Friday, January 30, 2009

A Timeless Hero: Part 3- The Warrior-Prophet

The Legend of Zelda first debuted in Japan on February 21, 1986 and after 22 years and over a dozen games later the franchise is still alive and well along with our timeless (and time traveling) hero, Link. The Legend of Zelda has captured the imagination of generations of gamers with its captivating storyline, mind twisting dungeons, and hours of battling the forces of evil as Link transforms from a humble boy into a timeless hero chosen by the gods. But why did they choose Link? What does the future hold for this warrior-prophet? And what does Link represent not only to the people of Hyrule but to us? In this series I will analyze the religious and spiritual elements of The Legend of Zelda.

[Link and enemy from Legend of Zelda:Twilight Princess by StarShock12, 2006. More incredible fanart by StarShock12 can be found here and here.]

[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 3- The Warrior-Prophet

There have been several incarnations of our hero, Link, throughout the series and with each story one constant theme always remains; whenever darkness creeps into the land a hero is summoned. In each time period a new incarnation of Link's spirit arises to defeat the evil of his era. He is depicted as a Hylian boy with an age varying from pre-teen to late teens. The gods blessed the Hylians with magic-infused blood that endows them with physic powers, skills in wizardry, and it is also said that their long pointed ears allows them to hear messages from the gods. Thus Hylians, as protectors of Hyrule and messengers of the gods, are the acting priesthood for all the Hyrulians. Other races worship and at times receive messages from the gods, but only through the Hylian bloodline do warrior-prophets arise to challenge evil. These warrior-prophets have specific characteristics and missions they are sent to accomplish including:
  • receiving visions and communicating with the spirit realm
  • spirit guides accompanying the hero on his journey
  • cleansing the holy temples of evil
  • receiving ancient relics that will aid the hero in his quest
  • sometimes being mentioned in prophecy
  • having humble traits and origins usually raised in a small village
  • completing their quest alone aided only by the grace of the gods
As I've mentioned in the previous posts whenever evil enters into the land of Hyrule a hero arises to combat it. Only once has a hero failed to appear which caused the gods to intervene and contain the evil until one did appear years later (back story to The Wind Waker). Evil creeps over the land releasing demonic, feral creatures while overtaking holy temples and turning them into dark and twisted dungeons. Through most of the series Link is destined to not only save Princess Zelda but the land of Hyrule. Dungeon after dungeon, monster after monster, trial after trial Link grows stronger, wiser, and more courageous over time. His trials prepare him for his battle with his main antagonist, Ganon, who is looking to conquer all of Hyrule with the help of the Triforce of Power.

Although Link must accomplish his quest alone he is helped by the Divine through spirit guides, revelations, and visions that guide and direct him. They communicate their will directly to him, at times telepathically, as his body and spirit rejuvenates at their holy fountains. In some games he is accompanied by a spirit guide. In The Ocarina of Time Navi, a blue fairy, is instructed by the Great Deku Tree to assist Link in his quest to stop Ganondorf. Tatl, a yellow fairy, keeps him company in a sequel after the time stream split, Majora's Mask. The King of Red Lions, a talking red sailboat with the head of a lion, guides Link and provides transportation across the Great Sea in the Windwaker. Another important character is Link's horse, Epona, who is named after a Celtic goddess of horses and is his mode of transportation in several games. An interesting note is that the Celtic goddess, Epona, and her horses may have acted as guides and escorts of the soul to the afterlife. All of these spirits may help Link in his quest but in the end it is Link that must strike the final blow.

During his quest the gods ask Link to acquire certain ancient and spiritual relics that will empower him with divine-like powers in exchange for restoring their holy temples. In each temple Link visits an evil presence resides inside which Link must remove and defeat to cleanse the temple. One could draw similarity to the synoptic gospel accounts of Jesus and the money changers where Jesus drives out the men extorting profit from worshipers while quoting Isaiah and Jeremiah,
My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.—Isaiah 56:7

But you have made it a den of thieves—Jeremiah 7:11
Likewise, Link also drives out evil that has invaded a house of prayer and have stolen goodness, justice, and peace by poisoning the holiest sites of Hyrule.

The most important thing about our hero is his humble, yet courageous, character. It is because of the hero's character that they are chosen not because of their physical strength or sword skills. In fact our hero has very little or no combat training at all. His origins also echo his humble nature. Link, who appears to be an orphan, is shown being raised in small quaint villages. The villages are isolated from the rest of the world untouched by any sort of worldly corruption and temptation. It is here in his village where the hero is born, called, and begins his journey.

Link, our eternal hero, returns time and time again to defeat and cleanse the land of evil, returning peace and order to Hyrule. As long as evil exists Link's heroic spirit will never rest. Even as he delivers Hyrule from evil one sword swing at a time he is also cleansing the hearts and souls of Hyrule as a symbol of Courage, Strength, and Wisdom. Legends will be passed on generation after generation about the courageous actions displayed by the warrior-prophets sent by the gods. He is a reminder to the people that the gods still watch and care for them even through the darkest times. One day when all of Hyrule instill the hero's attributes into their hearts then maybe the gods won't need to send any more heroes to a land that doesn't need rescue.

How did evil first enter Hyrule? Why is the first Link called the Hero of Time? What role does his legendary weapon, the Master Sword, play in the overall series and what relation does Link have with this ancient relic? In the next part of my series on the religious and spiritual elements of The Legend of Zelda I will be focusing on the first Link, the Master Sword, and his role as the legendary Hero of Time.

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, January 28, 2009

The Universal Tapestry

We live in a highly complex world which exists in a highly complex universe. Humans naturally can only perceive a few levels of our intricate universe and with the help of scientific instruments we can deepen (or broaden) or senses and peer into levels we were previously unaware of. By peering into these new levels of reality we begin to understand the interconnectedness of all life. Buddhist have an interesting concept that relates to all reality being connected and thus dependent on one another.

The doctrine of Dependent Origination, a fundamental Buddhist teaching on causation and the ontological status of phenomena. The doctrine teaches that all phenomena arise in dependence on causes and conditions and lack intrinsic being. The important corollary of this teaching is that there is nothing that comes into being through its own power or volition, and there are therefore no entities or metaphysical realities such as God or a soul, (ātman) that transcend the causal nexus.
Our individual existence depends on everything else and vice versa. Everyone and everything is part of the universal tapestry, a God-sized web of reality, where each thread depends on the other in a chain of cause and events. To Buddhist, because all things are mutually interdependent, no single reality exists on its own outside the web. There is no need for a creator God in Buddhism because they focus on the human condition as enumerated in the Four Noble Truths: The Nature of Suffering, Suffering's Origin, Suffering's Cessation, and The Way Leading to the Cessation of Suffering (the Eight Fold Path).

If everything is mutually interdependent, regardless of the existence of a creator God, how then do we guide ourselves in this complex reality? If we choose to enrich and reduce suffering in the lives of our fellow man we will be rewarded likewise. In Genesis 12 God told Abram to leave his family, friends, and country behind so that the Lord may lead him to a new land. When Abram chose to leave his old life behind he was awakened to a new life of mutual interdependence. All those who blessed him were blessed, and in him all of the families of the world will be blessed (Gen. 12:1-3). We must take our daily actions and attitudes into consideration when we come across our brothers, our fellow threads. There are those who do not care, or understand, and attempt to unravel threads from the universal tapestry. This does not bring anyone any good and further continues the cycle of suffering. You can not end suffering with suffering, but by understanding the connections we share as brothers we can begin to bless one another.

Monday, January 26, 2009

The Prophet Isa: Part 3- What He Means to Me

This is one of the most interesting topics I've ever read in Islamic theology. Before I read or knew anything about the Islamic view of Jesus (Isa) I thought Christianity and Islam had very little in common. They still don't have much in common but I think this hope they share in Jesus' message and eventual return is vital to any remaining dialogue between the two faiths in this post 9\11 world.

