The Prayer of Manasseh

I have done some studying lately of the “Apocryphal” Scriptures and I must admit, a lot of them are better than some of the writings that are in the “official” canon.  Once such work is the Prayer of Manasseh.  This is an unbelieveably beautiful prayer that (like almost every other book of the Bible) has unknown authorship.  It predates the birth of Jesus by over 100 years.   According to the Books of Kings and Chronicles (2 Kings 21:1-18; 2 Chronicles 33:1-9), Manasseh was one of the most idolatrous kings of Judah .  According to Chronicles, Manasseh was taken captive by the Assyrians. (2 Chronicles 33:11-13) While he was a prisoner, Manasseh prayed for mercy, forgiveness and deliverance.   A reference to the prayer is made in 2 Chronicles 33:19, which says that the prayer is written in the “chronicles of the seers.”  While the prayer itself is lost to antiquity, this prayer is a result of what a Jewish sage likely felt was prayed.

The prayer was placed at the end of 2 Chronicles in the late 4th-century Vulgate (Pope Clement VIII wanted the prayer in an appendix to the Vulgate “lest it perish entirely.”)  It also appeared in the Apocrypha of the King James Bible in 1611.  My guess as to why the Jewish Canon excluded it was that it was a prayer of perpetual repentance which kind of nixes the Yom Kippur celebration (and the tithes and sacrifices that came with it).   

While the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches include it somewhere in their Bibles (whether within the context or as an appendix) and it does appear in the liturgy of some of the Eastern churches, the Protestant Churches reject it entirely.  My guess is that because it expresses repentance and forgiveness without a mediator  (this is true of Psalm 51 as well) that it somehow threatens the necessity of atonement by the Messiah.

The above being said – I love this prayer and I pray it every day now. 

Perhaps you may do the same.

The Prayer of Manasseh (RSV)

O Lord Almighty,
God of our fathers,
of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and of their righteous posterity;
thou hast made heaven and earth with all their order;
who hast shackled the sea by thy word of command,
who hast confined the deep
and sealed it with thy terrible and glorious name;
at whom all things shudder,
and tremble before thy power,
for thy glorious splendor cannot be borne,
and the wrath of thy threat to sinners is irresistible;
yet immeasurable and unsearchable is thy promised mercy,
for thou art the Lord Most High,
of great compassion, long-suffering, and very merciful,
and repentest over the evils of men.
Thou, O Lord, according to thy great goodness
hast promised repentance and forgiveness
to those who have sinned against thee;
and in the multitude of thy mercies
thou hast appointed repentance for sinners,
that they may be saved.
Therefore thou, O Lord, God of the righteous,
hast not appointed repentance for the righteous,
for Abraham and Isaac and Jacob,
who did not sin against thee,
but thou hast appointed repentance for me, who am a sinner.
For the sins I have committed are more in number than the sand of the sea;
my transgressions are multiplied,
O Lord, they are multiplied!
I am unworthy to look up and see the height of heaven
because of the multitude of my iniquities.
I am weighted down with many an iron fetter,
so that I am rejected because of my sins,
and I have no relief;
for I have provoked thy wrath
and have done what is evil in thy sight,
setting up abominations and multiplying offenses.
And now I bend the knee of my heart,
beseeching thee for thy kindness.
I have sinned, O Lord, I have sinned,
and I know my transgressions.
I earnestly beseech thee,
forgive me,
O Lord, forgive me!
Do not destroy me with my transgressions!
Do not be angry with me for ever
or lay up evil for me;
do not condemn me to the depths of the earth.
For thou, O Lord, art the God of those who repent,
and in me thou wilt manifest thy goodness;
for, unworthy as I am,
thou wilt save me in thy great mercy,
and I will praise thee continually all the days of my life.
For all the host of heaven sings thy praise,
and thine is the glory forever.
Amen.

Why am I a Mason?

