worship, and ask God for forgiveness. That's like a splinter catholic group attacking the Vatican or the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
Even though some non-Muslims may consider the Hajj as a series of barbaric and pagan rituals meant to buy oneself into Paradise there is something peaceful, humbling, and awe inspiring about the pilgrimage that touches my non-Muslim heart. All the participants are united as one while dressed in simple white robes, circling the Kaaba with thousands of fellow worshipers disregarding race, gender, social status, and any other labels that divides us as humans together praising God with one voice saying "here I am oh Lord".
Monday, December 15, 2008
[Excerpt taken from CNN]
Bush ducked, and the shoes, flung one at a time, sailed past his head during the news conference with Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki in his palace in the heavily fortified Green Zone. The shoe-thrower -- identified as Muntadhar al-Zaidi, an Iraqi journalist with Egypt-based al-Baghdadia television network -- could be heard yelling in Arabic: "This is a farewell ... you dog!" While pinned on the ground by security personnel, he screamed: "You killed the Iraqis!"
Wherever you stand on the Iraq war this action says a lot on how the Iraqi people feel about the current occupation, and to them it is an occupation. Bush was in Baghdad celebrating the conclusion of the security pact that will extend their presence in the country till December 31, 2011. Some Iraqis may see this as a sign that the end is near while others see it as a Western country overextending their unwelcomed stay. There is a silver-lining to this story: "All this basically says is we made good progress, and we will continue to work together to achieve peace," Mr. Bush commented after the "attack". I personally don't think this man would have lived to see the sunrise the next day under Saddam's reign.
Progress? But at what cost.
The one thing that I've seen the media and politicians repeatedly fail to recognize (and/or admit) is that the Arab World views the Iraq war as an invasion, occupation, and an attack on their culture, religion, and way of life. They don't want us there. Period. I'm not suggesting an immediate withdraw of all troops because that would create a power vacuum with the still feeble (in my opinion) Iraqi government. If a foreign nation invaded our country and kicked in my door, arrested my family, and refused to leave I'd be front and center throwing my shoes at their leader no matter how good their original intentions.
What does one starving squirrel say to another starving squirrel? Ah Nuts!
Okay, so the joke is terrible but the story is creepy. Scientists are baffled by the acorn shortage on the East coast, and in some pockets there are no acorns to be found. Should we be concerned and start a food drive for the starving squirrels?
[Excerpt taken from CNN]
Not necessarily, naturalists say. Last year Garris reported a bumper crop of acorns, which scientists say may be one clue to this year's scarcity. Virginia extension agent Adam Downing said acorn production runs in cycles, so a lean year is normal after a year with a big crop. "It fits with the physiology of seed reproduction. The trees are exhausted, energy wise, from last year," Downing said. But even he is surprised at the complete absence of nuts in parts of Virginia.
This sounds eerily similar to the quote attributed to Einstein, "if the bees disappeared off the face of the globe then man would only have four years of life left." Of course I don't think squirrels are as important as the bees since they don't pollinate our flowers, but what does it tells us if it continues? Are we really affecting our environment to the point where squirrels might appear on the endangered species list? Now I don't think the squirrels will be on that list any time soon but I do believe that we are indeed negatively affecting our environment. So please keep the squirrel population in your prayers.
A fire broke out at Sarah Palin's church in Wasilla on Friday night. There was a ladies craft group in the building when the fire broke but they all got out safely.
You can read the story here.
"We have no idea what caused it," the Rev. Larry Kroon of the Wasilla Bible Church said Saturday, adding that investigators were considering arson and other possible causes.
It's always a shame for any fire to burn down a building but it feels worse when it happens to a place of worship. And the fact that arson is being considered makes my stomach turn. I can't imagine why anyone would intentionally set a building on fire especially to church. I think Sarah Palin's association with the church makes it more likely that it was arson.
But what if it wasn't arson but a sign from God? Is God capable of allowing (or causing) a church to burn down? God has been known for more atrocious acts in the Bible and has been called upon by his worshipers to destroy entire nations in modern times. I don't think God will be on the list of suspects, but then who would suspect God?
