The end of faith

I’ve tried. I gave it my all.  I really did.   I studied, prayed, meditated, studied more and… I give up.  There is no God.  Period.  I say this because it’s time to be honest about it.   I’ve been lying to myself (and all of you) for well over 10 years.  I used the “nontraditional belief” as a ruse and excuse, but the truth is, I lost my faith in a “Father God” a long time ago.  The quest I’ve been on has really been me trying to convince myself, with your help, that the God I was taught to believe in since childhood actually existed.  

Yes, I enjoy the Zohar (the mystical text that serves as the foundation of Kabbalah) but that has really just served as a mystical escape from reality.  I enjoy reading it because it relaxes me.  Gnostic texts do as well.  I don’t read them because I believe them to be true. I read them because I was searching for truth any place I could find it (the Bible alone didn’t cut it).  What these mystical texts actually did was help me develop an understanding of how beliefs evolved and how the church suppressed (and extinguished) anyone who didn’t “fall in line.” I also admit that many times the Torah and Talmud have drawn me into a “belief” system of sorts, but it was the process itself that drew me in and not the subject matter.  The rabbis in a way were trying to prove the unprovable and they did it in a way that I believe gave rise to the scientific method of today.  

Faith is a virtual for anyone who can benefit from it in a positive way.  By benefit, I mean benefit in a way that gives them a sense of comfort and joy… not financial gain.  I’m not a fan of people who make a living off passing any of these myths off as actual truths.   At the same time, I know many people believe what the Bible says, but I think what they believe isn’t really grounded in the text itself, but what these people tell them it says.  The Bible is full of horrible stories and it glorifies a malevolent character that many believe to be a merciful Father… a character who is definitely not worthy of worship at all.   If you struggle with faith, chances are you’re doing more harm to yourself than good (both psychological and financial).  It’s not worth it.  Rational thought and reason will bring you to the same conclusion I have once you eliminate dogmatic fears of eternal punishment.

I mean no disrespect and I am in no way trying to influence anyone to NOT believe.  I have no intention of joining the anti-theist movement or attacking people or their faith. That’s a horrible thing to do. I’ve just come to the conclusion that the Quest for Light doesn’t lead to a deity.  Let’s keep searching though… Light is wisdom and knowledge and we should still seek it.

Life is..

Yesterday I turned 40.  I remember being a kid and thinking 40 is old and yet here I am and to be honest, I don’t feel very old.  Sure, I have quite a few gray hairs, a bigger gut, tons of responsibility; my muscles don’t heal quite as quickly as they used to, but deep down inside… I’m still a kid.  I still get excited when I get a new toy (although my toys now cost more money and usually require insurance), I still like to dress up at Halloween, still love dueling it out with a light saber, and I still wonder what I am going to be when I grow up.

Wait a minute, I’m 40.. Isn’t that grown-up?

Then I look back and stand in awe of the many giants that came before me.   People like Thomas Jefferson, who before the age of 40 had already been the governor of Virginia and written the Declaration of Independence.   Isaac Newton had already developed the Theory of Color and developed the blueprint for what became the modern refracting lens telescope.  Shortly before turning 40 Nicolaus Copernicus developed the concept of a heliocentric universe (meaning the earth was not the center of the universe).  So for all intents and purposes, I have a bit of catching up to do if I want to achieve greatness.

Life is a gift.  When we consider the number of people who have lived before us and especially when we consider the countless numbers that never even had the chance to live.  Our bodies are constantly producing the ingredients to produce life and when that is taken into consideration the birth of a human being is a rare event.

Life is fragile.  So many things can go wrong during the day that can cut our lives short and any number of things can prevent us from waking up in the morning, so we should make the most of each and every day.  We should also be very conscious of how we take care of ourselves.  We can’t expect to live long lives if we don’t take care of ourselves.

Life comes with a price.  Throughout the course of humanity there have existed many religions.  All of which have taught in some form or fashion that we owe our existence to the gods.  Some have taught that sacrifices, whether animal or even human, have been required to appease the gods or atone for our transgressions.  In a less subtle way of putting it, in order for all of us to live somewhere something else had to die.  Whether it was a cow that became a steak dinner or a carrot that was uprooted to be a side dish, something has to die for you to live.

Life is a quest.  Like all quests there a peaks and valleys, easy paths and rough terrain.  I often wonder what the point of it all is.  We are born, we live a little while, and then we die.  The overwhelming majority of people who die are eventually forgotten no matter how famous or how great their accomplishments were.  We all struggle and we all should strive to continue the quest and not give up.  Even if there doesn’t seem to be a point in it at all.  In this quest it is important to not be self-centered or use a winner-take-all approach.  For some reason we have an altruistic nature that when tapped into can be very fulfilling and very rewarding.

We are all one; one with each other and one with the universe.  The more we neglect our connection the more distant we become from our true reality.   If more people took a walk along the beach or hiked along a mountain stream more often they would be able to reconnect more to that essence of life and rediscover their very source and essence of being.  With all the pain and suffering in the world over whose interpretation of God is right, I often wonder the last time anyone really tried reconnecting with God.  Many people turn to religious texts and prayer, but why rely on ancient interpretations of God and morality or the automatic recitations of old poems?  The True Word of God lies within the greatest expression of Divine Intervention.  You find this all around you, from the drunken man in the streets to a waterfall in a secluded forest.   Some things are obviously more desirable than others, but all that exists came from one source.  Whether you accept the evidence that supports the Big Bang Theory or whether you believe that “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth” the fact remains the same.  All that exists has a common origin and as such all is one.   This can even be loosely expressed that we are all of one body and while the right hand may not control what the left hand does, our eyes still water if we touch a hot stove.