Recently someone questioned me as to why I am a Mason.  At times this question is usually followed up with the ridiculous accusations that we are some kind of a cult or New World Order.  Since Masonic philosophy makes up a significant portion of my own philosophical views it seemed relevant to share my reply to them:

I am a Mason for a number of reasons. Mostly because after leaving the military there was a camaraderie void that I deeply needed to fill. Contrary to a lot of public myths, Masonry is not a cult or an anti-christian organization. We aren’t a New World Order, which to me is the funniest of accusations because we can barely organize a BBQ. It is not a religion either. Anyone who claims it is really doesn’t know anything about it. It’s pretty much a fraternity with some deep philosophical roots. The description “A moral institution veiled in allegory and illustrated with symbols” simply put just means we use the Bronze Age method of teaching moral truths – we tell stories (or parables) and use symbols. The problem that the big churches have with the Masonic Fraternity is over our stance that we require belief in Deity, but that the choice is up to the individual who they believe in. So we have Jewish, Christian, Muslims, Deists, and others amongst the membership. When you have multiple faiths gathered together like that and you require all men to act in a moral way and be held accountable to their God, an invocation, or prayer, is required when we open and close our meetings. So, in order to not offend the Jew or Muslim by invoking the name of Jesus, or offend the Jew and Christian by invoking the name Allah, or confuse the heck out of the Christians and Muslims by saying HaShem – we simply say Grand Architect. It’s not a made up God, it is just a universal name that is used because as Masons we consider each other as equals and builders of an allegorical temple of human morality and brotherly love. Just as builders get their directions from a blueprint (or Bible) and the designer (or author) of that blueprint is the Grand Architect (or God).

To me, as well as other Masons who actually study the philosophy and theology behind the fraternity – religion is not what the public perceives it to be.  Religion actually has a Biblical definition – “Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” James 1:26-27

I hope this answered your question and perhaps cleared up some false impressions you may have of us. We actually have some great guys amongst our ranks. Guys like – George Washington, Ben Franklin, John Hancock, Paul Revere, FDR, Harry Truman, Gen. McArthur, Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain), John Wayne, Dave Thomas, Walt Disney… I could go on but, that should give you an idea of the type of organization we are.

Reason vs. Religion

Nothing defines the battle that is going on in my mind more than the words Reason vs. Religion. A child-like faith is not possible to the open and contemplative mind. It is Masonic philosophy that faith begins where reason ends and this is unequivocally true. How would someone deduce with any shred of reason events like the 10 plagues, Jonah and the giant fish, and the resurrection of Jesus? What about the pillar of fire by night and smoke by day, the parting of the Red Sea, the turning of water into wine (that I would love to learn) or even the Apocalypse?

The fact is you can’t rationally explain any of these things, nor with any facts prove that they actually occurred, but this is where faith comes in. Faith allows one to believe that the laws of science and nature can be suspended and that the Creator is capable of anything. While I do not personally believe that any of the events I have stated actually happened, I cannot resign myself to believe that the same Supreme Source of all things is governed by what we as people perceive as the laws of science and nature.

So am I rejecting the Holy Scriptures?

No, not really. It is necessary to acknowledge that the Holy Scriptures are the works of men and regardless of whether they were divinely inspired or not, no original manuscripts exist and there is a constant debate over what manuscripts are the most authoritative. As such, given that they are the works of men, I do not view the Scriptures as being inerrant and without flaws. For the Jewish Scriptures (or the Christian Old Testament) is the Masoretic or Septuagint the most accurate and authoritative text? What about the New Testament? Are the Textus Receptus, the Alexandrian Text, the Byzantine text, the Codex Vaticanus, or the Codex Sinaticus the most accurate and authoritative text? When translated what is the most accurate? The KJV, NKJV, NIV, TNIV, MKJV, ESV,NASB,NET, NLT, NWT,NJT,JPS….

