Deciphering the Divine

I had a recent exchange with a number of folks and it seems that there was a misconception that I was anti-God, anti-Bible, and a hater of religion. If you have been following my blog for any length of time you know I am not an atheist or someone who completely rejects God or Jesus. What I am is a person who doesn’t easily suspend reason. When someone uses Reason and Common Sense, God can be a pretty silly idea. I completely agree that it involves faith, however faith in something does not in any way make it true. As a veteran who has seen his share of bloodshed, poverty, and scooped up children from the Straits of Florida whose parents were eaten by sharks in front of them, my view of the “order of things” is a bit different then the common latte sipping iPhone addict. If you knew me, you would know that I have many sacred texts from Hebrew copies of the Torah to Greek copies of the New Testament. The presupposition that I have never said “God please enter my heart” or “Please guide me to you” is an indication that you do not know me.

The human mind is capable of entering a state where it can shut off the outside world and create its own reality. A reality where you are the author of the events, and the narrator of the story. You play the starring and support roles as well as play the role of director and producer. We enter this state, whether or not we recall it, on a daily basis. It’s called dreaming. In almost every instance when God is revealed to man (especially the Christian Scriptures) it is by way of a dream. Could it really be God? Sure, but it can also be one’s own imagination. Believing in God and knowing God to be real, can be very easy for some and almost impossible for others. I have seen enough in my lifetime to know that an anthropic creator deity is very unlikely though. Notice, I did not say it was impossible as only a fool (or a sith) deals in absolutes and to me that is a narrow and simplistic way of thinking.

The concept of God, if that is even a relevant term, has been debated since before the time of Jesus and even before the time of Abraham. Before Yahweh was Zeus and before Zeus was Osiris, Horus, Ra, Hermes and the list goes on. Man has always been looking for the answers to the biggest of questions – WHY? This is the great enigma and the unanswerable question for all. Even if one were to turn wholeheartedly to God and view the Bible as infallible, the “Why” question still goes unanswered. The Book of Job is a masterpiece in theodicy and philosophy which has often been used to put a box around the question, but the question still remains unanswered.

As a father I go with what I know to be the real God and that is pure and unconditional love. The one that holds no grudges, keeps no records of wrongs, does not boast, and does not judge. Love is greater than just some chemical reaction or a silly emotion. Any good father knows this. So, when I think in terms of God, I do not think of a Controlling Creator or a Divine Judge. I think of Divine Thread that weaves us all together. Some people are stitched tighter together than others and have a closer connection with the Divine. As far as Jesus goes, “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”

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....

Image via Wikipedia

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

The love of a Father

I am fortunate to be the father of three beautiful and healthy children.  Looking at them I see innocence, potential, ambition, beauty, love, and a host of other wonderful things.  Experiencing their births made it very clear to me that this world we live in, and all of us in it are all part of a grand design.  That in some definitive way there is a purpose for each and every one of us and that our Creator gave us our own intelligence and a moral compass to guide us.  We just have to listen and act. 

Being a father has encouraged me to work harder and push myself more than I ever would have had I not been their dad.  A real father does all he can to support, love, and protect his kids – at all cost.  We recently watched 2 movies that had fathers that were elevated to a deistical level and I could not help but connect the dots to our Creator.  The 2 movies are Clash of the Titans (with Liam Neeson) and Tron (with Jeff Bridges).  The two of these fathers did not want to sacrifice their sons at the expense of themselves or others.  Zeus tells Persius that he wanted to win but, not at the risk of losing a son and Kevin Flynn (the father) in Tron sacrificed himself to save his son. 

As a father, I can say without a doubt that I would give my own life to save my kids and under no circumstance would I ever consider sacrificing them.  This brings me to my moral and theological conflicts with the current religion of Christianity. 

What kind of father would restrict his own children from the knowledge of good and evil (or ability to reason)?

What kind of father would give up control of his children to an evil and cruel person (satan)?

What kind of father would destroy his entire creation (the Flood)?

What kind of father would select only a few of his children as his chosen children (Jews and the Christian doctrine of Predestination)?

What kind of father promises his children land but, subjects them to 400 years of slavery followed by 40 years of aimless wandering in the desert?

What kind of father tells his children to slaughter every man, woman, and child that you find in the land he promised you?  All the while knowing that these same people being slaughtered are his own children as well…

Fast forward a few centuries and this same father sends another son (to Christians this one is his only son) to be tortured and brutally executed to pay for the sins of the rest of the world? 

Well, not my God.  I know what some of my Christians friends are saying – Jesus was God.  Well, no, he wasn’t God.  He was a man.  If he were God then who did he pray to so often? Who did he fall down on his knees to beg for strength in the Garden of Gethsemane?  Who did he cry out “My God, My God, why hast though forsaken me?” to when he was dying on the cross?  Clearly he was praying to God, or as he so eloquently referred to him – our Father.

Let me tell you a secret, about a father’s love.  A secret that my daddy said was just between us.  Daddy’s don’t just love their children every now and then.  It’s a love without end amen. – George Strait, A Father’s Love.

Now, if by grace we are all saved why would a sacrifice even be necessary?  Our Creator is all-powerful and, if all loving, would he even consider eternal punishment for us at all?  Sure, as a father, I punish my kids when they mess up.  I take away the Xbox or the computer but, I would never punish one for the actions of the other. 