 

Strength in Faith

Life at times seems meaningless and uninspiring. This is especially the case when one demystifies the realities of nature and views the laws and order of the cosmos as if they are random acts of chaos. With little tangible evidence for a Prime Mover or Heavenly Father our mere existence, while biologically amazing, seems relatively insignificant in the grand scheme of things and while science provides us with a wealth of information and facts, it lacks the poetic beauty required to inspire and give humanity a sense of hope or inspiration.

I am a firm believer in the essence of the human soul. It is the soul that connects one to another. Those who can master the art of meditation are capable of truly connecting with that eternal essence that perpetuates all of existence. Now I am aware that to some people the term “meditation’ is taboo and that there are certain pockets of Christianity that believe it to be dangerous. This is a misguided belief. When a Catholic prays the Rosary and really focuses on the prayer and what is being said – it is a form of meditation. When a Jew recites the Shema and focuses exclusively on what is being said – it is a form of meditation. When anyone prays any prayer and is truly focusing on their prayer – it is a form of meditation. By now I hope you get my point on how meditation takes many forms and it is not exclusive to sitting “criss-cross apple sauce” with your palms up while repeating the word “Aum/Om”.

So why did I bring up meditation? It is not my intent to go on an Eastern Philosophy push to anyone. I was merely pointing out that when a person is able to filter out the “noise” of the day (the technological and completely unnatural obstructions that surround us) they can reconnect to the soul within and with a little more effort the Eternal Soul of all that exists. Some may call this connecting to God, some may call it “being one with nature”, and some may view this as mere figments of an overactive imagination. It is the later that many find to be the uninspiring view and while I agree that it might be the reality, who cares? While to some it may be irrational, our perceptions are our realities. If a person finds strength in faith, then their beliefs have merit and no one should denigrate the beliefs of another. One cannot deny the power of the human mind. Those with deep faith and convictions are not necessarily receptive to facts and observations that are contrary to what they believe and while this is viewed as a threat to our intellectual future by the militant arm of the Atheist movement, I need only remind them that the majority of their heroes still believed in either a Prime Mover or Spinoza’s pantheistic view of the cosmos. It is human nature, whether warranted or not, to have a purpose and to have someone or something that they can reach out to in times of despair and that keeps them in line and humble.

The idea that a physical manifestation of God is necessary for there to be any validity to faith is a fallacy. At the risk of being overly hyperbolic, a comparison can be made that the mere thought of Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny stirs excitement and anticipation to children all around the globe – real excitement and real anticipation. The same is true with faith in any sense of deity. If a person believes that there is a god, then there is a god and only they are capable of changing that. The same is true for those who do not believe. There are no Bible passages or testimony of personal revelation that will convince a skeptic that a god exists. I believe that even the most rigid atheists hold something in the utmost esteem whether it be science, nature, or the mere act of discovery and inquiry itself. While that pinnacle of inspiration may not be god to them in the sense of the term, there is very little difference when taken into context of how it affects them.

Perception is often reality and to those that truly believe, there is strength in faith.

The faith of Thomas Jefferson

I recently participated in a debate on the faith of the founders of the United States.  I must say it is somewhat entertaining to see the lack of knowledge many have on this topic.  There is this misconception that they were all “good Christian men.”  The fact is – they weren’t.  Most of them were deists and would likely (by today’s standards) ended up as atheists given the advancements of science since their deaths as well as the pangs of history like the Holocaust and other genocides that have occurred since their deaths.  So maybe I will do a little series on the faith of the founders and since it was Jefferson that I spoke of this week, I may as well use the same subject here.  Thomas-Jefferson

For starters Thomas Jefferson rejected the divinity of Jesus, the infallibility and inerrancy of the Bible, and the relevance and authenticity of the church at the time (imagine what he would think now)

To the corruptions of Christianity I am indeed opposed; but not to the genuine precepts of Jesus himself. I am a Christian, in the only sense he wished any one to be; sincerely attached to his doctrines, in preference to all others; ascribing to himself every human excellence; & believing he never claimed any other.  – Letter to Benjamin Rush in 1803

It is an indisputable fact that although Jefferson was critical of the Bible and the Church, he did admire the moral code of Jesus but also acknowledges that it was not a moral code that Jesus invented as it was one that early non-temple cult rabbis had (like Hillel) as well as a number of other moral philosophers that predate the writings of the nomadic tribes of the Hebrews.

Jefferson was a man of his own sect – he thought for himself. At best he was a Unitarian and in reality a deist or universal theist who was just a skeptic who liked to read.

Here is a nice nugget he wrote as well which in my opinion is spot on and can be found as a preface to the “Jefferson Bible” (more on that a little later):

“SYLLABUS OF AN ESTIMATE OF THE DOCTRINES OF JESUS, COMPARED WITH THOSE OF OTHERS.

In a comparative view of the ethics of the enlightened nations of antiquity, of the Jews, and of Jesus, no notice should be taken of the corruptions of reason among the ancients, to wit, the idolatry and superstition of the vulgar, nor of the corruptions of Christianity by the learned among its professors. Let a just view be taken of the moral principles inculcated by the most esteemed of the sects of ancient philosophy, or of their individuals; particularly Pythagoras, Socrates, Epicurus, Cicero, Epictetus, Seneca, Antoninus.

