Strength in Faith

Life at times seems meaningless and uninspiring. This is especially the case when one demystifies the realities of nature and views the laws and order of the cosmos as if they are random acts of chaos. With little tangible evidence for a Prime Mover or Heavenly Father our mere existence, while biologically amazing, seems relatively insignificant in the grand scheme of things and while science provides us with a wealth of information and facts, it lacks the poetic beauty required to inspire and give humanity a sense of hope or inspiration.

I am a firm believer in the essence of the human soul. It is the soul that connects one to another. Those who can master the art of meditation are capable of truly connecting with that eternal essence that perpetuates all of existence. Now I am aware that to some people the term “meditation’ is taboo and that there are certain pockets of Christianity that believe it to be dangerous. This is a misguided belief. When a Catholic prays the Rosary and really focuses on the prayer and what is being said – it is a form of meditation. When a Jew recites the Shema and focuses exclusively on what is being said – it is a form of meditation. When anyone prays any prayer and is truly focusing on their prayer – it is a form of meditation. By now I hope you get my point on how meditation takes many forms and it is not exclusive to sitting “criss-cross apple sauce” with your palms up while repeating the word “Aum/Om”.

So why did I bring up meditation? It is not my intent to go on an Eastern Philosophy push to anyone. I was merely pointing out that when a person is able to filter out the “noise” of the day (the technological and completely unnatural obstructions that surround us) they can reconnect to the soul within and with a little more effort the Eternal Soul of all that exists. Some may call this connecting to God, some may call it “being one with nature”, and some may view this as mere figments of an overactive imagination. It is the later that many find to be the uninspiring view and while I agree that it might be the reality, who cares? While to some it may be irrational, our perceptions are our realities. If a person finds strength in faith, then their beliefs have merit and no one should denigrate the beliefs of another. One cannot deny the power of the human mind. Those with deep faith and convictions are not necessarily receptive to facts and observations that are contrary to what they believe and while this is viewed as a threat to our intellectual future by the militant arm of the Atheist movement, I need only remind them that the majority of their heroes still believed in either a Prime Mover or Spinoza’s pantheistic view of the cosmos. It is human nature, whether warranted or not, to have a purpose and to have someone or something that they can reach out to in times of despair and that keeps them in line and humble.

The idea that a physical manifestation of God is necessary for there to be any validity to faith is a fallacy. At the risk of being overly hyperbolic, a comparison can be made that the mere thought of Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny stirs excitement and anticipation to children all around the globe – real excitement and real anticipation. The same is true with faith in any sense of deity. If a person believes that there is a god, then there is a god and only they are capable of changing that. The same is true for those who do not believe. There are no Bible passages or testimony of personal revelation that will convince a skeptic that a god exists. I believe that even the most rigid atheists hold something in the utmost esteem whether it be science, nature, or the mere act of discovery and inquiry itself. While that pinnacle of inspiration may not be god to them in the sense of the term, there is very little difference when taken into context of how it affects them.

Perception is often reality and to those that truly believe, there is strength in faith.

The Divine Mystery

There are mysteries that have puzzled the minds of all who take time to think about anything beyond the mundane and menial tasks of our day-to-day lives.  The more we advance (or evolve) the more questions we answer and the smaller the enigmatic box of mysteries becomes.   It has been human nature to perceive the concept of a divine being with attributes and emotions much like our own that governs our existence and the laws and order of the cosmos.  We call this mystery of mysteries, this supreme entity – “God” and while we conceive a loftier and more immense being then ourselves, anything we do to define god with “authority” in essence puts a human box around that which is infinite, not human, and possibly completely unknowable. Thus, humanity has created a god in their own image and in a manner of their own understanding.  This perception is limited to an individual’s own experiences and knowledge which is often influenced by mentors, parents, and time immemorial.  Humanity has grappled with purpose and the enigmas of natural phenomena and while there is far more knowledge of biology, geology, and astronomy now than we had even a century ago, the mythical explanations of ancient times still influence society today. For example, it is an indisputable fact that the earth revolves around the sun, yet we still say sunrise and sunset.  Some still say the “stars come out at night” when they are actually “out” all the time and it is only when we rotate away from the direct rays of our sun that the light from the others become visible.

