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Monday, April 28, 2014

Science, Faith, and Truth

If history has taught us anything it has taught us that science gradually uncovers truth.  I have faith in the truth that science reveals for several reasons. First, scientific truth is demonstrable. It helps us understand better all the things that occur around our world and in the cosmos.  I say, “understand better,” because we are far from knowing all there is to know. Life is a magnificent journey of discovery.

1st century civilizations had no concepts of tectonic plates and volcanoes, jet streams and weather, nor of human eggs in women that made them indispensable participants in procreation. These scientific advances have helped us understand some basic realities of our world that do not require explanations involving one or more gods intervening in world events by way of natural calamities or by instigating virgin births.

Second, because ultimate truth is so far ahead of what we understand at this moment, scientific knowledge is always evolving. How we understand things now will gradually change as we learn more. Just as humans have had to leave behind ideas of a flat earth, ethers, and demons, I want to leave behind the erroneous beliefs I have today as higher understandings of truth evolve.

Third, political, religious, business, or popular public leaders or movements do not and cannot plan truth, or scientific discoveries, ahead of time. Whereas "truth"  from a religious perspective is decided by human beings (usually men) in councils. Literally, any one in the world can suggest an idea that could become a new scientific understanding, and finally, an accepted theory. In a way, scientific communities are the best of democratic societies because they are objective and open for participation by anyone.

While participation in a scientific community may be open to anyone, you must follow some very strict rules. The positive side of that is that these rules have nothing to do with who you are, your gender, ethnic background, religion, race, or even, believe it or not, your academic background.  They do, however, have to do with how you carry out and report your scientific studies. Even though these rules are very strict they are universally available for anyone to learn and follow.  The overriding rule is that your research must follow the scientific method of inquiry.

If you use the scientific method, then the question you are studying will be clearly stated and understandable, especially by others interested in the same area of knowledge. How you acquire data and study your question will be described in such detail that others could replicate your study if they so choose, and some will.  

       The conclusions you make must be rationally based on the data you collect and analyze.  If you discover something new and different, you make that claim and provide the data to support it. If others replicate your study and get the same results, they may support your conclusions, or, perhaps, they will provide even better explanations.

Fourth, scientific inquiry is a community effort in which everyone agrees that they will eventually accept the conclusions supported by the preponderance of evidence across all the research submitted by everyone studying that question.  In other words, if, ultimately, something looks, sounds, feels, smells, tastes, and acts like a chicken, then scientists are willing to declare that it is, in fact, a chicken. This will be true even if some of the scientists, or even all of them, started off totally convinced it was a cow.  

     My example may be humorous, but my point is completely serious. Scientists change their minds when their hypotheses are not supported by data, and the hypotheses of others, are. This is the greatest power of the scientific method and the reason why accepted scientific theories are our best descriptors of truth.  All that religious institutions can claim is that their views of truth are based on what they want to believe.

Now, let’s consider this frequently misused word, “faith.” What value is there in having faith in something that has no demonstrable effect on life? If beliefs do have an effect on life, then they can be studied, scientifically. Yes, that means even the results of prayer or any kind of supernatural intervention. There should be no doubt that acts of love can permanently change the course of human events and those changes can be studied scientifically.

       If you don't want to study the effects of your religious beliefs scientifically, that's fine, but don't say it can't be done. There is almost always a way. Science and religion are not mutually exclusive. You can decide for yourself that they are, but that's an assertion that has only your wish as a basis.

       I have faith in the truth that creates and describes the world in which I live and through which I experience the impact of human spirituality, including my own. I also have faith that all that we know fits perfectly with everything we don’t know.  

       I have complete faith in the ultimate power, intelligence, and organization behind the creation and evolution of our universe and life on planet Earth, because I am part of that whole process. Whatever the total power and intelligence is, it is far beyond my capacity to understand, even though I am part of it with every breath I take.  

I believe all of us achieve this same personal sense of wonder and mystery at some time in our lives and feel a desire to name and describe this unknowable prime cause. Eventually, we do and we have called this ultimate truth, God. 

         Then we feel compelled to describe God in more humanly understandable ways. This is how we create theologies, and from theologies we create religions. All theologies and religions are man-made stories about what we’d like reality to be. This is neither good nor bad, right nor wrong, it is just how the human mind appears to work. I know I’m like this.

