Forging into the unknown.. a path of our own.

I would like to open this post with an apology.  I haven’t written much in quite a while and that is mostly due to being focused on other things lately.  I was even debating shutting down this blog as well due to my apparent state of confusion as well as a serious case of writer’s block.

I just renewed the domain registration so it’s safe to say that I’m not going to shut down the blog, but where I take it is yet to be determined.  I have veered off any kind of definable path at the moment and am in a state of limbo for lack of better terms.  This is called the “Quest for Light” and I have to pause and ask:  What does that mean?

First and foremost, I have abandoned the idea of finding a label.  How exactly would I label myself anyway.  Let’s break it down shall we?

From a traditional theological perspective I am not a theist; meaning I do not believe in any traditional concept of a Supreme Being.  However, I do acknowledge that what a person believes is truth to them and that deep within the human conscience there exists an unbroken connection to whatever the first cause of human existence was (or is).  This is a philosophical position and not a scientific one.  I am not going to pretend it to be anything that is provable.  However, if science has already been able to demonstrate that the atoms that compose our bodies are made of “star stuff”,  I see no reason not to believe that since our minds are part of that matter that a connection exists between us and all that surrounds us.  So while I reject all theistic claims of a God “out there” somewhere, I fully embrace the concept of a God within that connects all there is.  This is a pantheistic position  and not an atheistic one.  However, even that label becomes somewhat complex due to the pantheistic label itself having no shortage of organizations that define it in various ways.

What about Scripture?  Clearly I have spent many years studying the Jewish and Christian Bibles, the Talmud, Zohar, Koran, Gita, Tao, and others.  While I have learned much from all of them it is no secret that I have favored the Jewish philosophers and even the mystics above the others.  Yet it is only recently that I realized that is it is more of the exegetical process of allegorical interpretation and skeptical inquiry used in their approach that had my attention and not the actual content itself.  So it was the art of studying and critical examination, which was really somewhat of a scientific approach to something outside of the realm of science that has attracted me all along.  The Jewish and Christian Bibles as well as the Zohar will always hold a special place in my heart.  Not because I believe they have authority over any other holy text, but because those are the texts that I spent the most time studying.  I was born into a Christian family and that is what was my childhood was framed around.  OK.. I am beating around the bush and owe you an answer:  I do not view any holy text as relevant in the modern world.  All of them are a mixture of folklore and myths.  Some are laced with actual historical events as well as political propaganda.  None of them are science books that have accurate cosmological arguments (meaning “In the beginning” is no different then “Once upon a time”).  All are valuable in understanding where we as a race came from and how we have evolved, but none of them are needed for progressing forward or as guidebooks to our future.

So I have shifted my focus from Bronze Age texts to the philosophical writings of the Enlightenment period.  This has been an incredible endeavor that has  allowed me to grow my critical thinking skills even more than even I thought possible.  As a result I have opened even more books and nothing tickles the intellectual mind more than when you bounce from Spinoza to Kant and then trace those concepts to giants (that predated even the holy texts) like Plato and Aristotle.

So I need to regroup and try to lasso in some sort of personal philosophical path rather than fit myself into a label.  So I ask you to be patient with me.  The Quest is going to start back up, but don’t expect to be walking down a well-worn path.  It’s time we forge ahead and make our own!

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?

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:

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)

 

Can anyone “prove” God exists?

In the months since writing the post entitled Divine Science I have had a number of debates as to whether or not it is possible to prove God exists and I have never made the statement that God is a scientifically proven entity.   The evidence of the existence of God has long been an argument.  However, since there is no evidence to the contrary naturally it still remains a logical possibility.  This is not a scientific debate though; it’s a spiritual (or subconscious/emotional) one that Finger of Godif provable would propel the enigma of why evil exists to the forefront.  Part of the problem I think with the argument on proving the existence of “God” is the very defining of what “God” is or is not.

I, personally, am not a believer of an anthropomorphic deity.  You know the one that billions of people believe in and atheists completely detest and reject.  The God that judges and has had fits of rage that result in global flooding or fire and brimstone raining from heaven is an irrational concept to grasp or believe with any sense of reason.  Nor do I believe that God was a man who walked among us 2,000+ years ago in the flesh that had to subject himself to execution in order to forgive me for sins I hadn’t committed yet because that was the only way he could forgive me.  When you put God in a delusional dogmatic box like that, most rational people will not truly believe.  In fact, the only reason many people do believe it is because the genetic lottery caused them to be born into a family that believes it and thus the indoctrination as a young age begins.

