Thursday, April 30, 2009

Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?

If your faith was strong enough would you learn about other religious traditions? Or, since you have the truth, are other religions meaningless and therefore a waste of time to learn anything from them?

This depends entirely on the strength of your faith and your level of religious superiority. If your faith is not strong enough there is the fear that you might be swayed by wrong belief. Or if your faith is strong your level of religious superiority might be low enough to consider that other faiths might also carry gems of wisdom. Either way, if you're spiritually weak then you have plenty of reasons to be afraid of the big bad wolf.

[Wepwawet, Opener of the Way, clears routes for the army to proceed and assists at "the Opening of the mouth ceremony and guides the deceased into the netherworld." Often confused with Anubis.]

I believe a persons certitude of beliefs to be the biggest stumbling block that keeps someone from considering reading on other religious traditions let alone validate them as equals. Christians, more so than any other group, wrestle with this concept to the point that it hinders any kind of inter-faith dialogue. There are inter-faith Christian organizations, but Christianity has always had a problem with other religions. If they were considered equal to Christianity then Christ's resurrection is not important anymore because there are other valid paths to the divine. Most Christians wouldn't agree with this so other religions have to be false which will then elevate the Christian faith above a sea of heresy.

[Note:For the record I'm not an anti-Christian but I do pick on it because I'm more familiar with it then any other faith and I believe it is healthy to take a critical look at one's own faith.]

Fear is what keeps us from even looking at a book about another faith. Fear of being incorrect, fear of losing our way, fear of a wasted life, fear of insecurity. Faith is our foundational support that billions rely on in times of trouble. We fear losing security. Secure with the knowledge that our loved ones are smiling down at us from heaven, secure that death is not the end, and secure that we will never be alone even in our darkest times. So some of us shut the windows and lock the doors and barricade ourselves inside our faith fortress. Members of other faiths knock on our door (usually Mormons or Jehovah Witnesses) and we tell them to get off our property.

There is no love in fear.

Not all Christians are afraid of other faiths. Many reach out to other faith communities to teach and learn from each other. Their faith is strong and humble enough to truly love their fellow man. To me this is the heart of a true Christian, strong and humble in faith. The Big Bad Wolf they once feared is now a puppy to be loved and cherished. People of other faiths don't see them as Christians filled with fear but with love.

Infinite love that radiates infinitely!

For Christians, others see Christ in you by the waves of love emanating from your soul. It intoxicates and illuminates the soul spreading like a virus. Like a lighthouse people will be drawn to this love emanating from you and they will ask, "what is this love I see in you?" And then you will respond, "let me tell you the story of a man named Jesus."

So I encourage everyone to go out and learn about another Religion, any religion, so that we may begin talking to one another without fear.
Here's a few to get you started. Learn, talk, grow, love.

Southern Baptist

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Inter-Blog Dialogue: Part 4- The Never-Ending Journey

In a previous post a fellow blogger, Ben, at Discovering God's Holy Plan brought up a few questions as to the nature of my beliefs. A quick answer would be Love, but quick answers are not interesting nor insightful. If we were the Borg or in the Matrix we could plug into our neighbor's thoughts and we would know what they believe, but unfortunately (or maybe fortunately) we are restricted to human language. Ben's response, which is found in the comment section of this previous post, will be in black and mine will be in reddish brown.
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

[I honestly don't remember where I found this picture, but if anyone knows the name of the author let me know so that I can give proper credit.]

Conclusion: I love you brother, and I love your blog. I see that you are on a journey, and you are a great writer. The question I have is: Where is this journey for God going to end? The way I see it, you have 1 of 3 main endings:

1. Always believe there is a God or first cause, but reject all religious interpretation of God. Thus, you are sort of creating a new religion, or remaining somewhat atheistic or agnostic, but saying "I think there could be something there." This, in effect, changes nothing at all because you can be a good person without God anyways. To be good because there is a God, is nothing if that God can't be defined or directly quoted.

2. Reject that there is a God altogether, and join the dark side of the force (atheism). Again, this is very similar to the 1st option.

3. Conclude that if there is a God, the God of Abraham obviously has more evidence supporting him than another other "god" in history. Eventually you may accept the God with the most scientific evidence, prophecy, revelations, followers, etc (the God of Abraham), and then work our the theological doctrine which you think fits best & is supported by the most evidence (scripturally & otherwise).

Again, I totally respect your views, and I love reading your journey. But all journeys have a destination. The question is, which one will you end up choosing? The first two mean nothing, as we can all be "good people with or without God." The third one defines what "good" is, what God is, and ensures that if there is indeed a God, how to please him, what he says about us, what our future destiny is, etc.

Or, more than likely, I will take the 4th option which is unseen by those within a religious mindset, and that is the journey to experience God without labels by seeking the universal truths buried within the world religions. In a sense, I may be called someone that is spiritual but not religious and because I embrace the world outside of the religious box my journey has no end. To again quote C.S. Lewis, my journey is similar to the "Wood between the Worlds" in The Magician's Nephew. If you remember, the Wood between the Worlds was a linking location where one can access other worlds. I use this as a metaphor to explore the richness of other religions. I see myself as a spiritual traveler traveling from pool to pool in hopes of learning something from the experience.

As you said in your about me section, "Living a life that pleases God, and learning about God is a JOURNEY–Not a DESTINATION."
Our paths are similar in that we are awakened to the fact that we ARE on a journey in comparison to those who are asleep. It's not that those sleeping are spiritually "lost" but that they're missing out on something spiritually enriching. The results of my journey are twofold: it allows me to better understand my fellow man which leads to increased love, and through meditation and reflection my spirituality grows.

Sorry for the tremendously long comment, lol. I would be intrigued to hear your views & thoughts.

Also, I just wonder if you have really considered other sides of many of the "atheists" agruments. Sometimes I get the impression that you really haven't seen or read a lot in the way of "apologetics," which provides a lot of scientific, archeological, and physical evidence which shows the bible to be extraordinarily accurate. Even stuff that seems silly at first glance (Noah's flood, Moses & the Red Sea, etc) actually have some pretty good explanations for them, as do almost any critical views of the bible I have ever come across.

The whole point of apologetics (apologia, απολογία, speaking in defense) is to prove and defend that your view is correct. Muslim apologetics are going to provide evidence that Jesus spoke of the prophet Muhammad in the Gospel when he spoke of the Comforter (paráklētos) instead of the Holy Spirit. Just as some Jews and Christians are going to defend that the Israelites journeyed through the Sinai desert to the Promised Land as a literal event. Even though we haven't found ANYTHING that suggests that over 1 million people mass migrated through the desert (no pottery shards, encampments, graves, etc). You mentioned Exodus Decoded in the comment section of the previous post which is an excellent explanation to the plagues in Egypt. A more challenging documentary was recently shown last year on PBS Nova called the Bible's Buried Secrets. It's premise suggests that the stories of the Bible didn't happen exactly as they are portrayed or that they never happened at all, they're just stories, myth, told by the people. Of course the archeologists in the documentary also have "evidence" to support their claims, but as we both know evidence can only let us speculate so far until it becomes empirical. New Testament Bible scholars across the board agree that Paul wrote 7 out of the 13 epistles attributed to him. So for these 7 the consensus is that he did indeed write them. And for various reasons that is too long to go into, NT scholars are in disagreements as to who wrote the others. This is where the realm of fact and faith split. Evidence, whether in support or against your view, can only take you so far and from there you have to take it on faith. This is why matters of faith should not rest on evidence because these could always be disproven in the future.

Again, if a God created us for a reason, we would have to assume he cares about His creation, and would possibly communicate to it. Yet you seem to reject all communications as nothing more than man's own ideas.