If we could summarize the current public descriptions of Christian orthodoxy, it would be something like the following:

            • Because Adam and Eve disobeyed God in the Garden of Eden, all of us bear the penalty of that sin which is death, unless God forgives us.

            • Even though Mary was a virgin, God caused her to become pregnant with Jesus so Jesus would be born the one and only Son of God.

            • Jesus was crucified to redeem mankind of the original sin of Adam and Eve, but only those who accept Jesus as their savior are saved.

            • In three days Jesus arose from the dead and later ascended into Heaven

            • Jesus will be returning to judge everyone and eventually defeat Satan, the source of all lies and evil against God.

This is the Christian story according to conservative Christian believers, which they hold to be literally true.  It is claimed that this is what is presented in the Bible, and the Bible is viewed as God’s Word to mankind. For them, the Bible is literally true, consistent, complete, and infallible.

However, none of these claims about theology, Jesus, Mary, or the Bible can be supported by anything other than the fact that, that is what these individuals want Christian dogma to be. In fact, most of these claims make no sense when you read the Bible carefully enough to understand the contexts of the original verses that are used to support fundamentalist dogma. It just isn’t there, not in the Bible. It’s a story, outside of the Bible that Christian fundamentalists keep telling and retelling themselves because that is what they want to believe. That’s what they want everyone to believe, so they will not falter from someone else’s rational thinking.

I find it very interesting that fundamentalist Christians say that this story, this dogma, must be accepted on faith because it is spiritual and is beyond rationalization.  This means I must believe something that has no hope of objective verification. And, even though it defies the current state of human knowledge about birth and death, and our basic sensibilities (i.e. a father sacrificing a son for payment of a debt) I am to believe it as real history and their concepts of judgment, heaven, and hell as the real future.  All of us can really do better than this.

It is interesting that much of this Christian dogma is based on the teachings of Paul, not Jesus, or his brother James, or Peter and John, two of his disciples active in the Jerusalem Brotherhood following Jesus’ crucifixion.  Paul specifically states he did not confer with anyone else in developing his teachings, but only, “the risen Christ.” In other words, Paul made up his Christology on his own, for his own reasons, and for his own churches primarily consisting of gentiles converting to Paul’s version of Christ, beyond Judaism.

James, the brother of Jesus was the primary leader of the Jerusalem Brotherhood. These were Jews who believed that Jesus was the fulfillment of Jewish expectations for a Messiah.  Peter and John, assisted James and all of them clashed with Paul concerning Paul’s teachings. 

       It is widely recognized that the Book of Acts is not an accurate portrayal of Paul’s truly difficult relationship with Peter and the leadership in Jerusalem.  What Paul wrote, himself, contradicts the author of Acts, so Paul's letters must be considered the better source for descriptions of his own relationships with the leaders of the Jerusalem Brotherhood.

When the Romans conquered Jerusalem in 70 CE that ended a Jewish rebellion that started around 66 CE.   As a result, Jews were generally despised throughout the Roman Empire and the Jerusalem Brotherhood disappeared. 

     However, this development fit Paul’s message perfectly which was, for the gentiles he was converting, overtly non-Jewish in that Jewish observances were not considered necessary. The “Torah of Christ” replaced the Torah of Moses according to Paul. Eventually, gentiles took over the emerging Christian movement.

Paul’s message was really far afield from Jesus’ teachings. Yet, over time, it is Paul’s message that got remembered in the version of Christianity that defeated all others in its rise to power.  Yes, there were many Christianity's that had emerged, but it was Paul's teachings that drowned out all others.

       Jesus was an observant Jew who taught that approaching others with an attitude of love was more important than conforming to strict religious law. Jesus suggested this was the way to establish the Kingdom Of Heaven on earth. But, Jewish law and teachings were still the foundation. Bottom line, it is not accurate to say that Jesus founded Christianity as it is popularly understood, today. Paul did.

It appears that accepting Christian dogma on faith, alone, also requires some consideration as to whose story one should accept. Baptists have their story, just as Catholics, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Lutherans, Mormons and Methodists, all have their own stories. Listen to each story and go with the one you like the best. 