But 2 Timothy 3:16 says:

All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:

Yes, this is true however at that time the New Testament didn’t exist and I can assure you Paul didn’t think he was writing scripture. The only scriptures that existed at that time was the Jewish Scriptures (or Old Testament). To circle back to my position on the Holy Scriptures and what my opinion of them is. Please consider that I refer to them as the Holy Scriptures, Holy Writings, or the Great Light. So while I do not consider them without error, I do sincerely believe they are inspired in some form or fashion and that within those texts all of life’s trials can find answers, pain can find solace, and sorrow can find comfort. That is not to say that other sacred writing are of no use though. The Holy Quran, the Zend-Avesta, and the writings of Plato, Aristotle, Emerson, Locke, Hall, and Pike – just to name a few – are unquestionably inspirational and worthy of study.

But which one wins, Reason or Religion?

Well, let’s do some comparative analysis:

  • Religion can not reveal the chemical properties of salt and Reason can not reveal the source of love.
  • Religion can not accurately explain the source of life and the creation of the cosmos, neither can Reason.
  • Religion gives hope and Reason leads to inquiry and knowledge.
  • Religion gives a person a moral compass and Reason enables a man to determine right from wrong.
  • Religion is restrictive and at times oppressive, Reason deems everyone to be equal and of independent thought.

It is my belief that a person can be happy with either religion or reason. However, faith in God and adhering to the rites and tenets of a religion does not automatically bring a person happiness and the use of Reason does not automatically make a person intelligent or an intellectual superior. As with all things they must both exist and it is the responsibility of the individual to find the right balance.

Question with boldness even the existence of a god; because if there be one he must approve of the homage of reason more than that of blindfolded fear. ~ Thomas Jefferson

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.

I went to church today…

Holy Week at Santhome Basilica, Chennai (HDR)

Holy Week at Santhome Basilica, Chennai (HDR) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It has been a while since I walked into a church, today I broke that streak.  My ability to write this blog rules out any indication that I was struck by lightning for walking in those doors.  I also regret to inform my Christian friends eager for me to be born again that that didn’t happen either.  I did enjoy the service very much though and as with any occasion when the person in the pulpit is actually well-educated in scripture in a non-dogmatic way, I learned something and was impressed with his perspective.  The service focused around Paul’s letter to the Philippians and how it was a testament to the importance of prayer.  The pastor wove the necessity of prayer into how it can affect our relationships with other people.  I don’t know if the folks were listening, but he pretty much blasted the notion of self-serving prayer and crisis hotline prayers – this was a very good message!   Naturally, I went on with my day and was looking forward to everyone going to sleep so that I could take the time to read the entire Letter of Paul to the Philippians just so that I could get the complete context – yes, I will always be skeptical of another person’s method of scriptural exegesis.  It is a very short epistle and I will have to admit it is one of Paul’s better writings.  I read it in its entirety in both the KJV and the NIV and was happy to see the pastor didn’t spin it out of context.  This was a nice discovery because my kids really enjoyed the youth activity that was going on while the “big people were in the big room”.

So why did I go to church?’

Well, to be honest my kids need more stuff to do and they have some really good friends that go there and my wife and I figured it would be a good thing for them.  Mind you my wife is about as secular as it gets so if she is telling me we should go to a church, it has to be divine intervention.  The kids had a blast and want to go back so we will.

What happened to me converting to Judaism?

I can’t go through a conversion because I refuse to go into anything halfway.  This means a conversion to really be legit, I would need to go Orthodox.  That kind of thing affects more than just me, it affects the entire family.  And while I thoroughly enjoy Torah study, I do not believe any writings of man to be infallible and I still found a lot of value in the New Testament and it is really hard not to admire the character of Jesus.

So am I a Christian?

If being a Christian means that I revere the character of Jesus, respect his teachings above all others, and believe that by following his example is the manner in which a person can live a moral life – than the answer would be yes.