Now to try and tie these stories together why is it when something happens in our favor that we say "God has showered blessing upon us, praise Him!" but we say "God is punishing us for our lack of faith, forgive us Lord," when something happens in our enemy's favor?
There are thousands of accounts throughout history where God is held responsible for an event be it victory in war, prosperity, and even elections. The danger of this is when people apply this to everything that happens in their daily lives. Some events are the result of the choices we make and not by a deity that may or may not exist. If you eat junk food for your entire life and you develop serious health problems God is not punishing you for your lack of faith. You are punishing yourself for not eating right in the first place.
None of these stories suggested that they were caused by God but I am just pointing out how some may do just that on a daily basis. One can have faith in the Divine and look at life rationally while also taking personal responsiblity for our world. So let's strive to take care of our world and one another so that we may have some peace in this life and the next.
Sunday, December 14, 2008
I had mixed feelings when I considered posting a blog on the existence of Santa mostly because so many people (including adults) want him to be real even though he defies the laws of physics. So what's all the fuss? Why do some people get upset over the existence of a man that brings hope and joy to people around the world? I'm guessing for the same reasons that people get defensive over religious figures. I'm not suggesting that Jesus didn't exist except that you can only accept the story, as it's told in the gospel, based on faith and not with a scientific, rational eye. Faith is needed to believe in the acts and lives of both figures with the exception that Jesus' existence (excluding miracles) is very plausible and probable. There's nothing impossible about a 1st century Palestinian Jew named Yeshua. Whether he is the Son of God or not is a different matter altogether. Still, there is a very good chance that BOTH figures are completely based on myth and legend since we can only base their existence on stories instead of tangible evidence. So how do we teach our children about Santa and Jesus?
Should teachers be restrained from telling children that Santa doesn't exist? Mentioning God in school is controversial enough but what do we do with jolly old St. Nick? I remember reading "the Physics of Santa and his Reindeer" article that crunches the numbers virtually disproving his existence. If I were a math whiz I'd go through the numbers myself but thankfully some have already stepped up and written rebuttals.
[Warning: Anyone that does not want their belief of Santa crushed into powder should not watch the following video.]
Can someone still believe in Santa after putting him under a microscope? Definitely! I remember telling my wife before the birth of our son that I completely refuse to fill his head with lies about a jolly man in a red suit breaking into homes, eating their food, and leaving mysterious packages under a Christmas tree. And then after our daughter was born I started to rethink my position on Santa. I now see absolutely no harm in teaching our children about Santa. One day they'll realize he doesn't exist but I don't think they'll be psychologically distressed about it. Santa and Jesus both stand as symbols of hope, love, and charity in this dark and dreadful world. They are both the light that guides us to love our neighbors and to think of the needs of those less fortunate. So even though I personally do not believe that Santa exists or that Jesus Christ is the Son of God I will still pass on their stories to my children and to my grandchildren.
Saturday, December 13, 2008
I really don't remember how I stumbled upon this video but I thought I'd share it with anyone who's reading. Rabbi Rami wrote a great blog on the 60th Anniversary of the document. If you're interested in reading the entire document you can find it here.
Peace and blessings.
Thursday, December 11, 2008
[Now if for some reason this video is removed due to copyright infringement then just Google "The correct answer was Mormons"]
Now if you are unfamiliar with South Park's vulgar and unmerciful jokes at every religious establishment then you might not have caught the point they made. They weren't saying that the Mormons have it right and their religious dogma will buy you a ticket to Heaven, they were saying that all of the religions have beliefs and stories that are so far-fetched that every one of them has a very strong chance of being wrong. They only chose Mormons as being "right" because their beliefs are so beyond what everyday Americans can see as normal, acceptable theology that they can't possibly be right. Ironic? Very much so.
So let's dissect this a little more. Why would God make it so difficult for anyone to choose the right religious system that will get them to Heaven? Imagine a train station filled with dozens of trains all bearing the final destination, Heaven. The word Faith is printed on your train ticket and dozens of Station attendants are making the last call before the trains depart. Which one do you choose? They all have Heaven marked as the destination but how do you distinguish which one will really get you there?
Do you check to see what kind of uniform the train conductor and his crew of a particular train are wearing?