I don't believe all communications are made up by man but the interpretation of revelation is one of many ways that the communications with the Divine can be tainted by human fallibility. Atheist would say that anything paranormal are just chemical reactions in the mind, I accept that this is possible but we can't say it is the only possible explanation for past events because we have no way of analyzing the prophets of the past.

So if God has never revealed himself, why care about God at all? If he doesn't care about us, why care about him? If he doesn't make an effort to tell us laws, why obey them? If he didn't seek us out in history, why seek him out now? He is either forever hidden & unknowable, or he has already revealed himself fully & completely. It has to be one or the other.

I don't and can't believe that we are stuck with only two choices which seems too dualistic and final. If God is forever hidden & unknowable then everyone that has had any sort of mystical or Divine experience, including prophets, were merely hallucinating and their ability to impact history in such monumental ways means these guys (and gals) were really charismatic. On the other hand, if God has revealed himself fully & completely then there would be no need to interpret the scriptures to look for God. There would be no searching and we never would have had this conversation. The knowledge of the existence of God would be as common as the rising of the sun. And since God has revealed himself fully then those that don't follow God's laws fall into two camps: those unaware of the laws and those that are aware and willing break them. This again is too dualistic and is assuming that God's morality can be explained in human terms (and vice versa). This is of course if you speak of God's nature in western thought. In Hinduism God is constantly revealing itself through avatars, guides sent to remind us of our divine nature, that all of reality is a part of Brahman. And the purpose of life for all of us is to enjoy life itself while realizing you are a part of this divine reality. Reality, as we know it, is God's Play, and we are to experience, cherish, and enjoy life while never forgetting our Atman, our true self. When you reach this realization then you no longer feel the need to commit any of the immoral and injustice acts you have mentioned. You realize that if all reality shares an intimate interconnectedness you obtain a greater respect for all life.

In Conclusion: Humanity is fallible. We can question, rationalize, and speculate about the Divine but this will only take us so far. We can believe in whichever path that leads us to becoming moral creatures but belief can only take us so far. We can also participate in
experiences (which is a purpose of rituals in religion) to commune with the Divine, but this can only take us so far. Humanity is fallible, and the very thought of our fallibility should be incredibly humbling.

What I am doing now is learning as much as I can about the world religions, but they are all so spiritually enriching that to entrench/commit myself into only one would be like living in a house with only one window.
I may take on a religion as my base (although I claim Christianity as my base) but I can not see myself limiting myself to only one. This works for me and may not work for everyone. I know you are just trying to give me "some things to ponder" on my journey, so that I may "choose my destination well", but the fact is that I've already weighed and considered everything you've stated and have moved on from this your line of thinking years ago. This does not mean I am unable to learn anything from you but that I've already heard all of your arguments/points before.

I'm sure I could be saved and learn to love my fellow man within Christianity but I see this as too limiting.
If this is seen as dangerous or misguided and if God were to damn my soul for this then I would rather risk personal damnation so that I may increase my love for my fellow man than to save myself and limit my love.

As always, love & peace to you friend!

And peace and blessing be upon you brother.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

My Journey Thus Far: Part 2- On Messengers, Texts, and Religion

As I progress along my spiritual journey I have introduced myself to a wide range of ideas, thoughts, and concepts so that I may understand and love my fellow man. In celebration of my approaching 100th post I thought I would review my spiritual growth over these last few months. I had made a similar post once before when I started this blog and even though it does not outwardly appear that I've experienced any spiritual growth, I am beginning to internalize what I've learned.

The Messengers

I believe that throughout history there have been important figures that seem to live in a plane beyond our understanding where they embody knowledge that seems to only be able to originate from a Divine source. Similar to shamans, these prophets, or messengers, are able to bring humanity teachings that is necessary for our progression. As humans we may not be able to comprehend or even accept these messages because they "rock the boat". Jesus rocked the boat when he taught the people they can peacefully resist their Roman oppressors while reinterpreting the scriptures to bring the populace back to God. Muhammad rocked the boat when he challenged the mistreatment of the elderly, women, and the poor by the Quraysh saying that the One God created us as equals even though we have differences. Siddhārtha Gautama rocked the boat when he challenged the Hindu class system by saying anyone can attain enlightenment and are not bound to their class. The Old Testament prophets like Micah rocked the boat when they challenged the priest system by saying that all that God wants from us is to be a Just, Loving, and Merciful people (Micah 6:8). The Western and Eastern religious explanation for these men agree that they were in communication with the divine. But the Eastern religions go a bit further and say that these Avatars, manifestations of God, came to remind us of our own divinity within, our atman, and act as guides to instruct us how to do so.

The Holy Texts

The community of believers make a text holy, not the text itself. The Qur'an is sacred to Muslim but not to others. The Talmud is sacred to Jews but not to others. It is tribal man that elevates the text, and because of tribalism we root for and defend our texts. Furthermore because of our tribalism we gravitate towards the differences that separate us rather than on what unites us. Yes, the holy books of the world do make contradictory statements but this is just focusing on the branches instead of the tree. There is a universal message buried beneath and behind the cacophony of debaters, apologetics, contradictions, evidence, and cultural differences that I believe is the heart of the Divine. The universal message is not a mish-mash smorgasbord all-you-can-eat buffet of different beliefs and traditions because that would imply competing universal messages. That which is truly universal can be found across all religious traditions. This universal spiritual vein of truth is what I seek; I am looking for the tree and not the branches.


Religion is the package/language/expression of the universal truths that the messengers reveal to humanity. Some religions focus on different elements on these universal truths but I believe they branch from the same foundation. Like the holy text, religions are molded by the culture in which they were born. It contains the imagery, language, and myth of that time and place. Its practices and rituals flower into an expression of the message. When Muslims participate in the Hajj they are participating in rituals established centuries ago that are meant to be an expression of the souls urge to commune with God. Likewise as Christians participate in the Eucharist this is to remind them of the gift of Christ's sacrifice, Christ dwelling in them, and their unity in Christ. Both are an expression to connect with the Divine. I can not believe that any religion is entirely true and all others false and if this were the case the true religion would have been discovered by now. Let's say there is a true religion it would be impossible to pick it out among the thousands of combinations of beliefs in the world because of Man's fallible nature. Western and Eastern thought deals with this in two ways. In the western religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Baha'i, etc.), Man's sinful nature is dealt by judging the soul/ego. Depending on how you led your life, what you believed, and your treatment of your fellow man you will be judged accordingly. In some of the eastern religions (Hinduism, Buddhism, etc.), Man's sinful nature is dealt by removing the ego. This is done differently in these two religions (I have yet to study the other eastern religions and philosophies) but is focused on being released from "the suffering and limitations of worldly existence." Once you reach this state than all the worries, troubles, and pain in the world can not afflict you. In both East and West the practitioner is wrestling with its own fallible self in an attempt to transform themselves. All religions are attempts at reforming Man's nature, and even though we don't agree on the method of reform we all yearn for it.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Inter-Blog Dialogue: Part 3- The Dominion of Men

Merriam-Webster defines Dialogue as the following:

2 a: a conversation between two or more persons; also : a similar exchange between a person and something else (as a computer)
b: an
exchange of ideas and opinions
c: a discussion between representatives of parties to a conflict that is aimed at resolution dialogue between loggers and environmentalists

Dialogue by Jean Augagneur]

In relation to the realm of the religious and spiritual we use the first two definition ('a' and 'b') whenever we come across people of different faith, and hopefully never HAVE TO use the 3rd definition ('c'). In a previous post a fellow blogger, Ben, at Discovering God's Holy Plan brought up a few questions as to the nature of my beliefs. A quick answer would be Love, but quick answers are not interesting nor insightful. If we were the Borg or in the Matrix we could plug into our neighbor's thoughts and we would know what they believe, but unfortunately (or maybe fortunately) we are restricted to human language. Ben's response, which is found in the comment section of this previous post, will be in black and mine will be in reddish brown.