If being a Christian means that I believe Jesus is God and should be worshiped, and that faith in his death and resurrection will wipe away all my sins and that is all I need to go to heaven – than the answer is no.

My mind is full of ideas for more posts – this may be a busy week here at The Quest so stay tuned.

Stop talking and do something

English: A homeless man in Paris Français : Un...

Image via Wikipedia

Faith does not feed the homeless, it does not assist the elderly, it does not protect the weak, or comfort widows and orphans. 

Faith does not house an injured veteran, it does not counsel the depressed, it does not provide healthcare to the poor.

People with big hearts do.

People who talk less and perform random acts of kindness are not as numerous as those who like to complain about the state of things.  Some people perform acts of kindness out of the goodness of their heart and some do them for self-gratification and recognition.  Either way it is our actions and not our personal beliefs that can affect the lives of other people. 

Many of the worlds religions rest the fate of mankind on a messianic figure of some kind.  Some believe this person will be a warrior who will defeat the forces of evil by force, some believe he already came and will return to finish what he started, and some believe that there have been messianic figures in the past and that more are to come – each one adding to the work of the other.

Instead of waiting around for someone why not look at yourself?  Every single person has the power to make a difference on their own.  There are so many stories of this happening in the past.  From Hercules, Noah, and Moses to George Washington, Martin Luther King Jr. and Gandhi. 

“Be the change you want to see in the world” ~Gandhi

It was a small group of ambitious men who ended the Divine right of kings in Europe and its grip on America.  It was a small group of people who inspired thousands to rise against dictators and topple oppressive regimes.  Why are you waiting around for someone else to “save” you or the rest of the world when you can do it yourself?  Every single one of us has the power to change the world for the better.  You don’t have to start a revolution or sacrifice your life either, it can be a simple act of kindness for a complete stranger that can start a ripple effect of kindness that can span a distance greater than you can imagine. 

 “Each person must see himself as though the entire world were held in balance and any deed he may do could tip the scales.”  ~Maimonides

I am not telling anyone to renounce their religion or any doctrines they may teach.  I am merely saying that it’s time to stop preaching about ending times and the collapse of morals in society and actually do something about it.  Sitting around and acting hopeless accomplishes nothing.  In my life time I have seen the rich get richer, the poor get poorer and people in positions of power that can do something about it (Washington, the Vatican, etc) do absolutely nothing about it.

Rather than spends billions of dollars fighting an ideology, why not spend those dollars on things like feeding the homeless, assisting the elderly, protecting the weak, comforting widows and orphans?   Maybe instead of waiting for a savior we can provide housing to an injured veteran, counsel the depressed, or provide healthcare to not just the poor but, every single person who needs it.

You can call me unrealistic, you can say I’m crazy, you can even tell me this is impossible.  If you did then it would just be a useless parade of words with little to no meaning and another example of a complete lack of action.  All of us have heard the expression “actions speak louder than words” but, how many of us actually try to help others?  How many of us show our children the necessity of having a charitable heart?  How many of us spend more time “keeping up with the Jones’s” instead of “helping out the Smith’s”?

If you think you can’t make a difference.  Just watch what happens when you actually try.

© Nelson Rose, The Quest for Light

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

What is the world coming to?

One of the biggest problems facing the human race is intolerance and ignorance. Both are equally dangerous and counterproductive to any form of progress we can make. One only has to turn on the evening news to see gridlock in government and violence in the name of God to see that humanity as a species is just insane. Yes, insane. Why do I say this? Well, ask Mr. Albert Einstein..

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. – Albert Einstein.
Think about it. How may times has corruption caused economic collapse? How many wars have been fought over religion? Look at what is on TV. An over abundance of “Reality TV” that is hardly reality but, distorts the viewers into actually believing that it is. How pathetic are we that people publicly lower their own moral standards on national television to “win the heart” of the bachelor or bachelorette who has been sleazing around with the other hopeless romantics the whole time as well?
 