My conflict here is not with Jesus though.  I don’t believe his purpose was to die for me.  I think his message is pretty clear and I have spoken about it in prior posts and I will again speak of it now.  He spoke of love, kindness, charity, empathy, and emphasized the absolute necessity of doing good works. 

Why couldn’t the church just stick to what he taught? 

Why did this dogmatic system of the fear of hell and eternal damnation have to come about? 

It is an insult to the benevolence of the Creator to give the appearance of a bipolar tyrant, who can’t decide whether or not we are to be loved like children or suffer like slaves.  Now before I close this blog, I will use some text from the Bible that I believe perfectly describes our Creator. 

Psalm 19 (NIV)

 1 The heavens declare the glory of God;
   the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
2 Day after day they pour forth speech;
   night after night they reveal knowledge.
3 They have no speech, they use no words;
   no sound is heard from them.
4 Yet their voice[b] goes out into all the earth,
   their words to the ends of the world.
In the heavens God has pitched a tent for the sun.
 5 It is like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber,
   like a champion rejoicing to run his course.
6 It rises at one end of the heavens
   and makes its circuit to the other;
   nothing is deprived of its warmth.

 7 The law of the LORD is perfect,
   refreshing the soul.
The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy,
   making wise the simple.
8 The precepts of the LORD are right,
   giving joy to the heart.
The commands of the LORD are radiant,
   giving light to the eyes.
9 The fear of the LORD is pure,
   enduring forever.
The decrees of the LORD are firm,
   and all of them are righteous.

 10 They are more precious than gold,
   than much pure gold;
they are sweeter than honey,
   than honey from the honeycomb.
11 By them your servant is warned;
   in keeping them there is great reward.
12 But who can discern their own errors?
   Forgive my hidden faults.
13 Keep your servant also from willful sins;
   may they not rule over me.
Then I will be blameless,
   innocent of great transgression.

 14 May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart
   be pleasing in your sight,
   LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.

© Nelson Rose, The Quest for Light

Jesus vs. Hercules

If someone were to ask, “Who is the son of God?” about 2 billion people would say, “Jesus“.  That is just under 1/3 of the population of the planet (the projected global population is 6.9 billion).  However, long before Jesus was claimed to be the Son of God, Heracles (more commonly known as, Hercules) had that title.  If you go even further back, Horus had that title as well (except his mother was a Goddess).  So who was it?

Everyone has heard of both Jesus and Hercules but, few have compared the similarities between the two.  Lets look at a comparison of Hercules and Jesus:

Method of Conception:  The mortal and chaste Alcmene, the mother of Hercules, gave birth to him from a union with God (Zeus). The young (or virgin) Mary, mother of Jesus, gave birth to him from a union with God (the Holy Spirit).

Marked for Death as a Child:  Hera wanted to kill Hercules. Herod wanted to kill Jesus.

Performed amazing feats:  Hercules traveled the earth as a man helping mankind and performed miraculous deeds. Jesus, as a man, travelled throughout Judea (a little less ground then Hercules) and performed miracles and cast out demons (although he did not kill them).

Death, Resurrection, and Ascension:  Hercules died, was saved from death by Zeus, and ascended to Olympus as a God.  Jesus was crucified, rose from the grave, and ascended to heaven.

There are more parallels but, the fact remains that in ancient Greece, long before Jesus walked the face of the earth, Hercules was believed to have been a real person, they told stories about him, worshiped him, and dedicated temples to him just as Christians do today for Jesus.  Hercules was the Son of Zeus, Jesus was the Son of Jehovah.  Both Jehovah and Zeus were considered God, they just had different names.

There is no concrete evidence that proves that either of these men existed, so proving which was the real Son of God is rather a moot point.  Another interesting set of parallels is the collection of evidence for both.  We have historical figures like Hesiod and Plato who frequently mentioned Hercules in their writings. The gospels tell a narrative history of Jesus.  Homer and Aesop tells stories and quotes the words of Hercules. We have a very brief mention of Jesus by Josephus in his Antiquities and Josephus mentions Hercules as well.  Tacitus mentions a character named Christos, who is likely to be Jesus but, he too mentions Hercules in his Annals. The fact is neither Jesus nor Hercules wrote anything themselves, we have no artifacts, and no original writings from eyewitnesses about either men.  It is very likely that both of these men were either myths or that they existed and became elevated to a god-like stature because they were so influential and inspiring.

Throughout the course of humanity a messiah has been promised multiple times by multiple religions.  Some of them have claimed the messiah’s arrival and await another messiah to finish the work of the first, some are awaiting the return of a messiah so he can finish what he started.  Messiahs serve multiple purposes and when you remove the religious dogma you come to the same purpose – HOPE.  Life is a struggle and we all need hope.  We all want and need to feel like good will ultimately triumph over evil and that is what messiahs do, they defeat evil.  Whether it is Hades or Satan, the desired outcome is that evil will fail and good prevails.  In my prior posts you have heard me talk of Balance and of Apotheosis.  It is my belief that our Creator gave us the gift of Reason and that with this gift we can become closer to understanding our purpose.  If we have to suspend our sense of Reason to believe in unnatural conceptions of our Creator than we really need take a second look at what is being presented.

Free-will establishes choices.  Reason and Common Sense establish balance.  When a person is able to elevate their conscience above the calamities and temptations of life, they conquer their own demons and overcome and defeat evil.  They save themselves.

© Nelson Rose, The Quest for Light