Never gonna give you up..

 Never gonna give you up, never gonna let you down, never gonna run around and desert you…  Yes, I just lured you in with a Rick Astley song.  For whatever reason I thought that set of lyrics was pretty relevant to what I am going to cover in this relatively brief post.  My recent post “Who’s in control?” garnered the biggest single day number of hits for this blog.  It also had a good number of comments and email responses.  It seems my Christian friends have taken issue with my position that as human beings we are not wretched, worthless, disgustingly sinful beings.  That we are not building up a debt of sin that will justify eternal torment and punishment forever, which can only be paid and forgiven by belief in the death and resurrection of Jesus.  That all of our actions and imperfections somehow get erased by faith alone.  Well, aside from the fact that the words of Jesus himself contradict the concept of faith alone in favor of “what you do to the least of these my brethren you do unto me“,  it really doesn’t portray God as has often been the Christian position that God is love

So, is God love?  I believe so.  Mostly because no science has been able to prove what causes love and that particular feeling or emotion is the thread that weaves humanity with a concept of morality.  So what exactly is love?  The Apostle Paul, who as most of you know I have been pretty critical of, wrote one of the most inspirational chapters of the Bible and it happens to be perhaps the greatest description of love.  The chapter, for those of you who may not have guessed it, is 1 Corinthians 13.   As the Bible has multiple translations this chapter reads differently from version to version.  The most obvious difference is when comparing the KJV and the NIV.  (to those not familiar – the KJV is the King James Version which was translated in 1611 and the NIV is the New International Version which was translated in 1984. These are the 2 best-selling translations)  The KJV doesn’t use the word Love, it uses the word Charity.  To the skeptic this would seem to be a problem, but not to me.  Charity is, after all, a tremendous example of unconditional love.  When one exercises charity, they give for the sake of giving, with no expectation of reciprocation.  There is no doubt that is love.  So, if God is love, why not use 1 Corinthians 13 as a description of God.  For the sake of brevity, let’s just take the core of  the chapter which are verses 4-7 and replace the words “love” and “it” with “the Lord” (note- I am removing a few “it’s” for the sake of flow):

The Lord is patient, the Lord is kind. The Lord does not envy, does not boast, is not proud.  The Lord does not dishonor others, is not self-seeking, is not easily angered, keeps no record of wrongs.  The Lord does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  The Lord always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Now I ask you again: Is God Love?  If so, than we have never been rejected, nor will we ever be.  Why else would a word like “Father” be invoked so often?  The way I see it, our Eternal Father never gave up on you, me or anyone else.  It seems that for many people it really is the other way around. 

For the Lord your God is a merciful God; he will not abandon or destroy you.. – Deuteronomy 4:31

No, I haven’t forgotten Jesus

Jesus is considered by scholars such as Weber ...

Image via Wikipedia

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

When no one is looking…

One day a man was walking home from church when he was unexpectedly surrounded and mugged by three thugs who beat him to almost the point of death, stole everything he had and left him on the side of the road to die.  About thirty minutes later a Baptist Minister was walking down the same road.  He saw the poor man bleeding and in pain but, he looked away and crossed over to the other side of the street and kept walking.  About 30 minutes later a Catholic Priest was walking down the road and he saw the man lying there near death and bleeding.  He too looked away and then walked over to the other side of the street.  About 15 minutes go by and a young Muslim man sees the battered old man.  He stops, rips parts of his own shirt to bandage the man’s wounds, calls a cab and checks him into the hospital.  He writes the ER nurse a check for $500 and gives her his business card and says to care for him until he is well and send the bill to him.

Does this story sound familiar?  Perhaps the greatest of all the parables, or lessons, of Jesus is the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37).  Sure, I changed the up the characters a bit from a Jew, Priest, Levite, and Samaritan but, that is only because I wanted it to have the same shocking effect that the orignal had back then.  It is said that the original lesson of the parable was to show an inquiring student who his neighbor was and to impress on everyone that we should treat each other, even an enemy, with kindness.  

Personally, I think the parable teaches a lot more than that.  Just think for a moment what else is being said here.  Two clergymen walked right by this poor man.  They are the very people who preach to people on how they are to act and the lives they are to lead and they walked right by someone who was in need of help.  Then a muslim man, who is supposed to hate the christian man, stops and helps him.  No one was around to see this.  No one saw the hypocrisy of the clergymen and no one saw the loving-kindness of the muslim man.  The actions of an individual define a person far more than anything they say.  This is even more so when no one is looking.