I. PHILOSOPHERS.

1. Their precepts related chiefly to ourselves, and the government of those passions which, unrestrained, would disturb our tranquility of mind. In this branch of philosophy they were really great.

2. In developing our duties to others, they were short and defective. They embraced indeed the circles of kindred and friends, and inculcated patriotism, or the love of country in the aggregate, as a primary obligation: towards our neighbors and countrymen they taught justice, but scarcely viewed them as within the circle of benevolence. Still less have they inculcated peace, charity, and love to our fellow-men, or embraced with benevolence the whole family of mankind.

II. JEWS.

1. Their system was Deism, that is, the belief in one only God; but their ideas of him and of his attributes were degrading and injurious.

2. Their ethics were not only imperfect, but often irreconcilable with the sound dictates of reason and morality, as they respect intercourse with those around us; and repulsive and anti-social as respecting other nations. They needed reformation, therefore, in an eminent degree.

III. JESUS.

In this state of things among the Jews, Jesus appeared. His parentage was obscure; his condition poor; his education null; his natural endowments great; his life correct and innocent. He was meek, benevolent, patient, firm, disinterested, and of the sublimest eloquence. The disadvantages under which his doctrines appear are remarkable.

  1. Like Socrates and Epictetus, he wrote nothing himself.
  2. But he had not, like them, a Xenophon or an Arrian to write for him. I name not Plato, who only used the name of Socrates to cover the whimsies of his own brain.On the contrary, all the learned of his country, entrenched in its power and riches, were opposed to him, lest his labors should undermine their advantages; and the committing to writing of his life and doctrines fell on unlettered and ignorant men; who wrote, too, from memory, and not till long after the transactions had passed.
  3. According to the ordinary fate of those who attempt to enlighten and reform mankind, he fell an early victim to the jealousy and combination of the altar and the throne, at about 33 years of age, his reason having not yet attained the maximum of its energy, nor the course of his preaching, which was but of three years at most, presented occasions for developing a complete system of morals.
  4. Hence the doctrines which he really delivered were defective, as a whole, and fragments only of what he did deliver have come to us mutilated, misstated, and often unintelligible.
  5. They have been still more disfigured by the corruptions of schismatizing followers, who have found an interest in sophisticating and perverting the simple doctrines he taught, by engrafting on them the mysticisms of a Grecian Sophist (Plato), frittering them into subtilties and obscuring them with jargon, until they have caused good men to reject the whole in disgust, and to view Jesus himself as an impostor.

Notwithstanding these disadvantages, a system of morals is presented to us which, if filled up in the true style and spirit of the rich fragments he left us, would be the most perfect and sublime that has ever been taught by man. The question of his being a member of the Godhead, or in direct communication with it, claimed for him by some of his followers, and denied by others, is foreign to the present view, which is merely an estimate of the intrinsic merits of his doctrines.

  1. He corrected the Deism of the Jews, confirming them in their belief of one only god, and giving them juster notions of his attributes and government.
  2. His moral doctrines, relating to kindred and friends, were more pure and perfect than those of the most correct of the philosophers, and greatly more so than those of the Jews; and they went far beyond both in inculcating universal philanthrophy, not only to kindred and friends, to neighbors and countrymen, but to all mankind, gathering all into one family, under the bonds of love, charity, peace, common wants and common aids. A development of this head will evince the peculiar superiority of the system of Jesus over all others.
  3.  The precepts of philosophy and of the Hebrew code laid hold of action only. He pushed his scrutinies into the heart of man; erected his tribunal in the region of his thought, and purified the waters at the fountain head.
  4.  He taught emphatically the doctrine of a future state, which was either doubted or disbelieved by the Jews; and wielded it with efficacy as an important incentive, supplementary to the other motives to moral conduct.

I, too, have made a wee-little book from the same materials (The Gospels) which I call the Philosophy of Jesus. It is a paradigma of his doctrines, made by cutting the texts out of the book and arranging them on the pages of a blank book, in a certain order of time or subject. A more beautiful or precious morsel of ethics I have never seen. It is a document in proof that I am a REAL CHRISTIAN, that is to say, a disciple of the doctrines of Jesus, very different from the Platonists, who call ME infidel and THEMSELVES Christians and preachers of the Gospel, while they draw all their characteristic dogmas from what its author never said nor saw. They have compounded from the heathen mysteries a system beyond the comprehension of man, of which the great reformer of the vicious ethics and deism of the Jews, were he to return on earth, would not recognize one feature.”— Letter from Jefferson to Mr. Charles Thompson.Jefferson sources

Note the words “wee little book”… To Jefferson the Bible was so bad that he literally cut out the only worthwhile portions of Jesus’ life and teachings and compiled his own “wee little book”. Copies of this book were given to Members of Congress shortly after it was discovered up until the 1950’s when the evangelicals seized control of the government out of fear of the Soviets and us needing “god on our side” (as if the little children in Ethiopia could wait – we were more important).  I own a copy and I recommend it to anyone.  A side note – “In God we Trust” became the motto in the 1950 and “Under God” was added in the 1950’s as well – so this “God and country” thing is not our heritage.

Here is a link to the Jefferson Bible (with actual pictures of it):  http://americanhistory.si.edu/JeffersonBible/

Any questions?