Do you take notice of their personality and their costumer service?
Do you even study the appearance of the train itself? Is it rusted or well maintained?
Or do you ask others their opinion on how well the ride has been so far?
No matter what religious text you read not a single one has 100% error proof evidence that their way guarantees that it will get you to Heaven. Anyone can believe that God will reward them with Paradise but no one has absolute knowledge. And I'm not here to take that belief away or cause doubt. So until someone actually gets to Heaven and comes back I can not say that one religion connects with or is more in tune with God than another. Do we need proof to get on that train? ABSOLUTELY NOT. That is the whole point of Faith to believe in something so far-fetched and without solid scientific evidence that you have to take that leap of faith. Believing without seeing.
What about Atheist? Do I think that there will be Atheist in Heaven? Well if Heaven does exist they'll be as surprised and awed as everyone else. I do not know God's mind therefore I can not say who will or won't get in.
I also believe without seeing. I may not believe the way you do but my ticket also has Faith printed on it. Does faith alone guarantee you anything? No, not faith alone. Because if you shove and push your way up to the front of the line to get on the train the conductor might not accept you. It's only when you take faith and love and weave it into your daily life, character, and soul will you have a better understanding of God. This is what I "believe" Heaven to be, not a bright place filled with clouds, harps, and martyrs but a love for your fellow Man and an understanding of and a relationship with the Creator.
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
Now when I made these I tried to be as accurate as possible but I'm still capable of making mistakes. I took scripture from the three Abrahamic Faiths: Judaism, Islam, and Christianity. Along the border I took (what I thought) is their main declaration of faith.
- The Jewish Shema Yisrael, "Hear, O Israel: the Lord is our God, the Lord is One."
- The Christian Gloria Patri, "Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit,As it was in the beginning, both now and always, and to the ages of ages. Amen."
- The Muslim Shahada, “There is no god but God, Muhammad is the Messenger of God."
Many sons had Father Abraham
I am one of them and so are you
So let's all praise the Lord.
I tried to pick out scripture that related to peace, brotherhood, and love. You are welcome to download, keep, and print these off for yourself or to give to others. What I did was fold it in half and laminate it using packing tape. Mine were in great condition until my 1 year old started teething on them.
Peace and blessing be upon you all.
Tuesday, December 9, 2008
- Religious Themes found in C.S. Lewis' The Chronicles of Narnia
- The role of Religion in The Legend of Zelda video game series
- My thoughts on Hinduism
- A very personal blog on how and why I left Christianity for Monotheism
- My thoughts on Enlightenment
- The Muslim view on the Second coming of Jesus (Isa)
Monday, December 8, 2008
So you got it. Listen to it one more time.
What did you hear? Did you hear any recognizable words? Now if all you heard was a baby cooing then don't worry your hearing is just fine.
The audio clip you just heard is coming from Fisher-Price's "Little Mommy Real Loving Baby Cuddle & Coo Doll" that coos, babbles, and giggles like a real baby. A regular doll you would give to any child until our wonderful little ears start picking up on certain words. In October some parents of children who owned the doll reported they heard odd statements coming from the doll. The doll is charged with saying "Islam is the Light" and "Satan is King".
Now I personally could not pick out "Satan is king" but I did hear "Islam is the Light" AFTER reading the various articles (that's why I had you listen to it first) that mentioned the phrase. So does it really say that or did I fall under the power of suggestion?
[Excerpt taken from About.com: Urban Legends by David Emery]
Another question that needs asking is why on earth a major toy company would insert any kind of religious message into a mass-market talking doll, let alone a message as controversial (in parts of the United States, at any rate) as an affirmation of Islam. It simply isn't plausible. And according to Mattel spokesperson Sara Rosales, it simply isn't true. The Baby Cuddle & Coo Doll only has one scripted word, "Mama," Rosales told Newsday earlier today. The rest of the recording is gibberish, including the final syllable which, as heard over the doll's cheap speaker, "may resemble something close to the word 'night,' 'right' or 'light,'" Rosales said (read full statement).