Part 1.
Part 2.

First, stand up, stretch, and take a bathroom break because this is a LONG post.

Part 3- The Dominion of Men

I guess my point is this: If you reject God as presented in the Bible so strongly, and say that God is something different, then what consequence does that have, and how can your God ever be defined? The way I see it, your God at this point has apparently never communicated with us, may be nothing more than a "first cause" or "energy source" who cares nothing about us or does not know us personally, makes no promise of eternal life, makes no promise of a fair judgment of all evil, and has no future consequence if we disobey or reject him, etc.

[Responded to in Part 2, kept for continuity]

If that is the true nature of God, why follow any laws at all? It won't save us, not will we likely be resurrected or live an eternal life. Why not just be a "moral" atheist? Or a "moral" agnostic? Or create a new religion altogether & re-define God.

Even if God is an impersonal First Cause God there are still laws and order that govern the universe. These natural laws have been apparent to man and even if we refused to follow God's laws there will always be social codes, instincts, that even animals follow. So I guess no matter how primitive man has been, or may become, there will always be order. We can not escape it. The biblical laws were used to progress humanity to the next level of consciousness. One of my world religion teachers explained the Baha'i view of progressive revelation like this. This may not be entirely correct but he said that the Baha'is viewed revelation as a picture (or mirror) of God and that each new revelation brought a clearer picture than the previous ones, and that all revelations were valid. Of course they claim that Baha'ullah revealed the clearest revelation to date but, if I remember correctly, they also believe that another messenger can come along and bring a clearer picture of God in the future. God has been redefined and new religions have been created in the past and without new religious thought, without progression, then religion as a whole would become stagnant and die. Christianity might be the largest religion now but 2000 years from now definitions and descriptions of God and modes of worship will appear alien to us (that is if God survives the next 2000 years). The notion that a transcendent God is separate from the universe is more of a Western image of God. I have yet to delve deeply into Eastern religious thought but frankly when we discuss God we are only looking at half the picture. But from what little I know, the Eastern answer would be that there isn't a God OUT THERE that sends down laws through messengers because pure morality is found within by removing the layers of the ego and realizing that you are part of the transendent reality (God). But that's a whole other carton of eggs.

I guess what I am trying to say is that if you reject the God of the bible as man just making stuff up about what they "believe," and God is unknowable/unknown in reality, then that God means nothing at all really. Why worship it, follow it, or believe in it? Why not just be a "good" person, and do what you want in life, so long as it doesn't hurt another person? Why not watch child porn, or have sex with parents, siblings, animals, cheat on taxes, lie when necessary, etc. if they all consent or seem to enjoy it and/or no one ever finds out? You see what I mean, and this is the exact problem I am talking about?

These apparently harmless acts you've mentioned above are not only found in the stories of the Biblical patriarchs but defy the natural social code that humans have had depending on the society. These acts still happen but they are considered taboo. So even if some day God meant nothing to humanity we will still go on obeying and following our society's established ethics. But we can't judge the Bible too harshly on morality because they are from a different time and place; we can't use Western 21st century morals to judge Eastern 7th century c.e. Arabia or any other place and time. Cannibalism is one of our greatest taboos yet just about, if not, everyone may be descended from groups that have practiced cannibalism because it was a global (but not universal) practice. I'm not saying that EVERY society practiced cannibalism but that the practice was found in just about every part of the world. Even the early Christians were accused of being cannibals, though not true in the physical sense (that I'm aware of), because Christians at the time were being held accountable to practice the morals of their time and place (The Mediterranean and the Levant, 1st-4th century c.e.). They didn't worship the local and regional gods but met secretly in homes to break the body of a man, eat his flesh, and drink his blood. To outsiders this sounds like cannibalism even if they knew it was a purely religious and symbolic ritual.

Again, the only problem that comes up is what is "good." Society changes what is "right" and "wrong" every year. You made the point that people shouldn't concern themselves with homosexual marriage, and should instead focus on helping others. I agree 100%. We should all be focusing on feeding the hungry, etc. Not this nonsense about allowing gays to call themselves married. I have nothing against homosexuality, if that is what they want, do it. But don't change the laws to redine a marriage.

Yes, society does change what is "right" and "wrong" every year and this is called progress. A better question would be is society improving in defining right and wrong? In the last century women and African Americans have gained more rights for themselves in America than ever before. Just imagine what society may change by the 22nd century! Humanity's history is trying ever so desperately to progress and improve, and even though we may go through dark times we must never forget the people we once were nor lose sight of the people we yearn to become. Society has taken over the reins of morality and I don't think they will ever go back into the hands of priests or even God. This does not mean God is useless but that society as a whole is now deciding for itself what is right and wrong. Can society pull this off? We'll just have to wait and see. Either we'll eradicate ourselves or we'll find a way to coexist peacefully. If society finds a way to bring global peace to earth where does that put God and does that mean that we're more moral than God? I don't think God as a concept/experience/Father figure will ever completely be cut out of the human experience. At least not anytime soon.

But it is the homosexuals that push to have a marriage which is based on a religious definition historically. What follows then? Adopting young children? Having surrogates create them in test tubes so they can have children & getting donated sperm & eggs. And what about those poor children who grow up ridiculed that their parents are homosexuals (yes, kids in school are very cruel)? How can a child have a moral compass in life, when they are raised from youth being told one thing is okay by a mere human, when religious texts say otherwise? What happens when there is no longer a family unit in America & society has even more moral decay? Then the problem gets serious. Not only that, but religious extremists from Islam & other places get even more upset, and want to bomb us even more because they think all Americans behave that way, and all Americans are against God's laws.

But it isn't the religious people who make a stir to change laws, they only defend them, and they wouldn't do that if there wasn't pressure being placed to change the laws to allow homosexual marriage (which by the way descriminates agains bisexual marriage, polygamy marriage, close-kin marriages, and all other banned marriages--either suppor them all or only man & woman).

This all depends on what society chooses for itself regardless of what God wants. I believe children are born without hatred and prejudices. It is man's fallible and tribal nature that teach children what may or may not be right regardless (and because) of religious texts, and the fracturing of the family unit has taken more hits from divorce than any issue like homosexuality. If anything we should outlaw divorce except for in extreme cases. This, of course, is highly unlikely. Man is a social creature, and like all social creatures we have certain natural instincts which is why I believe the family unit will always stay intact.
Without the family unit I don't think we would have progressed to our current state.

I understand the theme of your argument: God's morals vs. Man's. But the fact is humanity has a better chance of establishing and understanding our own ethics than attempting to understand God's Laws BECAUSE humanity is so divided on the subject of God. A great example of humanity establishing its own ethics is found in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. I believe this would be an incredible step forward for us if we ever attempted to abide by this declaration. I'm sure many would say the same about abiding by God's laws, but the subject of God is too divisive, too diverse to even pinpoint what God wants.

This is one of my longest posts. I like to keep them short but I could not find a good stopping point. So...

To summarize: Man is too diverse to agree on What God is let alone follow His laws. Man can do the next best thing by deciding for ourselves what is right. Some things are naturally unethical, others not quite so, but in the end we don't know. As long as humanity progresses and strives to improve we might survive as a race. If not then the apes can have their go at it.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Inter-Blog Dialogue: Part 2- On God's Character

Merriam-Webster defines Dialogue as the following:

2 a: a conversation between two or more persons; also : a similar exchange between a person and something else (as a computer)
b: an
exchange of ideas and opinions
c: a discussion between representatives of parties to a conflict that is aimed at resolution dialogue between loggers and environmentalists

Dialogue by Jean Augagneur]

In relation to the realm of the religious and spiritual we use the first two definition ('a' and 'b') whenever we come across people of different faith, and hopefully never HAVE TO use the 3rd definition ('c'). In a previous post a fellow blogger, Ben, at Discovering God's Holy Plan brought up a few questions as to the nature of my beliefs. A quick answer would be Love, but quick answers are not interesting nor insightful. If we were the Borg or in the Matrix we could plug into our neighbor's thoughts and we would know what they believe, but unfortunately (or maybe fortunately) we are restricted to human language. Ben's response, which is found in the comment section of this previous post, will be in black and mine will be in reddish brown. Part 1 can be found here.