The Divine Mystery

There are mysteries that have puzzled the minds of all who take time to think about anything beyond the mundane and menial tasks of our day-to-day lives.  The more we advance (or evolve) the more questions we answer and the smaller the enigmatic box of mysteries becomes.   It has been human nature to perceive the concept of a divine being with attributes and emotions much like our own that governs our existence and the laws and order of the cosmos.  We call this mystery of mysteries, this supreme entity – “God” and while we conceive a loftier and more immense being then ourselves, anything we do to define god with “authority” in essence puts a human box around that which is infinite, not human, and possibly completely unknowable. Thus, humanity has created a god in their own image and in a manner of their own understanding.  This perception is limited to an individual’s own experiences and knowledge which is often influenced by mentors, parents, and time immemorial.  Humanity has grappled with purpose and the enigmas of natural phenomena and while there is far more knowledge of biology, geology, and astronomy now than we had even a century ago, the mythical explanations of ancient times still influence society today. For example, it is an indisputable fact that the earth revolves around the sun, yet we still say sunrise and sunset.  Some still say the “stars come out at night” when they are actually “out” all the time and it is only when we rotate away from the direct rays of our sun that the light from the others become visible.

There is an unfortunate debate that somehow science is atheistic and that scientists work against the belief in a god.  This is unfortunate given the fact that it is science that enables us to see just how incredible it is to merely exist.  Especially when one considers the incredible odds stacked against each one of us during the process of conception through gestation and eventually to our birth.   The fight is one that has been going on for centuries and while many like to point to the scientists as being the culprits, history tells us a different story.  Galileo, Copernicus, Newton, and Bruno are all men who had faith and through research uncovered scientific facts that went against the common beliefs and positions of the church.  The church took the ignorant and intolerant position of branding these men heretics and in the case of Bruno – burning him at the stake for teaching facts.  When human inquiry and discovery uncovers facts that go against the common beliefs then we must reconsider what we believe rather than reject the facts.

How humanity has grappled with the mystery of existence has evolved.   Whether one relies on empirical evidence as their sole source of finding answers or not, it can really only satisfy the questions around the mere existence of physical things.  We still have the epistemological enigmas that are the basis of going beyond empirical evidence and beyond physics (metaphysics).  There was a time when man worshipped fire and then we began to understand it thereby stripping it of its divinity. The gods of ancient Greece and Rome were replaced by the invisible god of the Hebrews.  Humanity has now ventured into space and found no celestial palace in the skies that would have been the destination of Elijah’s flaming chariot or an ascending Jesus.

So now what?

Are we to revert to the Platonist philosophy of a Prime Mover?  Is existence random or is there perhaps a Pater Agnostos (unknown father)?  Perhaps this is the mystery of the Ineffable Divine Name of the Jewish tradition.  That even within a book claiming to tell “His” story, we are still incapable of knowing “His” name thus our conceptions are limited by our knowledge and our knowledge by our own experiences.

Perhaps to know God requires one to first know himself/herself, thus making the mystery personal.

Points of clarity

It’s been a pretty interesting week since posting “Breaking free.”  As expected I got the usual fire and brimstone, “my soul belongs to the devil”, “repent before its to late”, “you deceived me with your knowledge of scripture” silliness.  I have no desire to engage in fanciful debates, nor do I need to address the doctrinal and dogmatic flaws that surround the fundamentalist and evangelical mindset.  However, in the midst of the dust-up there were some very genuine and relevant questions and I’d like to take the opportunity to address 20130614-184544.jpgthem. 

Isn’t pantheism just “sexed up atheism”?

This is a very popular stance that is frequently propounded by Richard Dawkins (whom I greatly admire and respect).  Using the traditional theistic beliefs and the anthropomorphic concept of divinity would absolutely give pantheism a somewhat atheistic label.  However, while atheism completely rejects the existence of a supreme being or divine source of any kind, pantheism, while not an organized religion with doctrines or dogmas, does not.  The very term ‘pantheism’ is constructed from the Greek roots pan (all) and theos (God). Therefore the entire universe or multiverse, the known and unknown, past, present, and future are all one entity and that which connects all things is divine.  This concept has even been revealed in our every day lives and culture through some very familiar terms like “the circle of life” in the movie  Lion King or “the force”  in the Star Wars movies as well as the overall theme of the movie Avatar all contain elements of pantheism in them.  The shedding of doctrines and dogmas that tradition has tied us to, does not mean we have to shed the concept of all things Divine.  So while atheism proposes there is nothing, pantheism proposes there is everything.

Are you saying that everything is God and a pantheist worships rocks and trees?

No. This is a blind dogmatic argument that displays a complete lack of understanding.  A tree is not God, although the essence of life within the tree is.  A rock is not God, although the natural phenomena that makes the multiple particles that compose a rock maintain its singular state of matter is.  No individual man is God, although the collective whole of our existence, every molecule, emotion, breath, heartbeat, and neurological impulse as well as our individual and collective consciousness is.  So within all things is the Divine Presence that acts as a thread which weaves each individual microcosm into a progressive series of greater macrocosms that are all interconnected.  As to worship, observing nature with a sense of awe and reverence and loving and showing mutual respect to each other and all other living things, including the environment, are what we should focus on.  That is true “worship”.

But, the Scriptures say..