Our ears hear what they expect to see hear. If we were looking up at clouds and I point out that a certain cloud resembles a dog you would probably see it right away. But would you have seen it without my suggestion? Since 9/11 the U.S. has feared that another attack is imminent. In fact a a bipartisan commission reported that a biological attack is likely by 2013. But until then there is also the fear that our enemy will slowly and secretly take over over culture. Dolls that say "Islam is the light" is used to justify that fear. Just Google "Muslim take over America" and you get plenty of results that relate to Muslims taking over America, Europe, and the World. If you have a basic understanding of Islam then you would know that this is not the case nor their objective. Their objective, similar to Christianity, is to spread the word of Allah (Arabic for "God") and even then they're not as (that I'm aware of) aggressively pursing new members as their Christian counterpart.
What would happen if the doll sounded like it said "Jesus is the light" instead of "Islam is the light"? Would it still be considered spreading a message of hate (as this story suggests) if it had a message related to Christianity? It would be praised in churches and bought in record numbers and some would even say "this is exactly the kind of toy children need not only for Christmas but year round". Until the Atheist complain that is.
I don't believe any company would risk offending any religious group by secretly or publicly releasing a product with a suggestive message. So what's the moral of this story: calm down it's just a doll.
Sunday, December 7, 2008
(CNN did a whole week of alien stories for some reason.)
At first I thought Michael Jackson was on another one of his wacky adventures and I still have trouble believing it mainly because the story is hard to find so it may be a rumor.
Regardless of whether he is a Muslim or not, if he were what would that mean? You hear various stories about celebrities and their spiritual practices but how does that relate to you and me? Do they become spokesmen and representatives of their faiths? Should they partake in inter-faith dialogue? Can you imagine an inter-faith conference with Tom Cruise (Scientology), George Lucas (Buddhist Methodist?), Madonna (Kabbalah), and Mikaeel Jackson (Islam)?
Celebrities are people too and have every right to believe (or not believe) in whatever faith they choose.
But a final word to all celebrities, to quote a well known superhero, "with great power comes great responsibilities." -Spiderman (Protestant).
"That wasn't right, that's a lie."
"But it works so we don't care."
The end justifies the means. Can we really use any means necessary to pass laws in this country? Even as long as it helps to bring about a morally upright and better society?
[Excerpt taken from Wikipedia]
The proponents argued for exclusively heterosexual marriage and claimed that failure to reverse a Supreme Court ruling from May 2008 that recognized a right of same-sex couples to marry would damage society, require changes to a school curriculum to discuss same-sex marriage, and threaten the free exercise of religion. The opponents argued that eliminating the rights of any Californian and mandating that one group of people be treated differently from everyone else was unfair and wrong.
Now I can look up and quote all the Bible verses, or verses in the Qu'ran that relates to Homosexuality and look up all the medical evidence in the world but we can be here all day. And it would be an intriguing subject to spend hours researching whether or not Homosexuality is "sinful".
To be honest there are dozens of other issues that are more likely to damage society than whatever relationship a same gender couple has. I know this is a very very touchy subject and we may not see eye to eye but the fact of the matter is this issue does not relate to me and my family. It does not directly affect me if the government recognizes a gay couple or not. It's not the end of the world. There are gay couples right now that have lived their entire lives together in love that have not been married. They don't affect my daily life either.
Now someone might say, "Well your children might grow up to be gay if they legalize gay marriage". Fine. If my children turn out gay (and i'm using the word gay from now on because it's much shorter than homosexual) then I will still love them with every ounce of my being.
Why do people marry?
[Excerpt taken from Wikipedia]
People marry for many reasons, but usually one or more of the following: legal, social, and economic stability; the formation of a family unit; procreation and the education and nurturing of children; legitimizing sexual relations; public declaration of love; or to obtain citizenship.So if a gay couple chooses to get married (if that choice is available) it's because they want to enter into a contract, a commitment. Others may disagree and I welcome that but I can not look someone in the eye and say "You can not be allowed to enjoy a lifelong relationship as I do with my lovely and caring wife". I can not deny someone all the joys one experiences in a married life. Now if California chooses to keep or disgard its same sex marriage laws then fine, it doesn't affect me. Even if (which I don't see this happening in my lifetime) they choose to pass same sex marriage laws in Tennessee then fine, it doesn't affect me. Why doesn't it affect me? I'm not gay.
