Be the change..

Mohandas K. Gandhi (1869-1948), political and ...

Mohandas K. Gandhi (1869-1948), political and spiritual leader of India. Location unknown. Français : Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (1869-1948), Guide politique et spirituel de l’Inde. Lieu inconnu. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have not been shy about expressing my opinions and sharing what I have learned in the realm of religion and philosophy. Just as society has gone through “ages’ of darkness and enlightenment, so have I as an individual. We live in an extremely materialistic world. A world where people are often judged and classed by what they possess and the influence they have rather than the content of their character. It is also evident that the less one is required to think about a topic, the more consumable it is for public discourse. When one takes a step back and looks at how far we have come scientifically, medically, and technologically it is difficult to understand why we are socially on a death spiral in the opposite direction.

How can a society that is charting DNA and uncovering the secrets of the human genome find television shows that claim to be reality when they are mere facades and staged fallacies displaying utter ignorance and Neanderthal behavior to be entertaining?

How can a society with the resources available to wipe out hunger across the globe instead squander the wealth by engaging in unnecessary combat?

How can a society claiming belief and reverence to a man who preached “what ye do to the least of my Brethren, ye do unto me” be more concerned about defending the wealth of the wealthy than the well-being of the poor?

There are some that believe that the rise of secularism in the world is the cause for the moral collapse of society and to those people I can only ask them to explain the Inquisitions and Holy Wars of the past and the lavish lifestyles of high-profile pastors and clergy today. The overwhelming majority of wars that have been fought in history were either for religion or imperialism and ironically enough, up until the 20th century imperialism itself was also tied to religion due to the perceived “divine right” of monarchs.

It is incumbent on all of us to find a way to move society forward in a rational, compassionate, and tolerant way. We cannot expect things to change without any effort of our own and we cannot expect or allow the discourse to be done without any effort of our own. It has been over 50 years since a vibrant and inspiring leader said “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” I think this premise needs to be extended further as we now live in a more global centric world. The myth of one country being “greater” than another is not conducive to geo-political progress and it creates a vain and false sense of exceptionalism, which is counter productive in building relationships.

We all need to take a step back and consider that our personal worldview is limited by our personal education and experience. Just because we have grown up under certain conditions and beliefs does not mean that they are true or that they apply to everyone. The art of compromise has all but vanished in the halls of the U.S. government because of ideological stubbornness and the perception that compromising somehow is a relinquishing or surrendering of core values, when it is an essential part of managing cultural diversity.

So how is this in any way relevant in the Quest for Light you may be asking? Well, it is simple really. Take a look at how you spend your day. No doubt it is probably a repeatable routine that resembles a hamster in a spinning wheel. Do we look at the forest for the trees anymore? Do we spend time walking on something other than concrete or asphalt? Do we sit in the shade provided by something not consisting of trusses and plywood? Can we even see the stars anymore? Do we even look up?

We live a life with no evidence to support that anything will follow once we take our last breath. Life has a cycle that if you live long enough you eventually become just as helpless as you were when you were born. A full circle of life that ends almost exactly as it began, except instead of the promise and potential that comes with a new life we must consider what it is we did with all that promise and potential.

Darkness dissipates by a mere spark of light and a spark can cause a flame and a flame can lead to a fire. Gandhi once said to “be the change you wish to see“. I think it’s time we all stop waiting for change or praying for miracles and start doing something.

“What we have done for ourselves alone dies with us; what we have done for others and the world remains and is immortal.”
Albert Pike

Riding the cosmic tide

Amidst the chaos we see in nature and the universe, an underlying order exists.  An order that, while not seemingly perfect, somehow perpetuates unseen and almost unknown to those not attune to its existence.  Nature is filled with dichotomous processes and attributes that, while seemingly unnecessary for the finite human mind to perceive as relevant or “fair”, serve a purpose in the endless ebb and flow of the cosmos.  There cannot be darkness without light for without light one would never know they were in the dark.  There cannot be joy without sorrow for without one we would never be able to experience the other.  To experience a state of perfection we must acknowledge and overcome our own imperfections.  There are times when we should take a step back and reflect on ourselves.  Are we worthy of advancing further?  Are we giving our best effort in our present situation?  Are we really prepared to move on to the next phase in life or take on a new role in our professional careers?  While at times there are obstacles placed before us that may prevent us from advancing, we cannot automatically dismiss each lost opportunity or setback as something that we shouldn’t be reflecting on in order to build ourselves up.  The worst thing a person can do is let a situation get the better of them.  Once a person loses their drive and determination they risk sinking deeper to a place where negativity is king and that can be toxic.

Our very actions have implications on those around us whether intended or unintended.  If those actions are constantly negative or dwell on our inability to learn from the past rather than dwell on it, how are we ever going to move forward?  Today people openly judge others with indiscriminate prejudice and without regard to how their judgments may affect them.  Many people have a tendency to be unbelievably petty, shallow, egotistical, and callus.  It is all too common to jump to conclusions without even giving a single thought to what another person is going through and it exposes a shameful hypocrisy when we cast judgment on someone else’s character, while all the while engaging in the very thing we are condemning the other person for to begin with.  Regardless of your religious preferences the words “Judge not, lest ye yourselves be judged: for whatsoever judgment ye measure unto others, the same shall in turn be measured unto you.” (Matt 7:1-2) should be words we all live by.

In the world of social media we often see ourselves debating everything from politics to religion and from dogs to furniture.  The pen can in many ways still be more powerful than the sword.  This is especially true when the one holding the pen is aware of the emotions and sentiments they can both manipulate and cultivate with what they write.   Our opinions seem to flow freely when written and sometime that freedom lacks temperance.  Our words and our deeds are mere outward expressions of who we are and while many put up a good front, the facade eventually exposes itself the second another person traverses the walls we build around our true selves.  Substance and character comes from within and if we focus solely on what others perceive, we are merely building walls that once traversed exposes and empty open field.

We are all microcosms of the cosmos, no one being separate from the other.  So every storm we weather has its purpose and our actions rarely, if ever, affect ourselves alone.   Here is the dichotomy of our own existence.  We are to be true to ourselves yet live harmoniously with those around us.  Finding that balance is how we navigate through the ocean of time.

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)

 

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.