[Jesus meditating near Mt. Kailash in Tibet by Bruce Harman]

Part 1
Part 2

Jesus Christ is one of the most widely known and beloved figures in history. As a spiritual teacher Jesus is many things to many people: to the
Bahá’í he is a manifestation of God; to Hindus, a shaktyavesha Avatar; to Muslims, a messenger of God; to Buddhists, a bodhisattva; to Christians he is Messiah, Son of God. In Part 1- A Sign for Humanity I went over the basic beliefs Muslims have on Jesus and what he represents, and in Part 2- A Long Awaited Hope I wrote about the hope that Christians and Muslims both share in the second coming of Jesus. In this last segment on the Prophet Isa I'd like to focus on what he means to me.

I no longer consider myself a Christian. Some Christians may cringe at the thought that anyone that has received Christ into their heart (which I truly did in my youth) would be willing to forsake Christ, but all I really left was a man-made church and its man-made teachings to follow the true spirit of Jesus. It is because his teachings touch upon that vein of love buried at the foundations of our world religions that he is accepted, loved, and followed by billions. Can non-Christians follow Jesus and his teachings without worshiping him as God incarnate? This is the exact predicament that I face when I speak with Christians. Some believe it's all or nothing, "either you love Jesus, the Son of God, or you don't. You can't separate Jesus the man from Logos the Word, and by doing so you attack everything Jesus represents and did for humanity." The doctrines of the Trinity and the divinity of Christ are hard for me to swallow only because it does
not help me to commune with the Divine. I can not imagine a God that I could not come directly to in prayer and meditation. This is not because I feel I am righteous enough to come before the Almighty but because the relationship becomes more personal without an intermediary.

So where does Jesus fit in my beliefs? He is my model to how I should interact
with my fellow man and how to worship our Creator. I do not believe the original message of Jesus was to declare worship for himself as God or to become a sacrificial lamb for our sins, but I believe he intended to rekindle the flame of love inside our hearts so that it radiates throughout our bodies and pours off of our tongues. He is my signpost, my guide, my compass, not the destination. I felt so strongly about what he means to me that I designed a symbol and had it tattooed on my right forearm. At that point in my life I saw myself as a Christian and I wanted to get a tattoo that represented my beliefs. I did not want to get a crucifix so I decided to base my tattoo on the first two letters in the Greek spelling of the word Christ, the Chi Rho. I replaced the Greek letter chi with a sword and a hammer representing that I am a soldier and worker for Christ's message and teachings. I had it placed on the inside of my right forearm for several reasons:
  • The right hand in biblical symbolism is associated with the righteous.
  • It is kept from direct view on the inside of my arm to symbolize my belief in religion being a private matter.
  • The point where the hammer and sword cross right below my wrist is the point where Christ could have been nailed to the cross.
I had it done because I never imagined myself as anything other than a Christian. It is my daily reminder of how we should fight injustice and work towards a loving and compassionate society.

Although the title of this post is on the Prophet Isa I see both the Muslim and Christian Jesus as one and the same. Both were messengers of God who taught that by unifying yourself (harmonizing the inside and outside of spirit and body) we can begin to heal the scars that divides Humanity. When a unified Humanity arises then we can truly come to understand the mysteries of the universe and its Creator.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Love Your Enemy to Death

Matthew 5:43-48 (NIV)
43"You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' 44But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

These verses has been swirling around my head for the last few days and I have come to a realization. What does this mean "love your enemy"? How can we love someone that we consider our enemy? Do we clinch our teeth, manufacture a smile, and wave hello to the "insert expletive here" coworker that got promoted to a job he/she didn't deserve? First we must define who or what is our enemy. Here are a few definitions.


  1. a person who feels hatred for, fosters harmful designs against, or engages in antagonistic activities against another; an adversary or opponent.
  2. an armed foe; an opposing military force: The army attacked the enemy at dawn.
  3. a hostile nation or state.
  4. a citizen of such a state.
  5. enemies, persons, nations, etc., that are hostile to one another: Let's make up and stop being enemies.
  6. something harmful or prejudicial: His unbridled ambition is his worst enemy.
  7. the Enemy, the Devil; Satan.
To keep things simple lets focus on just the 1st definition. Hatred is a natural human emotion that sometimes does get the very best of us. At times some of our worst emotions arise against even those dear to us. Pain, suffering, and fear also contribute to how strangers perceive and interact with us. I could be attacked, verbally and physically, by a stranger I pass on the street just by wearing a t-shirt they find offensive. How can those (former friends, family, strangers) who consider us enemies both hate and love us at the same time? They probably can't but by changing your attitude and perception of your "enemies" you might be able to love them without any hatred. We must love them to the point where we no longer consider them our enemies and by loving them to death we are freed from the chains of hatred. We must let our perception of them, as our enemy, die. I believe Jesus was saying we should love to the point that we have no enemies.

The first step to claiming our former enemies as friends is to understand and get to know them. When we meet and make new friends we spend time getting to know them, likewise we must spend time with those that consider us enemies. If this means as a Christian you visit your local mosque or synagogue (and vice versa) just to at least meet and introduce yourself and your beliefs this is entirely up to you. Both of you might learn something new about the other that you never knew before. You can not truly love your enemy by sitting in your pew; get up, shake hands, meet new people and even if you do not see eye to eye you are one enemy less and one friend closer to the Kingdom of Heaven.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Back to the Future 4: Operation Logos

If time travel were possible would you travel back to personally witness the Crucifixion of Jesus? Would that increase your faith seeing the event unfold before you? Is it necessary to see/hear/touch something to believe in it? Will interaction with it dissolve belief into fact? Does establishing a fact make it more tangible and real than belief?

I did not know there was so much literature surrounding the idea of time traveling to 1st century Palestine to witness the Crucifixion of Jesus. Here are a few examples.

  • In Richard Matheson's The Traveller (1954), a professor who is a confirmed skeptic is chosen to be the first to travel in time to see the crucifixion and comes back a changed man.
  • John Brunner's Times Without Number (1962) depicts an alternate reality in which the Spanish Armada conquered England. Time travel is eventually discovered in the 20th century and every new pope has the exclusive privilege to visit the time of Christ.
  • In Arthur Porges's story The Rescuer, (1962) a religious fanatic in 2015 takes over a carefully controlled experiment in time-travel and heads for Golgotha with a rifle and five thousand rounds to rescue Jesus.
  • In Michael Moorcock's Behold the Man (1966) the Twentieth-Century Karl Glogauer, a Jew obsessed with the figure of Jesus travels in time to the year 28 A.D. and finds that some of the New Testament characters, including Jesus, are not how they are portrayed in the Gospels. So Glogauer himself begins to step into the role of Jesus.
It makes sense that the single most important event for billions of believers would be their first destination of choice but I never thought that religious skeptics would also travel to this same time. Most of these time traveling tales surround the need for factual confirmation. If we had factual confirmation that did not match up with our personal belief would it erode our faith? I believe this depends heavily on what you believe and how you interpret it. If your faith is based on a literal interpretation of an event that happened 2000 years ago then any evidence that contradicts or displays doubt on the plausibility of the event might be challenging to the believer. Does this mean that the Crucifixion, whether or not it happened, is meaningless in light of the evidence? On the contrary it is the symbolism of the event that holds more importance than the event itself. T0 Christians the sacrifice that God gave in sending his only son to die for the sins of Humanity is a sign of a loving and just God. How He displayed His love is not important, what is important is that God loves us so much that He chose to display His love to His creation by sacrificing Himself.

Can we learn to be more like God by sacrificing those beliefs dear to our hearts which are keeping us from completely loving our fellow man? It was devastatingly difficult for me to let go and transcend the beliefs I held onto as a child. I finally understood these were barriers that kept me from fully understanding and loving my fellow man. If we never learn to remove these barriers completely I hope that we can at least learn to listen to each other through our self-imposed walls, and then maybe we won't have to seek factual confirmation on the sacrifice of one man.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Trouble with Prophets...

For a lot of Christians the Bible and all of its contents are 100% true and factual whether spiritually or historically. Not all Christians hold the Bible to be inerrant and infallible while also reading it in a literal context, but for these Christians it is a foundation stone to their faith. If the texts were not inerrant and infallible then the inspired writers might not have been directly inspired by the Holy Spirit which ends up challenging their view of God. For their understanding of God to be correct everyone and everything along the line of transmission must also be inerrant and infallible: prophets, inspired writers, apostles, scribes, and all those who participated in the canonization of the Bible.