Is it a lifestyle choice? I honestly don't know and even if it is there are hundreds of other "lifestyle choices" that are sinful to the eyes of the Lord. Liars, adulterers, gossipers, the list goes on and on. So should I be worried about the "sins" of others or should I be more loving towards my fellow man and worry about my own sins?
To quote Jack Black/Jesus "Please choose love instead of hate..."
Friday, December 5, 2008
[Warning: The following text contains plot spoilers.]
A viewer could have an atheistic view on the film describing it as an endless cycle of energy and matter tracing back to the Big Bang. Another could view it as reincarnation, cycling through different Incarnations until one achieves Moksha. Even Christians could view Tommy and Izzi as representing Adam and Eve trying to find their way back to Eden and that only through the sacrifice of Jesus (First Father) can we obtain eternal life. At first I also tried to give the film an interpretation but every time I watched it I found myself revising my view to the point that I don't even try at all. This film can have dozens of different interpretations but they all share a common fact: bodily death is a part of life.
Rami: If you have given up trying to make sense out (of) the film, as opposed to coming up with multiple meanings and learning to live with ambiguity of multiple "truths" has the movie failed? Is there a difference between forcing one meaning and killing all meaning?
I think I want to keep trying to make sense out of the film even though it hurts my head when I try, but at least for me the movie hasn't failed. When I was doing research on the film I spent a few days reading movie reviews and I got that people either hate it or love it. It's not that the people that hate the film don't understand it (it's confusing enough in the first place) but I guess they wanted a more concrete ending. You know, with a Michael Bay explosion or a couple kissing while the camera spins around them to the sound of a romantic orchestral piece. A good American film not some bald guy hugging on a tree floating in a bubble in space.
I believe that forcing one meaning kills all meaning. If you say " The meaning of this movie is___ ___ ___" then it destroys the beauty of the film. The director, Darren Aronofsky, meant for this to be an open-ended film so that not only can the audience take something personal away from the film but also that it doesn't taint or give any clear answers to Life and Death. Now in regards to "forcing one meaning kills all meaning" in a religious context I believe it stunts Humanity's ability to grow. If you say the meaning of life is found here or the answer is found there it hinders our creativity, imagination, and exploration. Some religions might not have changed their core beliefs but they had to reinterpret it over the centuries to keep up with society. If it chooses not to then it'll go the way of the Dodo bird or the 8 track player (and soon the VCR! Gasp!).
The very last scene in the film shows Tommy burying a seed, possibly from the Tree of Life, over his wife's grave. He says his final goodbye and takes one last look up at Xibalba. It is unclear as to if he then decides to journey to Xibalba or if the whole space travel experience is just the last part of Izzi's unfinished book she asked Tommy to finish. Either way it does not matter because that's not the focus of the film. The focus and beauty of this film lies in the fact that it doesn't try to pose answers to life's questions but presents the questions and teaches us that it is possible to live with them.
Rami: Ok. This is good. Does living with the questions means never positing answers or does it mean never ceasing to posit answers? Does it mean there are no answers or that all answers are temporary? Is there truth in this film?
I believe living with the questions means living with the question mark. The question mark will always be there but the questions will change form. All the answers AND questions are temporary until we find answers to some of our questions, that will in turn provide us with new questions. The world wasn't always round (at least our perception of it) but when it became round new questions about our surroundings arose. And in asking questions Humanity as a whole grows and evolves, this I believe is one of (if not) the Truth(s), that the film is trying to portray. (Maybe. Philosophy tends to give me headaches.)
That no matter what background you may come from that the answers that religion supplies are just Man's best attempt to calm ourselves of our fears of the unknown. By overcoming their fears of and accepting Death as a natural process both Izzi in the 21st century, and Tom in the 26th century embraces "Death as the road to Awe" and earn true immortality by becoming a part of the Universe.
Rami: Is this the answer: Death as the Road to Awe? What might a religion look like that took this idea as its core idea?
