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.

I posted this long before I had any followers on the Quest. I figured it was worth dusting off. Enjoy!

The Quest for Light

The opening phrase in the Torah or Genesis 1.1 in Hebrew is “B’raisheet bara”.  The most popular translation is the rendering of “In the beginning”.  This would of course give one the belief that the creation account is chronological and meant to be literal.  While many believe this to be the case one only needs to read the next few sentences to clearly see that it is not chronological at all.  “Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. ” (Genesis 1:2)  In reading this sentence literally one can find that water had existed prior to the first creation command of “Let there be light”. 

So when did God create water?  Well, the Bible does not say anything about God creating water.  The Bible only says that God separated the water – “

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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.

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

Killing in the name of God – part 1

I have heard, to almost the point of nausea, that the Quran is an evil and horrible book and that the entire Islamic faith is about nothing but, murder. The irony of course is that the majority of the people who say this have absolutely no right or authority to do so as they have never read the Quran, and I doubt if they have even read their own Bible.

The Jewish and Christian religions have their foundations in the Torah. The Torah is said to have been written by a man named Moses. Now, although many Christians ignorantly claim that the Old Testament contains the “old law” and that it is no longer relevant, they have obviously forgotten what Jesus himself says in Matthew 5: 17-19, “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled. Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”

So unless Jesus’ words mean nothing, Christians are to abide the “old law”. So, does the Bible contain instructions on killing people?

In the book of Exodus the following commandment is given by God to Moses:
Thou shalt not kill.– Exodus 20:13

(This conveniently follows the 10 plagues and genocide (or Passover) committed in Egypt as well as a few incidents before)
In the exact same book, in fact in the very next chapter, the following orders to kill are done with God’s approval.

Exodus Chapter 21: God orders killing:

12 – He who strikes a man so that he dies shall surely be put to death
14 – But if a man acts with premeditation against his neighbor, to kill him by treachery, you shall take him from My altar, that he may die.
15 – And he who strikes his father or his mother shall surely be put to death.
16 – He who kidnaps a man and sells him, or if he is found in his hand, shall surely be put to death.
17 – And he who curses his father or his mother shall surely be put to death.

Now this next one may not be a command for killing but, the message here is just detestable. It is my belief that an all-loving God would never, under any circumstance, condone slavery.

Exodus 21:20 – And if a man beats his male or female servant with a rod, so that he dies under his hand, he shall surely be punished. Notwithstanding, if he remains alive a day or two, he shall not be punished; for he is his property.

OK, Now back to the permission to kill in Exodus:

Chapter 22:

18 – You shall not permit a sorceress to live.
19 – Whoever lies with an animal shall surely be put to death.
20 – He who sacrifices to any god, except to the LORD only, he shall be utterly destroyed.
22-24 – You shall not afflict any widow or fatherless child. If you afflict them in any way, and they cry at all to Me, I will surely hear their cry; and My wrath will become hot, and I will kill you with the sword; your wives shall be widows, and your children fatherless.

There is a small break where (according to the author) God describes how to decorate the tabernacle, which of course has a primary function of slaughtering, I mean sacrificing, animals for God. Then the orders to kill return again:

Exodus 31:14, 15 – You shall keep the Sabbath, therefore, for it is holy to you. Everyone who profanes it shall surely be put to death; for whoever does any work on it, that person shall be cut off from among his people. Work shall be done for six days, but the seventh is the Sabbath of rest, holy to the LORD. Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day, he shall surely be put to death.

Here is an order by Moses given after he returned from his meeting with God in the mountain. Why Moses was not immediately struck down for giving this genocidal order is beyond my comprehension:

Exodus 32:27 – And he said to them, “Thus says the LORD God of Israel: ‘Let every man put his sword on his side, and go in and out from entrance to entrance throughout the camp, and let every man kill his brother, every man his companion, and every man his neighbor.

Remember, no working on Saturday:

Exodus 34:2 – Work shall be done for six days, but the seventh day shall be a holy day for you, a Sabbath of rest to the LORD. Whoever does any work on it shall be put to death.

That wraps up the orders to kill in just the book of Exodus alone. There hundreds of instances in the Bible where God gives the command to kill, kills, or someone invokes the “will of God” to either kill or order killings.

So the hypocrisy is pretty clear to me. Jews and Christians condemn the Quran for being violent and they either haven’t read their own Bibles or feel for some hypocritical reason that there is some viable explanation for what is written in the Bible in regards to killing in the name of God.

More to come on this subject…

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