[Isaiah's Lips Anointed with Fire by Benjamin West]

The Divine-->Prophet--> First listeners of the revelation--> Storytellers spread by word of mouth (tradition)--> first copy of text--> 2nd generation copy of text, 3rd, 4th etc--> canonization--> more copies--> more interpretations,etc-->modern day text

This is a very rough line of transmission but at each point there is huge room for error. It is Man's mortal nature that limits our sense of reality, and when our limited nature comes in contact with the Divine we fail at fully grasping the revelation. It's not that God can not "dumb down" the message for us to understand but that as humans we repeatedly fail in accepting and implementing the messages (one reason I believe why God feels the need to send so many prophets). At that very moment when the revelation is in the hands of one Man (or woman) how do we know that he got it right or even if it was a revelation at all? This is one reason I can't prove or disprove what Buddha, Muhammad, Baha'ullah, or even Joseph Smith may have experienced. You have to take the word of a potentially fallible man delivering the infallible to the world. When that message is first passed down from Prophet to the first listeners each one of them interprets it differently. As the message passed down from generation to generation those that sought its preservation copied them down in writing. Although the texts preserve the message it takes some of the emotion, spirit, and life of the original revelation as told through the storytellers. As generations pass the texts become distorted and twisted. Some scribes, with good intentions, find what they believe to be "errors" and have them properly corrected by their personal interpretation and not that of the prophets'. Two millennia of recopying and reinterpreting the texts have generated thousands of denominations, beliefs, and ideas under the umbrella of Christianity.

So how do we unearth the original revelations without being lost in Man's own interpretations? I believe this is only possible if one were to experience the divine for oneself. Some may call this innate knowledge, Nirvana, a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, Moksha, an out of body experience, there are dozens of words that attempt to describe an experience that is indescribable. The trouble with prophets is not that they've failed to convey the message as the Divine intended but that the message can not be truly passed on without experiencing it yourself making it understandable to those receiving it. It's like trying to send someone a parcel of water in the mail.
"It's impossible to wrap and tie a pound of water in a paper package. There are kinds of paper which won't disintegrate when wet, but the trouble is to get the water itself into any manageable shape, and to tie the string without bursting the bundle." (Quote from The Wisdom of Insecurity by Alan Watts)
To make it understandable to those that have not experienced the Divine one must adapt the message. Jesus did just this by using parables. He could only tell people what the Kingdom of Heaven is like and not exactly what it is. Truly connecting with God is to first understand that each religion is offering their own interpretation of the Divine (their pound of water wrapped in paper). We can spend years debating which interpretation is correct or we can open our hearts to God and to one another and begin to experience it for ourselves. If we each have the potential and the choice to connect with the Divine then who's to say that what we each experience is not real? If it's just you and God how can anyone else dictate and shape the terms of your relationship? One of my favorite Bible verses illustrates what should guide us on our search for the Divine.
Philippians 4:8-9 (NIV)
8Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. 9Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

Monday, January 19, 2009

A Supernatural Excuse

Every year around New Year's Day the Sci-Fi channel broadcasts a Twilight Zone marathon. One of the episodes they aired this year caught my attention and it got me thinking. In The Howling Man an American becomes lost while on a walking trip through post-World War I Europe and seeks shelter from the rain in a nearby castle. The castle is inhabited by a religious order that has literally imprisoned the Devil. David Ellington, the American, believing that the order has imprisoned an innocent man inadvertently releases the Devil upon the world. During the Devil's imprisonment the world experienced 5 years of peace but shortly after his release Ellington spent years hunting him down through World War II, the Korean War, and the development of nuclear weapons. This all takes place in a flashback as Ellington is explaining to the hotel maid not to release the Devil from his room. The episode wouldn't be the Twilight Zone without its signature twist and so the curious woman releases the Devil once again upon the world.

How much of the world's pain and suffering do we attribute to something else other than ourselves? Was hurricane Katrina actually sent by God as a punishment against the modern day Sodom, New Orleans? Some would say yes, yes indeed. Having a supernatural excuse does seem handy for those that want to impose their religious view on others but it also gives them a clear conscience.

"God will destroy the homosexuals because of their sinful nature! They must repent or face destruction!" We don't have to feel guilty for those that bring the wrath of God upon themselves. Even saying that their lifestyle is acceptable or supporting their movement (and also supporting companies that supports them) puts us in danger of God's wrath.

Does this bring us any closer to God? If we hide behind the supernatural as a moral shield will we ever learn to take responsibilities for our own actions?

Drawing strength and depending on God, for those that believe in Him, is one thing shifting responsibility upon the Divine is another. We can not grow as individuals, as a global community, and as a species without learning from the harm we personally cause. Things we can not cause, like the weather, is not our fault but those caught in Nature's path are still our concern. There is suffering that we bring upon ourselves and there is inevitable suffering due to our mortal existence. If we mold and shape our destructive attitude into a constructive one we wouldn't need to "blame it on the rain". We would understand and try to alleviate natural suffering of our fellow Man. If we could grasp at least this much we could spend our resources and time on nobler causes instead of chasing our own demons.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Confessions of a Monotheist Part 3- Branches

Within the last few years I've experienced an awakening to my spirituality. I felt as if my soul has opened its eyes and ears for the first time. I do not pretend to walk closely with God or to have achieved an elevated level of spirituality. I am just becoming aware of it as if I have just awakened from a deep sleep. I do not mean to offend those that may stumble upon this but to tell my tale to those that are willing to listen to my spiritual journey thus far. This is my story.

Summer 2008
I can not express my appreciation and love for Christianity which will always have a place in my life, thoughts, and is an integral part of my personality. I could never completely "deny" the spirit of Christianity nor more than I can deny the Sun rising (read C.S. Lewis' original quote). The main difference is that I call this spirit Love, the foundation stone of my spirituality. What I had problems with was the history, texts, and some closed-minded teachings of the Church that DID NOT drive me away from Chrisitianity but pointed me into a "dangerous" and liberating new direction. I'll talk about the "dangerous" parts later on but I just wanted to stress that the skeletons in Christianity's closet, and even questions about this closet, is what led to my personal awakening.

When I pick up a book I try very hard to make sure that it is as unbiased as possible, but this is very difficult especially in Religion. So I read into their argument and if it makes sense with the backing of credible sources I purchase it. Of course I don't have the time to do this with every book and within the first few chapters it becomes evident if the book is bias or is written mainly to attack a certain view. If we have plausible historical, archeological, and scientific evidence that disproves a widely held belief I have two choices: either throw out whatever "evidence" these so called historians are using in their arguments or listen to what they have to say. I allow myself to listen because unless I have a degree in paleography or in Arabic, Syric, Hebrew, or Greek I can not prove that there was not any interpolation in any of the surviving 5300+ Greek manuscripts we have of the New Testament. So unless I spend decades in study all I have is a biblical scholar's word that he/she is not lying to us.

I can ignore everything I've read (and choose never to read anything like it again) and believe that God intended for the Bible to end up how it is regardless of its historicity. Sometimes I wish I could go back in time to that one day in Dr. Harper's religion class and stop myself from asking that first question but then I would be curious as to why my future self appeared in the first place. I will not go into the dreadfully painful details but my wife did find out about my questioning. I struggled daily trying to force myself into a state of doublethink so that I could continue living peacefully with my family, but I could not fool her or myself. I created this paradox within my very soul and it literally felt like it was ripping me in two. If I left Christianity for ANY other religion what would my family and friends think? How would I be treated by strangers especially while living in the buckle of the Bible Belt? Even worse what if I'm wrong? Not only would I be tormented in this life I might be tormented in the next! I opened up Pandora's box and I fought with every atom, every ounce of my being to force it shut. I felt I was having a religious identity crisis and going onto the point of a mental breakdown.