Part 2- On God's Character

And you also said that the bible is an honest attempt by man to explain God. I somewhat disagree with this. If the bible/religious texts are not really God's laws, and it was a bunch of men making this up-- thinking in their heads God was talking (and he really wasn't), then it is nothing short of complete & utter insanity. Yet the character & intelligence of the men as presented (Moses, Jesus, the Prophets, etc) reveal not insanity but very intelligent & honest individuals with exceptional moral character & a deep belief in God. Like CS Lewis said, thinking these people were "good people" or "good moral teachers" is NOT an option. Either we can believe these men are psychopaths who were crazy & heard voices, they were liars who used "God" to deceive people, or they told the absolute truth. Saying they are "good teachers" isn't really an option they left open to us.

Also, you quote Jesus as being a person who influences you. But Jesus didn't teach us to be good people for the heck of it. He told us God himself loves us & is compassionate, and we should be the same towards others because it is the right thing to do, and God dictates this. He wasn't here to teach us to JUST be better people. He was here to reveal God, and he believed in the God of the Bible as presented by the bible, and made some pretty hefty claims. Again, either he is a lunatic, liar, or he told the truth. There is no in-between here. You could maybe say he was a nice psychopath, but he was a psychopath nonetheless.

I am a fan of C.S. Lewis' works, but his Trilemma (liar, lunatic, lord) on the nature of Jesus Christ only works within mainstream Christianity. Outside of Christianity a fourth option appears, Legend. This fourth option states that men created certain legends and sayings about Jesus and attributed it to him years later. But this can only be seen if you read the Bible spiritually and not literally. If you take every word as historically true then this fourth option can not exist. I'm not doubting the existence of Jesus and the Biblical prophets but just their portrayal in the Bible. We have proof (not evidence) that people wrote legends about Jesus in the non-canonical gospels. One quick example is found in the Infancy Gospel of Thomas where Jesus as a boy is making birds out clay on the shore. He is accused of working on the Sabbath so Jesus claps his hands and the birds fly away. I'm sure if you read the history of the Bible's canonization it will say that most non-canonical texts were found to be fraudulent (and one guy was actually said to have been caught in the act). But this does not tell if the stories themselves have any historical truth nor how far back the story goes. These and other stories MAY be true accounts of the life of Christ that were never accepted into the Bible for several reasons but mostly political. I believe that Jesus was indeed a Jewish prophet that came to call his people back to God. The priest were in bed with the oppressors and not only did he teach the people how to resist peacefully but did this while reinterpreting the scriptures.

Also, I really like your analogy about the puzzle pieces of God. I agree that we should all take a critical look at God, religious texts, different theological views, etc. and not be spoonfed a belief system. But the major world religions all believe in the God of the Abraham (Islam, Chrisitanity, Judaism). There are a massive following of 1 of these 3 religions, and without a doubt the God of the bible has the most archeological evidence, eye witness accounts, miracles, and followers than any other God in history. The world population that believes in the God of Abraham is nearly 60%, which equates to almost 4 billion people. The other main religions are Hinduism (which actually believes much of what the monothestic religions teach), and Buddhism which really doesn't emphasize a god.

Not only that but Islam, Christianity, and Judaism all agree on the "Main" theological points (there is a God, he has communicated with man, the 10 commandments, moral law, the prophets, etc). On these topics they almost agree 100%. It is on very small issues they disagree on.

I guess my point is this: If you reject God as presented in the Bible so strongly, and say that God is something different, then what consequence does that have, and how can your God ever be defined? The way I see it, your God at this point has apparently never communicated with us, may be nothing more than a "first cause" or "energy source" who cares nothing about us or does not know us personally, makes no promise of eternal life, makes no promise of a fair judgement of all evil, and has no future consequence if we disobey or reject him, etc.

I believe his character is clouded within the Bible by the writers living at the time because they were at a lower level of consciousness then us. The Israelites were not ready for the New Testament teachings and morals so they continued with their rituals. The Old Testament writers wrote about God with their dated mindset. It's not that God can not be found in the Bible but that his character is packaged within dated human thought and expression. Progression. Christ brought new revelation and interpretation of scripture to those in 1st century Palestine. I can imagine Jesus saying, "forget about rituals and laws just love your fellow man, this is what God wants." What I'm saying is not any more wild then what Christ said: God is Love, forget about what you know about God in a dated text and learn to experience Love. I define God as infinite Love, but as a fallible creature I accept that I may be 100% wrong. It is not about knowing your right or wrong it's about embracing, experiencing, and sharing infinite Love. Humanity needs progression. This does NOT mean we can trash the Bible but that we have to look at it with new eyes.

I believe that Jesus along with many other prophets and spiritual guides have tapped into this "energy source", that I define as God, who continue to remind humanity of these universal morals and teachings we find scattered throughout the world religions. I believe that each religion base their teachings on these universal foundational truths but each expresses these truths in different ways.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Inter-Blog Dialogue: Part 1- On Morality

Merriam-Webster defines Dialogue as the following:

2 a: a conversation between two or more persons; also : a similar exchange between a person and something else (as a computer)
b: an
exchange of ideas and opinions
c: a discussion between representatives of parties to a conflict that is aimed at resolution dialogue between loggers and environmentalists

Dialogue by Jean Augagneur]

In relation to the realm of the religious and spiritual we use the first two definition ('a' and 'b') whenever we come across people of different faith, and hopefully never HAVE TO use the 3rd definition ('c'). In a previous post a fellow blogger, Ben, at Discovering God's Holy Plan brought up a few questions as to the nature of my beliefs. A quick answer would be Love, but quick answers are not interesting nor insightful. If we were the Borg or we resided outside the Matrix we could plug into our neighbor's thoughts and we would know what they believe, but unfortunately (or maybe fortunately) we are restricted to human language. Ben's questions, which are found originally in the comment section of this previous post, are in black and mine are in reddish brown.

Ben, one final note, to keep things simple you can reply in the comment section but try not to add any more questions or else this specific thread will get long and confusing. Feel free to post your questions/response on your page where I can follow up with comments.


As always it is a pleasure to stop by & read your blog. In your last few posts, you have expressed your disbelief in God as presented in the Bible. I understand & totally respect your views, but at the same time I am a little confused by them.

For example: You talk about how religion should make us better towards our fellow man, and I agree 100%. But by what standard do we say what is right and what is wrong? If we use man's standard, how can we know "man" is right? If there is no God, there are no absolute rights or absolute wrongs. Everything is subjective. If a God exists, however, logic would dictate that God's rules should be followed over man's, if God indeed has contacted man in history to dictate these moral laws (which the main monothestic religions of the world indicate). I see in the Bible that God says exactly what you say, we should be good because it is right, and the laws given in the bible give us a clear standard of what "right" means, and also let us know what happens if we choose evil. Jesus taught the 2 most important commands are to "love God" and to "love thy neighbor."