There is an unfortunate debate that somehow science is atheistic and that scientists work against the belief in a god.  This is unfortunate given the fact that it is science that enables us to see just how incredible it is to merely exist.  Especially when one considers the incredible odds stacked against each one of us during the process of conception through gestation and eventually to our birth.   The fight is one that has been going on for centuries and while many like to point to the scientists as being the culprits, history tells us a different story.  Galileo, Copernicus, Newton, and Bruno are all men who had faith and through research uncovered scientific facts that went against the common beliefs and positions of the church.  The church took the ignorant and intolerant position of branding these men heretics and in the case of Bruno – burning him at the stake for teaching facts.  When human inquiry and discovery uncovers facts that go against the common beliefs then we must reconsider what we believe rather than reject the facts.

How humanity has grappled with the mystery of existence has evolved.   Whether one relies on empirical evidence as their sole source of finding answers or not, it can really only satisfy the questions around the mere existence of physical things.  We still have the epistemological enigmas that are the basis of going beyond empirical evidence and beyond physics (metaphysics).  There was a time when man worshipped fire and then we began to understand it thereby stripping it of its divinity. The gods of ancient Greece and Rome were replaced by the invisible god of the Hebrews.  Humanity has now ventured into space and found no celestial palace in the skies that would have been the destination of Elijah’s flaming chariot or an ascending Jesus.

So now what?

Are we to revert to the Platonist philosophy of a Prime Mover?  Is existence random or is there perhaps a Pater Agnostos (unknown father)?  Perhaps this is the mystery of the Ineffable Divine Name of the Jewish tradition.  That even within a book claiming to tell “His” story, we are still incapable of knowing “His” name thus our conceptions are limited by our knowledge and our knowledge by our own experiences.

Perhaps to know God requires one to first know them self, thus making the mystery personal.

Thoughts on the essence and existence of God

A lot has gone on the past few weeks and I had a lot of thoughts bouncing around in my head.  I felt like chatting with you instead of writing.  So here is the first ever “vlog” post:

What’s in a name?

Hidden in plain sight from the reader of the English translations of the Bible are several linguistic nuances that range from how the shaping of the letters are to the number of letters in a parshat to the different names used for the Almighty. You don’t even have to go very far – in the book of Genesis the following names are used – Elohim, YHVH, YHVH Elohim, El Shaddai, and Yah. Some attribute this to multiple authors whose works were compiled and redacted numerous times before the canon was sealed and others believe that the various names are in relation to the different attributes of God. The 2 most commonly used names in Jewish Scripture (aka Old Testament) are Elohim and YHVH. These names have different meanings and I will focus on these 2 names for now.

Elohim
Elohim is typically rendered in English as “God”. So Genesis 1:1 when properly rendered would read: In the beginning Elohim created the heaven and the earth.
Elohim is the name that is used to describe the unknowable and almighty Creator. Elohim is not an anthropomorphic (or human like) being. Elohim a spirit which utters and wills things into existence and the interaction with man is always through a mediator – typically an angel. When used as elohim (not capitalized) it refers to gods in the plural. Keep in mind up until the second temple Jews believed that other nations had other gods and that they were to be obedient and follow their own deity. It wasn’t until the second temple when Ezra and the returning Jews changed their belief to a monotheistic one and that there was only one Almighty God and that all others were false deities and didn’t exist.

YHVH
This is the Ineffable Name and is known as the Tetragrammaton. It has typically been rendered as Yahweh and Jehovah, both of which are incorrect. The name is unspeakable and as such the English rendering you are used to seeing is “The Lord”. At times both Elohim and YHVH are used together and that combination is rendered as “The Lord God”. The first instance of this combination occurs during what many believe to be the second creation account which is found in Genesis 2:4: This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created. When YHVH Elohim (or the Lord God) made the earth and the heavens When the name YHVH (or the combination) is used we see a more intimate God. One who walks with man and can even be questioned, rebuked, and even wrestled with by man. While the Christian rendering for YHVH is “The Lord”, this is not a common practice within Jewish Scholarship. When reading from the Torah or when praying, YHVH is spoken as “Adonai”.  In discussions and study the name “HaShem” is also used, which another way of saying “the Name”.

