Did Yoda go to heaven?

The final computer-generated Yoda as seen in t...

The final computer-generated Yoda as seen in the film. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When I asked this question to a critic I was astounded to find out that Yoda never really existed! OK, all joking aside if you haven’t figured out what I am about to discuss then I will be more direct – Surely, we cannot be arrogant enough to believe that we are the only planet with life forms or that we alone are the only forms of life that our Creator has an interest in amongst the entire universe. That being said, if there is life on other planets are they too required to believe their Creator assumed the form of a being on another planet to atone for their falling short of the laws and ordinances handed down to a being on that same planet? Did these other planets have an Eden? Did they have and Adam and Eve? Do they suffer the burden of Original Sin and the threat of eternal torment because a serpent was able to derail the Divine Plan?

Science has advanced to the extent that we now know the molecular makeup of our bodies. We can fly on an airplane into the same clouds Jesus is said to have ascended into and see no heaven. We know the earth does not have four corners and the stars are not lights in a big canopy. We know that cancer doesn’t care if you are a person of faiths or a person of deeds and neither do deranged gunmen in movie theaters.

But the Bible says…

So much emphasis is placed on Biblical inerrancy and infallibility by mainstream Christianity that few people question it and even less actually read it. The claim of inerrancy and infallibility has on many occasions been refuted and the stance is highly illogical. The men who wrote and redacted the various texts are mostly unknown and no original copies exist. These 2 facts are enough to cast significant doubt as to whether they are true to whatever the originals said (not to mention the KJV Onlyist bunch). Either way, they are cryptic writings that express the opinions of the writers. Writers who openly admit to their own failings, fears, and biases. I am not saying the Bible is useless. That would be grossly irresponsible. It is an ancient text and when you can sort through the myths and the dogmas you do find inalienable moral truths and examples of historical failings that we can all learn from. It has been said that those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it. In the Bible people are killed multiple times “in the name of God” and we see when people break the laws of morality than society suffered for it and received (per the Bible) Divine retribution. We should learn from these mistakes.

The Bible is not the sole source of truth..

One can turn to the Kabbalistic texts, the teachings of the Buddha, the philosophy of Plato, and the moral code of Zoroaster to find inspiration and moral guidance equivalent to what they find in the Bible. When the printing press was invented the Bible became readily available to the common man. Is it merely a coincidence that the Age of Enlightenment almost immediately followed? As the Bible became less and less expensive is it coincidental that there was a spike in skepticism? This is not meant to be an attack on the Bible. While I am an advocate of studying it and do so myself regularly, I am not a fan of the dogma of inerrancy and the absolute authority some people feel that it has over every other text.

Back to Yoda..

The origin of the universe and its perpetuity point to a Designer. To me it is clear because something establishes the balance, authored the laws of nature, and weaves it all together. When you look into a child’s eyes you can see the Divine within the innocence. Love and compassion have an eternal thread and collective source. It is that source that according to the Zohar wishes to commune with each of us and makes us one.

Who is in control?

The notion that we are all sinful wretches worthy of punishment and that the physical world is the dominion and under the tyrannical control of a being known as Satan, is a dogma that I have always opposed. Satan, as Christianity perceives him, did not originate until the Gospels and Epistles. The very few references to Satan in the Jewish Scriptures paint this being in a far different way then the mainstream belief of the Christian and Muslim faiths. Satan is not the serpent in the creation account found in Genesis, nor is he the Prince of the Earth (whatever that means) that we see portrayed in gospels and epistles. Satan, in Jewish Scripture, is the “accuser” and “tempter”. He is not a fallen angel, as some wrongfully interpret Isaiah 14:12 (which when read in full context is an allusion to King Nebuchadnezzar). Satan, according to Jewish Scripture, is and always has been a servant of God. The servant who test one’s faith and resolve, but as clearly displayed in the book of Job, Satan acts and operates at the will and pleasure of the Almighty God.