My wife and I agreed to speak with our pastor about the matter and even he was speechless. We asked him for advice on maintaining an interfaith marriage. He never gave anyone advice in this situation before and outside of attempting to convert me and lending us DVDs on how to improve our marriage I felt little progress was made. The poor pastor knew next to nothing about Islam but that's understandable; why would a pastor concern himself with an ungodly, probably Satanic, faith? He then began to tell me how dangerous this questioning was to me and my kids. He was extremely worried about my children's salvation even though they're still in diapers. I have nothing against raising my children Christian. What I refuse to teach them is intolerance towards others based on their beliefs. This is difficult within Christianity which does not allow room for tolerance. To them I am going to Hell and might be a danger to the salvation of my children because I do not share their beliefs.

I was going over what was said in the meeting a few days later when a small light began to flicker. If I questioned one faith what's to stop me from questioning another? This torment would never end while I spent a lifetime searching for a suitable religion. Then I knew that I was seeking God in the wrong manner and in the wrong places. It is impossible for any one religion to have a monopoly on God. I can look into any religion and find dozens of closets filled to the brim with skeletons, but that doesn't matter. What matters is the growth of my spirituality and not the language (religion) in which that spirituality is expressed.

The clouds have begun to recede and I still do not know how to express my spirituality. I have not chosen Islam as my spiritual language but I feel more comfortable with it than Christianity. Does that make me inherently evil? Some would say yes indeed. If I choose to follow a desert-dwelling pedophile bandit that made up his own religion for personal gain then I am going to join him in the hellfire. Of course those that believe that know next to nothing about Muhammad, Islam, and 7th century Arabia. I don't want to limit myself to one religion but I feel uneasy without an affiliation with a religious community. I have learned to take it one step at a time even if it means taking a step back. If I learn something new that helps me in my journey I implement it as long as it abides in a spirit of love.

Friday, January 16, 2009

The Prophet Isa: Part 2- A Long Awaited Hope

This is one of the most interesting topics I've ever read in Islamic theology. Before I read or knew anything about the Islamic view of Jesus (Isa) I thought Christianity and Islam had very little in common. They still don't have much in common but I think this hope they share in Jesus' message and eventual return is vital to any remaining dialogue between the two faiths in this post 9\11 world.

[Turkish-Islamic picture of the ascension of Jesus (Isa)]

Part 1
Part 3

In Part 1- A Sign for Humanity I went over the basic beliefs Muslims have on Jesus and what he represents. Isa is a sign of God's power and majesty being created by the decree of God, no different than the Christian Jesus. But in Islam the sign is not worshiped nor becomes God. Because he is a created being, although special, he must one day return to earth in a Second Coming, live out the rest of his life, and die. Muslims look forward to Jesus returning as much as (but probably not more than) their Christians cousins. Whatever the beliefs, traditions, or sayings either group attributes to this one man he is a sign of hope for all mankind who is prophesied to usher in a new age.
“And (Jesus) shall be a Sign (for the coming of) the Hour (of Judgment): therefore have no doubt about the (Hour), but follow ye Me: this is a Straight Way.”[Qur'an 43:61]
According to Islamic theology and eschatology Jesus was not crucified but was taken up alive to God and will return before the Day of Judgment. He will return one day during the conflict between the Mahdi ("the rightly guided one") and the Antichrist (al-Masīh ad-Dajjāl, "false messiah"). Jesus will then kill the Antichrist and the people of the book (the Jews and the Christians) will come to believe in him. After the death of the Mahdi Jesus establishes universal peace and justice, rule for 40 years, marry (if I remember correctly), and eventually die. Even though the details and purpose of Jesus' Second Coming differ between Christians and Muslims the important point is that BOTH groups are awaiting his return to establish an era of peace.

Both religions have fought, bled, and died over their faiths yet both have a shared hope in Jesus. Regrettably we have all but lost Jesus' original teachings and his message of love your neighbor has been garbled and enmeshed with rituals and beliefs that it is hard to find true practitioners of love. Maybe since we lost his message the first time we hope that he will return to teach us once more. What would we do then? Will we try to follow it the second time in hopes of establishing universal brotherhood and peace, or will we fight over the meaning of the message once more and return to endless cycles of violence? How many times must God keep sending revelations; when will we learn from our mistakes?

Each community, tribe, and nation says "here is what God revealed to us!" but instead of being grateful we fight amongst ourselves in which truth is correct instead of letting these truths guide us. If there is a universal truth beneath and behind the curtains of the competing religions how can we find it amongst the others with our feeble and mortal minds? Man's fallibility hinders us from grasping the truth with every ounce of our souls so how can Man, who is known to make mistakes, determine that which is true without making a mistake?

I believe that is why Humanity relies on that which we describe as Infallible, Eternal, and Incorruptible. If we learn from our past mistakes maybe God won't need to send Jesus back. Maybe if we take the lessons we've learned from our myths and carve them into DNA maybe we won't need to hope for something greater to save us if we could just save ourselves. I'm not saying we should do away with God but we can at least give Him a break so that He doesn't have to keep reminding us "thou shalt not kill". Islam explains that humanity has forgotten its true nature, purpose, and way of life. This is why God sends us messengers, reminders, to lead us back to our natural state. Everything in Nature (birds, animals, trees) is a natural Muslim acting in harmony with their surroundings and their true nature. A bird doesn't stop being a bird so that it can be a fish likewise we should act in harmony with one another. Why should we steal our neighbor's bread when we have enough of our own or why horde our bread from those that don't have enough? As caretakers of this world we must also be caretakers of its citizens, our brothers. One day God may not need to send us reminders once we have finally instilled these spiritual truths into our hearts, and on that day God will once again step back and say that it was good.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Confessions of a Monotheist Part 2- Roots

Within the last few years I've experienced an awakening to my spirituality. I felt as if my soul has opened its eyes and ears for the first time. I do not pretend to walk closely with God or to have achieved an elevated level of spirituality. I am just becoming aware of it as if I have just awakened from a deep sleep. I do not mean to offend those that may stumble upon this but to tell my tale to those that are willing to listen to my spiritual journey thus far. This is my story.

Spring 2006
I had left everything and everyone and moved to Murfreesboro to finish my degree at MTSU. After four years of living at a boarding school you get over homesickness quickly. I lived in a cozy apartment across the street from campus where I spent my days studying for class while working at the local Wal-mart at night. I wasn't much of a social butterfly either but I did have one person that I talked with daily, Samantha. She jokes that we were meant for each other and I believe her. We later realized that if we married we would carry the same exact initials and if not for our middle names our full names would be exactly the same. We met innocently at work one day in 2004 when we both realized we shared the same first name. "You're Sam, I'm Sam too," we grinned. At that moment it never crossed my mind that we were about to embark on a lifelong journey together.

It was almost heartbreaking to leave her behind to finish school at MTSU after almost a year of dating. But I knew he needed me, they needed me, to finish growing up and get a decent education. I did not know them yet but I decided soon after high school that if were to one day raise a family I needed to find and complete myself. While living alone I taught myself how to cook, clean, slowly becoming organized and responsible. The phone rang while I was cooking supper. Samantha sounded worried, scared, and after we talked for awhile she said she'd call back in a minute. She didn't have to tell me because somehow I already knew she was calling her mother to tell her she was pregnant. She didn't know what I would say and I guess I surprised her when I said that it was great news and that everything would be OK. He was finally here.

The seed that I'd been slowly watering was taking root. I couldn't focus on my studies and all I could think about was him. For months I was obsessed with the idea of future generations hundreds of years from now descended from my children. I kept daydreaming of how my descendants would look like? Would they even know my name? Great, great, great, great grandfather Sam! What I wouldn't give to know them, to see what they see, to live in their time for a day! I even spawned an idea that would tie us across time. In my last semester at GCA I was obsessed with symbols and tattoos. I finally designed one of my own and after months of research realized that it truly is unique. I would stare at it for what seemed like hours at a time. I made a poster, bookmarks, t-shirt, flag, and anything else I could find to display my symbol. When I had the symbol tattooed onto my back I decided then that I would start a tradition where my children and their children would one day have this symbol tattooed somewhere onto their body. Of course I could not force them but I envisioned a family reunion photo with all the family members showing off our family mark.