Now lets tackle another position. What if Elohim, Adonai, and YHVH aren’t really supposed to be nouns. What if they are really verbs. Consider the fact that YHVH is a variation of the speakable “h-v-h” which is a verb meaning “to be”. Now consider that in Exodus 3:14 that we read: Elohim said to Moses “Eyeh Asher Eyeh..” What does Eyeh Asher Eyeh mean? Here we have seen 2 common mistranslations: one is “I am that I am” and the other is “I am who I am”.  Neither are technically right because it is more properly rendered: “I shall be what I shall be” or “I will be what I will be” and another rendering “I will become what I will become” may be as close to a proper English translation as we can get. This may seem subtle on the surface, but when you really think about it, it completely changes the concept of what the Almighty is. If our Creator is not a noun, then we shift from a Creator to a Creative process. A process that continues and does not remain stagnant. One that evolves so that it does not become obsolete.

In the Jewish (and some Christian) mystical schools of thought a person is thought to be a vessel. Each with the ability to receive as much or as little of the Divine Presence as they are willing to accept. This is the “breath of life” that was breathed into us from the very beginning. Now think about that too. The receiving of the breath started the process of breathing which started the process of life. So when one goes through life, each breath they take is the opportunity to receive more life and with it more of that which made life possible. Just as breathing is an action and receiving is an action, perhaps the old man in the skies is really the winds and the rain, the compassion and the love or to those who prefer to do without, just another breath.

Divine Science

Parthenon from west

Parthenon from west (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

To the Ancient Greeks, Zeus was not a myth. Neither was Poseidon, Hercules, Perseus, or Hades. These were real gods and demigods. The landscape of Greece and Italy still have the ruins of the temples that once stood to pay homage to these divine beings. So what happened? The answer is actually rather simple. People stopped believing. It had always been the belief that as long as the gods were worshiped and prayed to that they would be strong. All except Hades who obtained his strength through fear. The Romans had a similar pantheon of gods and the biggest difference between the Greeks and the Romans (aside from the names) was that the Greek deities resided on Mt. Olympus, again except for Hades who lived in the under-world. The disappearance of these deities changed the religions and beliefs of ancient times into the myths of modern times. The question now is, are the current gods that are worshiped (Yahweh, Allah, Jesus, etc.) any different? Is it possible that God is just an imaginary friend to a theist and as a result completely nonexistent to an atheist?

If science is the source of absolute truth then it would seem that we have no known origin, no known purpose, and no watchful father-like deity that we can turn to. We are just meaningless globs of matter and when we expire we decompose into dust and are no more significant than the dirt we are buried in. The various emotions experienced by mankind of love, joy, sadness and hope are mere chemical reactions that have evolved over time and our sense of morality is just a natural evolutionary code of ethics that developed over time as man increased in intelligence and furthered technology. We have nothing beyond the realm of current existence and life beyond the grave is nothing more than the musings of mythology and fairy tales.