We don't know if man's standard is right because man is too tribal to have a "standard". I believe there is a universal moral code beneath our tribal feuding that appears when we put aside our cultural and regional mores, folkways, and ethics. There are elements of universal morality present in all cultures, but what I can not say is that the Bible has a monopoly on morality nor, as a whole, can it be perceived as a container of timeless morals. Timeless morals are present within the Bible but they are also present in other holy texts. What I see is a manipulation and primitive (to modern society's "morals") understanding of morals in the Bible. Things that were acceptable thousands of years ago because of their temporal and cultural context are frowned upon now (i.e. polygyny). The fallibility of man fouls up any communication with and understanding of the Divine. You can't get a High Definition digital signal through analog rabbit ear antennae (or at least I think you can't). Because of our inability to clearly understand the will of the Divine we end up with thousands of interpretations on God's will, our holy texts, and man's relationship with God and one another. But, I believe as time and humanity progresses, revelation also progresses. We begin to unearth some of those Universal morals peeking through the texts and as a global community begin respecting each other as equals by implementing those morals into a global society.

This is similar to laws in our government. We shouldn't drive the speed limit because we are punished for it if we don't, we should do it because it is the safe thing to do. But there must be a punishiment if we choose to disobey this law, to ensure that the law is enforced. Like this, God wants us to be good because it is right not because he enjoys punishing us, but he enforces laws to ensure the world stays this way for the greater good (and so it doesn't end up like Hitler or Stalin would like).

All world religions touch on this subject and I especially like the way Buddhist sum this up in two lines: Help others whenever you can, and if you can't do that then do no harm. The intriguing thing is that Buddhist claim that this can be done without the guidance of a Creator God. In a sense, I believe humanity has the ability (and technology) to evolve to the point where we are born as naturally good people. Realistically, I don't see this happening any time soon (or at all) but if we collectively internalize Help others whenever you can and do no harm then our species might just survive.

You keep using a lot of atheists arguments that I hear all the time, "God is a killer, God is evil, the sacrifice thing, etc." I feel like all of these arguments are taken a little out of context, because, for example, we see that many verses indicate sacrifice has never pleased God, and that he doesn't even require it in so many instances in the bible (like with Jonah). It was more of a symbolic way to show an outward expression of your "repentence." Even in Judaism, if you couldn't afford a sacrifice, God didn't care & you could use flour instead of a ram, etc. It isn't about blood & guts, it is about showing that you repent, and making a public or outward declaration to God. Instead of just saying "sorry," they would "SHOW" they were sorry.

The way God is portrayed in the Old Testament makes him appear too anthropomorphic: he collectively punishes people (What does punishing the Egyptian populace have to do with Pharaoh's hardened heart in Exodus? Collective punishment is frowned upon and even considered a war crime in today's society.), he gets jealous over idols (they're just idols), and, similar to pagan gods, He has his people offer him sacrifices. Whether or not Atheist can see beyond the apparent anthropomorphism, I understand (which is the heart of my blog) why Atheist use these arguments. What my point was in my previous post is that I believe that the true Creator God is the non-anthropomorphic God which wants us "to act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with Him" (Micah 6:8). This, I believe, is the true character of God. I don't believe that God is a Killer, evil, or demands ANY sacrifice for sins, these don't equate with Love. These negative attributes developed because a "primitive" people tried to appease forces they could not understand. Essentially, I see the whole notion of sacrifice as a primitive practice (compared to today) of a different time and culture, and because of this historical understanding I don't believe God needs to be approached with "barbecue" (i.e. Jesus' sacrifice) anymore. We can approach God directly and as a God of infinite Love, "forgiveness" comes as we internalize Love and let it radiate out in all directions.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Just $1 a Day...

Just $1 a day will help save this Indonesian boy. Not only will it provide food, clean water, and medical care but "most important of all, your sponsored child will hear about Jesus Christ and be encouraged to develop a lifelong relationship with God."

I'm sure you've seen these sponsor a child programs on TV where a relief volunteer walks through a poor backwater village in a third world country you can't even pronounce and introduces you, the viewer, to poor little Fiki in Indonesia (Fiki is an actual 5 year old Indonesian boy I found on this Christian child sponsorship program). I'm guessing some of you wanted to change the channel at that moment because you felt guilty, but if you did you would feel even more guilty. Let's face it you just came back from eating at Chili's and you couldn't make it to the parking lot without undoing your belt.

[Syukur Slamat Zendrato "Fiki", age 5]

This post is not about poor Fiki although after seeing a picture of him I kind of wish it was about him. But I wanted people to see an actual Indonesian boy and if it wasn't for programs like Compassion not only will his father have to work harder to support Fiki and his siblings but his soul might have been eternally damned.

I remember a debate (actually it was more like an argument over several things including our different religious beliefs: Baptist and Adventist) I had with my step dad years ago about religion. He had said that if I didn't accept Jesus Christ as my personal savior then my soul will burn in Hell forever (at least that was the gist of his statement). I had responded with an overused but intriguing rebuttal:

"So you're saying if an Indonesian boy dies before hearing the Gospel, his soul will be eternally damned to Hell?"

His response was that if God wanted the Gospel spread to Indonesia then He would make it so, and added that if the boy died before ever hearing the Gospel then God would judge him by his heart. This had an incredible impact on my spirituality that didn't really surface until a couple years ago. If God really did judge someone based on their belief system then only a few million people, if that, would make it to Heaven, making God look incredibly unjust. But on the other hand if he didn't judge a person's soul based on their belief system but on the contents of their heart then just about anyone could get into Heaven if they led a good life. And who would want that, it would be incredibly crowded.

Let's say that Christianity is the true religion; how would you know you were in the right denomination? Just looking in the contents of the 12th edition of the Handbook of Denominations in the United States there are over 30 headings under the Baptists umbrella. 30! And these are just the major branches! They may vary minutely in theology but the differences between United American Free Will Baptists and Sovereign Grace Baptists may condemn your soul to eternal Hellfire. Of course, that is if God did indeed judge you by your beliefs.

But if God did judge us by the contents of our hearts then what does it matter if we're a Sikh or a Methodist, a Sufi or a Bahai? If the contents of our hearts are acceptable to God then why does humanity put so much importance on belief and practice? Since it is IMPOSSIBLE to choose the "right" belief then I believe, and this is fallible I speaking, that God just wants us to be good to one another. Period. I don't think it matters if little Fiki is a Christian or Muslim, which the majority of Indonesians are of Muslim faith, but that he grows up to be a loving and compassionate man. If I don't have the heart to condemn a little Indonesian boy to Hell how can God? I know I said that this post wasn't going to be about little Fiki and I was wrong, it is about him and everyone in his state of need. I already feel for little Fiki wondering if he's getting enough to eat, enough to drink, is his family healthy. In fact, my wife and I were considering sponsoring a child through a charity instead of giving to the church, and we just might after writing this post (she's the boss so I have to OK it with her first). With all the religious wars, fighting, and injustice caused BY religion isn't it time we begin internalizing the beliefs we shout from pulpits, isn't it time to stretch out the hand of love and say, "I love you Fiki, no matter where you come from, what you did, or whatever you believe."

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Be Grillin' Tonight!

The word Sacrifice occurs 166 times in 157 verses in the Bible (NIV) and I'm sure the word was used in a handful of ways but mainly as animal sacrifice to God. As my professor, Rabbi Rami once said, "God sure loves the smell of barbecue." I think, or at least I hope, God is a vegetarian now, although he wasn't always. At one point he had his priests grill for him from sunrise to sunset, until he got sick of it. But why does God need sacrifice before he can forgive us? Is it just a symbolic gesture that reminds us of our sinful nature? Is sin so powerful that we can not approach God without bringing a plate of barbecue (OT animal sacrifice/NT human sacrifice)?

[Brazen Altar, Published about 1904 for author Rev. Hurlbut.]

