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.

No, I haven’t forgotten Jesus

Jesus is considered by scholars such as Weber ...

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I started The Quest with the desire to conduct an exploration of various theologies with the goal of gaining a better understanding of the Light of Truth. Somehow when I began to dig into the Kabbalah it led to the Torah and then I became consumed with studying just that. I suppose because I had discovered that there existed a tremendous body of literature (Talmud, Mishna, Zohar, and other rabbinical commentaries) that I had never been exposed to (when I was a Christian) that interpreted the various layers of the Torah, I began to focus on Jewish scholarship so much that I began to stray from my universal view of the Divine. In doing so I even began dismissing and even discrediting the Christian religion. The truth is I have nothing but respect and admiration for the teachings and morals of the character attributed to Jesus. In fact I think Thomas Jefferson said it best when he stated:

“Had the doctrines of Jesus been preached always as pure as they came from his lips, the whole civilized world would now have been Christians.” ~Thomas Jefferson

His point being that it was the teachings and not the man himself that he followed.  The evidence of this is in his Unitarian beliefs and his theological compilation known as The Jefferson Bible. The following is an exact quote from a letter Jefferson wrote to Benjamin Rush in April of 1803:

“To the corruptions of Christianity I am, indeed opposed; but not to the genuine precepts of Jesus himself. I am a Christian, in the only sense in which he wished any one to be; sincerely attached to his doctrines, in preference to all others.” ~Thomas Jefferson

I have had a few folks accuse me of Jesus bashing lately and I can see how that impression can be made.  To clear it up – I actually really like Jesus.  I am convinced that someone of significance existed a long time ago with that name (the actual interpretation of his name in English is really Joshua though).  The problem I have is the additional doctrines and teachings that were adopted by the church long after Jesus’ death.  Things like eternal damnation for lack of faith and predestination. 

Jesus was a rabbi.  Rabbi means teacher and you do not need a theology degree to know that he was really good at teaching.  Like all the great teachers and scholars throughout history he taught in allegories and symbolism.  Before you cast doubt on what I am saying,  show me one instance where Jesus did not teach in a parable.  You won’t find any because he always spoke in parables.  Even though one can not with absolute certainty know for sure how accurate the Christian Scriptures (New Testament) are due to the lack of any original or complete manuscripts, the various councils used to canonize them, and the several subsequent translations – there is no way to mistake the message Jesus was trying to convey – Love one another.  This message dates all the way back to the very beginning when man chose to take the reins from the Divine and seek knowledge of both good and evil.

“‘Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.”  ~Deuteronomy 6:5

Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself…”  ~Leviticus 19:17-19

“Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’   This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” ~Matthew 22:37-40

I believe the message of Jesus has to be studied and not the dogmas and doctrines that were created by those with motives of control or power.  Jesus taught that the moral code in the Torah should not just be an outward exercise but an internal one.  So while I do not worship the man, I do firmly believe his message was pure, timeless, and applies to all of us.

© Nelson Rose, The Quest for Light

Stop talking and do something

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

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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

A prayer for our time

Divine Author of all faiths,

Humbly we thank you for giving us life, family, and friends.

We pray that you watch over those who are less fortunate and guide them on the path to prosperity,

that you summon the courage within the oppressed to rise against their oppressors,

give strength to the needy,

give hope to the poor,

give happiness to those in distress.

Help all who have, learn the willingness to give.

Be with those who live for others and sacrifice themselves for the betterment of society.

Help us all to live in peace and harmony, dispensing all animosities that may exist.

To you we owe all that we have, so to you we humbly give thanks.

Amen.

© Nelson Rose, The Quest for Light

Everybody Makes Mistakes

 
Fanciful rendering of the interior of a carria...

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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

Are we a Christian nation?

This question seems to flare up a lot lately especially with the views of many over whether President Obama is a closet Muslim and whether Mitt Romney being Mormon makes him a member of a cult. Religion has been a contentious issue globally and has created millions of martyrs. The irony is that at their core most religions are very similar.

But was the United States of America founded as a Christian nation?

Christians will say – YES!

Seculars will say – NO!

Both are wrong..