The existence of God is not provable by science. This is an irrefutable fact that only the dogmatically sheepish would try to argue. The existence of God is an argument that mankind has had with itself since the earliest of times. People have slaughtered entire villages and marched their “Armies of God” across the world to force conversion and spread their religious influence as if by divine directive for thousands of years. Even today the madness continues by way of IEDs and suicide bombers on one end and the endless intellectual and apologetic debates in the blogosphere on the other. One of the biggest arguments used to disprove Theism is the existence of evil and why bad things happen to good people. This argument is one that human perception cannot rationally or objectionably engage in, unless they look at the broader picture displayed in nature. Most theists (Christians in particular) believe that the reason bad things (or evil) happen is because of sin. They trace this back to the Biblical tale of Adam and Eve and the forbidden fruit. Original Sin is a flawed dogmatic doctrine of the church that is just as much an injustice to infants and children as it is an illogical and incomplete explanation. Aside from the obvious issue of children and their suffering, what about animals? Does not the sheep live in fear of the wolf? Isn’t it excruciatingly painful when an alligator rips a deer to pieces? Anyone with even the slightest amount of common sense knows that although animals may not be able to drive or write, they do have intelligence. So that means they, like man, are very likely capable of emotions and exercising free-will to a certain extent. Do animals suffer as a result of Eve’s sin or do they just suffer because that is part of the balance of nature and the circle of life? To say that the animals suffer as a result of the sins of man is ridiculous. As such, the suffering of people cannot be pointed to the sins of a mythical woman either. I am sure someone is saying that I am ridiculous to equate the murder of a person at the hands of another person with that of an animal hunting its prey. What if man is the prey? Is it an act of evil if a man is attacked by sharks and eaten alive? Well to the family of the man its a tragedy but to the sharks it was a meal. How dare I say such a thing?!? Well, when a man kills a deer and uses the meat for his family its OK right? Perhaps that deer was a mother and its babies will now die because they can no longer nurse. A tragedy to the baby deer and just another meal for the hunter. Dare I even mention if the deer is shot just for sport…

Now, I know that I used some parallels that some may think are extreme comparisons. In a world of instant gratification, reality TV, self-help speakers, and personal conveniences it becomes almost impossible to realize that we are just specks of dust in relation to the enormity of the cosmos and that our own little realities are irrelevant in the grand design. So just as we pay no mention to the colonies of ants we destroy when we spray pesticides, the tides take no notice of the villages that are destroyed when an earthquake triggers a tsunami. Evil and Satan are easy cop outs (I will expand on these in my next post), but the balance of nature is the true cause.

So does this chaotic cosmos have a Creator? Does God exist? Well a scientist will tell you that God cannot be proven. God cannot be seen and cannot be tested. So let’s use their logic as we review a few concepts. Can we prove why a compass will always point north? The theory is that the earth has an invisible magnetic field that causes this. Gravity is also invisible and yet it is the undisputed reason given for why whatever goes up must come down. The winds cannot be seen, yet scientists have been able to discover that the changes in atmospheric pressure (also something invisible) in conjunction with the rotation of the earth and it revolution are what causes the wind. The sun emits light that is generated from a burning ball of fire and gases in space. This light is invisible yet enables one to see. This light is invisible yet when gather through a lens can burn a piece of paper. Light from the sun also warms the surface of the whole planet.

Great are the works of the LORD, studied by all who have pleasure in them. – Psalms 111:2 (RSV)

I have given some completely invisible scientific theories that have not been disputed and I do not dispute these theories, nor do I reject the science behind them even though they use unseen concepts as their basis of proof. If the unseen can be proven in scientific theory, why is it not acceptable as proof of Deity? How can one dispute the positive impact that God, whether a provable entity or not, has on the most faithful of people? Can we deny that people are moved by their faith in God to be charitable? Can we deny the fact that people are willing to give up their own lives for these beliefs? Can we deny that the truly faithful try to live a life of humility and selflessness? Can we deny the hope that otherwise hopeless people feel when they discover faith? Can we deny the inner strength a person may feel after a sincere prayer?

Faith in God will vary from person to person. It is not a conclusive science, nor will it ever be. It has been said that God is Light. Which is ironic because we can’t see light and we can’t see God either. We can feel the warmth caused by light of the sun and a believer can feel God by the warmth within their soul. Maybe God is imaginary or maybe God is calling and only those with ears to hear and are listening.