        There is no doubt in my mind that we carefully choose the spiritual world in which we want to live based on the stories we hear from various religions or spiritual fellowships. Even if their dogma is irrational and irrelevant, most religions are too closely bound to their worldly possessions and to the passionate support of their followers to have any desire to change.  We should be humble enough that we can admit this, at least to ourselves.

   However, religions do, also, get around to teaching how to apply their religious tenets to everyday life events. In other words, they all tend to have teachings that are metaphysical. This is the primary purpose of sermons or homilies. Ministers and priests draw spiritual insights from Bible passages and discuss how these insights can help humans make decisions that will improve their lives and the lives of their families, communities, and ultimately, the world.

       This is the area where most religions can have huge areas of agreement. All will likely teach caring for one another with love and respect. All will likely teach the importance of honesty and trustworthiness. All will likely teach techniques for being less selfish, less proud, and more considerate of others. 

        You could say that most religions teach the practical lessons of life in ways that are strikingly similar to those found in the parables and sayings of Jesus. That shouldn't surprise anyone. After all, truth is universal and immutable and not the property of any one human religious or non-religious organization or tradition. Truth can only be discovered, not manufactured.

The question I have for everyone is why don’t we just start with metaphysical interpretations of our religious literature and leave it at that?  Always start from the viewpoint of Love. It’s the literal dogma and emotions around ideas that are inscrutable that cause anger, conflict, and wars, so let’s just not go there to begin with.  Are we not wise enough to do that?

It seems to me that what Jesus taught is reflected more universally in other religions than what Paul taught. Jesus was about making the here and now perfect by following God’s commandment to always live from a perspective of  love. Although Paul, too, could be elegant in describing love, his primary mission was to institutionalize among gentiles his personal view of Jesus, as the risen Christ, the first of a new kind of cosmic being.

Whose story are you going to follow with unwavering commitment? Whose story do you want to accept as truth so you don’t have to think about it any more? You can allow science to be a helpful, practical companion on your spiritual journey or you can reject that part of science that seems to conflict with the story you decide to follow. The first guarantees unlimited growth in understanding and the second guarantees a life of conflict and judgment towards others. What would Jesus do?


Our lives bend to the direction of our choices. In making our decisions I suggest we first gain wisdom from God as Love, which is what Jesus always did.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Easter

     Do love and truth die?
     No.
     That's the meaning and message of Easter.

Monday, December 23, 2013

The Christmas Star In Our Hearts

There is a night in most everyone's life when you look up into the vast expanse of the universe and gaze into the night sky as if hypnotized. It appears to be an endless dome of impenetrable darkness broken and splattered with billions of glittering sparkles of light. Some are extraordinarily bright and visually staccato and others are so faint we are not sure we even see anything.

At these moments we are like fish taking time to become aware of and to wonder about things above the surface of the water, our known world of action and reality. It is as if we are trying to reach beyond our limits or everyday understanding to fathom something we know is there, but which defies our known, familiar, and collectively agreed upon logic.

Yet, there it is, that night sky, so vast and deep, filled with brilliant darkness and wonder. These are moments in which we realize that there is very little that we truly understand. The night sky, therefore, has come to represent the reality of the mysteries of life.

Harry Emerson Fosdick had this perspective about life as we are experiencing it:

     "I would rather live in a world where my life is surrounded by mystery than live in a world so small that my mind could comprehend it."

Sir James Jeans suggests in his book, The Mysterious Universe that "The universe begins to look more like a great thought than like a great machine."

Just as we can observe the stars on a clear night, we can also place ourselves in the sky and observe ourselves looking up. What we can imagine from this opposite viewpoint is equally as vast and unknown as the night sky. We see land and sea and mountains, fields, plants, animals, and humans. Why are we creatures with the ability to reason, remember, act, feel, cry, and laugh the way we do?

Why we are what we are seems another of the unknowns of our universe. Therefore, we are one with the universe in its mystery, if nothing else. Being part of the unknown, however, is not at all satisfying. We naturally yearn for a solid place to put our understanding, our feet of faith. It is as if we have only quicksand abilities on our own, but will not be satisfied until our understanding rests on firm ground.

Surely we are greater than the unknown, because we feel and we do understand, expect, and remember. Such feelings and reactions come from something. They represent an appreciation and sensitivity to events, to order, to discipline, and to those intangible qualities called kindness, friendship, and love.