Around the same time we found out about our son my spiritual seed was germinating. I had decided that if I'm going to be a father someday then I need to get my spirituality back on track. Since I wasn't sure which religion to follow (if any) I decided to start with what I know, Monotheism. I read through books comparing the three monotheistic faiths (Islam, Christianity, and Judaism) and I soon realized that I knew next to nothing about any other religions. It became a hobby, an obsession, and a quest. I even obtained a copy of the Qu'ran and was amazed that another religion held Jesus in such high regard even though Muslims only consider him a prophet. Until then I never knew how much Christians and Muslims actually fought. In fact all I knew about Muslims at the time was that they prayed a lot and they have a prophet named Muhammad. My ignorance about other religions blossomed into lack of intolerance which benefited me greatly. It enabled me to increase my love towards my neighbor regardless of their beliefs. This acted as oxygen and light towards my spiritual seed which allowed it to take root and grow. And then my son, Isaac, was born. I knew then that every action I take must be to his benefit. I will become his guardian, mentor, friend, and most importantly, father.

Everything was good for a time never realizing what was slowly enveloping my seedling. I had become enamored with Islam drawn to its message and concepts of God. My religious study continued relentlessly in pursuit of a suitable religion never noticing the warning signs, the darkening clouds that were casting a terrible shadow over my soul. Soon I would be caught in a personal hell, imprisoned behind bars fashioned by my blind pursuit. If I wanted to keep my new family intact I would first have to suffer, die, and arise from the ashes as a new creature.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Confessions of a Monotheist Part 1-The Seed

Within the last few years I've experienced an awakening to my spirituality. I felt as if my soul has opened its eyes and ears for the first time. I do not pretend to walk closely with God or to have achieved an elevated level of spirituality. I am just becoming aware of it as if I have just awakened from a deep sleep. I do not mean to offend those that may stumble upon this but to tell my tale to those that are willing to listen to my spiritual journey thus far. This is my story.

Winter 2000
I remember sitting in Dr. Harper's religion class early one morning in my junior year at Georgia-Cumberland Academy. I was 16 at the time and I believe it was the winter of 2000 when it happened. The details of that day were hazy but that first question has been burned, carved into my mind.

"If the Catholics came before the Protestants and the Orthodox Church came before the Catholics then wouldn't the Orthodox Church hold the purest teachings of Christ and the early church?" To me it seemed logical that the earliest church would have the purest teachings. I don't remember how Dr. Harper responded but I'm sure he mentioned something about the Reformation and the rise of Protestantism (I was bored out of my mind). We were learning about church history in religion class and since that moment when that question escaped from my lips I never stopped questioning. For the next few weeks I could not get that question out of my head. Where did it come from? Why is it even important? I knew about Catholics, Baptist, and other denominations but I never questioned my faith. Never. I knew I had it right but I never considered that if I had it right billions of others have to wrong. The Greek Orthodox and the Catholic Church had it right at one time, right? What if a new movement replaced Protestantism would my soul be eternally hell bound while every single protestant would be labeled as heretics only remembered and studied by historians hundreds maybe thousands of years from now? This was the seed that started me on my religious journey independent from my parents and my church. It was just a seed and as a seed it sat there for years but the questions never stopped coming. That first one was a freebie but I soon learned to keep them to myself.

GCA is a 7th-Day Adventist private co-educational boarding school in Calhoun, Georgia which opened in 1962. I will not go into vast details about my experience at GCA but from the mind of a 16 year old it seemed pretty oppressive, but I guess most teenagers that go to a private high school think likewise. Almost all of the rules and regulations made perfect sense, and even though I spoke out against a few I knew deep down that they were right. It was only after the seed was planted that I first became aware of intolerance and religiously narrow minded Christians. Any subtle break from religious conformity earned you a frown or a stern talk at first but if continued past a breaking point would earn you a one way ticket to expulsion. This sounds like a harsh punishment for not "following the flock" but it wasn't like I was purposely rebelling. I actually had legitimate questions about my faith that I couldn't even mention without fear of punishment.

Now this is a private school so I understand they uphold certain values and beliefs they want to instill into a student's education. We couldn't eat, or own, any sort of meat on campus. We couldn't play any competitive sports on the Sabbath. We were required to attend most religious meetings (except for late night programs and weekly prayer groups). The breaking of these unofficial religious rules could earn you demerits and when enough were accumulated punishment was enforced. 9 times out of 10 this took the form of janitor duty, copying sentences out of the school handbook, or some other time-consuming activity. It sounds trivial but to a teenager it was a prison camp. The point I'm trying to make is that there was (and probably still is) no room for religious questioning and absolutely no bending of the rules.

What hit me the hardest was the school's reaction to drug-use and homosexuality. Expulsion. Period. Go directly to jail, do not pass Go, do not collect $200. They had a chance to help and mend instead of maim and wound. The kids that smoked weed (and as far as I know weed was the only drug on or around campus when I attended) were not counseled nor forgiven. There was one group that was given a slap on the wrist but the next group wasn't as lucky. Racism reared its ugly head when the second group, all black kids, were all immediately expelled while the first group, mostly white kids, were merely suspended and were given random drug testing for the remainder of the school year. The second group was eventually forgiven and allowed back but the racial tension never disappeared. The school made it clear that it wasn't about race but was merely enforcing their zero tolerance rule.

There were a few homosexuals on campus and thankfully not a single soul ratted them out. They would have been immediately expelled and the school would have come up with a suitable explanation to avoid being viewed as intolerant.I never witnessed an expulsion for homosexuality but everyone knew it would happen. Four or five people in my graduating class came "out of the closet" after graduation. One of them was a very close friend of mine that I still hold dear to me even though we haven't talked much in years. I was shocked by the news but I never once thought less of him. And if he's reading this now then I just want to say that I will always consider you my friend.

How can a school which professes to be Christian act so contradictory to the Christian Spirit? As a school they have a prime opportunity to teach their students love, compassion, and justice not ignorance, bigotry, and inequality. Instead of a message of acceptance and forgiveness they chose to weed out (no pun intended) the undesirables, the unclean. I didn't blame Christianity. I didn't even blame the Christians. I didn't know who to blame or even if I had to blame someone. Honestly I was too busy skirt chasing to even care but deep down I did. I hated myself for not saying something but I was just a kid. How dare a 16 year old attempt to teach morality to the school faculty? So I rebelled peacefully (and at times publicly to impress my friends).

I took this seed and buried it deep within myself. Every now and then I watered it with new questions. But I never tried to answer them I just continued asking myself more questions. I knew that I was preparing myself for something greater but I did not what it was until the day my son was born.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

It's in your Genes

Could your DNA determine whether or not you believe in God? Does that erase any notion of Free Will? "I can't help it that I believe in God, it's in my genes!" Or would it support the idea that sometime during Man's evolution we created God? When Dr Dean Hamer, director of the Gene Structure and Regulation Unit at the U.S. National Cancer Institute, discovered the God Gene a few years ago he proposed
produces the sensations associated, by some, with the presence of God or other mystic experiences, or more specifically spirituality as a state of mind.
Dr. Hamer has also written a book back in 2004 entitled The God Gene: How Faith is Hardwired into our Genes about his search leading him to VMAT2, the gene that turns up in self-transcendent people. Although Dr. Hamer and his colleagues have yet to publish their results in a scientific journal and have taken some heat from both the religious and scientific communities it is still a very intriguing find. It's still being debated if this gene contributes to a person's spirituality but the importance that this may help explain why we are "spiritual" adds to our understanding of humanity's essence.

What then if this gene does contribute to (or define the level of) our spirituality? Does that prove that God exists or is it just a result of evolution? Dr. Hamer has hypothesized that self-transcendence makes people more optimistic, therefore healthier, improving their chances of having more babies. If spirituality (including religion) is just another stepping stone in Evolutions river then what's next? Can we as a species learn to let go of our ancient myths or is this proof that God exists and this is just another sign of his intelligent design?