When considering this topic one must first ask themselves the following questions:

  • What was the “nation” intended to be?
  • Was a state church desired?
  • What is a Christian nation?

Well, I am going to give you my answers for all of these. These are my opinions but, I base them on known facts and common sense. You can agree or disagree. Comments are always welcome.

What was the nation intended to be?

When one researches the colonial and revolutionary era they will find that the desire of the colonies was really simple and less grandiose then we all like to make it out to be. They just wanted to be left alone. They wanted to be free to live their lives in peace without King George oppressing them through his appointed governors. They didn’t want to be taxed without having services or representation and they did not want a big brother style government controlling their every move. At best, they wanted a loose association of states, or a Commonwealth, that mutually respected the sovereign rights of each state with an overarching government that protected the states, regulated trade between them, and champion the individual liberties that were bestowed its citizens by the Creator. The majority of these people were Christians – that cannot be disputed – and they governed their lives by what the “good book” told them and while some folks owned Bibles, many didn’t and they relied on their local preacher to be their mentors. They wanted local control and smaller government, not the big federal powerhouse we have now with so much power and corruption. They knew that with power came corruption – they lived it. So here we are as a nation, not learning from the mistakes of the past and therefore beginning to repeat them.

Was a state church desired?

The colonial era was a time when the Church of England was the only choice someone had for religion. The fact that they did not want a state controlling their church or their beliefs is what brought people here to begin with. So, the last thing they wanted was another overbearing government with a state-run church. This was clearly stated in the First Amendment to the Constitution in that their would be no laws establishing a religion. Did it mean they wanted God out of their lives? NO. Did it mean that their faith didn’t influence their decision-making or even their thoughts of how governance should be framed? NO. They just didn’t feel it was the government’s place to tell them how to believe and how to worship.

What is a Christian nation?

Here is the real crux of the issue. What exactly is a Christian nation anyway?

Is it a nation where the majority of people are Christian? If that is the case then we are.

Is it a nation where the only religion allowed is Christianity and that we are governed by its doctrines? If that is the case then we would be a theocracy not a democratic republic.

Is it a nation where other religions are allowed but, the only one that is considered right is Christianity? If that is the case it makes us religiously intolerant and not a nation of liberty.

Is it a nation that allows everyone to be free to believe how they want but, govern themselves according to the tenets and beliefs of Christianity? If that were the case then it would be no different then a theocracy.

We may be a nation where the majority of the population are Christians but, we are not a Christian nation. What we are is a nation that was founded on ending the divine right of kings and empowering everyone with individual liberties. One of those liberties was the freedom to choose your religion and that it was private matter between you and your god. Something that the government could not impose on you. This is not a Christian principle because Christians are under the obligation to make disciples of all nations. This was a principle of enlightenment and the rise of personal liberty.

So be a tolerant person towards others and accept that we can be different but, still be one people.. Say “Happy Holidays” instead of making claims that the phrase is secular or politically correct. Learn about other religions by reading their various religious text before you assume you understand them. It is ignorant to say that just because someone can pull nasty quotes from a book that an entire religion is based on evil beliefs. If that were the case then the Bible itself would make the tenets of Christianity questionable.

PS – Anyone who has read the Bible – and I mean from cover to cover and not the incoherence of a passage here an a passage there – knows Christian values are borrowed from the Jewish ethics of the Torah and Prophets. The differentiator is the concept that faith is more important than actions and the messianic beliefs of Jesus.

Another PS – May the blessings of the Divine Patriarch and Creator of all things bless you and your families this holiday season.

© Nelson Rose, The Quest for Light

From Olympus to Twitter…

The mythical Mount Olympus in northern Greece....