So where did the concept of the evil, horned, red body-suit wearing, pitch fork carrying sovereign of hell come from? Well, truth be told, the devil that billions of Christians despise and the Hell they hope to avoid by having faith in Jesus are NOT Biblical. Both of them find their origins in a fused interpretation of Dante’s Inferno, the Divine Comedy and the Greco-Roman character known as Hades. The very few references to hell that exist are all in the Gospels and Epistles and they are better translated as the “pit” or Gehenna, which was an area outside the Jewish tribal camps (and later Jerusalem) where the worshippers of Baal and Molech would sacrifice their children by fire. This was an area that the Jews knew physically existed and they feared it. If Torah observance was not strictly adhered to one could get thrown out of the camp or city and face the threat of the “pit”. How a physical place was spun into a place of eternal torment is the crafty work of Augustine and it’s purpose, one could argue, was to scare people into conformity.

Let’s now apply reason and a rational view here. If God is all-powerful than he is all-powerful and the Sovereign of the Universe that Abraham claimed the Almighty to be. This means God and only God is in control and not a rebellious servant in the fiery bowels of the earth. If we are created in the image of God, than we have all the attributes of the Divine. We could not therefore be insignificant wretches that are full of sin and because of poor choices we may have made are somehow worthy of ETERNAL punishment. Let’s think for a minute about this gross implication of injustice. Most people live less than 100 years. What kind of justice is displayed where the mere lack of believing in something for the decades we spend on earth would somehow justify an ETERNAL sentence to torture and punishment? Not a life sentence, but a relentless and unending sentence with no hope for reconciliation or even parole. Where is the grace mercy and peace of the Father? Would the very Creator who created all things and imbued us with Reason and intellect really require that faith and faith alone ensure eternal bliss? Would the divine inspiration that is claimed to have been revealed to a small number of sages in the most primitive and ignorant corner of the earth, be the only source of this critical message? If this be true, why would the message be so cryptic and have so many examples of injustice within it?

Let me propose the following:

  • You are not a filthy wretch.
  • You are not unworthy of love.
  • You are not flawed.
  • You are not a disgrace.
  • You are not worthy of punishment.
  • You are not under an inherited curse of a sin that someone else committed.
  • You are not under the dominion of a powerful evil being who’s out to get you.

What you are is a living, breathing, and beautiful person. You have good attributes and you have bad. You have the freedom to choose how you use the strengths you possess and how you surrender to your weakness. If you have read this far, than you have a contemplative sense of reason and are willing to go behind the veils of dogma and uncover the purest source of truth. Everyone has the need to feel a sense of hope and an element of higher purpose. The idea that we are merely a carbon based collection of molecules and cells that act in repetitive and sometime meaningless ways and are destined to be inanimate patches of dust, is hardly inspirational to most people. This is why people feel deep within the recesses of their mind and soul that there must be something greater than ourselves. How can the wonder of time and the majesty of nature be the product of a Divine Judge that places matters of thought over physical actions?

Am I speaking against Scripture? No. I am merely providing my view of the Divine, just like the authors of the various books of Scripture did. Call me heretical if you want, but we know a lot more now about the universe, earth, the human genome, physics, medicine, human psychology, and a host of other quantifiable facts than any of the Bronze Age authors of Scripture ever knew. There is a strong argument that Biblical inerrancy is only in context not in content.

But Nelson, my pastor says this or Joel Osteen says that, or Joyce Meyer advocates this and Rick Warren wrote that… Well, why don’t we compare their motivational factors to mine. What exactly am I asking you for? Have I passed around an offering plate? Have I told you to call my prayer line and contribute to my ministry? Have I told you that I need you to “give all you can” and promised a ten-fold blessing from God in return for your offering? Nope. I am just on a quest for light and have welcomed you to accompany me on it and nothing more.

All I have ever asked is for 2 very simple things:

That you think with an open and rational mind.
That you love one another.

Ask yourself this question:
If this is the only life you will have and there is no resurrection or after-life, are you living life to the fullest?

One more question:
Why not?

Beware the Golden Calf

Worshiping the golden calf, as in Exodus 32:1-...

