Who is in control?

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

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

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

Let me propose the following:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One more question:
Why not?

Angels and Demons

Adam, Eve, and the (female) serpent at the ent...

Image via Wikipedia

One of the most perplexing questions many people have is “why do bad things happen?’ When used in terms of placing the responsibility on the Divine it is known as Theodicy. Many have tried to explain it and some use it as a way to dismiss the existence of a Divine presence but, either way it remains the greatest enigma of all.

First we need to unravel this concept of “bad things”. This itself is a subjective term because what one person perceives to be bad may not be bad to another. For example, “Did you hear Fred lost his house? It’s so sad because he is such a good guy.” Is this really a “bad thing” or did Fred get himself into an interest only $500k mortgage on an annual salary of $50k and loose a house he really had no business getting in to in the first place? This, in my opinion, while it is in no way a pleasant situation, does not qualify as a bad thing. It is consequence of bad judgement.

I know what you are thinking… What about all those poor little starving kids in Africa? You know the ones that look emaciated and have flies swarming all around them? Yes, this is a very sad and unfair situation. It too has a very simple solution and explanation…. Love thy neighbor. We live in a world where billions of dollars are spent every day on items of luxury, not necessities and billions more are spent on weapons that are used in meaningless wars. So before we are so bold as to blame the Divine for those kids starving, perhaps we should look at ourselves first. Are we really doing everything we can to love our neighbor or are we viewing acts of charity to be optional self-serving ego builders? Charity is not optional! So are we doing everything we can to stop this bad thing or are we to focused on ourselves and the things that we want?

All of us are created in the image of our maker. This means all attributes of the Divine are within us. We can love, we can show compassion, we can show anger, and we can multiply. The last of these is what makes us go from a seemingly finite speck of dust to an infinite lineage of people (that’s a topic for another post). Within each of us is a yetzer hatov: the good inclination or an angel and a yetzer hara: the evil inclination or a demon. Why are we like this? Why weren’t we created with just goodness? Remember the Garden of Eden allegory explains that we initially were all good, but we made a choice to have both attributes. Some view this choice as the “fall of man” and the beginning of “original sin” but, that is a very inaccurate view. When you think about, it it’s actually the opposite. With both attributes we are given the ability to choose and in doing so, every time we elect to do good we conquer the darkness within us. We turn darkness into light (just like the first utterance of creation when out of pure nothingness came the utterance, “Let there be Light”.) Every day we struggle with the yetzer hara and every day we can conquer it by our own actions. Is this daily struggle a bad thing? Only if you allow the inner demons to get their way.

In giving us the free will to choose between good an evil we are given freedom and with that freedom we have to be careful what choices we make. We will be held accountable if we allow the inner demon (yetzer hara) to win so we need to be sure we are listening to our guardian angel (yetzer hatov).

© Nelson Rose, The Quest for Light

The Balance of Reason and Nature

Reason is a reflection of the Supreme Intelligence within each of us. Reason united with nature demonstrates the infinite perfection of Deity and deciphers the mysteries of nature and of man. Through reason we are capable of obtaining true balance. Just as the tide ebbs and flows and the sun rules the world by day while the darkness rules the night, we use reason to balance the light and dark sides of our souls. Our Creator designed us with free will to choose our own course in life. We were equipped with reason to govern our actions. Our sense of reason is what separates us from being mere beasts of burden. The less we use this gift, the more mundane and meaningless our lives will become. It is by reason that we are enabled to balance our lives, our passions, and our future.

We are created with the ability to love yet we are also created with the ability to hate. We are given the ability to reproduce and the voracity to kill. We are created with the ability to give and are also readily willing to receive. We are given the tenderness of compassion and the cruelness of neglect. We are brave and yet we show fear. All of these attributes are governed by our sense of reason. It is our own choices that define who we are and not those of our ancestors. The actions we take are a result of a conscious decision we make of our own free will and accord and in doing so we are our own masters.

In using our sense of reason, we are able to see that the myth of original sin is neither natural nor sensible. We do not “sin” because of the fall of man, which is Paul of Tarsus’ interpretation of the story of Adam and Eve. We just make bad choices. Saying otherwise is a cop-out that does nothing but pass on the responsibility to someone else. Take responsibility for yourself, your actions are your own doing. Whether it’s our inability to control our inner greed or whether it is our inability to control our jealousies, it is a conscious decision of the individual that causes them to do wrong and not some implanted defect that is inherited from father to son and mother to daughter. Nor is it the overwhelming power of an evil deity or devil that causes all the pain and suffering in the world. In order for there to be good, there must be evil. We all must “take the good with the bad”.

Where there is light there will always be darkness, where there is hope there will always be fear; for neither can exist without the other. Just as Jesus cannot exist without Satan, there is no purpose for one without the other. Without Satan man would not have fallen from the grace of God, so Jesus would not have had to die on the cross. Is this a fact? Or is this another allegory, another hidden example of how we need to balance our lives? Is this perhaps an allegory that defines the fact that one cannot see the light without first being in darkness? One cannot understand joy without first experiencing sorrow. We will fall before we can walk. We must fail before we can succeed.

Balance is the result of the use of reason. The concept of good and evil and the balancing of both through reason was a concept that predated Christianity. You can find this in the early Egyptian religions, the ancient Persian religion taught by Zoroaster and even the Hindus. Zoroaster was explicit in the distinction of good and evil and that life would be a constant struggle between truth and lies. He taught that the actions of an individual were their own choice and thus the responsibility and consequences for those actions were their own.

Nature is perfect in every way. Nature is the infallible revelation of God, and it is undoubtedly the easiest way in which we are capable of seeing the power and glory of our Creator. Sure, there are things like earthquakes and hurricanes that we as people may not necessarily like, but they are necessary for nature to maintain its continuous cycle. They are part of the divine architecture from which we all came and eventually we all return.

© Nelson Rose, The Quest for Light