A Skeptical Twist

English: Moses Pleading with Israel, as in Deu...

English: Moses Pleading with Israel, as in Deuteronomy 6:1-15, illustration from a Bible card published 1907 by the Providence Lithograph Company (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A young Jewish boy was riding home from Hebrew School when his mother asked him, “So how was class?”
“It was stupid mom.”, he said.
“Come on sweetheart”, said the mom, “it couldn’t be that bad. Tell me what you learned today.”
“Well, we learned about Moses“, he said, “and how he motivated the Israelites to rise against Pharaoh and leave Egypt. Then Pharaoh chased them and they were trapped at the Red Sea. Then Moses told the Israelites to build a bridge over the sea. They planted explosives on the bridge as they crossed it and when Pharaoh’s army got on the bridge they blew it up.”
“Wait a minute honey, I don’t think that’s how the story goes.” said the mother.
“I know mom, but if I told you what the Torah really says, you’d never believe me.”

Logic, reason, and science have long been the biggest foes of religion. I have been accused by many of “thinking” too much about things and being overly critical of Biblical accuracy and relevance. “You have to learn to just believe” and “The Lord works in mysterious ways” are the defenses and pleas of my well-intended Christian friends. My all-time favorite is when I posed the question of Theodicy and got the tired old “Sin is the reason bad things happen.” Oh I get it, so because “Eve” took a bite out of a piece of fruit millions of children are starving or neglected and abused. Here is the paradoxical question – If God is in control, then why isn’t anyone blaming God? If God really had control, why did “Eve” listen to the “talking snake” in the first place?

What about intelligent design and the perfection and balance of nature? Is nature really perfect when children are born with cleft lips or dysfunctional organs? Is nature perfect when a tidal wave washes away people who had no idea it was coming? Where is God when people sit huddled in their houses when a hurricane or tornado threatens to destroy them? If he is huddled there with them, why wasn’t he with the family that perished when the roof collapsed on them? Is their really evidence for intelligent design when a woman’s body viciously tries to destroy sperm before it gets to the egg and then continues to try to destroy the embryo until the placenta eventually forms an impenetrable barrier?

All my life I have believed that there is a God. It has been a view that has flip-flopped between Christianity, Judaism, and Deism, but there was always some kind of a belief in a higher power. I have studied scripture tirelessly, not for the purposes of debunking or making cheap shots, but because I had a hard time believing the concept of the Abrahamic God to be true. I truly wanted that “spiritual” connection to happen and I long believed that to be possible when someone sincerely digs into the Scriptures. I studied the cosmological, ontological, mystical, and evangelical concepts of God for the purpose of solidifying my faith. Studying Scripture to me meant more than just the feel good writings of John and the dogmatic and veiled writings of Paul. The Bible, much like the world, contains a lot of violence and pain and suffering and to me reading the many books that are less than happy in their message was an essential aspect of understanding the whole.

I’ve said before that I view the Bible as a collection of writings of men who were just as confused as I am. The Psalms are a perfect example. There are 150 individual poems, songs, and laments that range from praising to doubting and anger to joy. The Psalter (who I believe to be more than one person and not just King David) could not maintain a solid position on whether God was always good and loving or forgetful and forsaking. So after much effort and examination, the results are a weaker faith than when I started. I think what continues to draw me to the Bible at this point has become more of a philosophical exercise than a spiritual one.

What about God though? Well, that is the million dollar question. With all the pain and suffering throughout the world and the glaring an inconceivable injustices against the innocent – mainly children, one could easily reject that God exists. After so much time and study I have, admittedly, grown very skeptical and almost adopted an agnostic viewpoint. I will not be so bold as to say there is no God, but I do completely reject the concept of an all-powerful magical old man in the skies. Perhaps what “God” really may be is an incorporeal cosmic force that interpenetrates every part of nature and timelessly extends beyond it. This is a pantheistic view that I have begun to consider as an alternative to the corporeal, personal and anthropomorphic conception of the Divine. Perhaps the time has come for the Quest to shift into a broader exploration of ethics and metaphysics.

Everybody Makes Mistakes

 
Fanciful rendering of the interior of a carria...

Image via Wikipedia

One of the most difficult things for many people to do is admit that they have made a mistake or that they are wrong.  I have made so many mistakes, some intentional and some unintentional, that I could fill a book with my shortcomings.  Heck, there are things I probably did wrong that I don’t even know about.  No one is perfect and no one ever has been nor likely ever will be.