Worshiping the golden calf, as in Exodus 32:1-35, illustration from a Bible card published 1901 by the Providence Lithograph Company (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

According to Biblical tradition after the Israelites were liberated from bondage of the Pharoah of Egypt they arrived at Mt. Sinai where the first and only mass revelation of the Almighty Creator of the world occurred.  The mountain was shrouded in thick smoke and fire blazed as the voice of the Almighty uttered the Decalogue (or 10 Commandments).  The people feared for their lives and begged Moses to go up to the mountain and act as an intermediary between themselves and this awesome manifestation of the Creator.  So Moses went up the mountain where it is believed the rest of the Torah (or first 5 books of the Bible) were communicated to him over the course of 40 days.

Apparently it only took 40 days for this awesome revelation to be forgotten and the Israelites demanded Moses’ brother Aaron to create a new God for them.  So all the gold was collected and the Golden Calf appeared.   It’s amazing how quickly the people turned to a new god after witnessing the awesome power of the Creator.  When Moses came down from the mountain he was outraged at the idolatry, destroyed the tablets and ordered the execution of thousands before going back up the mountain to beg for forgiveness and receive the Torah again.

It is very unlikely that this Biblical Account is based on an actual event that occurred.  To be totally honest, it doesn’t have to be based on a true event to teach a very important message.  The Bible is a highly allegorical book with veiled teachings and very little of it should be taken literally.  It has been a long tradition, that still exists to this day, to teach lessons – especially ones about life and morality – using stories (or parables).  This is why Rabbis and scholars have studied the Bible so much for thousands of years.  

So, let’s look at this allegorically and with a touch of rationalism.

Why on earth would people who had just witnessed the undeniable revelation of the Almighty start worshiping a Golden Calf?  Surely if you or I had witnessed something like this we would never had resorted to the worship of an inanimate object, right?

Wrong.

The Golden Calf is still around today and is worshiped by more people than any other god that has ever been worshiped.  In fact, at one point in time everyone reading this (myself included) has worshiped the Golden Calf.  Not the physical one, but what it actually represents.

Gold = wealth, money, power

Calf = food, sustenance, possessions

Combine the 2 and you have the formula for the root of all evil – greed.

So what’s the lesson?

We should not think that the world revolves around us.  That our problems are bigger than someone else’s.  That we are more deserving than someone else to have a bigger house or a larger income.  That personal wealth makes us better than our friends. The thought that the person who works at Wal-Mart or McDonald’s is any less of a person than the CEO of a major corporation is detestable and immoral.  The Golden Calf represents the dangers of people relying on the physical things to make themselves happy or to calculate their worth.  It’s not what’s in your bank account that defines you, it’s what’s in your heart and your mind.

In addition to not valuing the physical and monetary is the necessity to revere God.  God, is not a tyrant and not an anthropomorphic judgemental deity.  God, in the simplest of terms, is the essence of life and the origin of love and morality.

The lesson is to value life and to love one another and that morality really matters.  To accept the fact that there is something beyond our comprehension that enables life and weaves together the fabric of time and space.  That nothing we gather in life goes with us when we die.  So rather than focus all our energy on ourselves, we should focus it more on those around us.

Beware the Golden Calf.

What is the true nature of God?

English: Vitruvian man by Leonardo da Vinci

Image via Wikipedia

With all the pain and suffering we see in the world one of the primary weapons an atheist has against the concept of deity is why an all-loving and father-like deity would allow bad things to happen. As we have advanced in science and technology the concept of an anthropomorphic deity is a very difficult concept to defend. Many people casually dismiss the argument with statements like “The Lord works in mysterious ways” or “Trust in the Lord”, but I am pretty sure in the back of most people’s minds the question of “Why?” and the statement “it’s not fair” still lingers. Blind faith is not easy for the contemplative mind and it is almost impossible to measure with any sense of reason. I know what some of you are thinking, “We can’t understand the nature of the Divine”, but I think that’s because we try to humanize the Divine way to much. Rather than try to measure ourselves up to it, we diminish the greatness of that great unknown element of the first and perpetual cause of the cosmos by applying human attributes.