We can communicate with others and with the universe. When we communicate with the universe we are communicating with the unknowable God of creation and life. Although our thoughts and conclusions are heavily influenced by our experiences and our human intelligence, they are at the same time part of the absolute Truth of the universe which speaks to us in moments of inspiration, meditation, prayer, and selfless consideration of others.

Being part of universal intelligence does not mean we encompass all of it, but it does mean we are in harmony with all of it. Norman Cousins wrote, "I may not embrace or command this universal order, but I can be at one with it,  for I am of it." No wonder then, that Truth is recognized or sensed when we are exposed to it or when we seek it.

Stars: Revelations of Truth that are as yet remote. The human mind cannot conceive the wonders and immensity of the universe of stars in the heavens. The star that pointed the way for the Wise Men to find Jesus was in the east. It symbolizes our inner conviction of our divine sonship. When the Jesus ego first appears in the subconsciousness it is a mere speck of light, a "star in the east."
                                                                        --Metaphysical Bible Dictionary

We can cooperate with the Truth as we sense it, or we can try to deny it, but we cannot change it, so matter what. Truth will always light our way, even if we try to shrink it to the size of a star in a huge black sky of human efforts. Our star may become faint, but it will not go out, because it is the Truth of the known and unknown. The Christmas star is God's promise that the Christ spirit is always ready to be born in the hearts of all people as soon as they are ready to nurture it.

Christ is the divine-idea man. Jesus is the name that represents an individual expression of the Christ idea. Christ is the only begotten Son of God, or the one complete idea of perfect man in Divine Mind. He is the embodiment of all divine ideas, such as intelligence, life, love, substance, and strength. This Christ, or perfect-man idea existing eternally in Divine Mind, is the true, spiritual, higher self of every individual.
                                                                                --Metaphysical Bible Dictionary

When seen from the metaphysical viewpoint, the Christmas story is actually a story of Godly tough love. The perfection of God's love and peace is our individual and collective spiritual heritage, whether or not we want to accept such perfection. Harmony is natural, inevitable, and the only path that supports life. The more we reject love and peace in our dealings with others and our world, the more severely we will be rebuffed back towards love and peace as the only ultimate solutions.

This is not something we can control, or even influence. All we can do is observe it, accept it, and cooperate with it, or suffer. This is the solid foundation on which we can stand. This is the Truth for world history, for the evolution of societies, as well as for our personal lives. The path of love and peace is the only option that supports life. This is the ever-present Christmas star in our hearts.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

PONDERING LIFE AND RELIGION

Life is not hard to figure out. The answer we are all looking for is, we don’t know. Going even further, we probably are not capable of knowing, even if we were shown.

We all do agree that life has occurred in the universe, at least on one planet, Earth. But, how did this happen and why?   When we are really honest, in our heart of hearts, we simply don’t know.

Not knowing something, however, is contrary to our human nature. We are compelled to know and understand things, primarily so we can control them in case they are potentially dangerous to us. That’s right, that evolutionary urge to survive trumps all motives, when push comes to shove.

Even though we may all agree that the universe and life do exist and were created in one way or another, from that point on, our various decisions on what reality actually is could not be more diverse. This seems to happen because we have that uncontrollable urge to define the indefinable and each of us will see only what we prefer to see or what we’ve been taught to see.

 Religions emerge in our human efforts to define the indefinable. Even though religions are totally man-made institutions their existence is important. We need assemblies where we can gather together with others of like mind and share our spiritual understandings. As we learn what works and doesn’t work in life, religious teachings can give us guidance and suggestions that tend to make us less selfish and more sensitive to the needs of others. That’s a good thing.

When religions teach that we should deal with each other from the position of unconditional love, they are at their best and this is what is most important in life.  Most religions do this at some point in their teachings and they usually do it very well. These efforts deserve our participation and support.

The problems, however, are with dogma. When religions create creeds demanding allegiance to magical histories or events, God ordained rituals, or the sacred handling of religious icons, or divinely inspired scriptures or anointed church leaders, they are attempting to define the indefinable and are doomed to failure in these efforts.

Let’s agree that God is love and truth and leave it at that. If we make it more complicated, then we have to start making stuff up and ultimately defending it as if it came from God. But, of course, it doesn’t. We make it up.