Now look at yourself… 

Do say one thing in front of someone and then a totally different thing behind their back? 

Do you claim to be a man or woman of good morals and values, yet you have no problem flipping someone the one finger salute because they won’t let you merge on the interstate? 

Do you tell your children to be honest and work hard in school and then find ways to cut corners at work and just do the minimum to get by?

Do you walk right past the charity box and buy yourself a Coke?

It is human nature to get ahead and to look out for yourself.  We are all guilty of it.  Darwin’s theory of Survival of the Fittest is more than a theory.  It is part of our genetic make-up.  Kindness and charity are values that all of us should strive to bring to the forefront.  It has nothing to do with whether you are Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Humanist, or an Atheist.  Kindness has no creed and charity is the purest form of universal love.

In the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) a little less allegory is used to explain how our actions are to be governed.  Since I am on the topic of what we do when no one is looking and charity has now been brought up I often get annoyed, especially at the end of the tax year, when I hear of the tax benefits of donating to charity.  A personal benefit for being charitable?  That totally defeats the purpose.  People should give for the sake of giving and not because it benefits them in any way. 

 “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.”  (Matthew 6:1-2)

So the lesson:

  • We should give for the sake of giving. 
  • We should be kind even when no one is looking. 
  • We should treat others the way we want to be treated.  

This sums up the Parable of the Good Samaritan as well as the overall message of Jesus of Nazareth.

© Nelson Rose, The Quest for Light

Etched in stone; inscribed in the heart…

I’ve been struggling with what to write because the last few weeks I have been getting questions from a lot of you on my posts.  I am so glad most of you find my blog enlightening.  For those of you who are fearful of the fate of my soul, I am not worried.  I don’t believe in the existence of a hell or a devil.  I view hell as a scare tactic and the devil as a mere cop-out for being responsible for your own actions.

In my last blog post I discussed that I respected the character of Jesus and was going to write about his teachings.  However, before any discussion can be had on anything Jesus may have said it is important to know the most widely accepted beliefs of who Jesus was and the climate he is said to have lived in.  (I say beliefs because we have no way of proving any of this so we cannot say these are facts.)

  • Jesus was Jewish.
  • There were multiple denominations and sects of Judaism during the time he is said to have lived.
  • Some sects observed the Talmud and some observed other unwritten laws but, all of them observed the 10 Commandments.
  • For the most part all of Jesus’ teachings were based on the 10 Commandments.
  • There are 2 versions of the 10 Commandments, one in the book of Exodus (Exodus 20:2–17) and the other in the book of Deuteronomy (Deuteronomy 5:6–21).

According to Jewish Scripture the 10 Commandments found in the book of Exodus were actually carved into stone tablets by God and given to Moses on a mountain in the Sinai peninsula (some say Mt. Horeb others Mt. Sinai).  Whether it actually happened that way or not is not important, as the 10 commandments are a relevant and powerful code of ethics.

There are multiple ways of dividing them but, generally the 10 commandments are as follows:

  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 kill/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.

For the most part these are relatively self-explanatory but,  Jesus simplified the first 3 commandments into “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and strength” and the last 7 he summed up as “Love your neighbor as yourself”.   This universal law of love Jesus is said to have taught, should be enough for man to build a sense of morality.  The flaw in this approach is that it leads to an element of subjectivity that can vary by one’s interpretation of the meaning of love and how much they may or may not love themself.   Therefore I think it is necessary to clarify some of them without the corruption of centuries of translation, editing, modifications, and unnecessary dogma.

Here is my translation of the 10 Commandments:

  1. Respect the Creator and all Creation/Nature.
  2. Do not put your faith in objects (like money) or people.
  3. Do not break promises.
  4. Remember to balance your time and always set time aside to rest.
  5. Respect your parents.
  6. Do not murder.
  7. Do not commit adultery.
  8. Do not steal.
  9. Do not lie.
  10. Be grateful for what you have and not envious of what others have.

Using this as a foundation, can you imagine the way the world would be?   If we respected our creator and nature, we would not pollute or take things like the air we breathe for granted.  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.