So let's take this one step at a time.
  1. Adam and Eve screwed up big time by eating from God's tree (The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil).
  2. This screw up was so big that all of their descendants were damned to mortality.
  3. To rectify this problem God said that our sins will be forgiven but we have to give Him something in return: blood (there were other things offered along with animal sacrifice).
  4. After centuries of animal sacrifice God got his fill of barbecue, but still required one last life to be taken as the perfect sacrifice: Himself (that is if you believe in the Trinity).
  5. Through this last and perfect sacrifice all humanity is brought back to God and will return us, in a sense, to the Edenic state.
But why sacrifice? Well because of sin (disobeying God) something HAS to die, including damnation of the soul. There is no direct link to God, at least in Christianity, without going through an intermediary, Jesus. It is through this perfect sacrifice that we can reconnect with God, but there remains the issue of Death. Something has to die for us to even approach God, but my burning question is why can't we approach God on our own? No intermediary, no death, no barbecue, just the sinner approaching the Judge's bench. Some would say that God is too holy to be approached directly. Sure, why not. But why can't God forgive us without sacrifice? Is it because it goes against the rules God set up so His hands are tied?

God: "Sorry, but this is a BYOB (Bring Your Own Barbecue) Party. If you don't bring the Meat, you're gonna feel the Heat."

The whole idea of offering a sacrifice to the gods was THE way to appease the gods. It was a lower consciousness form of worship that is directly related to how they understood the world around them. To us it may seem primitive, and I hesitate to us such a negative word, but I think sacrifice was an intriguing tool in an attempt to appease the gods during their time. When something happened in the weather or nature they believed it was guided by a particular god, and if the gods are happy they will make you prosperous. This is how most, if not all, cultures including the ancient Israelites interacted with the Divine.

If mankind has outgrown offering sacrifice to the gods does that mean that God has outgrown it as well? Yes, because I believe that our perception of God and our perception of the world around us are linked. Karen Armstrong's A History of God describes the evolution of our perception of our monotheistic God which also parallels mankind's progress. As humanity progressed our ideas and concepts of God changed, grew, and evolved. Some have even stated that we don't need God anymore because we have evolved to a point where we have the knowledge, technology, and the global interconnectedness to bring an end to, or at least drastically reduce, some forms of suffering. In a sense this is true, but I don't think humanity is ready to let go of God's hand and might never be ready. The relationship between man and the Divine might always be necessary but may also continue to change in form and practice has humanity progresses.

Personally I don't believe that the image of the bloodthirsty God of the Bible properly describes God's true nature. The Old Testament, Fire and Brimstone God was molded into a reflection of man's own violent image. I believe that the true image of God, the Loving, Compassionate, and Just God can be found scattered throughout the Bible and indeed other holy texts. If God is truly Loving, Compassionate, and Just, and if He wants the same from us, then we must let go of our image of the old bloodthirsty God, shut off the grill, and become living embodiments of these Godly traits. This is extremely difficult for many people as it was for me. Our individual perception of reality (including our perception of God) is tied to our ego, and any attempts to change or remove it is difficult depending on the belief. If you believe that the Bible is the inerrant infallible word of God and you read most, if not all, verses as literal then the attempt to change how you view God would be extremely difficult.

I believe leaving behind an image of a God that demands sacrifice is needed to becoming Loving, Merciful, and Just people. This is what works for me and may not work for you, but if our different beliefs help us to become better people then let us continue down our individual paths while always seeking brotherhood. Our differences should not matter if our goal is truly the same, and beneath the layers of tribalism and ego is a universal force that is constantly reminding us of our shared humanity.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

My Journey Thus Far: Part 1- On God, His Message, and Morality

As I progress along my spiritual journey I have introduced myself to a wide range of ideas, thoughts, and concepts so that I may understand and love my fellow man. In celebration of my approaching 100th post I thought I would review my spiritual growth over these last few months. I had made a similar post once before when I started this blog and even though it does not outwardly appear that I've experienced any spiritual growth, I have begun deeply internalizing what I've learned.

I see too much order and patterns in the Universe for there not to be a Creator (Primum movens or a First Cause God). Whether this God takes the form of an omnipotent Being outside of the universe or as the universe itself (Universal Consciousness), I do not know nor do I think is important. I see an eternal creative force present in everything throughout the universe and from this force out flows eternal beauty and eternal love. It is this eternal love that I recognize as God. I do not believe that any holy text comes close to describing the Creator and a part of me believes that the Creator portrayed in our text is man's honest attempt at describing Him. But I'll touch on that later. The more important question every believer must eventually ask of themselves is how does my belief in God make me a better person?

The Message
Live a loving, compassionate, and just life. That's it. Everything else, be it belief or works, should revolve around this foundation as an expression not as the foundation itself. Merely believing in God does not make you a loving a compassionate person. It might "save" your soul but it may trap you from fully embracing and loving your brother. I know and have met many believers that lack these foundational qualities. Over and over again in the western monotheistic religions there is one theme that repeats itself: if you love God, serve your fellow man. I would take it one step further and say: whether or not you love God, serve your fellow man. We should not be good people BECAUSE a holy book or God tells us to be good people, but we should be good people because we WANT TO BE good people. Our morality should come from within and should not be dictated from an outside source or else we would just be bad people who act good because we're told to act that way. Of course some believers would say I have it all wrong and say it is because of their beliefs that they are good people.

Personal Practice and Morality
Do we need to acknowledge God to be a moral person? No, we can doubt all we want as long as we strive to be loving, compassionate, and respectful to one another. As I've stated above, I believe we have the ability to become good people without any outside force poking us with a stick until we get it right. This is what Atheist would argue and I agree with them. There are universal truths (common sense laws) that speak on morality that everyone agrees on. Everyone agrees that we should not go around randomly killing, stealing, and raping people without justice. We agree that these are acts against humanity, which is what we should concern ourselves more with instead of acts against God. Which is more important: feeding and clothing the needy or protecting the definition of marriage? On an individual level, I believe that anything that truly cause you to becoming a more loving and compassionate person should be practiced. If meditating on the Golden Image of Buddha helps to build patience and kindness (which I'm not even sure if that's even what it's suppose to do), then May the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha bless you. If believing in the death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ causes you to be a more loving and charitable person, then may God be with you. If praying 5 times a day while facing Mecca reorientates your life so that you are mindful of your daily actions, then peace be upon you. I believe that our goals all point in the same direction: service to one another.

Even though my stance on certain religious views have changed, and will continue to change, I ground my spiritual foundation in Love, Justice, and Compassion. While growing up my foundational example, which acts as my moral compass, is represented in the teachings of Jesus. He along with many other prophets and spiritual guides have tapped into these universal truths which mankind desperately seeks. What I seek is to serve my fellow man, others may judge my methods as "sinful" and even dangerous, but I would rather serve my fellow man in this life and risk "damning my soul" than to believe in rigid beliefs that keeps me from truly loving my brother.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Will not the Judge of all the Earth do Right?

Genesis 18:20-25 (NIV)

20 Then the LORD said, "The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sin so grievous 21 that I will go down and see if what they have done is as bad as the outcry that has reached me. If not, I will know." 22 The men turned away and went toward Sodom, but Abraham remained standing before the LORD. 23 Then Abraham approached him and said: “Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked? 24 What if there are fifty righteous people in the city? Will you really sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous people in it? 25 Far be it from you to do such a thing—to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike. Far be it from you! Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?”

[Abraham and the Three Angels by Gustave Dore]

It was Abraham’s doubt that delayed the destruction of Sodom when the Lord told Abraham of what he was going to do. Abraham did not doubt that the Lord WOULD do it, he doubted that the Lord would sweep away the righteous WITH the wicked! God was willing to wipe Sodom off the face of the Earth without even considering that there might be a few innocent people. Abraham then BARGAINED with God to spare the city for the sake of 10 righteous people.

Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?

If Abraham thought that this was unjust and unfitting of God then who has a clearer grasp of morality? God or Abraham? Or was God testing Abraham to see if he would see the moral quandary. To Abraham it appeared that God was willing to annihilate a whole city because they were beyond salvation (how a whole city, including infants, was beyond saving under a “compassionate” God is beyond me). So he pleaded and bargained with God to being less wrathful. Notice that he doesn't question Sodom's sins but is only worried for the innocent.

“Calm down God, I’m sure there is someone worth saving,” I can imagine Abraham saying. And those that were saved consisted of Lot and his family. Lot who offered up his daughters to the men that wanted to “know” the two angels that were under his protection (Genesis 19:8). Lot's wife didn't make it far past the city limits before she too met her fate. Lot and his two daughters escaped to a cave when Lot's daughters impregnated themselves with their father's seed because they believed that they were the last survivors of their family line (or if you want to go one step farther, the last people on earth). Of course, maybe God did intend Lot's family to be destroyed because he knew the Children of Lot, The Moabites and Ammonites, would cause trouble for the Children of Israel later in the future.

These verses have intrigued me since they were brought to my attention in class. They may also be a glimpse into the thoughts of those who wrote Genesis. Another intriguing verse (vs.18) is where the Lord is found talking to himself (or to the angels if you don’t interpret the three men as the Trinity).

Then the LORD said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do?"

This is one of the few (if not only) verses that the reader gets a glimpse of God thinking/speaking to himself. It’s a curious window into the social-religious mindset of those that lived. A peek into what it means to be human in a different era and in a different state of consciousness.

So, how can a man like Abraham, or any man, question and doubt God’s morality and judgment? Or to rephrase the question: How is it that Abraham sees a moral problem with mass murder and destruction but God can not? The only answer I can think of is that the bloodthirsty God of the Bible does not exist. Man created the Old Testament, Fire and Brimstone God in his own violent image. This is the god that Atheist protest about and the god I refuse to worship. I can not bring myself to worshiping a god that as the Bible claims to be a compassionate God while simultaneously being a jealous and vengeful God. I consider myself a monotheist but I don't believe that the Father God figure in the Bible represents God's nature. I may be wrong but I do not seek to be right or wrong but to increase my understanding and love for my fellow man. I hope to one day be as bold as Abraham to question everything including God: if the judge of all the Earth can not do right, how can we?

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Religion in 20XX: Part 2- E.T.'s Jesus

Within the last month I've become intrigued by the vast amount of sci-fi books that mention religion. Outside of the Dune series I had no idea that sci-fi writers would even acknowledge religion let alone interweave them into the plot. Sci-fi, as a genre, has enormous potential and room to grow. It can take us to worlds we can only dream of and envision possible futures for humanity here on Earth. We must always keep in mind that even though the future is not set in stone we must learn to guide our race towards peace so that we can live to see it unfold.

In a previous post, where I first mentioned this book, I had asked (in the title) who would save E.T.'s soul? If there are aliens on other planets then they MUST have souls to save, so who's going to save them? The first site I stumbled upon in my quest to search where Sci-fi and Religion cross was Sci-Fi Gospel, a blog maintained by the author of The Gospel According to Sci-Fi by Gabriel Mckee. That is how I came across Jesus on Mars by Philip José Farmer. How can this NOT be an interesting book, the title itself screams scandal and heresy. I'm guessing there are two kinds of reactions concerning this book: those that glance at it and automatically think "garbage" and those that pick it up to see what on Earth is Jesus doing on Mars? And soon after that other questions begin bubbling up to the surface. How did he get there? What is his mission? Is it really Jesus or someone claiming to be Him? Is Mars Heaven? If not, why did he make a pitstop there? This is what I love about the book, a subject so off the wall that goes against the grain of most literature, including Sci-fi, that it beckons you to read it. I guess that the Da Vinci Code falls along this same category (which I own but have yet to read).

The story revolves around Richard Orme's struggle with his faith after being captured by the Krsh, the alien race coexisting with humans in a subterranean society deep beneath Mars surface. Richard Orme along with three other fellow marsonauts are slowly introduced to the only near Utopian society known in the solar system. The story intensifies as the characters come to find out that Jesus of Nazareth has been living with these Martians for the last 2000 years. Or has he?

The Earthmen (and one Earth woman) are introduced to their religion, society, ethics, technology, and everyday life. One of the most burning questions in the novel is how this will affect the citizens of Earth, not only on religious issues but on technological, social, and ethical issues. The one question that I would like to tackle here is this: If you had proof (not evidence, but proof) literally staring you in the face would you accept it even if it challenged your belief system?

A person's identity is crucial to their existence, and to some religion is so bonded to their identity that only that same person, with enough strength, is able to unfasten it if they so choose. Changing your religious views is difficult for most people that some dare not consider the option. I became aware of that option and willing chose to reinvent my spirituality. It was a difficult process that took many months and many sleepless nights, but I overcame my "religious identity crisis" and now I feel that I'm more aware of my spirituality than I've been in my life. I'm not a saint, in fact I'm far from it, but I strive to improve myself so that I may better understand and love my fellow man. Jesus on Mars challenges the reader to think that if we got the proof we prayed for some would struggle to accept anything that contradicted with their beliefs. I'm guessing most Christians would be shocked if Jesus appeared before them saying that he's been living on Mars for the last 2000 years. Either Christ or Antichrist, the faith of billions would be put to the test. Does it really matter who, or what, the father chooses to be the Messiah as long as His will is done?

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The Clock and it's Maker

I see a pattern, but my imagination cannot picture the maker of that pattern. I see a clock, but I cannot envision the clockmaker. The human mind is unable to conceive of the four dimensions, so how can it conceive of a God, before whom a thousand years and a thousand dimensions are as one? (The Expanded Quotable Einstein, Princeton University Press, 2000 p. 208)

Atheist would argue there is no clockmaker and if there were one he's a pretty shoddy one. There is no point in acknowledging a clockmaker that would intentionally let people suffer. The clock is all there is and ever will be, let's leave it at that.

Believers would argue that there is indeed a clockmaker who made the clock, and all of its complex mechanisms. To not acknowledge the maker is an ungrateful act for the life He has given us. There is more than just the clock, and both are intertwined with each other.

The question is can WE as humans break the Spiritual down into the Physical? The spiritual realm, if one even exists, can not be measured, weighed, or even calculated yet billions of people believe in it. They have trouble describing it because it can't be perceived by the human mind, yet they say it is something you experience. You can not rationalize, measure, or even calculate God, nor does merely believing in Him justify his existence. Atheists can not wrap their minds around believing in something they can not measure anymore than believers can wrap their heads around not believing. Both camps have ways of convincing the other (and I've read a lot of them) but they are both missing the point. They are looking at the Clock/Clockmaker relationship from two different views attempting to answer the same question of purpose. Those who see just the clock say that we should start building a paradise here instead of searching for the paradise in the hereafter. Religion and its bloodthirsty God has caused too much strife, conflict, and death and we should remove the shackles of religion so that we may make progress. Those who see a Maker behind the clock say that acknowledging the Maker is a part of paradise either in this life or the next. Religion is an important part of the Human experience and can not be carved out to be thrown away. We need God as much as we need to breathe.

I, on the other hand, take a middle of the road approach. I can not say there is a Maker behind the clock, but I believe there is one. This belief does not blind me from accepting scientific theories and explanations on the creation, evolution, and current state of the universe. In this sense I could be considered an agnostic. Science is man's tool to measuring, weighing, and analyzing the universe. Unless we discover better methods for examining the universe I can't disagree with scientists as long as their results haven't been tampered to meet certain political agendas. It just wouldn't be called pure science any more.