In the west, especially amongst the evangelical crowd, there is the claim that the Christian Scriptures combined with the Jewish Scriptures encompass the only true Bible and that this Bible is not only inerrant and infallible, but that it is the absolute “Word of God”.  These claims seem to completely disregard the overwhelming evidence that none of these claims are true.  It is as if they don’t know that for centuries there was nothing written in the Jewish tradition and that what was, was destroyed on at least 2 occasions: during the Babylonian and Assyrian exile periods.  Even within the Jewish text itself (2 Kings 2:22) it is specifically said that the “book of the law” was “found”.  It is an accepted position that all of the Jewish Scripture (aka Old Testament) was compiled during the second temple period under the direction of Ezra – long after Abraham, Moses, David, Daniel, and even Isaiah.  As to the Christian text, not a single complete manuscript of any of the books in the Christian Scriptures exists that is within 150 years of what it claims to witness.  There is no literary evidence to support any of the gospels as eye-witness accounts, of which Mark and Luke can be ruled out by name alone given that among the apostles who followed Jesus around there were no men named Mark or Luke.  In fact by Paul’s own hand Luke was a contemporary of his and neither man had met Jesus in the flesh.  As to the accuracy of any of the text – I shall save that for another post.

Now while this appears as a Bible bash, it is not.  Unfortunately here in the west, people haven’t the slightest notion that there are other, older, and less spurious bodies of literature that are considered Scripture.  The Bhagavad Gita, the Zend Avesta, the Dao de jing, Chuang Tzu, the Book of Thelema, the Nag Hammadi Library… well the list goes on.  The delusion that only one set of writings were written by God is grossly inaccurate, especially when some of these older texts don’t include the violence and contradictions that Judeo-Christian Bible contains.    So while I do not recognize the authority of one text over another, I do acknowledge that all of these texts ultimately point to one Source.

No greater god..

There is no greater god then one we are unable to keep in our finite little boxes.  Somewhere in a distant galaxy, light years away from here, there are likely to be other sentient beings.  Their very existence alone nullifies the concept that a substitutionary atonement for events that took place here was even necessary.  For all intents and purposes, how do we know what exactly constitutes life to begin with?  We assume with our finite capabilities that life must take the form of something like us.  We never take into consideration that the very planet we live on is alive.  Consider the forces of nature, the winds and the rains, the movement of continental plates, and orifices that spit steam and molten rock.  Now look at Venus, Jupiter, Saturn… all planets with active and volatile atmospheres.  How can we ignorantly assume that those very planets themselves aren’t alive?  Even the planets that don’t have atmospheres are somehow held together rather than dissipate into billions of particles.  Now extend that to the solar system, where the sun emanates light and heat that cascades to the planets that surround it.  Each planet with its own diurnal rotation and orbit.  Consider how the entire system itself moves on an orbit as part of an even larger galaxy, which as a whole, drifts away from a central point within the universe.  Considering the immeasurable enormity of the universe and the remote possibility that there may even exist a multiverse, why should we perceive this very active and alive existence to be governed by an external entity?  How could one even consider an external entity just created it and left it to itself (the deistic view) like some dead beat disinterested parent.  These are entities that we place in a box with our own attributes, rather than accepting it as an ineffable infinite source of perpetual life and order.  The mystery of the order of the cosmos becomes more and more coherent with the advancements in astronomy, astrophysics, biology, chemistry, and even our own internal medicinal sciences.  How can we restrict our ever developing knowledge by constantly returning to intellectually oppressive beliefs from ages past?  There should be no reason for science to conflict with our personal philosophies.  Once a person places traditional observances over fact based truths they have willfully enslaved themselves into an alternate an inferior reality.

Break free and embrace all that is and learn to accept your position as both insignificant as well as the very cornerstone that keeps the entire cosmos in balance.

Saving God

I had a recent exchange with someone who wanted me to “level” with him on what my position was on Jesus. It caught me by surprise because I know I have blogged about Jesus a number of times and thought I was clear on how I felt. So, this is how I responded:

I believe Jesus was a real man who really existed and do not relegate him to just being a mythical figure. Clearly he was a great teacher and given the lengths his followers went to spread his message he may have performed extraordinary feats that through the lapse of time have become exaggerated. As to whether he was the messiah, I take a somewhat Jewish position on this. You will find that aside from the Chassidic and other ultra-Orthodox Jewish sects, most Jews have a very favorable opinion of Jesus. Most believe he was a great teacher and may have performed the miracles attributed to him. The reason they do not believe he is the messiah is simple – the temple is still destroyed, Jews are still scattered across the globe, and nations still raise their ‘swords’ against one another. Does this diminish the message of Jesus and what he tried to accomplish? I don’t think so. I think the New Law he taught was intended to save all of us from the rigidness and complexities of the Old Law and to a greater extent religion in general. The problem as I see it, is people still hold on to ancient traditions and superstitions that completely deflect the focus of the message and thus creates just another confusing collaboration of doctrines and dogmas, which is what I think Jesus was trying to “save” people from in the first place.