Mistakes can be classified as “sins” however that word is better interpreted as “falling short”.  The innate nature of a human being to focus inward instead of outward is the cause of the majority of our mistakes.  Then there are those unintentional ones that happen randomly which, although they may seem unintentional, can be corrected with effort.  Even though perfection as a human being is not possible, it is something that we should constantly pursue.  You can not throw your hands up and say I am who I am and I can’t change who I am.  This is the furthest thing from the truth.  You can’t change others, but you can absolutely change yourself.  Is this easy? Of course not, but it is possible.

Jewish tradition has a pretty interesting system for keeping the ethics and morals of the Torah fresh on the mind.  It is the tradition of wearing the tzitzit.  These are those tassels you see Orthodox Jews wear on the corners of their pants.  If you have ever wondered why they wear them there are actually 2 reasons:  The first is that it is a commandment and the second is to act as a constant reminder to, put it blunt, behave!

Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them, that they shall make themselves fringes on the corners of their garments throughout their generations, and they shall put on the corner fringe a blue (tekhelet) thread.  ~ Numbers 15:38

Now before you freak out, I am not telling you to go to the nearest Judaica store and buy some of these, I am just trying to convey the concept that in order to correct yourself or change behaviors it may be necessary to put reminders in place to help you.  (If you are Jewish and the tzitzit sound like a good idea to you – by all means do it!  You may help someone else remember in the process.)

Some other Jewish traditions include a head covering.  This one has also been adopted by the Amish, Muslims, and Catholic clergy.  The head covering is a reminder of the importance of humility.  Have you ever noticed that the “nicest” people you know are typically very humble?  Humility and kindness go hand in hand.  The first shortcoming we all should be aware of is vanity (this is one I am very guilty of myself).  How do you cure vanity?  I wish I knew what the silver bullet was for this one, but one of the things that I have been trying to do myself is think of someone I know that I admire for their kindness, charity, and humility, or I think of the many things I have done that I can’t undo.  If I am so great they never would have happened or I would have the power to undo them.  This has to be done with a measure of positivity though as well.  Otherwise you dig yourself into a hole of worthlessness as if you are some terrible wretch that deserves to be punished.  

There is a misconception by the Christian church that the Torah was designed to “show our sins” and that because of our sins we are destined to hell.  This is written nowhere in the Torah or the Prophets.  In fact it is the exact opposite.  The Torah was designed to show us how we should live and the way we should strive to be perfect.  Yes, there are things that are dated and maybe seem to make no sense – like being forbidden to eat pork.  However, when you peel back the layers and see that this was not just a dietary restriction for the sake of healthy foods (lets face it pork is very high in sodium) it was to suppress man’s thirst for blood. 

Is it possible to follow all the rules in the Torah?  No.  Did anyone ever achieve such a level of perfection? No.  (To my Christian friends please do not take offense.  The very first command given to man was to “be fruitful and multiply”.  Jesus had no children and there is nothing in Christian scriptures that indicates any attempt was even made to fulfill this command.  He therefore fell short).    Do you have to follow all 613 rules?  Only if you are Jewish.  If you are not Jewish there are really only 7 rules to follow.  These are known as the Noahide laws and they are:

  1. Acknowledge that there is only one God who is Infinite and Supreme above all things. Do not replace that Supreme Being with finite idols, be it yourself, or other beings. This command includes such acts as prayer, study and meditation.
  2. Respect the Creator. As frustrated and angry as you may be, do not vent it by cursing your Maker.
  3. Respect human life. Every human being is an entire world. To save a life is to save that entire world. To destroy a life is to destroy an entire world. To help others live is a corollary of this principle.
  4. Respect the institution of marriage. Marriage is a most Divine act. The marriage of a man and a woman is a reflection of the oneness of God and His creation. Disloyalty in marriage is an assault on that oneness.
  5. Respect the rights and property of others. Be honest in all your business dealings. By relying on God rather than on our own conniving, we express our trust in Him as the Provider of Life.
  6. Respect God’s creatures. At first, Man was forbidden to consume meat. After the Great Flood, he was permitted – but with a warning: Do not cause unnecessary suffering to any creature.
  7. Maintain justice. Justice is God’s business, but we are given the charge to lay down necessary laws and enforce them whenever we can. When we right the wrongs of society, we are acting as partners in the act of sustaining the creation.

So what do you do when you fall short?  The good news is there isn’t some horrific place where you will suffer for an eternity because you stole a snickers bar or lied to your mom.  However, you have to acknowledge the mistake and make a conscious effort to not repeat it.  If you have done something to someone else you have to apologize and ask for forgiveness.  Whether they forgive you or not is on their merit.  For those things you do (or don’t do) that had no impact on someone else you need to recognize the mistake and strive not to repeat it.

A parting thought for reflection:

What is worse, the mistakes you have made or the opportunities for doing a good deed that you have avoided?

(Note the text for the Seven Noahide Laws is from www.chabad.org)

© Nelson Rose, The Quest for Light