As I said earlier, life is not so hard to figure out as long as you realize we just don’t know. Except, love does appear to be an important part of whatever the ultimate answer is. So, let’s run with that.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Christian Faith Based On Fantasy Versus Objectivity

Fundamentalist Christian dogma is fantasy faith because it demands you imagine things that are impossible then accept them as truth. The only explanation given is that this imagined reality has to be  “accepted on faith, alone.”   Just think about what that means. It’s the same as saying,  “If your spiritual beliefs are rational, then they can’t be real.”  My reply to that is, "You’ve got to be kidding."

Christian fundamentalism is passed from generation to generation via unrelenting indoctrination and close personal scrutiny, all under the imaginary but constant threat of eternal damnation. If the wrong words are uttered or the wrong actions observed corrective measures are taken. You are not only told what the questions are, but you are also told what to think and how to answer the questions. It is a total package, preassembled through generations of religious tradition. Fundamentalism requires that you turn your spiritual decision-making over to an organized church family and you are to celebrate that, or else.

Contrasting with that, objective faith is faith based on the results of spiritual teachings when applied to the events of one’s own life and rationalized in the light of what is known about our world and universe. Objective faith must be acquired within the span of a person’s lifetime. It cannot be directly passed on to following generations. Objective faith requires personal commitment, observation, inquiry, learning, practice, and demonstration. All of these elements develop uniquely within each person, individually, during your life. Suggestions and general guidelines can be taught, but spiritual conclusions are reached by a person’s own insight gained from your own knowledge and experiences.

Each of us seems to have within a natural desire to develop some type of faith, either objective or fantasy. Many people appear to opt for fantasy. Perhaps it just easier to accept and become dogmatic about what someone else says they have already figured out.  Unfortunately this leads to disappointments, disagreements, and all too often, civil conflicts and outright war. It is amazing to me that such large numbers of people around the world confidently hold on to faith systems that are so irrational that they are openly willing to commit atrocities against each other.

Perhaps the first step towards objective faith requires a personal decision to look beyond tradition and that may be too much to ask for some. The good news is, the moment you make that decision you start moving toward a life centered on love, inclusion, and acceptance and away from a life demanding fear, separation, and condemnation. As long as what you believe depends upon what others believe (tradition) you have not yet started your journey of personal, objective faith.

It is also true that many religions actively support fantasy Christian faith because it helps perpetuate their worldly existence. The more complicated and magical the dogma, and the more difficult the membership requirements of a religion, the more dedicated and protective its adherents tend to be. They've given up too much through their commitments to allow their dogma to appear false.

Those who cling to traditions of fundamentalism appear to be the most serious threats to the survival of humanity, because irrational beliefs lead to irrational acts towards others.   How can you reason with those who believe it is God’s or Allah’s command that everyone must be a Christian or a Muslim, respectively? You cannot. Other fundamentalist groups make their own claims that they are in sole possession of ultimate truth. 

      Until all religions take responsibility for their own thinking and teachings and humble themselves, their demands for strict allegiance to only their own traditions keeps the world in peril. Ultimate truth is clearly something greater than Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, or any other religious or nonreligious organization.

I have met many individuals who have taken personal responsibility for their own thinking and developed deep and abiding objective faith. Many of these individuals grew up in families that attended different houses of worship, or none at all. Still, their personal searches led them to writings and experiences of many faith communities, which they took into consideration.

Through study, prayer, and meditation they searched for answers that made sense to them and that fit with the realities we all experience. Despite considerably different religious backgrounds from which each of us has emerged, our expressions of objective faith as adults are surprisingly similar and compatible. Some are still members of the religions of their youth, but their personal faiths are based on their own experiences and clear rational thinking.

It is interesting that the search for objective faith tends to lead toward agreement with each other on many matters of faith. It is as if a personal search for meaning within the center of one’s own being reveals truly universal truths and understandings. The very knowledge fundamentalists tend to claim that they possess, but really can’t seem to grasp without irrelevant dogma.

Fantasy faith requires a commitment to participating in systematic indoctrination because it cannot be rationally presented or acquired, otherwise.  Objective faith requires personal involvement, insight, honesty, and a commitment to objective inquiry.  Which approach to defining faith you select is totally up to you.  


On which foundation have you built your faith?