Muslims have an interesting term describing the human spiritual drive. Fitra, meaning 'innate human nature' in Arabic, describes that we are born with this knowledge of the divine which acts like a compass that drives us to seek God. Of course this word is also used to describe the pure state of a person before they are brought up by parents with a faith other than Islam. Muslims prefer to refer to those embracing Islam as reverts rather than converts because they believe they are returning to that pure state.

Buddhists also have an intriguing view on gene-based spirituality. Robert Thurman, professor of Buddhist studies at Columbia University, says

Buddhists have long entertained the idea that we inherit a spirituality gene from the person we were in a previous life. Smaller than an ordinary gene, it combines with two larger physical genes we inherit from our parents, and together they shape our physical and spiritual profile. The spiritual gene helps establish a general trust in the universe, a sense of openness and generosity.

This gene might also be used to scientifically explain what prophets experience when they commune with the divine.
"Buddha, Mohammed and Jesus all shared a series of mystical experiences or alterations in consciousness and thus probably carried the gene. This means that the tendency to be spiritual is part of genetic make-up. This is not a thing that is strictly handed down from parents to children. It could skip a generation - it's like intelligence."
When I read this my very next thought jumped to Eli Stone, the now canceled ABC series about a lawyer/modern-day prophet who receives divinely inspired visions of the future due to an inoperable brain aneurysm. His father also had the same brain aneurysm and in the current second (and regrettably final) season his brother also had it for one episode. It's not that God couldn't communicate with Eli without the brain aneurysm but that's just what God used to send his messages.

Is a God Gene really needed to have faith in the Divine? While it is interesting I don't think that it is. That's why it's called Faith, either you have it or you don't. I believe because I can't imagine a complex Universe like ours without one. That doesn't mean I'm correct in fact I don't wish to be correct. My goal is to learn, live, and love as much as I can passing my spirit (and genes) to my children and theirs so that we all might enrich humanity and keep our species alive.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Are You Ready?

Whenever anyone mentions the word Rapture most Americans think about Tim LaHaye's Left Behind book series. I have yet to read them (my wife has read most of them) but they are on my mile long book list. The most common and widely held doctrinal view (there are several) on the Rapture is the Pre-Tribulation Rapture where Jesus secretly takes all the true believers to Heaven before all Hell breaks loose and then comes back once more for the Second Coming. I was born and raised a 7th-Day Adventist so I was taught Post-Tribulation rapture where the true believers are taken up at, not secretly before, the Second Coming. The theology of the Rapture is based on a handful of verses and has appeared within the last 200 years but even then it has taken main stage in today's churches. But why? What is it about the Rapture that makes it so captivating? If you are a Protestant (or at least a Christian) you are safe as long as you're prepared. But what if I don't believe in the Rapture? Will lack of right doctrinal belief keep a Christian from being caught up with his fellow believers? What about those that lived and died before John Nelson Darby and others at the end of the 19th century who popularized the doctrine? Will believing in the right doctrine guarantee you a ticket on the Rapture train?

There are hundreds (if not thousands) of varying doctrines and beliefs within Christianity that the idea of just one (or a handful) holding the Truth Stick leaves Heaven looking like a K-mart parking lot. And if that's not bad enough what if one denomination has most but not all of the beliefs needed to enter Heaven? There would be bajillions of doctrinal combinations making it impossible to receive eternal life by right belief. I understand that Christian salvation is a gift from God and that both faith and works is needed to truly be Saved. I'm only suggesting that belief in man-made doctrines constructed from Man's interpretation of the scripture can provide for some interesting theology. So if right belief is not needed to be Raptured and God will rapture those He deems righteous anyway then what's the purpose of being Rapture Ready? Can Christians do anything to be prepared?

The Parable of the 10 Virgins (Matthew 25) is often used to illustrate the need to be prepared for the Rapture. Ten young virgins awaited the arrival of the bridegroom for a wedding. They waited all night for him to arrive and as midnight approached their lamps began to die out. Five of the virgins were wise enough to bring extra oil with them while the other five were foolish enough not to so they hurried to purchase more at the market. While the foolish virgins were out the bridegroom arrived and by the time the five had returned the door had been shut. They begged and pleaded to be let in but the bridegroom said he did not know them.

The focus of the parable are the lamps representing the human spirit and the oil the Holy Spirit within. Those that had kept in tune with God and kept the Holy Spirit within even through the darkest times were prepared for the arrival of the bridegroom. Those that had lost their way and had slowly let that spirit fade out were left out in the cold. Now you can't buy a fresh jar of spirituality at your local K-Mart but one can only refuel your spirit through time spent in prayer/meditation, deeds of kindness, living daily in the spirit of love taught by Jesus. This takes time and cannot be done in one day like children rushing to squeeze in as many good deeds as possible before Christmas.

Even though I'm not a Christian and I don't believe in the Rapture doesn't mean I shouldn't keep my spiritual lamp filled. I do find peace in prayer, living daily in the spirit of love, and doing acts of kindness even though I don't do these as often as I would like. I am not refueling my spirit for a reward like eternity in paradise but I believe my reward is in the act itself. If I can spare food to feed those with hunger then why shouldn't I? I have been blessed many times over. I own material goods in my home that could possibly feed a small family in a third world country for years. I might be overestimating the value of my possessions but at least I have them. And if I can spare them why not? Why do I feel the need to keep books I've already read, watch a TV that airs nothing but reruns and reality shows, and decorate my house with pointless decorations. What does it cost me to act lovingly to my fellow man? If you and I disagree on a political or religious belief why should I strike you, hate you, or even kill you? It does not hurt me if you are of a different faith, color of skin, sexual orientation, or political view. We also both have equal access to God and our own spirituality. I choose to pray because it connects and allows me time with my Creator as a father bonds with his son. And during that time I attain peace.

So if someone were to ask me if I'm saved, if I'm ready for the Rapture I can not explain to them my spiritual journey no more than I can explain why I love my wife and kids. I can only show that person the love for my family, God, and fellow man through my daily walk.

Friday, January 9, 2009

The Omega Point

I just finished reading Robert Sawyer's Sci-fi novel Flashforward. In the novel scientists at CERN are performing a run using the Large Hadron Collider to search for the Higgs boson. During the experience the entire human race loses consciousness for 2 minutes and experiences visions of events 21 years into the future. Humanity awakens to find that their visions of the future came with a terrible price: planes crashed in take off/landing, the freeways became graveyards, and thousands more were either injured or killed by devices needing human control. It presents themes of free will vs. predestination and has introduced me into new ideas about our universe.

One concept that I found particularly intriguing quoted in the book is the Omega Point. The Omega Point, coined by Jesuit Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, is used to describe "the maximum level of complexity and consciousness towards which the universe appears to be evolving." In other words the universe is developing and being drawn towards a supreme point of complexity and consciousness, an "all knowing" computer intelligence. In Flashforward the author quoted Frank Tipler's use of the Omega Point, a mechanism for the ultimate fate of the universe where
computer-based life will eventually supplant biological life, and that information-processing capabilities will continue to expand year after year, until at some point, in the far future, no conceivable computing problem will be impossible. There will be nothing that the future machine life won't have the power or resources to calculate."[Flashforward, Ch. 16]
With essentially infinite processing capabilities the Omega Point will be able to replicate every person and every possible memory state throughout time. There may be "oodles" of possible humans and memories throughout time but it is a finite number. Therefore the Omega Point, which Frank Tipler associates with God, will be able to "resurrect" every single person in a virtual reality emulation. He argues that this is possible because
as the universe comes to an end in a specific kind of Big Crunch, the computational capacity of the universe will be accelerating exponentially faster than time runs out. In principle, a simulation run on this universal computer can thus continue forever in its own terms, even though the universal computer is embedded in a universe that will last only a finite time.