To add to this continual dumbing down of society it seems the capturing of a bully beating up on a young kid or a homeless person on a cellphone so it can be uploaded to YouTube is now dubbed as “cool”. We see morally disturbing shows like “Toddler in Tiaras” and other forms of sleaze TV and then wonder why our children get in to far more trouble than we ever did. I may be crazy but, does any one see a similarity between UFC fighting and the Gladiators of Rome?
Humankind has advanced from living in straw huts and hunting with spears into a technologically advanced and literate race, capable of flight and erecting massive buildings and even going into space. Yet we have begun to digress as we progress. I watched a video in which people were interviewed about historical figures and events and I was completely blown away by the fact that dozens of people didn’t know who Adolf Hitler was. These same people couldn’t tell you who the Governor of their own state is or name the current Vice President. Of course, when you asked them who Simon Cowell is, you got a quick answer. OK. I get it, history may be boring and educating yourself on things like economics and government may not be high on the priority list for many people but, those who don’t learn from their history are doomed to repeat it.
 
I recently had the pleasure of yet again hearing someone refer to me as an ignorant heretic. I considered the source and it didn’t bother me but, I decided to engage in a debate (surprising, huh?). The debate started over his belief that all Muslims are evil and that the Islamic faith is all about violence. He is a Christian and I reminded him that the man he worships was very clear about not judging, loving your neighbor as yourself, and even loving your enemy (turn the other cheek). He then proceeded to tell me about all the violence that the Quran advocates and when I asked him if he ever read it… you guessed it, he answered No. This is an example of both intolerance and ignorance – how can you be so sure about something you have absolutely no knowledge of? I could have told him how the church really grew (by the sword not the spirit) but, instead I asked him if he would ever consider reading the Quran. He told me “Absolutely not” and I told him that unless he did he was really ignorant on the topic and would be better off shutting his mouth. He then did the usual and pointed to Osama Bin Laden, al Qaeda and other terror networks. I then reminded him that there are over 1 BILLION Muslims in the world and that if the religion was really about violence, we would have a lot bigger problem then we do now. I then pointed to various passages in the Bible where violence exists and is condoned (yes, it’s there in both testaments). He then told me it was different because it was in the Bible. At this point I realized the level of intolerant ignorance I was dealing with and told him to either read the Quran or stop trashing it. He said “Never!” and I said “What would Jesus do?” Wow, what a look he gave me.
 
We all go through life trying to find some kind of purpose. Something to give us hope and meaning. As our society becomes more and more secular we are also becoming less ethical and morally corrupt. Look at divorce rates. Look at the number of single parents and teenage pregnancies. As we continue to advance in science and medicine people have begun to lessen their dependency on believing in something greater than themselves. The danger in that is very clear.. When there is no God, then to whom in humankind held to account? All of us are born with just enough light to seek the truth. There is more than one way to find the truth and more than one path to the Divine. The allegory of the Tower of Babel teaches that multiple paths are actually part of the divine plan. From what I have read, the closer one gets to the truth the more the paths begin to weave into each other. The more one studies the foundations of all religions, the more they find common tenets and principles. With the advancement of science the scope of the Divine appears to diminish but, only when one dismisses the concept that everything has a source. There are many things that man has yet to discover and prove. Our emotions and our ability to reason will likely never be explained by science as those are the most divine of all gifts given to man. When we use one of those gifts more than the other, we lose our balance and get off course. When we believe that our personal beliefs have a higher moral authority then the beliefs of someone else, we cower in our own hypocrisy. We must all learn that within everyone is the ability to help others and the maliciousness to destroy them. Rather than focus on the faults of others or your own personal perception of the infidelity of the path that they may follow – focus on your path and what it is you are doing that may make the world a better place. We are finite as beings but, infinite with our actions and our ability to pass on what we know to the next generation.

