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Tuesday, September 15, 2015

God, Faith, And Reality

When we talk about God we are giving a name to our awareness of the great unknown that underlies the creation and progression of all of reality. Being aware that there must be some kind of ultimate truth prompts humans to create religious systems that attempt to describe in detail the nature, actions, and requirements of God. However, most of what the word “God” must represent lies beyond our human capacity to understand, much less describe. This means that religions must be recognized as human institutions created by human minds in efforts to help guide and influence human behavior. 

However, just because humans attempt to do an impossible task does not mean that task is not worth the effort. Whatever we learn through our scientific, philosophic, and religious efforts must, inevitably, bend toward the truth of ultimate reality or none of our conclusions would lead to meaningful outcomes. Gradually, humans have come to many accurate conclusions about life and the nature of our universe, and have made significant progress over the ages.

However, it is important to remember that what we know of what is true, whether scientific or spiritual, is gradually discovered from a common sharing of personal experiences. Scientific knowledge, for example, comes from shared results of independent investigations, unfettered by personal bias.  This is true even though scientists’ personal biases (hypotheses) are often the catalyst for initiating specific scientific investigations. However, scientists accept the final objective conclusions of their studies because when observed results are verified as true, that tells them that all other explanations are fantasy. Truth is always what it demonstrates itself to be.

Likewise, spiritual knowledge and faith come from an honest and open personal searching unrestricted by religious doctrine. Still, that does not mean that religious dogma cannot be instructive and useful in facilitating personal spirituality. However, developing an inner, private sense of the spiritual is always more important than surrendering to institutional pressures to profess beliefs in specific religious doctrines.  Those who seek truth from the depths of their own being tend to be in greater harmony with everyone else than those committed to believing specific religious teachings. Even Jesus taught that life is more important than doctrine.

So, if sacred books and religious institutions are man-made and thereby limited and biased, how can we most directly and naturally experience God, the Infinite to which they all refer? One possibility is through a basic understanding of the statement, “God is love.” Similar to the word “God,” the word “love” is nearly impossible to define. Yet, when love is in our midst we are usually aware of it and recognize it as it touches our hearts and minds.  The statement, “God is love” seems to make obvious sense and when thought or spoken it can change our attitude, even in the face of evil.

Perhaps within the deepest meanings of God and love, brought together, we are provided a doorway whereby we can experience pure spiritual truth while still fully aware of our immediate physical reality. This seems true to me based on experiences I have had. So, until I understand God and love with even greater clarity, I will assume that whenever anyone brings an attitude of love into any human encounter that, that creates a moment for everyone there to experience God’s presence and influence.  If the statement, “God is love,” means anything, it means that; when God, faith, and reality merge into full human awareness.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

True Family Values

One of the most important family values there is, is not interfering with the private and legal lives of others. If you believe that abortion before the third trimester of pregnancy, or that same-sex marriage at any time, are both sinful acts, then that should be the standard for the decisions you make for yourself. Each of us is responsible for both the decisions we make and the consequences. I cannot think of a religious organization that would suggest otherwise.

If a woman believes it is her responsibility to decide on the necessity of an abortion before the third trimester of her pregnancy, then she is legally allowed to accept that responsibility. If you believe it is your responsibility to decide whether or not to enter into a same-sex marriage, then you are legally allowed to make that decision. Each of us is responsible for both the decisions we make and the consequences. I cannot think of a religious organization that would suggest otherwise.

What if civil law allows others to act contrary to your religious beliefs? In your civic interactions with others, respect the rights and privacy of others by respecting the law.  In your private life and decisions, follow your beliefs. The U.S. Constitution protects your personal right to do just that, but guarantees the exact same right for your neighbor, as well. Living peacefully with both yourself and those who are different, demonstrates the highest of family values, unconditional love and respect.

         Jesus taught that when we have love in our hearts we experience God in our lives and all is well.