For Tom and Izzi, yes this is the answer (of course that's what I think). They both struggled and fought with death but their battles only became easier when they accepted the inevitable. Izzi accepted this much sooner (500 years sooner) than Tom but they both came to the same conclusion. I can't begin to imagine (or know) a religion that is so focused on death as one of their core beliefs. I don't think anyone today would willingly die for the greater good of the community (or humanity). I'm not talking about matyrdom or even dying in the service of your country but I mean knife to your throat "our blood shall feed the Earth" sacrifice like in the film. I don't know much about Mayan's or their religion (except that most people think the end of their calendar is the date for the end of the world) but I do know that the director studied their culture heavily before making this film. He incorporated a lot of Mayan mythology into the film and this might be one of their core beliefs. I don't know yet but I intend to find out.
[Warning: The following text contains plot spoilers.]
There are Christian, Mayan, Hindu, and Buddhist religious themes and symbols present in the film. The fact that there is no one overwhelming religious presence in the movie and that it deals with mortality, a topic that most if not all religions deal with, leaves it open to interpretation by the viewer from any religious background.
Rami: Is this the Post-Modern aspect of the film? No one religion has it right? Why are you drawn to a text (in this case a film) that invites you to decide for yourself what is real? Why are others drawn to texts and traditions that do not invite personal speculation but rather demand acceptance of the "One Way"?
Yes, this is the Post-Modern aspect of the film although you can also say the entire film is a Post-Modern view on life and death. In fact, I was going to break it down even further in the presentation I did for class pointing out how Tom represented a different view for each era: The 16th century Tom saw the world (and Death) in a Traditional, Pre-Modern view, the 21st century Tom saw it in the Modern, Scientific view, and the 26th century Tom saw his world in the Post-Modern view.
The 16th century Tom saw and explained his world in a Traditional worldview. Although at first he doubted the "pagan yarns" of the Tree of Life, he truly did believe after the Queen explained that the Tree of Life exists because it is mentioned in Genesis. On faith, he fought the pagans knowing that " through her command we shall live forever." His entire journey is based on following a myth but he believes this myth to be factual. There was a Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden and God hid it from the world. Even at the end of his journey when he drinks from the Tree of Life he believes that he has become immortal when he has a vision of Xibalba and then dies.
The 21st century Tom saw and explained his world in a Modern, Scientific view. As I recall he does not pray, believe in miracles, and struggles with his wife's acceptance of her looming death. All he knows is science. With science he can cure his wife, and when he failed he vows to defeat the disease called Death with science.
The 26th century Tom saw and viewed his world in a Post-Modern view. This one was a bit harder for me to explain (that's why I left it out) but I'll try. In this era, Tom travels not in search for answers but for relief from Life and its questions. He knows that the Traditional and Scientific views can not explain or comfort him in anyway. He is completely surrounded by questions on his quest. He knows that he's going to die someday, but he's afraid of dying. He journeys for hundreds of years living with and tormented by these questions. In the end he learns that if he just accepts death for what it is he will overcome his fears of it and realize that the questions (and answers) of life are irrelevant.
Why I'm drawn to this film that invites you to decide for yourself what is real is because I have recently realized that I have a choice in deciding what's real or not. I grew up thinking that there was only one reality and therefore no choice. The denomination I was raised in was the complete truth. Period. But that's a whole different topic I am reserving for a future blog. Others, I've realized, do not invite personal speculation of their texts and traditions because since their reality is firmly based on those texts and traditions any questioning (or doubts) will destroy that foundation. And without a firm foundation to ground their view of reality they find themselves lost in space.
Thursday, December 4, 2008
Our professor, Rabbi Rami (you can read his blog here), returned my paper with comments ("questions really") and I thought I would post it all in its entirety and respond with a few comments of my own. Rami's comments will be in black and my responses/comments will be in reddish brown since the red I was using were hurting my eyes.
[Warning: The following text contains plot spoilers.]
The Fountain: A Search for Immortality
There are dozens of products out there in the market that promises a longer life span or a younger look: creams, makeup, vitamins, and herbal products. When used, all of these may promise that you might feel and look younger but outside of daily exercise and a healthy diet none of these can really extend your lifespan. And even if you could delay death, it can't be defeated; at least, not yet.
Rami: What if it could? What would that do to society, morality, family systems, etc?