Then came the question of what I believe about God. Well this is indeed the tougher question because anyone who knows me, knows my views on this often drift with the wind. As inflammatory as this may sound, I personally believe that the God depicted in ancient texts like the Bible or the Koran only exists within the confines of those books. The late bronze/early iron age God, for all intents and purposes is dead. There have been no divinely appointed prophets with super powers and no unexplained nature defying miracles in at least 2 thousand years (assuming there ever were to begin with). We have put men on the moon, have telescopes that return images that are billions of miles away and yet, there is no sign of a Divine Destination where Elijah flew off to in his fiery chariot (2nd Kings 2:11) or where Jesus ascended to after his death and resurrection (Mark 16:19, Luke 24:51). We have documents and tablets that predate the Bible which contain a moral code and similar cosmological myths (Egyptian Book of the Dead and the Tablets of Hammurabi) . The ancient writings must be weighed on their merits rather than on emotional tradition. The idea of a talking snake (Genesis 3:1-5) or a talking donkey (Numbers 22:28-30) is laughable to the modern mind (nowadays we have the ability to make it possible with computer animation or robotics). If I were to tell someone I was swallowed by a fish and lived in its belly for 3 days (Jonah 1:17) I would probably be committed to an asylum. So while at risk of throwing the baby out with the bath water, I must take the position that it would be better to not study the Bible at all then to take a fundamentalist or literal approach to it. Context is key. All ancient people had their own god or gods and they justified their actions no matter how atrocious by stating it was either their god’s will or the doing of the gods themselves. If you witnessed the destruction of your temple, city, the deaths of loved ones and friends, and were forced into exile in an unfamiliar land and forced to serve a tyrannical king you would be hoping for a supernatural savior too. If you did not have the knowledge of the universe that we now have and looked to the stars in the sky without the bright lights of an overpopulated city, how could you not think that the heavens proclaim the glory of God (Psalm 19:1)?

I believe in Spinoza’s God who reveals himself in the orderly harmony of what exists, not in a God who concerns himself with the fates and actions of human beings. (Albert Einstein)

Just as the Jews changed from the polytheistic concept of “our god is better than your god” to the monotheistic concept of “our god is the only god,” our concept of God must evolve in order for God to remain relevant with the vast amounts of scientific discoveries. More and more people are walking away from religion than ever before and it is for a number of reasons. Whether it is because of the despicable actions of men who are supposed to be holy or the glaring absence of a “God who protects” in the wake of young children being slaughtered like animals by a deranged gunman; the God that most of us were taught to believe in, is quickly fading into obscurity.

Yet, when I look into my children’s eyes and am filled with love or when I see a kind act by someone to a complete stranger and am filled with joy or when I am in despair and need hope, that is where I find God.

The order from chaos..

The calm that precedes and follows a storm..

The breeze against my face on a sweltering hot day..

The sound of the tides mixed with singing of the sea gulls..

The intricacies of our DNA..

The unexplainable phenomena of the dividing of cells to form a new life..

The sparks of joy and promise in the eyes of a child..

The laws of nature and the discoveries of science..

God is the indwelling and not the transient cause of all things. (Baruch Spinoza)

And as to religion.. Well the Biblical definition of religion happens to be perfect:

If you claim to be religious but don’t control your tongue, you are just fooling yourself, and your religion is worthless. Pure and lasting religion in the sight of God our Father means that we must care for orphans and widows in their troubles, and refuse to let the world corrupt us. (James 1:26-27)

 

Jesus, redeemer or reformer?

Stained glass at St John the Baptist's Anglica...

Stained glass at St John the Baptist’s Anglican Church http://www.stjohnsashfield.org.au, Ashfield, New South Wales. Illustrates Jesus’ description of himself “I am the Good Shepherd” (from the Gospel of John, chapter 10, verse 11).

We live in a world where the dangers of religious fundamentalism of all kinds surround us. Whether it be a “holy warrior” blowing himself up in market place, a madman shooting people in a temple or school, or a “Baptist” church that pickets funerals of fallen heroes and other victims of violence. Religions in and of themselves are harmless, it’s when people cross the line from rationalism into radicalism that makes them dangerous.

Centuries before Jesus lived, according to the book of Isaiah, “I, I am the Lord, and besides me there is no savior” (Isaiah 43:11). “I, I am He who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins” (Isaiah 43:25). By this account, one can conclude that our Creator keeps no record of our “sins” and that all is forgiven and that we were “saved” long before Jesus ever lived. That being the case, blood atonement whether animal, man, or God himself was not necessary. Yet the temple cult continued ritual sacrifices because they believed it to be required for atonement. The Christian Church adopted the belief that when Jesus was crucified the blood requirement was satisfied, but as the verse above states it was not even necessary. For example, Hebrews 10:5 of the New Testament in quoting Psalm 40, claims that God replaced animal sacrifices with the death of the Jesus by stating, “sacrifices and offerings You have not desired, but a body You have prepared for Me.” However, the actual text of Psalm 40:6 does not even say this; it says, “sacrifices and meal offerings You have not desired, my ears You have opened.” This refers to God’s desire that we listen to Him, as we also read in Samuel, “Samuel said, “Does God take as much pleasure in burnt offerings and sacrifices as in obeying what God says? Surely obeying is better than sacrifice, and heeding orders than the fat of rams.” (1 Samuel 15:22)

Fundamentalist Christians insist that the Bible is the inspired and “inerrant” word of God and readily accept the Jewish Scriptures (aka Old Testament) as the foundation for the New Testament. If they were to be logically consistent, it would follow that wherever the “Old” and “New” Testaments contradict each other, the New Testament must be admitted to be obviously the one which is in error. If that were adhered to, Jesus would be relegated to what he really is – a great teacher (Rabboni or Rebbe) who spoke of actions over words and sacrifices. He was martyred for his teachings and his followers’ followers then committed the apostasy of elevating him to being God.