So why would an omniscience, omnipotent computer bring us back to life? Tipler says (quoting from Flashforward) that the Omega Point loves us. Now I have yet to read any of Tipler's books but I find this all very intriguing and I have to say sounds similar to the Matrix although we don't become batteries. Physics is way beyond my understanding but in Tipler's 2007 The Physics of Christianity he states that the Omega point is triune in its structure:
the Final Singularity (i.e., the Omega Point), the All-Presents Singularity (which Tipler states exists at all times at the edge of the multiverse), and the Initial Singularity (i.e., the beginning of the Big Bang), which Tipler identifies with the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, respectively (successively, the First, Second and Third Persons of the Trinity).
So could God be this singularity/computer intelligence that watches over us as described in our religious texts? I don't know but this is a highly interesting theory. Chardin's The Phenomenon of Man states that the Omega Point unites Creation by drawing the Universe towards itself. This sounds similar to the concept of the soul's journey after death. The body is just a shell and the soul is immutable and indestructible which can then take on a new life through reincarnation until it achieves Moksha (in some Eastern Religions) or after Judgment the soul will then reap what it sowed by entering into Heaven or Hell (Western Religions). Does this Omega Point then choose which "souls" (or mathematical calculations) it will resurrect in the virtual reality emulation based on the person's beliefs or actions through life or will it resurrect everyone? This also bears some similarity to the conclusion of the Matrix Revolutions [Spoiler Warning!] when Neo allows his coding (his soul) to be reinserted into the Matrix. In Matrix Reloaded he was given the same choice to return his coding and then choose 16 females and 7 males to rebuild Zion so that the simulation can start all over again. The Omega Point which began as the source of creation draws all life to itself at the end of time.

Should Tipler then start a church of his own? Well I hope we don't have another sci-fi writer/prophet but it might be a movement that might outlast the other religions by interweaving faith and science and if it did gain momentum just think about the impact. How long would it take to be recognized as a legitimate faith? Would it be on the same level as the other religions or would they all consider it a cult? This is all based on a physics theory so don't take me too seriously I'm just thinking aloud. I'm not saying the world religions of today are outdated but any movement that does not adapt to its present environment will eventually become stagnant. And even then Humanity might outgrow faith altogether as some (if not all) atheist are proposing. We do have December 21st 2012 to keep us busy until then only time will tell.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

A Timeless Hero: Part 2- The Triforce

The Legend of Zelda first debuted in Japan on February 21, 1986 and after 22 years and over a dozen games later the franchise is still alive and well along with our timeless (and time traveling) hero, Link. The Legend of Zelda has captured the imagination of generations of gamers with its captivating storyline, mind twisting dungeons, and hours of battling the forces of evil as Link transforms from a humble boy into a timeless hero chosen by the gods. But why did they choose Link? What does the future hold for this warrior-prophet? And what does Link represent not only to the people of Hyrule but to us? In this series I will analyze the religious and spiritual elements of The Legend of Zelda.

[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 2- The Triforce

When the three Golden Goddesses had finished creating Hyrule they left behind a part of their essence creating the Triforce. The Triforce is a nearly-omnipotent sacred relic often known as the "Golden Power" which in the Sacred Realm, a parallel world or dimension, dwells at the point where the Golden Goddesses departed. Three smaller triangles known as the Triforce of Wisdom, the Triforce of Power, and the Triforce of Courage make up the Triforce each embodying the essence of their respective goddess. Within the game series the Triforce is found on statues, fountains, and on clothing but even though it may represent the balance and order created by the Divine it can still be wielded by evil.

[Photo of the Hojo family crest in Kamakura, Japan]
When united, the Triforce allows one who touches it to make a wish that will last until they die or someone else claims the Triforce. However, if the one who finds it does not possess a balance of the three virtues it represents, the pieces will split into its three components and the finder will be left with the one which represents the characteristic they value most; the other two pieces will do likewise with two other characters "chosen by destiny". [Wikipedia]

The Triforce itself does not have a choice as to who may wield it only as long as perfect balance is maintained. This balance of sacred power and the eternal conflict of good vs. evil are the main underlying themes in the series. Whenever that balance is disrupted and evil ravages the land the prophecies state that a hero, a warrior-prophet, will rise to cleanse and restore the lands, temples, and hearts of the citizens. Even though Link may only embody Courage at the beginning of his journey, by the end after facing many trials he has grown in wisdom and in strength (power). Thus he can only restore the lands of Hyrule only if he has perfect balance of the three attributes within himself. So where did the creators of the Legend of Zelda come up with such an iconic symbol as the Triforce?

The Triforce closely resembles the family crest of the Hōjō clan, a family of regents of the Kamakura Shogunate who ruled from 1203-1333. The Hōjō clan was known for fathering the spread of Zen Buddhism and Bushido, adopting Japan's first military code of law, and defying the Mongols. The first Hōjō regent, Tokimasa Hōjō (1138-1215), visited a cave at the Enoshima Jinja Shrine "dedicated to the dragon deity that has long been believed to be the guardian deity for fishermen". As Tokimasa prayed for his offspring's prosperity legend has it that the dragon appeared before him and granted his wish leaving behind three dragon scales which are the origin of the Hōjō crest. On a curious note the main object of worship at the Enoshima Jinja Shrine is three mythological goddesses. I do not know if the game creators based the Triforce on Japanese history and mythology but if so they used a perfect example of order and balance.

The Triforce also appears in mathematics as the first step in the fractalization of a triangle. The Sierpinski triangle
is a fractal named after the Polish mathematician Wacław Sierpiński who described it in 1915. Originally constructed as a curve, this is one of the basic examples of self-similar sets, i.e. it is a mathematically generated pattern that can be reproducible at any magnification or reduction.
Fractals, as well as most higher math, fly way over my head but from what I understand it is a geometric construction that is self-similar at different scales, meaning it will look exactly the same no matter what size it is viewed at. By zooming in on a smaller triangle within the fractal you have an exact replica of the Sierpinski triangle ad infinitum. What better symbol is there to represent the divine then a geometric shape that is reproducible at any magnification for infinity?

So what is the purpose of the Triforce? With their work done the Goddesses left behind a portion of their essence in the artifact as a guide to the intelligent life on the world of Hyrule. Safely residing in the Sacred Realm, the artifact beckons those from the outside world to seek it and in reward bestows the titles "The Forger of Strength, Keeper of Knowledge, and Juror of Courage" to the one worthy of the titles. The Goddesses do not directly intervene with their world and its inhabitants but through the Triforce they enable them to guide themselves using a portion of their power. Eventually the search for the Triforce turned to lust for power and greed and the king of thieves, Gannondorf, obtained the Triforce and made his wish. To protect themselves from Gannondorf's spreading evil the people of Hyrule along with the Seven Wise Men (or Seven Sages) forged a sword powerful enough to resist evil granted by the Triforce. Yet even this "blade of evil's bane" can only be wielded by someone pure of heart and strong of body.

The Triforce as a religious symbol represents the balance, perfection, and infinite presence of the Divine. The people of Hyrule surround themselves with this symbol knowing that the gods are watching over them. They teach their children to balance the attributes of the goddesses (strength, wisdom, and courage) so that one day if evil were to arise they might be called to protect their world. But who is this Hero mentioned in the Prophecies? Why even leave behind a relic so powerful that it might fall into the wrong hands? And will Hyrule always need this Hero to save them?

In the next part of my series on the religious and spiritual elements of The Legend of Zelda I will be focusing on Link, what he represents, and his role as the hero destined to save Hyrule.

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

Sunday, January 4, 2009

The Future of Religion

"There is no such thing as the future. Humankind faces multiple possible futures, many of which hinge on seemingly inconsequential events."
Dune: The Machine Crusade by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson
[For more information on Frank and Brian Herbert's Dune novels please visit their Official page here.]