Whether you are Jewish, Christian, Mormon, or Muslim all of scripture originates in the Torah. Regardless of your stance on reliability of translations, divine inspiration, historical accuracy, or the infallibility of the text there is one undeniable truth that no one can dispute – It was written by men in an attempt to explain the unexplainable. What if we, the more technologically advanced version of the Patriarchs, are completely missing the point? What if understanding the concept of deity is really achieved by making a real earnest effort at understanding ourselves?

The human body is essentially a microcosm of the universe and the brain a mini version of the Divine. I realize this borders on heresy to some of you, but bear with me here. The Divine is in complete control of all creation, much like the mind is in complete control of the body right? Then why did you let yourself stub your toe the other day? Why did you say such a harsh thing that you later claim you really didn’t mean? Why did you cheat? Why do you allow yourself to get a paper cut? Why is your hair not cooperating with your comb? Why do you have to brush your teeth to prevent decay? These things happened and you didn’t want them to. I thought the brain controlled everything.

Getting the point? There is a difference between Divine Consciousness and Divine Control.

I am pretty sure you have gotten angry and snapped at someone and then regret it later. Is that your mind admonishing your instinctive reaction? You ever forget something and then remember it later? If you remembered it, you really didn’t forget it. (ie. “The Lord remembered Noah“) How can I be so bold as to say we are like the Divine? Need I remind you that we are “created in the image and likeness” of the Divine. Perhaps getting to know the nature of the Divine is only achievable when we try to understand ourselves. Meditation and prayer to many, have been ways to relax and to find solace. It is a bit ironic that this is an exercise you do on your own. But are you really alone? When you close your eyes and clear your mind, focusing on each breath as it enters your lungs and is then released, you aren’t alone. In fact this is probably the only time you are focusing on your breathing when your brain has been gauging the activity of your lungs since conception. When we were created we received the “breath of life” and that one breath started a reaction within us that continues with every single breath we take and just as our body evolves, so does the rest of creation.

Perhaps the answers to our questions have actually be in right in front of us the whole time – looking right back at us in the mirror.

© Nelson Rose, The Quest for Light

Life, Free Will, and Reason

Some of you may or may not know this but, I have read and studied the Bible, the Quran, the Book of Mormon, and various other ancient (aka sacred texts). Religion is something that absolutely fascinates me and it is also something that scares the heck out of me. The fascinating part is the various views on the nature of God and the scary part is the mindless dogma and violence that can result from an uneducated approach to those views. I have always believed that while it may not be necessary to go to the extent that I did with reading, everyone should at least know their own scriptures and the basic tenets of their religion. It is so common to see misquotes and uniformed ignorance with people on this topic. This is mainly because few people actual take the time to read for themselves and to me that makes them pretty bad followers of whatever religion they follow. How can someone be a good Jew if they have not read every single word of Torah at least once? How can someone be a good Christian if they have not read every word of the Bible at least once? How can someone be a good Muslim if they have not read every word of the Quran at least once? Especially since even reading them once is no where near enough.

Although I was raised a Christian (The Lutheran flavor) when I got older I became skeptical, almost slipping into the ignorance of atheism. I couldn’t make up my mind what to believe so I read any holy book I could find (some of them more than once) and after the last 5 years of studying, I find the peace and comfort that I’ve been looking for in Judaism. This awakening occured to me when I started studying Mystical Judaism (Kabbalah). Kabbalah (which is fascinating by the way) requires extensive knowledge of the Torah. So as I said in my last post, Torah is now what I spend most of my time studying.

The origin of humanity is a topic of much debate and multiple cosmogonies have been discovered and the Torah contains a blend of a few of them that have been masterfully woven into one. These cosmogonies are allegorical and have been interpreted throughout the centuries through various commentaries. It is my belief that the Christian view of them as being literally true is wrong but, I also realize that the core of that faith requires it. So my views may not sit well with them. Nevertheless, I base them on some very intense study of the texts themselves, various Rabbinic commentaries, the Talmud, and translational reference material.

It is my belief we were all created with 3 very special divine gifts:

  • The Breath of Life
  • Free Will
  • Reason

The Breath of Life, as its name implies, gives us life, a soul and it is the very sustaining essence of God within each and every one of us.