The Jewish Scriptures DO NOT revolve around God becoming man to sacrifice himself to appease himself. That is invented mythology. Jewish Scripture outlines how to act (albeit some of these rules are arcane for our time and a bit extreme – thus the reason the Jews never sealed the canon until it was hijacked by Constantine for the church). Jewish Scripture also shows how when the people disobeyed the rules, they suffered and when they obeyed they prospered. After a while this cycle cost them the temple and the “land of milk and honey.” It could be that in order for the Messianic Age to come, that Jews should listen to what Jeremiah said: “Learn not the way of the nations, nor be dismayed at the signs of the heavens because the nations are dismayed at them, for the customs of the peoples are false.” (this is a slight paraphrasing of the opening verses of Jeremiah 10 – which also explicitly exposes the “Christmas tree” to be a pagan practice – over 2 thousand years before it became as common as it is now)

So what was Jesus’ purpose?

I believe Jesus was trying to be a reformer, not a redeemer/savior and his focus was on freeing us from religious doctrines and dogmas that had become overbearing and burdensome. Perhaps what he was teaching was that we could focus on simply “Loving one another”.

“But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it upon their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” (Jeremiah 31:33)

Here is the real New Covenant. Less outward ritual observances and more heart-driven loving kindness towards each other. The entire yoke of Torah needed to be simplified to the original summation that was contained within it.

“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 22:36-40)

Here the Teacher (Jesus) spliced together Deuteronomy 6:5 with Leviticus 19:18 to give us the summation of the Torah and the 2 rules that if all of us followed, would bring on an age where no nation raises a sword against another nation and we can all finally be at peace. This would be the fulfillment of hope and bring the Kingdom of Heaven here, on earth.

What’s in a name?

Hidden in plain sight from the reader of the English translations of the Bible are several linguistic nuances that range from how the shaping of the letters are to the number of letters in a parshat to the different names used for the Almighty. You don’t even have to go very far – in the book of Genesis the following names are used – Elohim, YHVH, YHVH Elohim, El Shaddai, and Yah. Some attribute this to multiple authors whose works were compiled and redacted numerous times before the canon was sealed and others believe that the various names are in relation to the different attributes of God. The 2 most commonly used names in Jewish Scripture (aka Old Testament) are Elohim and YHVH. These names have different meanings and I will focus on these 2 names for now.

Elohim
Elohim is typically rendered in English as “God”. So Genesis 1:1 when properly rendered would read: In the beginning Elohim created the heaven and the earth.
Elohim is the name that is used to describe the unknowable and almighty Creator. Elohim is not an anthropomorphic (or human like) being. Elohim a spirit which utters and wills things into existence and the interaction with man is always through a mediator – typically an angel. When used as elohim (not capitalized) it refers to gods in the plural. Keep in mind up until the second temple Jews believed that other nations had other gods and that they were to be obedient and follow their own deity. It wasn’t until the second temple when Ezra and the returning Jews changed their belief to a monotheistic one and that there was only one Almighty God and that all others were false deities and didn’t exist.

YHVH
This is the Ineffable Name and is known as the Tetragrammaton. It has typically been rendered as Yahweh and Jehovah, both of which are incorrect. The name is unspeakable and as such the English rendering you are used to seeing is “The Lord”. At times both Elohim and YHVH are used together and that combination is rendered as “The Lord God”. The first instance of this combination occurs during what many believe to be the second creation account which is found in Genesis 2:4: This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created. When YHVH Elohim (or the Lord God) made the earth and the heavens When the name YHVH (or the combination) is used we see a more intimate God. One who walks with man and can even be questioned, rebuked, and even wrestled with by man. While the Christian rendering for YHVH is “The Lord”, this is not a common practice within Jewish Scholarship. When reading from the Torah or when praying, YHVH is spoken as “Adonai”.  In discussions and study the name “HaShem” is also used, which another way of saying “the Name”.

Now lets tackle another position. What if Elohim, Adonai, and YHVH aren’t really supposed to be nouns. What if they are really verbs. Consider the fact that YHVH is a variation of the speakable “h-v-h” which is a verb meaning “to be”. Now consider that in Exodus 3:14 that we read: Elohim said to Moses “Eyeh Asher Eyeh..” What does Eyeh Asher Eyeh mean? Here we have seen 2 common mistranslations: one is “I am that I am” and the other is “I am who I am”.  Neither are technically right because it is more properly rendered: “I shall be what I shall be” or “I will be what I will be” and another rendering “I will become what I will become” may be as close to a proper English translation as we can get. This may seem subtle on the surface, but when you really think about it, it completely changes the concept of what the Almighty is. If our Creator is not a noun, then we shift from a Creator to a Creative process. A process that continues and does not remain stagnant. One that evolves so that it does not become obsolete.

In the Jewish (and some Christian) mystical schools of thought a person is thought to be a vessel. Each with the ability to receive as much or as little of the Divine Presence as they are willing to accept. This is the “breath of life” that was breathed into us from the very beginning. Now think about that too. The receiving of the breath started the process of breathing which started the process of life. So when one goes through life, each breath they take is the opportunity to receive more life and with it more of that which made life possible. Just as breathing is an action and receiving is an action, perhaps the old man in the skies is really the winds and the rain, the compassion and the love or to those who prefer to do without, just another breath.