What is the future of Religion? Will it be supplanted by Reason or be able to coexist side by side? I strongly believe that Religion and Science can coexist and even become two complementary views of the universe. I can not imagine that a complex universe like ours would not have a Creator but I am a man of Reason. If Science can prove that there was not a worldwide flood as depicted (or misinterpreted/mistranslated) in the Bible (and I believe they already have strong evidence against a worldwide flood), that will not shatter my faith. Whenever Science learns something new about our universe I have no reason to deny/ignore it to protect my beliefs. What differs from Science and Religion is that whenever Scientists find new evidence that contradicts older ideas they are more willing to revise their theories/statements/beliefs(?) than Religion which base its beliefs on Faith rather than facts/evidence. Religion has learned to adapt itself to the 21st century but it feels out of place. Some believers feel so out of place that they want to turn back the clock to some "golden era" because the change is too jarring for them. So they strong arm us, scare us, threaten us hoping that we will turn back the clocks in unison to a time of their choosing. But we have no control over progress except in limiting its potential. Again I do not wish to rehash the argument of Science vs. Religion nor make a case for Science and Religion. I'm just stating that since Religion in its present form is not going to disappear anytime soon (if ever) then we MUST open our eyes and hearts to the possibility of coexistence instead of annihilation of one another.

An interesting view of the future of religion and science is depicted in Frank Herbert's Sci-Fi Dune novels where Religion and Science are still very important and integral parts of Humanity. The books are set thousands of years in the future where man has no need for computers to think for them. They still use and depend on technology but Humanity has learned to increase their mental and physical abilities that today would look almost supernatural. This is due to a great uprising, the Butlerian Jihad, against the Thinking Machines that turned against and enslaved them. After Humanity's victory over the machines they vowed never to build anything in the likeness of Man.

"Thou shalt not make a machine in the likeness of a human mind."

The fear of the machines rising again was carved into Humanity's psyche which gave rise to Mentats, humans with the mental capacity to process information as fast as computers.

Religion was also affected by the Butlerian Jihad which brought Humanity together paving the way for religions to create the Orange Catholic Bible.
ORANGE CATHOLIC BIBLE: the "Accumulated Book," the religious text produced by the Commission of Ecumenical Translators. It contains elements of most ancient religions, including the Maometh Saari, Mahayana Christianity, Zensunni Catholicism and Buddislamic traditions. Its supreme commandment is considered to be: "Thou shalt not disfigure the soul."
As I recall there was resistance by some religious groups in making this book as it seems to boil down all faiths into one. Some groups have this problem today stating that the New Age movement is leading Man astray by saying all religions are the same and all lead to God. I do not believe all religions are the "same" but all humans are spiritually equal before what we call God no matter what set of symbols we choose to worship Him/It/Us(?) by.

Religions in the Dune universe has also blended into new religions in the future as shown above. Some of these new religions are: Mahayana Christianity, Zensunni Catholicism, Navachristianity, Muadru, and Zensufism. As I recall Herbert never describes how this happened in his novels but it would be interesting to know how these religions embraced each other to the point of syncretism.

But will blending religions solve our present day fighting? No, I don't believe it will nor do I believe there is a need for it. What we do need is to understand one another. We don't have to accept someone else believes (or lack thereof) but to understand what and why they believe as such. Let us do away with misconceptions of one another and learn what the other believes. It won't hurt us to open up a history book or even talk to someone of a different faith. When some Christians accuse Muslims of world domination they have not talked directly to Muslims or have studied Islam and vice versa. If we just sat with each other and talked directly we would find that most believers (and non-believers) want peace not eradication. This is EXTREMELY difficult in our present day out of fear that if one side were to put down their arms they will be eradicated by the enemy. This is a reasonable fear but someone must be first. I am just a simple family man and do not consider myself a religious leader at all. I barely attend church or even pray on a daily basis. But if by extending my hand to people of other faiths and beliefs inspires at least one other person to do likewise then that at least is a humble start.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

The Prophet Isa: Part 1- A Sign for Humanity

This is one of the most interesting topics I've ever read in Islamic theology. Before I read or knew anything about the Islamic view of Jesus (Isa) I thought Christianity and Islam had very little in common. They still don't have much in common but I think this hope they share in Jesus' message and eventual return is vital to any remaining dialogue between the two faiths in this post 9\11 world.

Islamic Jesus (Isa) miniature of Sermon on the Mount]

Part 2
Part 3

First, a quick overview on what Muslims believe about Jesus:
  • A prophet/Messenger of God
  • Miraculously born of the Virgin Mary
  • Given the ability to perform miracles by the permission of God
  • Preached for people to adopt the straight path in submission to God's will
  • The Christian concept of the deity of Jesus is blasphemous and seen as a form of polytheism.
  • Neither killed nor crucified, but rather he was raised alive up to heaven.
  • He will return to Earth before the Day of Judgment to restore justice and defeat al-Masīḥ ad-Dajjāl (The False Messiah or the Antichrist).
  • Precursor to and foretelling of Muhammad's coming
Jesus is very highly revered in the Muslim world and is considered the second greatest prophet next to Muhammad but like all created beings he must return to the earth. Muslims even have a grave prepared for him in Medina next to the resting place of the Prophet Muhammad. Even with all the similarities (and I just named a few) why is it that Christians and Muslims can't see eye to eye on this important religious figure?

It is said in the Qur'an that Allah sent Jesus to confirm the previous revelation to the Israelites, the Tawrat, and sent him with a new revelation the Injil (the Gospel). Even Christians agree that Jesus came as the fulfillment of the Law even though this is interpreted as fulfillment through his Death and Resurrection.
17 "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Matthew 5:17-18 NIV
Even with all the similarities the main issue is that of Divinity. Was he Divine or not? Was he fully man, fully Divine, or fully Divine and fully man? The only problem with this question (and every theological question) is that it's all theory based on text based on events thousands of years ago, and this applies to both Islam and Christianity. Of course this is where faith steps in but that's a topic for another day.

If you want to understand Islam you must understand the concept of Tawhid, the Islamic doctrine of the Oneness of God.

[Excerpt taken from Wikipedia]
It holds God (Arabic: Allah) is one (wāḥid) and unique (ahad). The Qur'an asserts the existence of a single and absolute truth that transcends the world; a unique and indivisible being, who is independent of the entire creation.The indivisibility of God implies the indivisibility of God's sovereignty which, in turn, leads to the concept of a just, moral and coherent universe, rather than an existential and moral chaos. Similarly, the Qur'an rejects such ideas as the duality of God arguing that both good and evil generate from God's creative act and asserting that the evil forces have no power to create anything. The Qur'an also rejects the concept of Trinity as prevalent in Christianity. God in Islam is a universal god, rather than a local, tribal or parochial one -- is an absolute, who integrates all affirmative values and brooks no evil.
This is the foundation stone of Islam and if we are to understand the Islamic Jesus we must understand their view of God. Isa's message, as well as the other prophets mentioned in the Qur'an, is to bring the people back to God whenever they stray. Muslims believe that most nations and tribes have been sent a prophet throughout history and that Isa was just one of them.

There are a lot of similarities between the Christian and Muslim Jesus life stories as well. As I mentioned Mary miraculously gave birth to Isa not as the son of God but as a sign to humanity. [There is no Joseph in the Qur'anic version.] The Qur'an mentions signs of all sorts that reveals the majesty of God from the complex design of nature to the verses of the Qur'an itself. Isa even speaks from the cradle to calm Mary's fears and silence scandalous rumors.
30 He said: "I am indeed a servant of Allah: He hath given me revelation and made me a prophet; 31 And He hath made me blessed wheresoever I be, and hath enjoined on me Prayer and Charity as long as I live; 32 (He) hath made me kind to my mother, and not overbearing or miserable; Qur'an 19:30–32
Isa is a sign of God's power and majesty being created by the decree of God, no different than the Christian Jesus. But in Islam the sign is not worshiped nor becomes God. Even though Christians and Muslims will continue to battle over the divinity of Jesus they both understand the power of signs and symbols that point to something greater. These signs hold a hidden knowledge that contain divine elements which in some cases results in the sign being worshiped instead of what it represents. When Christians worship Jesus do they bow down to merely a man? No, but a person that led a sinless life as fully divine and yet also fully man as a symbol pointing to the divine. It is in these tangible symbols that both Christians and Muslims share in an attempt to worship the Unseen, the Unknowable. They may continue to battle over which symbols more clearly represents the Divine but in the end they are just symbols. Even though Humanity may never do away with symbols it is only when we transcend these symbols can we truly begin to recognize the Divine.