© Nelson Rose, The Quest for Light

Shavuot – The arrival of the Torah

I must apologize for the length of time between my last post and now.  I started this blog for 3 reasons:

  1. To help me by means of a manual outlet to express my views about God while still searching and seeking a closer understanding of the various paths.
  2. To find a path that works for me, should one exist.
  3. To share the experience with all of you.

I grew up a Christian and the tenets of that faith were what I followed for most of my childhood.  As I grew up I had a serious problem with the entire concept of the Almighty diminishing himself in human form to sacrifice himself in order to wash away all sin.  The problem to me is the whole doctrine of irresponsibility of the Christian faith.  Now, rather than go on an anti-Christian rant I will continue the story. .. I rejected all revealed religion and detested the mere concept of organized religion in general.  Then I became a Freemason and began to read some really amazing books and learn things I’d never even imagined.  A lot of Freemasonry finds its origin in the Judeo-Christian Bible and the Kabbalah.  Since I was a Christian, and went to well over a decade of Bible Study classes, I assumed I knew the Bible already and so I took an interest in the Kabbalah.  As I started my Kabbalah journey I found many references to the Torah and it became clear that in order to really grasp the true Kabbalah (not the Madonna red string nonsense) you needed to first master the Torah.  I then found out the study of the Torah in Judaism is significantly different to the “Old Testament” presented in Christianity (for my Christian friends that may not know, the Torah is the first 5 books of the Bible – Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy). 

So I  began studying Torah and after a distracting intermission where I reread The Age of Reason (which while interesting and inflammatory, completely misses the fact that much of the Torah and the rest of the Bible is allegory) I have been studying the Torah every day now for the last few months and it is without a doubt the most enlightening and rewarding experience my mind has ever had.   I am hooked.  The Torah, Talmud, the Midrash, and the rest of the Holy Scriptures of Judaism have me pretty convinced that my path is already paved and all I needed was the right map.  I continue to study the Torah every night using various rabbinic commentaries and I can honestly say that I learn something new every day and that I have never been more motivated to be a better person than when I read It.

Today starts a very critical holiday in the Jewish year.  It is Shavuot.  It should be an important day for Christians and Muslims as well as it is the celebration of the giving of the Torah.  It is a unarguable fact that the world changed when the Torah was received and while 3 faiths have derived from it, the Torah itself remains unchanged and still very relevant.

As is the custom for this day, I will write the Decalogue or 10 Commandments that sum up the Torah in the most simple yet sublime way:

  1. I am the Lord your God. You shall have no other gods before me.
  2. You shall not make for yourself an idol.
  3. Do not take the name of the Lord in vain.
  4. Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy.
  5. Honor your father and mother.
  6. You shall not murder.
  7. You shall not commit adultery.
  8. You shall not steal.
  9. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
  10. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife. You shall not covet anything that belongs to your neighbor.

The first 3 commandments can be summed into “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and strength” and the last 7 can summed up as “Love your neighbor as yourself”.  

Using this as a foundation, can you imagine the way the world would be?   If we didn’t revolve our lives around money, there would be no greed and no poverty.  Imagine a world without broken promises, where fathers and mothers set work aside to spend with their children.  Imagine a world where everyone respects life and you never have to fear for your own safety.  Imagine a society built on trust and honor.

The Torah states that these rules were etched into stone by the hand of God.  The tablets are now lost but, the words are not and they should be written in our minds and inscribed in our hearts. 

© Nelson Rose, The Quest for Light

Killing in the name of God – part 2

With the Jewish Passover and the Christian Passion Week now behind us, I think it is only fitting to address both of them through the eye of Reason.  It puzzles me that these events are so hallowed and revered because when considers their origins, they are both atrocities of the worst kind.  The Passover and the Crucifixion of Jesus, if they occurred as portrayed in the Bible, are brutal murders of innocent people.