I cannot begin to imagine the impact this would have on the world. This would shake the foundation of some major world religions and even some new ones might be created. Let's assume that death still occurs with severe mortal wounds. Of course any eternal life product or medical breakthrough would only be available to the rich nations first. After the jubilation is shaken off the world then would turn to overpopulation. With no death people would continue living and consuming resources at astronomical rates. Birth control laws (including abortion laws) would have to be imposed to control overpopulation (sounds eerily like China maybe?) to buy us enough time to start colonizing other worlds. If humanity does not develop it's technology to keep up with the overpopulation, and if it does not destroy itself by means of a global nuclear war over evaporating resources it must still struggle to keep its soul. For by removing death from the human experience we lose a part of our humanity causing us to evolve into something beyond human. If we make it that far.
Models and actors in magazines and films show us that with a little help from plastic surgery we can look 35 at the age of 65. These modern day gods hope to live forever on the lips and memories of mortal man by earning a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame or being immortalized on the Silver Screen. But even these stars eventually burn out and are replaced with new ones. There is an unspoken fear in American Pop Culture that nurtures this drive to delay death as long as possible. Religion tries to calm that fear and explain what happens when we die. Although some religions require strict adherence in leading a morally upright life, the results of giving up the pleasures of this world, including life itself, helps to get you into a paradise-like afterlife. The Fountain struggles with this concept of accepting death and the fear of what may or may not happen afterwards.
Rami: Where does this fear come from? We say we are afraid of the unknown, but that is impossible. If we do not know something we cannot be afraid of it. What we fear are possible futures, but these have no bases in fact. We fear our own fantasies. Why? Who benefits from our fears? Follow the Money. Follow the Power.
I just started reading Alan Watts' book The Wisdom of Insecurity and it focuses heavily on the subject of how Man is preoccupied with the uncertain future. Man's desire for security is so overwhelming that he wastes his life in the present while his eyes and heart are fixed in the future. So yes, I agree that not only is Man afraid of possible futures but also afraid of anything (including death) that might threaten the security of the future he dreams about. When you envision yourself in a future event do you also envision a slightly older version of yourself or you in your present age (even though we're aging by the second)? Death returns us back to the state we were in before birth,nonexistence. And since we can only dream of a possible future in a life beyond the grave we can not confirm it.
As for who benefits from our fears I too agree. Churches can ease our fear as long as we attend every week and give a voluntary donation, guns can keep us safe as long as we continue to buy bullets, and you can forget your fears when you bite into a Little Debbie ("Unwrap a Smile"). Commercialism feeds off of that fear, "You live in a miserable, unsafe, fearful world so buy our product and it'll make you feel warm and fuzzy inside until you forget your fears".
In The Fountain Tommy Creo battles with death in all three time periods: the 16th century as a conquistador, the 21st century as a research oncologist, and in the 26th century as a space traveling monk. In each period Tommy defeats death and reaches immortality in ways beyond how we may define immortality.
In the 16th century Tomas, as the Conquistador, is sent by Queen Isabel to find the Tree of Life to liberate the world from tyranny. Although doubtful at first, Tomas fully believes that the Tree of Life would make him and Queen Isabel immortal. The Mayan priest tells Tomas during their confrontation that, "First Father sacrificed himself for the Tree of Life" and when the priest recognizes that Tomas is an incarnation of First Father he offers himself as a sacrifice stating that "we shall be immortal. Our blood shall feed the Earth." By drinking from the tree Tomas gains immortality not by living forever but by dying and releasing his essence to create new life. This is far from the Western description of immortality which is more about personal self gratification and greed than willingly giving up your life so others can live. But also, at the same time, Humanity does hold on to the principles of caring for those of the next generation. Just about everything in society is done to help preserve and keep Mankind from extinction, so that our actions and work live on through the next generation after we pass on.