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Thousands of years before the modern era there were statues and temples all across Greece and Rome that paid homage to various gods, goddesses, and even demigods. We tend to look back on those times as if they were mythological fiction but, the truth is there really was a time when many people believed Zeus was the father of mankind, the King of the Gods, and ruled the world from on top of Mount Olympus. (In Roman mythology Zeus was Jupiter and ruled from the sky). Both Zeus and Jupiter were associated with the sun and the sky. In Egyptian mythology we have the same sun deity in the sun-god Ra and in ancient Mesopotamia/Canaan people were worshiping Baal. There were gods and goddess for everything and the gods at times seduced innocent young women who would give birth to demigods like Hercules, Perseus, and so on. These demigods were often heroes who would save lives from hideous beast and save souls from the clutches of Hades, the god of the Underworld (sound familiar?). These were real beliefs and some of the temples are still standing to this very day to attest to the fact that people truly believed in these beings. It was a time when human sacrifices to the gods were commonplace and human life was not valued in any way. Daughters were sold off as sex slaves or offered up as virgin sacrifices and sons were forced to labor in the fields as if they were possessions rather than family.

Then along came a man named Abraham (Abram).

While there are many critics of Abraham, the first “Jew”, let’s look at what was accomplished by this man to whom the majority of the world is indebted to for their religions (in case you didn’t know Judaism, Christianity, and Islam all derived from Abraham). The Orthodox Jews will state that from Abraham came the mitzvah of Brit Milah (circumcision) and the divine right to the land of Israel but, a much broader view of what happened should be considered. There is much criticism and confusion surrounding the demand given to offer up Abraham’s son, Isaac, as a sacrifice. Critics of religion view it as an abhorrent and tyrannical request of a sadistic god when it was actually a demonstration of what needed to stop. Remember, this was an age when people would sacrifice their children to please the gods so when this request was made of Abraham it wasn’t as gruesome a request as we perceive it to be now. However, the sacrifice of Isaac was stopped abruptly because it was not desired. The God of Abraham wanted Abraham to value the life of his child and to not sacrifice him. It was made very clear that the sacrificing of a human being was abhorrent and it was not to be done to please God or to atone for any man – ever. This suddenly put a value on human life and was completely different then all the other religions that viewed the gods as blood thirsty and vengeful tyrants that sought to oppress and subject mankind to a divine servitude. It also is here that the concept of “a chosen people” is introduced. It is Jewish tradition that, Abraham and his descendants were chosen but, contrary to what many may think, it was not a one-way choice. Abraham made the choice to follow this one god and it was then promised that if the descendant made the same choice they would be the chosen people. This choseness has nothing to do with “salvation” either – those beliefs find their origins within the rise of the Christian and Islamic faiths. Nowhere is there ever any mention about eternal life or damnation in the Torah or in the rest of the Hebrew Scriptures. The choice was about leading holy and ethical lives or, to be more to the point, to act like we were created to act – in God’s image.

Fast forward a couple thousand years….

WAR! All across Europe Christians and Muslims were fighting for control of the holy land and for spreading their respective faiths – all the while oppressing the Jews or torturing them into conversion. Inquisitions laid waste to the diversity of Christian and Gnostic beliefs. The blood of millions was spread and for what? Holy living?

Fast forward some more…

A twisted cross, a man named Hitler… enough said on that topic.

Fast forward some more…

Mass media and technology have drastically shrunk the world we live in. It is all too easy to violate a person’s right to a private life with a simple “tweet” of fewer than 120 characters. People live in luxury a few hundred yards away from people who are starving. Morality is almost taboo when you watch some of the shows on television. We drive by ornate churches named after “saints” that are blocks away from under-funded schools and libraries. Yet we think somehow we’ve progressed when we have actually slipped back into the pre-Abrahamic mentality of materialism, self-centeredness, and immorality. We live in the age of “me” when it should be “we”.

Regardless of one’s beliefs in whether the Torah is based on historical facts or is actually divine in origin or not, it is very clear that within the text it lays out a framework of ethics that should be followed while we live our life – the only one we are really guaranteed to have. Granted some of the rituals have lost their relevance in times past but, the fundamentals of morality are undeniable. The faith-based obsessions with salvation or everlasting life in paradise do not and should not negate our obligation to live moral lives where we don’t just focus on our own interests but, on those of our neighbors as well. No reformer, redeemer, prophet, priest, or king can negate our moral obligations to each other or the necessity to lead a good life. Beliefs are great… actions are much better.

© Nelson Rose, The Quest for Light