Free Will is the freedom that God gave each of us to choose for ourselves what our actions are and what kind of person we are. All of us have both light and dark, good and evil, within us and it is the choices we make that define what path we take and who we are.

Reason enables us to understand the differences between good and bad. It encourages the mind to seek and understand the nature of God and to discern the order and operation of nature. When employed correctly it gives us a moral compass that governs our free will and when properly followed will always lead to God.

How did we get these gifts?

One of the ways to study Torah is allegorically and another is personal application. In studying the allegory of Creation (yes, I believe the beginning of Genesis to be all allegory) I used my personal allegorical interpretation to develop some thoughts as to how these gifts were given to us as relates to the tale of Eve and the serpent in the garden.

The garden is symbolic of the paradise that one has in a spiritual sense when they are close to God. The serpent is symbolic of free will, except free will without the gift of Reason caused poor judgement and the selfish desire to be “like God”. The act of biting into the fruit was the introduction of the gift of Reason. It was only after Reason was introduced did Eve’s eyes “open” and she realized that she was “naked”. Naked meaning now fully accountable for her own actions and not capable of hiding who she was.

How does God respond?

With disappointment and then very quickly with love and compassion. It was never God’s intent to have a bunch of puppets that were under divine control. Free will comes with the risk of making both good and bad decisions even with the use of Reason. God curses the serpent because the serpent symbolized the use of free will to serve oneself which we know as selfishness. Mankind is then imbued with the pains and burdens of life but, then God quickly provides them with clothes to cover their nakedness. This is emblematic of how mankind, now having free will, reason and the breath of life – all gifts that come from God and when used in the “image” of God will provide man all that is needed to come close to Him. How do we act in God’s image? Those 10 little rules we have spoken of before.

And God created man in His own image, in the image of God created He him; male and female created He them. JPS

© Nelson Rose, The Quest for Light

Why?

No word is more enigmatic than the word why.  It is also the only word which entitles an element of subjectivity when responding to it.  The most difficult questions a person can ask will typically contain the word why.

Why am I here?

Why is their pain and suffering?

Why is the sky blue?

Why do bad things happen to good people?

Why do people hate?

Why do people get cancer?

Why is life so difficult sometimes?

I think you get my point.  The fact is some questions will always either go unanswered or have answers that are unclear and only cause more questions.  In order to answer the “why” questions it takes more then knowing the “whats” and “hows”.  The word why, above all other words, is evidence of the need and importance of the gift of Reason.  It baffles the mind that any doctrine of faith would consider Reason to be a bad thing and rely solely on blind faith.  Would our Creator actually give us the gift of reasoned intelligence with the intention that we would suspend its use in order to believe He exists?

The belief in a Creator does not require a fabulous system of magic or dogmatic doctrines and creeds.  One only needs to observe the perfection in the design of the universe and the awesome power of nature to know that some unexplainable force started it all and keeps it all going.  This creative and perpetual force may be personal or impersonal and it could be gracious or tyrannical but, we as mere specks of the collective whole are not capable of understanding it.  Furthermore, the idea that the only people capable of understanding and interpreting this source of all things with absolute and infallible authority are a few individuals from a small part of this planet that died thousands of years ago and had very little knowledge of the cosmos and the workings of nature, is not a rational approach to this complex enigma.

So if it is impossible to comprehend how do we know?

Contemplating the universe, the whole system of Creation, in this point of light, we shall discover, that all that which is called natural philosophy is properly a divine study. It is the study of God through his works. It is the best study, by which we can arrive at a knowledge of his existence, and the only one by which we can gain a glimpse of his perfection.

Do we want to contemplate his power? We see it in the immensity of the Creation. Do we want to contemplate his wisdom? We see it in the unchangeable order by which the incomprehensible WHOLE is governed. Do we want to contemplate his munificence? We see it in the abundance with which he fills the earth. Do we want to contemplate his mercy? We see it in his not withholding that abundance even from the unthankful. In fine, do we want to know what GOD is? Search not written or printed books, but the Scripture called the ‘Creation.’