The Passover – Divine Genocide

After the Plague of Darkness that occurs in Exodus 10, Pharoah still refused to let the people of Israel go out and worship their God.  Then Exodus 11:4-10 states “So Moses said, “This is what the LORD says: ‘About midnight I will go throughout Egypt. Every firstborn son in Egypt will die, from the firstborn son of Pharaoh, who sits on the throne, to the firstborn son of the female slave, who is at her hand mill, and all the firstborn of the cattle as well.  There will be loud wailing throughout Egypt—worse than there has ever been or ever will be again. But among the Israelites not a dog will bark at any person or animal.’ Then you will know that the LORD makes a distinction between Egypt and Israel. All these officials of yours will come to me, bowing down before me and saying, ‘Go, you and all the people who follow you!’ After that I will leave.” Then Moses, hot with anger, left Pharaoh. The LORD had said to Moses, “Pharaoh will refuse to listen to you—so that my wonders may be multiplied in Egypt.”  Moses and Aaron performed all these wonders before Pharaoh, but the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he would not let the Israelites go out of his country.” 

Now before I go any further does this sound like an all-loving God?

Then it happens, according to Exodus 12:29 -30 “At midnight the LORD struck down all the firstborn in Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh, who sat on the throne, to the firstborn of the prisoner, who was in the dungeon, and the firstborn of all the livestock as well. Pharaoh and all his officials and all the Egyptians got up during the night, and there was loud wailing in Egypt, for there was not a house without someone dead. “

So God slaughtered the firstborn of every living thing in Egypt except the Israelites.

Why? 

Was it because the people of Egypt were evil? 

Was it because Pharoah was oppressing the Jews?

All one has to do is read the Bible itself and it is crystal clear why Pharoah wouldn’t let the Israelites go after the ten horrible plagues –  God hardened his heart.  Now think about this for just a minute.  God hardens Pharoah’s heart so that he enslaves and forbids God’s chosen people from leaving and God then punishes Pharoah for having the hard heart that God gave him by killing every firstborn living creature that was not protected by the lamb’s blood in the doorway.

Crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth – A Human Sacrifice

Christianity holds the belief that Jesus was sent to earth to be crucified for everyone’s sins. According to John 3:16-18 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.”   Eventually the church then traced this whole need for a sacrifice back to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden and the doctrine of Original Sin appeared.  Ask any Jew you know if they believe in Original Sin or that the messiah is supposed to come down to earth and be slaughtered like a lamb and you will be surprised at what you hear.  To most Jews the Adam and Eve story is completely an allegorical story and it only takes an ounce of common sense to know that snakes don’t talk to people (unless of course you are a Harry Potter character).  OK, circling back now.  Jesus was crucified so that God would forgive our sins because without this sacrifice God will not forgive our sins and condemn us to eternal suffering.

So with the Passover we see God slaughter every firstborn child and animal because Pharoah with the hardened heart God gave him would not let the Israelites go.  With the crucifixion of Jesus we see God not giving us forgiveness without the torture and sacrifice of his “one an only son.”

With all this brutality on the part of God is there any wonder what drove the Holy Wars, Inquisitions, and witch hunts? 

Is there any credibility when the Jews and Christians claim their beliefs are on a higher moral ground then that of the Muslims or any other religion of the world and that they have the True Word of God and all other holy books are imposters?

The true infallible word of our Creator is not a book written by men.  For anything to be infallible it must have an origin that is infallible and man is just a part of the creation and not the origin of it.  The true revelation of our Creator was not handed to a prophet in the desert by  an angel or communicated to a man in a mountain of smoke.  All of creation bears testimony to the benevolence of our Creator for even the most vile of creatures and detestable characters are still given air to breathe. 

Is it reasonable to believe that the same Creator that so perfectly designed the universe and majesty of this planet and all the celestial bodies would be so tyrannical as to destroy that same creation in any way?

Is it reasonable to consider that man is just not capable of knowing the true nature of our Creator and uses pretended revelations to justify their own lust for blood and power?

© Nelson Rose, The Quest for Light (All Bible quotations were taken from the NIV)