It is because of the profound beauty and intricate complexity of the inner mechanics of the clock that draws me to belief in a Creator God (which can very likely be the universe itself as an eternal creative energy source). Is there a Maker behind the Clock? If it can be discovered through science then I'm sure it will. Does there need to be a Maker behind the clock for the universe to have meaning? No, it doesn't. We, carriers of the Human Spirit, give this universe meaning. Individually, we define who we are, where we're going, and what we do with our lives. I'd rather spend my life in awe of my existence than bicker and peck over the source of all life. Whether or not God exists or even if he can or cannot hear my prayers I give thanks for the opportunity to exist and I pray I may guide myself in a manner worthy of the life I've been given.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Buried Treasure or Pandora's Box

In a previous post I wrote about the field of textual criticism in religion, analyzing surviving manuscripts to flesh out what the originals might have said. It is sad that we don't have the originals to any of our documents that make up the New Testament, but on the other hand it is amazing that we have over 5200 Greek Manuscripts that have endured the tests of time. We have made several incredible archeological finds related to the Bible in the last century and I hope we have many more to come. But what if someone did find an original copy, or at least 1 or 2 generations removed, of one of the 4 gospels in our New Testament? How would this affect modern Christianity? Would our various modern Christian theologies fold like a house of cards if the documents stated something contrary to what our Bible says, or would the faith reinvent itself to align itself with the newly discovered scripture?

[The recto of Rylands Library Papyrus P52 from the Gospel of John. Date:2nd Century CE, generally accepted as the earliest extant record of a canonical New Testament text.]

Although all of this is purely speculation but it is within the realm of speculation and imagination that Man is able to progress and grow as a species. What if man could fly? What if man could travel in horseless carriages? What if man could build calculating machines? What if man found a way to capture light and sound in a device to be played back later? Without man's passionate curiosity we might still be living in the jungle with our ape brothers (that is, if you believe in evolution).

What if someone did find an original copy, or at least 1 or 2 generations removed, of one of the 4 gospels of the New Testament? This would be the greatest find of the 21st century that will support or challenge the faith of billions of people. It all comes down to the context of the document.

  1. Does it line up with any modern theology? The Trinity? Jesus' resurrection?
  2. Does it include additional lines that we lack in our modern gospels?
  3. Is it missing lines that we have in our modern Gospel? For example, some biblical theologians believe that Mark's ending (our earliest witness), including the resurrection and ascension stories, were added after the original was written.
There is a whole list of questions that would arise from the discovery of this document. But no matter how much proof or evidence is given for the authenticity of the document there will always be those who will believe it is a forgery, forged by man's hand at the behest of the Devil. "True believers" are more likely to claim it as Satan's work than change their beliefs. Any document would not require you to change your beliefs, but there is something powerful about religious artifacts. When found, the believers cry, "behold, God is our on side, look at the truth that he has revealed to the world." When the artifact clashes with certain faiths the believers cry, "the work of the Devil and Man, liars and blasphemers, look away from the lies these demons spread."

No matter how authentic the original document is claimed to be the main importance are the words themselves and not the document. The original gospel documents can NEVER EVER prove that the events they contain actually happened exactly as they portray those events. It all comes down to faith. Do you have faith that these events occurred? What do these events mean to you? And how important is it that these events as portrayed in the gospels are 100% accurate? If the accuracy of the events are not important then how does this affect your faith?

These are questions that every person needs to ask themselves of their beliefs. More importantly is the fact that you are ABLE to ask yourselves these questions. Asking questions should never raise fear in your heart but should spark the flame that we have carried throughout human history, "What if".

Friday, April 3, 2009

Religion in 20XX: Part 1- The Evolving Universe

Within the last month I've become intrigued by the vast amount of sci-fi books that mention religion. Outside of the Dune series I had no idea that sci-fi writers would even acknowledge religion let alone interweave them into the plot. Sci-fi, as a genre, has enormous potential and room to grow. It can take us to worlds we can only dream of and envision possible futures for humanity here on Earth. We must always keep in mind that even though the future is not set in stone we must learn to guide our race towards peace so that we can live to see it unfold.

My first Robert Sawyer book was his 1999 novel, Flashforward, where the consciousness of every single person on the planet jumped 23 years into the future and had a brief glimpse of their own future. It's a thought provoking book that has introduced me to new theories and ideas on Free Will, the nature of the universe, and human identity. I recently read Calculating God and although it reads more like a debate between an Atheist and a Theist than a novel, I was still intrigued by introduction of various new ideas which I'll spend my free time pondering. Calculating God follows Tom Jericho, a Canadian paleontologist, as he works alongside the first alien visitors who claims that God has been actively involved in the evolutionary process by causing five simultaneous cataclysms on three different planets.

I had asked in a previous post if we made contact with aliens what, if any, religious beliefs would they hold? One of the novel's major themes deal with the evolution of sentient life on each of the planets. Two alien species from two different planets come to visit Earth in search for evidence of a Creator, the Forhilnors and the Wreeds. During our simultaneous evolution both Forhilnors and Humans evolved with the ability to count and master mathematics. The Wreeds, on the other hand, struggle with mathematics because their bodies evolved differently and never had any need for math. The Wreeds have a single black 360 degree strip at the top of their torso which acts as their eye that allows them to have a panoramic view; basically, they can see in all directions at the same time. They are physiologically unable to concentrate on any one object but "they can predict without explaining-their logic is intuitive, not deductive". Although lacking mathematical skills their intuition allows them to "know" how to build and plan beautifully structured cities on their home world. This intuition also allows them to determine and solve moral and ethical problems that we struggle with in the 21st century. Take the moral issue of abortion for example. The Wreeds would say that if a race has methods of contraception then abortion should not be an issue, if one does not desire to have a baby the logical solution would be to use contraception. In case of incest or rape the Wreeds would consider these as exceptional cases occurrences and "general principals should not be based on exceptional cases."

The Forhilnor's know, not believe, there is a Designer that designed the parameters, properties, and laws that govern the universe. They came to this conclusion by studying the universe itself. They believe in a First Cause God that created the universe (or at least this universe) and they are searching for proof that God had been meddling with the evolutionary process.

The Wreeds, because of their intuitive minds, seem to be more mystic than scientists. They intuitively know that there is a God and they spend a good portion of their time trying to communicate (not pray) with God through a method of meditation. They believe there is nothing more important than a lifelong pursuit to communicate with God.

The three species, although differently intelligent, have evolved to become the sentient species on their respective planets, and even though they disagree on certain matters of genetics, origins of life, and God they understand that each of them think differently because of their environment and origin. What does this tell us about those who think and believe differently than ourselves? Would you strive to understand them or just brush them off as ignorant, backward, or even lost? This is where the critical moment of inter-faith dialogue comes into the forefront. To share your belief, your piece of a God-Sized puzzle, with others is a beautiful process, connecting with your fellow man, binding ourselves to one another as we journey through our short existence in this reality. But, looking down on others while holding beliefs of religious superiority ("Your beliefs are backward and ignorant, mine are better.") taints the hopeful spirit of your message and drains the validity of your words. It is better to understand your brother's belief in the context of their environment and origin than to humility them into accepting your beliefs by considering them inferior. This is true of ANY AND EVERY message be it from an Atheist, Sikh, Christian, or Pagan. If they see a glimmer of truth in your message it is up to them whether they consider it to be truth regardless if you do.

If man is to progress, to adapt, to evolve in the 21st century then we must overcome our tribal nature. This doesn't mean that we must discard our differences, but strive to remove the violence, anger, mistrust, and misconceptions that can arise because of our differences. We must learn to live within our smaller tribes while always remembering that we are part of a larger universal tribe.