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.

 

A martyr for all of us

Today is the annual observance of the brutal torture and execution of a man, whether myth or god incarnate, who was nothing less than a artic_image_071816_rose-croixmoral exemplar for all of us. Whether one professes the Christian faith or not, no one can deny that the lessons of “Love your neighbor as yourself” and “Love one another” inculcated by Jesus of Nazareth are universal principles of morality.

“Judge not” and “Let him without sin throw the first stone” should be constant reminders that we are to be tolerant of others and that we should love more and judge less.

So today, lets pause and reflect. Reflect on a man that was murdered merely for teaching love over dogma and compassion over judgement.

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.

Thoughts on the essence and existence of God

A lot has gone on the past few weeks and I had a lot of thoughts bouncing around in my head.  I felt like chatting with you instead of writing.  So here is the first ever “vlog” post:

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.

Breaking free

Pantheism

Pantheism (Photo credit: Helico)

For quite a while I have been going through the mental anguish of disentangling myself from a belief system that had been implanted and cultivated into my mind as a child. For the better part of 2 years I have been inconsistent with the answer to the question “what do I believe?” because it has been an ever evolving process. However, my moral compass and personal philosophy has solidified for the past couple of months and I’ve been coping with exactly what that means. After all, abandoning a system that teaches that the lack of adhering to it will result in an eternity of torment, does tend to make one second guess abandoning their faith. Eventually I realized that the whole threat of eternal torment is actually the psychological hook that when implanted at a young age, or at a point in one’s life when they are the most vulnerable, can produce an almost impenetrable motivational framework that is extremely difficult to break away from.

After almost slipping into atheism, the birth of my first child made me realize that there had to be something other than a chemical reaction to the love I felt when I looked into his newborn eyes. The same love that managed to spread without effort to my daughter and my youngest son. There has to be something more than just “my imagination” when I can feel the emotion or mood of a room full of people before I see a single face or here the first voice. When I can feel the pain of someone else when I read the details of the many “Pray for ..” Facebook pages and then ask myself the same question they ask themselves everyday, “why?”

For me to believe in something greater than myself, that being or thing actually needs to be greater than me. So when I think of a being with omnipotent power that is present everywhere and is capable of altering “His” own laws of nature, that being is no longer greater than I am when children are sucked up by tornadoes or washed away with floods. Now I used natural forces for a reason, so as not to hear the “man is evil and sinful” retort. To that extent though, a child being raped or multiple children being shot in a school under the watchful eye of a “heavenly father” is inexcusable if that supreme being actually exists.

Sure while parting seas, walking on water, magic ladders, and turning water into wine make for great reading (and the last one would be great at a party) these things are not realities. They are no more factually true then Paul Bunyan dragging his ax to form the Grand Canyon or George Washington chopping down a cherry tree. Since ancient times the greatest teachers have often used stories (aka parables) to teach lessons. Now, we live in a world that is incredibly connected with technology, mass transit, and lightning fast communications. One only needs to take a second look deeper and discover that connection that is longing to be cultivated. It is our true Divine Source that has never faltered and never wavered. It is that which makes us one.

So now it is time to step out from behind the veil of dogma and accept that which I have come to know for quite a while.

I believe the universe is one being; all its parts are different expressions of the same energy, and they are all in communication with each other, therefore parts of one organic whole … The whole is in all its parts so beautiful, and is felt by me to be so intensely in earnest, that I am compelled to love it, and to think of it as divine. It seems to me that this whole alone is worthy of the deeper sort of love; and there is peace, freedom, I might say a kind of salvation, in turning one’s affections outward toward this one God; rather than inwards on one’s self, or on humanity, or on human imaginations and abstractions the world of spirits. (Robinson Jeffers, Pantheism)

There you have it, I’m a Pantheist.

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)