Divine Science

Parthenon from west

Parthenon from west (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

To the Ancient Greeks, Zeus was not a myth. Neither was Poseidon, Hercules, Perseus, or Hades. These were real gods and demigods. The landscape of Greece and Italy still have the ruins of the temples that once stood to pay homage to these divine beings. So what happened? The answer is actually rather simple. People stopped believing. It had always been the belief that as long as the gods were worshiped and prayed to that they would be strong. All except Hades who obtained his strength through fear. The Romans had a similar pantheon of gods and the biggest difference between the Greeks and the Romans (aside from the names) was that the Greek deities resided on Mt. Olympus, again except for Hades who lived in the under-world. The disappearance of these deities changed the religions and beliefs of ancient times into the myths of modern times. The question now is, are the current gods that are worshiped (Yahweh, Allah, Jesus, etc.) any different? Is it possible that God is just an imaginary friend to a theist and as a result completely nonexistent to an atheist?

If science is the source of absolute truth then it would seem that we have no known origin, no known purpose, and no watchful father-like deity that we can turn to. We are just meaningless globs of matter and when we expire we decompose into dust and are no more significant than the dirt we are buried in. The various emotions experienced by mankind of love, joy, sadness and hope are mere chemical reactions that have evolved over time and our sense of morality is just a natural evolutionary code of ethics that developed over time as man increased in intelligence and furthered technology. We have nothing beyond the realm of current existence and life beyond the grave is nothing more than the musings of mythology and fairy tales.

The existence of God is not provable by science. This is an irrefutable fact that only the dogmatically sheepish would try to argue. The existence of God is an argument that mankind has had with itself since the earliest of times. People have slaughtered entire villages and marched their “Armies of God” across the world to force conversion and spread their religious influence as if by divine directive for thousands of years. Even today the madness continues by way of IEDs and suicide bombers on one end and the endless intellectual and apologetic debates in the blogosphere on the other. One of the biggest arguments used to disprove Theism is the existence of evil and why bad things happen to good people. This argument is one that human perception cannot rationally or objectionably engage in, unless they look at the broader picture displayed in nature. Most theists (Christians in particular) believe that the reason bad things (or evil) happen is because of sin. They trace this back to the Biblical tale of Adam and Eve and the forbidden fruit. Original Sin is a flawed dogmatic doctrine of the church that is just as much an injustice to infants and children as it is an illogical and incomplete explanation. Aside from the obvious issue of children and their suffering, what about animals? Does not the sheep live in fear of the wolf? Isn’t it excruciatingly painful when an alligator rips a deer to pieces? Anyone with even the slightest amount of common sense knows that although animals may not be able to drive or write, they do have intelligence. So that means they, like man, are very likely capable of emotions and exercising free-will to a certain extent. Do animals suffer as a result of Eve’s sin or do they just suffer because that is part of the balance of nature and the circle of life? To say that the animals suffer as a result of the sins of man is ridiculous. As such, the suffering of people cannot be pointed to the sins of a mythical woman either. I am sure someone is saying that I am ridiculous to equate the murder of a person at the hands of another person with that of an animal hunting its prey. What if man is the prey? Is it an act of evil if a man is attacked by sharks and eaten alive? Well to the family of the man its a tragedy but to the sharks it was a meal. How dare I say such a thing?!? Well, when a man kills a deer and uses the meat for his family its OK right? Perhaps that deer was a mother and its babies will now die because they can no longer nurse. A tragedy to the baby deer and just another meal for the hunter. Dare I even mention if the deer is shot just for sport…

Now, I know that I used some parallels that some may think are extreme comparisons. In a world of instant gratification, reality TV, self-help speakers, and personal conveniences it becomes almost impossible to realize that we are just specks of dust in relation to the enormity of the cosmos and that our own little realities are irrelevant in the grand design. So just as we pay no mention to the colonies of ants we destroy when we spray pesticides, the tides take no notice of the villages that are destroyed when an earthquake triggers a tsunami. Evil and Satan are easy cop outs (I will expand on these in my next post), but the balance of nature is the true cause.

So does this chaotic cosmos have a Creator? Does God exist? Well a scientist will tell you that God cannot be proven. God cannot be seen and cannot be tested. So let’s use their logic as we review a few concepts. Can we prove why a compass will always point north? The theory is that the earth has an invisible magnetic field that causes this. Gravity is also invisible and yet it is the undisputed reason given for why whatever goes up must come down. The winds cannot be seen, yet scientists have been able to discover that the changes in atmospheric pressure (also something invisible) in conjunction with the rotation of the earth and it revolution are what causes the wind. The sun emits light that is generated from a burning ball of fire and gases in space. This light is invisible yet enables one to see. This light is invisible yet when gather through a lens can burn a piece of paper. Light from the sun also warms the surface of the whole planet.

Great are the works of the LORD, studied by all who have pleasure in them. – Psalms 111:2 (RSV)

I have given some completely invisible scientific theories that have not been disputed and I do not dispute these theories, nor do I reject the science behind them even though they use unseen concepts as their basis of proof. If the unseen can be proven in scientific theory, why is it not acceptable as proof of Deity? How can one dispute the positive impact that God, whether a provable entity or not, has on the most faithful of people? Can we deny that people are moved by their faith in God to be charitable? Can we deny the fact that people are willing to give up their own lives for these beliefs? Can we deny that the truly faithful try to live a life of humility and selflessness? Can we deny the hope that otherwise hopeless people feel when they discover faith? Can we deny the inner strength a person may feel after a sincere prayer?

Faith in God will vary from person to person. It is not a conclusive science, nor will it ever be. It has been said that God is Light. Which is ironic because we can’t see light and we can’t see God either. We can feel the warmth caused by light of the sun and a believer can feel God by the warmth within their soul. Maybe God is imaginary or maybe God is calling and only those with ears to hear and are listening.