The Illusion of Atheism

Contrary to what an atheist may try to convince others and even themselves, the entire concept of atheism is a mere illusion.  Richard Dawkins, the late Christopher Hitchens, Bill Maher are all very public about being atheists and are antagonistic to the adherents of any and all revealed religions.  However, I can provide a strong argument that neither they nor anyone else can possibly be atheists with 3 words:

Eyeh asher eyeh

See, three words.  I will assume some of you don’t know what these words mean so I will explain them.  Eyeh asher eyeh is Hebrew for “I shall be what I shall be” it has also been translated “I am what/that I am.”  This statement is as brilliant as it is cryptic.  No actual name is given, no definitive divine description, just an open-ended concept of indescribable and ineffable supremacy.  There is a misconception amongst people who consider themselves to be atheists that the rejection of an interventional deity means they also reject the concept of a supreme intelligence or ultimate reality.  The use of “Reason” and “Intellect” is a valid approach to such a topic and given the advancement of science and technology over the past few centuries (especially the last decade) we have seen the scope of the Divine drastically diminish.

The Ultimate Source

Galileo shattered the long-held belief that the earth was flat, the sky was a canopy, and the celestial bodies were mere lights in the canopy.

Astronauts erased the concept of heaven being a paradise amongst the clouds in the skies, thereby casting serious doubt on chariots of fire and men “ascending into heaven”.

Medical advancements have saved people from death, even brought people back from death-like states (ie. coma).  Stem cell research has now advanced to the state where scientist are capable of manipulating and even splicing cells to regenerate organs.

Carbon dating has identified artifacts that date the age of human civilization far beyond the Biblical timeline.

However, the idea that the rejection of any religious text, creed, or doctrine or the literal or scientific debunking of them eliminates the concept of Deity is inaccurate, ignorant and irresponsible.  Regardless of how far we go with science or how many theories we develop we still have not been able to discern the origin, source, or “author” of the various laws of nature and science.  We have not been able to explain or discover the power that allows these laws to be executed in endless perpetuity.  No explanations exist for the reason or cause of human emotions or our ability to discern the basic precepts of universal morality.  This origin and this perpetual source is that supreme and ultimate reality that mankind has tried to understand.  Whether through scientific exploration or theosophic study, the Divine is ineffable and we are not capable of understanding.

Where our intellect and reason falls short

For most of recorded history mankind has made many attempts at understanding this source.  Our inability to prove or disprove the source or origin expels us from the right to deny it.  The belief that this source is an interventional God is the belief of over 3 billion people and it has been for thousands of years.  The concept of an interventional God is not based on facts though.  It is based on faith.  If one chooses not to believe in an interventional god that is fine.  It does not rule out the fact that there is a an original and perpetual source of the universe though.  If you base your belief on science, than nature or science is your deity.  If you believe there is no source and everything just happened then chaos is your deity.  However, out of chaos came order.  Where did this order come from?

Our sense of reason can serve as both a gift and a curse.  While one can reasonably discern various laws of science and morality, you can also box yourself in to your own limited knowledge of the universe which limits the greatness of it.  The Age of Enlightenment gave rise to skepticism and literal criticism of religious texts but, it did not render them obsolete.

Divine Revelation

It is Jewish tradition that the Scriptures (Torah, Prophets, Hagiographa) were written by men for men and in the language of men.  A literal interpretation of the text is not conducive to modern times as many of the mythical occurrences were similar to modern-day special effects in movies.  The scribes wrote the text to instruct the simple-minded while the learned minds of the time labored for hours over the hidden meanings and allegories.  Is an intense study of these texts still required?  Perhaps for some but, the morality that has derived from their writing are now commonplace in a civilized society.  As rich as religious text are in their allegory and moral lessons, they can easily be taken out of context mainly because, unlike the US Constitution they can not be amended.   There is a revelation that continues to evolve and is infallible – nature.  A walk along the seashore, a hike in the mountains, or a rafting trip on a river display the awesome power and beauty of nature.  Gazing at the night sky on a clear night is a mind-boggling display of the vastness of the cosmos.  Taking all of this in, is it remotely possible that there was no order, no source, and that all is chaos?

Atheism advocates the absence of an orginal source or intelligent design.  If there is no source – then universe is an illusion.

© Nelson Rose, The Quest for Light