In the 26th century Tom, the space traveling monk, is headed towards a distant dying nebula traveling with an aging tree in an ecospheric spaceship. He is taking a Tree of Life, which is carrying Izzi's essence (or soul), to Xibalba, the dying nebula representing the Mayan underworld, so that he and Izzi will be reborn. I believe although Tom, who eats from the tree to keep him alive throughout his 500 year journey, has achieved immortality he wants to die. He is tired of living and wants to be reborn with his wife when the nebula explodes so that their essence becomes one with the Universe. By doing this they will truly live forever but he fears it. Tom represents Man's fear and awe of death knowing that if he does not conquer death it will claim him. He can delay death for 500 years but in the end there is only one avenue of salvation for Tom and that is to calm his fear, finish his mission and accept death, both that of his wife's and his own.
Rami: Very clear synopsis, by the way. It is a complicated film but you map it out clearly. Thanks.
It is a complicated but a very beautiful film. I recommend it to anyone that hasn't seen it yet.
Wednesday, December 3, 2008
Now the video links to a website called Beyond Relevance. It is a blog that helps churches to better market themselves. It is written by Richard L. Reising, author of the book ChurchMarketing 101®: Preparing Your Church for Greater Growth. On Reising's blog he states the goal of his blog is to not only help churches develop and grow but to do it in a way so that it doesn't water down the message.
[Excerpt taken from Beyond Relevance]
The truth is, there are many deeper issues behind church growth and the way we do things that factor into the church's success in reaching people. To be effective, a church has to be so much more than just relevant.
My desire is to bring these deeper dynamics of church to light. If we do not understand the real root of the issue, we’ve missed it all together. It is my passion to reveal the roots of church life that work hand in hand with relevance to produce long-term sustainable growth.
Any movement that does not grow and adapt over time will die out. I have seen and been to churches that are on the verge of extinction (tiny churches with 20-30 members) and to those that have strayed too far from the message just to draw in members. What Mr. Reising is suggesting (I think, I haven't read the book) is that there needs to be a balance so that not only do you keep the message intact but you deliver in a manner fit for the 21st century.
What I did enjoy about this film is how it does reflect the relationship between some churches and new visitors. New visitors are like curious squirrels at the park not knowing if someone they're approaching is friend or foe. On their way in the new visitors notice how everyone publicly displays their love for coffee. They are anxious and nervous so they park themselves away from everyone else. After passing several "Manager Parking Only" signs, which I assume reflects pastor only parking at some larger churches (I'm guessing since I've only been to churches under 250 members), they had some trouble getting past the locked doors. That alone would have sent me running if I were in their shoes. Everything from greeters, members, and even the signs are just a festering pool of intimidation. Nothing about this "church" felt welcoming at all. And that's exactly the point.
If your church can't do a halfway decent job of welcoming visitors how do you plan on keeping them?
Although a part of me cringes at the fact that churches are trying new ways to market themselves as if they were a business (which I've realized they are) I do applaud them for at least trying. Now I hope most churches don't go as far as some others by opening a McDonald's or a Fitness Center in their lobby or installing an ATM making donations quick and easy.
I wonder if God can directly deposit blessing into my checking account?
Tuesday, December 2, 2008
Monday, December 1, 2008
My lovely wife is an impulsive shopper, of course not as impulsive (or aggressive) as some other shoppers this holiday season but just enough to keep things interesting. Earlier this year she decided she wanted me to plant a flower garden so we bought a bunch of flowers (not taking into consideration what kind of flowers, the location to where they'll be planted, lack of tools, etc.) and I worked that weekend to get them into the ground. And as I was digging I dug up this plastic figurine. I first thought it was a toy but then I realized it was a small statute of a catholic saint. After some quick Googling I found out he is used by some people to sell their property. Whether it works or not it is a sign of the times that people will go to great lengths in times of need.
Now we are just renting the house and I did not know what to do with this pocket-sized saint.
Should I bury him back in the ground? But if I do that someone might buy the house and we'll have to move.
Should I just toss him away? I know it's just a statute but I don't think I'm willing to toss out a saint.
Should I display him in our home like tradition says so that he may watch over and shower us with blessings? In fact that's what I did, but not for the same reasons. He's right now sitting on top of our door frame watching us watch TV. I plan on burying him exactly where I found whenever we move out of respect to the person that had the faith to put him there in the first place. I think it's kind of quaint that people would go to such efforts to sell their homes but I know I would also be on my knees praying if I was trying to sell my home in this market.