“This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel
    after that time,” declares the Lord.
“I will put my law in their minds
    and write it on their hearts.
I will be their God,
    and they will be my people.
No longer will they teach their neighbor,
    or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’
because they will all know me,
    from the least of them to the greatest,”
declares the Lord.
“For I will forgive their wickedness
    and will remember their sins no more.  (Jeremiah 31:33-34)

Jesus is essentially reiterating a message from Jeremiah that was centuries old.  The overall theme of all of the teachings of Jesus was that these commandments are useless if they are only etched in stone. They should be written in our minds and inscribed in our hearts.  Our intentions are just as important as our actions.  To act without conscious is empty and shallow. To love with conditions is not love.  To give for the sake of giving and not a reward is true charity and true charity is the highest expression of love.

© Nelson Rose, The Quest for Light

Got Jesus?

Corcovado jesus

Corcovado jesus (Photo credit: @Doug88888)

When people say Jesus, there is an abundance of views as to who he was.  Some say he was just a man, some say a prophet, some say a messiah, some say the son of God, some say God the Son, some say he is an idea, and there are many people who no idea who he is.   I grew up a Christian and up until my late 20s, I still believed in the deity of Jesus, the infallibility of the Bible, and the various doctrines of the church.  However, I became somewhat skeptical in my early 30s and started to reject things that, to me, just didn’t make sense.  To me, the entire concept of “original sin” does not present our Creator as a loving and merciful God at all.  Then to further complicate it with the concept that God himself would have to become man and die to reconcile everyone of this curse at birth, just pushed me over the edge.  I have a hard time believing that one person can suffer in my place.  It all seems like a cop-out.  When you read about the personage of the man named Jesus and strip away the dogmas and the fabulous tales of miracles you will actually find something far different then what your pastor (who is paid to preach) will tell you.

Thomas Jefferson said it best when he said, “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.” I share Jefferson’s beliefs that the gospels had been corrupted with words that Jesus never uttered and miracles that never really happened.  I also believe that Jesus really existed and that his original teachings can be found in the gospels if you look closely.  The teachings of Jesus were pure and true.  He taught of universal love, morality, and charity.  He surrounded himself with hookers, tax collectors, and other social undesirables.  He tried to get people to find their faults, confront them, overcome them, and try to be better people.  He spoke of love for your enemies and while this is tough to grasp it is the earliest occurrence of the idea to “kill them with kindness”.

Jesus taught that it was a person’s actions, both external and internal, that mattered.  He rejected the notion that a person would be unclean if they ate certain foods and instead said that it was what came out of someone’s mouth that made them unclean.  Words of anger, hate, and deceit were in Jesus’s view worse than eating pork.  The Parables of Jesus were geared for both the intelligent and the ignorant in that there was an obvious message and a subliminal one that invoked deep personal reflection.  Of all of the teachings of Jesus there is nothing more significant than the Sermon on the Mount.  This is found in Matthew Chapters 5-7 and there is no greater discourse on life and how to live it then what is written there.  How wonderful and amazing would the world be if we all read those 3 chapters every day and tried to live by them?

Jesus taught of the Kingdom of Heaven he did not teach of salvation by grace, that was an invention of Paul.  Jesus gave clear instructions about feeding the poor, helping the destitute, aiding widows and orphans, and made it clear that it required action to enter the kingdom of heaven – not faith.  “Go and do likewise” was the charge given at the conclusion of the Parable of the Good Samaritan.  For me to think that a man who gives to the poor and needy all that he has, is doomed to go to hell because he is not a Christian defies all Reason and is un-Christian.  To make the matter worse and say that a man who commits mass murder only needs to accept Jesus into his heart and go to heaven – over the other guy who gave with all is heart – is just plain detestable and not inline with the fairness and benevolence of our Creator.

Jesus was a man.  A man of profound moral teachings and the author of a doctrine of morals that is beyond comparison.  His teachings of love and morality over dogma and despotism eventually cost him his life.  If all mankind were to adhere to what he taught and the doctrines he so eloquently inculcated, the world would be a more beautiful place.   Over the course of the next few blog postings I am going to peel back the dogma and fantasy and cover each parable and then cover the Sermon on the Mount.  It is within the teachings of this man, Jesus of Nazareth, that we can find some of the most sublime truths.  He will be our guide on this next leg of the quest.