It has been the error of the schools to teach astronomy, and all the other sciences, and subjects of natural philosophy, as accomplishments only; whereas they should be taught theologically, or with reference to the Being who is the author of them: for all the principles of science are of divine origin. Man cannot make, or invent, or contrive principles: he can only discover them; and he ought to look through the discovery to the author. – Thomas Paine

The idea that nature and science conflict with religion only shows that the doctrine of faith that conflicts with these discoveries are outdated.  Man does not write the laws of nature and science – we merely uncover them and it is by their study and an observation of their perfection that we can become closer to discovering the most sublime truths.

© Nelson Rose, The Quest for Light

The “First” Family

The climax of Creation is when God creates man and woman (Genesis 1:27). Both are created at the same time and as equals and in the same manner as the other species (meaning multiple men and women) with the only difference being that they were created in God’s own image. This is in contrast to the idea that Adam and Eve were the first humans on earth. Another set of verses that shows that Adam and Eve weren’t alone follow the murder of Cain (Genesis 4:14-16) when Cain is banished and fears the “other people” will kill him. You can also read a little further and find that while he was banished Cain got married and began to build a city (Genesis 4:17). Who did Cain marry and who was he building a city with? The Bible does not mention Adam and Eve having another child until Seth (Genesis 4:25). Seth was another son and not once is a daughter mentioned.. The argument could be used that no daughters were mentioned because the emphasis seems to be on males but, even with that logic if Adam had a daughter for Cain to mate with he couldn’t. Not because its incest but, because he was banished to the land of Nod (Gen 4:16) to begin with. So there had to be other people there.

So what is the point of the story? Why tell such an elaborate tale? Some scholars believe the story of Adam and Eve is a continuation of the creation account and is to be taken literally and some believe it to be a completely different creation account entirely. My belief is that this is another allegorical lesson just like the creation account. It is intended to teach about our Creator’s greatest gifts to us: Reason and Free-will. The account of the first family is highly symbolic and is contrary to Augustine’s invention of the curse of Original Sin. The lesson being taught is about man’s moral weaknesses and self-serving nature. From the very beginning we learn that our very nature causes us to think and act inwardly. This will never give anyone a sense of purpose, it carries no reward and never will.

All of us are created with both darkness and light. The serpent is emblematic of our dark side. The “conversation” between Eve and the serpent symbolizes our internal struggle between doing what is right (light) and wrong (dark). The struggle portrayed in this account is one we all experience on a daily basis. We are all born with the desire to please ourselves. This leads to selfishness and greed. Both of which are the vices that cause almost every conflict. Eve decided for herself to eat the “forbidden fruit”. She made the decision because she wanted to be like God. She wanted what was not her’s to have for her own purposes. So she was acting selfish and out of self-serving greed. We have to learn to accept who we are and what we have been given and not seek what belongs to others or that which was not meant for us. This enables us to focus on being kind to others and helping those who are less fortunate. The “banishment” from the garden symbolizes that selfishness and self-centeredness will always lead to an undesirable outcome and it is often the opposite of what you had intended.

The tragedy of Cain and Abel is a critical lesson. It shows us the worst kind of evil. It shows us our absolute darkest ability. There is nothing worse than taking another person’s life. There is a high value placed on human life – remember that we were created in the “image of God” and therefore murder is an action against God and ALL of mankind. Cain was jealous of Abel and jealousy is totally an act of thinking inwardly. Jealousy is a feeling in which you place yourself above others as though you have an entitlement greater than those around you. When we let the evil within us control us we can become capable of the most vile actions and murder, by far, is worst action of all. Why God did not decide to strike Cain down the instant he committed this horrific act is an example of the need for all of us to forgive, which is the most selfless of all actions. So in one lesson we see our worst and our greatest abilities. Thus from the very beginning of the Bible we see the struggle between darkness and light, good and evil, right and wrong. The reason for this constant struggle is the great enigma and the search for the answer is the true quest for light.

© Nelson Rose, The Quest for Light