That being said, something still compels many people to still believe in God even though they have managed to discard youthful things like Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny.  Part of it is obviously the fear factor – lack of belief in Santa or the bunny will not result in eternal damnation and proving they were myths was easy.  Yet there is also something within a person’s soul (or mind) that makes a distinction between God and the average run of the mill myths or beliefs.

Theists can be classed into one of three genres –

1. Unquestioning dogmatists, who believe exactly what they are told the Bible (or other sacred text) says.  By all outward appearances there is no questioning the existence of God, the infallibility of scriptures and the supernatural events that are attributed to God and those sent by God.

2. Cafeteria believers, who observe the major holidays and abide by the traditions (baptism, bar mitzvah, etc) because it is their “religion”.  They say they believe yet they couldn’t tell you what the primary doctrines are or even understand concepts like predestination or atonement.

3.  Heretics.  These are people who do not follow any religion and use either a comparative religious theology or a personal theology that is nondoctrinal and antidogmatic.  (Yes, I am often considered to be a heretic and I am proud of it)

Most of you know I study the “sacred texts” of numerous religions.  The Hermes archetype has existed since antiquity and will so long as people require hope for things not rationally obtainable.  Hermes was a transitional deity that acted as a messenger, intermediary, and conductor between the divine and mortal worlds.  The idea that mortal men could commune or speak with the gods was made possible through Hermes.  Oddly enough Hermeneutics, which is the art of textual interpretation, is derived from the name Hermes, who could also be considered the interpreter of the gods to men.  So whether you adopt the theology of the Odinist, the Wiccans, the Jews, Christians, Muslims or the Pastafarian you will not find “anything new under the sun” as theology and religion has been an ever evolving process; just like nature.

I have found that one of the best ways to put a reasonable argument around the existence of God is by blending multiple schools of thought together.  There are 2 primary schools of thought in Judaism – rabbinic and mystic.  In my opinion it is these 2 schools of thought that encompass what is needed to come to a sensible perception.  The Rabbinic thought is based on – “I shall be what I shall be” (not I am what I am).  The mystical side is based on the concept – “God is everything and God is nothing.”

When you incorporate these two together you get:

“I shall be everything and I shall be nothing.”

So, I really think it is a choice that each person has to make for themselves.  If you choose not to believe in God, then God does not exist to you.  If you have an inherited and shallow view of God, then you will have a shallow almost nonexistent God that is more an abstraction then reality.  If you truly and deeply believe in God, then God exists and makes a difference to you and how you live .

The Path to Thanksgiving

For a very long time Thanksgiving has been my favorite holiday. Even though it is somewhat secular in practice and today seems to be more overshadowed by the need to go shopping before the meal is even digested, it is clearly a lasting testimony to how the early settlers were believers in a Heavenly Father who not only watched over them, but guided and provided for them. While not all of the actions of early American history may exemplify the divine law of “Love thy neighbor”, it is very clear that they truly believed that the Hand of Providence was with them and that they were subjects to the Creator and Sovereign of the Universe.

Jewish tradition has always used one particular Psalm as “THE” Psalm of Thanksgiving. The Psalm is Psalm 100 and I have included it below:

Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the lands!

Serve the LORD with gladness! Come into his presence with singing!

Know that the LORD is God! It is he that made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him, bless his name!

For the LORD is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations. (Psalm 100)

Sometimes it is difficult to be thankful for anything when our current state of affairs may not always seem to be playing in our favor. Maybe you have felt rejected or forgotten. This is most often a choice, arguably a subconscious one, and you have the power to change whatever it is you are feeling. Once a person learns to control their emotions instead of letting their emotions control them, they obtain the balance in life that leads to happiness. Once a tight rein has bridled the passions, a clear course can be drawn to a life that is more fulfilling. Of the many gifts we have been given, our ability to choose (or free will ) is perhaps the greatest of them all. It is that gift that enables us to forge our own path and chart our own course. The path of life is a narrow one and there will always be forks in the road that may throw you off course. Sometimes the path less traveled leads to where you want to go and sometimes the destination is merely an entrance to yet another path. Whether you choose to walk alone, or pick up the lamp at your feet to light your path, is up to you.

God gave us the gift of life; it is up to us to give ourselves the gift of living well. – Voltaire

(Only on The Quest will you see the Bible and those against it woven together for a common message)

Today marks the 2nd Anniversary of this blog and I want to thank all of you for being on this Quest with me. I hope that all of you enjoy a very Happy Thanksgiving with your families.