Monday, May 4, 2015

In Support Of Natural Christianity

Popular Christian orthodoxy states that Jesus Christ was crucified as a sacrifice to God, his heavenly and earthly father, to redeem humanity from sin for all time. Despite his death on the cross he arose from the dead in three days, appeared to his followers, then ascended into heaven until he is to return to conquer evil on earth forever. Those who believe this about Jesus will live with him forever in heaven and those who do not believe this will be condemned to hell for all eternity.

I have known this narrative most of my life, but never for a moment, have I considered it to be truth, nor based on factual history.  It has always struck me as strangely sadistic and barbaric. Frankly, I don’t think most Christians believe these ideas literally, either, but there is no public perspective other than this supernatural narrative from which to discuss Christianity. This needs to change because natural Christianity is far more meaningful in every aspect.

Supernatural elements written in stories of Jesus’ life, ministry, death, resurrection, ascension, and future return, always meant more to me than anything requiring physical explanations.   I understood full well the spiritual significance of Jesus’ followers feeling he was still alive even after he was crucified and buried. I understood that heaven represents living with love in your heart and hell occurs when you separate yourself from love. Heaven and hell didn’t have to be places and interpreting miracle stories as literal historical events reminded me more of the adventures of comic book characters such as Superman, or the exploits of Greek and Roman gods, than they did of Jesus, a fellow human being. Let’s keep things real so we don’t need senseless thinking.

The real New Testament messages of Easter, for example, come from understanding why the Gospel writers wrote their resurrection liturgies the way they did. They never pretended to be writing history. What they were doing was interpreting the significance of Jesus’ life on earth and his teachings by creating literary parallels in Jesus’ life story that showed him to be superior to the heroes and events found in ancient Hebrew scripture. Their audiences, followers of The Way, were Jews who believed Jesus was the fulfillment of the Jewish expectations for the next messiah.  They listened to these new gospel messages while worshipping in synagogues on the Jewish Sabbath after hearing readings from the Torah. They would have clearly understood the parallels and grasped the metaphysical implications.

However, their beliefs about Jesus being the expected messiah conflicted with the more conservative Jews. The breaking point occurred around the year 80 CE when the followers of The Way were ejected from synagogue membership. They left and became the Christian movement. But, by the year 150 CE most of the members of the developing Christian religions (yes, there were many) were not Jews, but were pagan converts, who had little knowledge of Jewish scripture or history. They tended to look at the Christian Gospel stories just as they had the stories of the Greek and Roman pantheon, or myths of other gods they had worshiped.  But, with Christianity, there was a real, verifiable human involved within what they interpreted as a documented history of supernatural events. Viewing scriptures as less interpretive and more literal significantly alters the gospel messages.

  Dogma about supernatural events or proofs is a real problem because the word “dogma” itself means you are honor bound not to change your mind no matter what. This is contrary to the human mind’s natural skills at learning by thinking, experimenting, and separating fact from fiction. To prevent this natural searching into religious matters, dogmatic beliefs or statements of faith are frequently required of members in Christian churches. These requirements are meant to restrict the understanding of Jesus, his teachings and mission, to specific ideas, which are granted the title of being “orthodox.” However, there is a great difference between faith developed through personal searching for spiritual understanding and faith based on disciplined obedience to religious doctrine. Jesus taught and demonstrated the former and specifically condemned the latter.

Jesus’ teachings also show that strict religious tenets tend to become irrelevant when you strive to live each moment of your life open to the love and wisdom of God in your heart along with a commitment to love your neighbor as yourself.  When communities of people live practical, everyday lives with this loving approach it spreads God’s influence on earth, as it is in heaven.

Jesus taught and demonstrated love and he was crucified for it. However, his crucifixion could not stop what he had started because his message had such power it remained in the hearts and minds of those touched by his presence and teachings. Jesus’ spiritual teachings continue to speak to us from the New Testament despite being surrounded by apocalyptic ideas that were popular in the first century.  Even today, a parable such as The Good Samaritan provides incredible and timely spiritual insights, which have nothing to do with substitutionary atonement, heaven, hell, or an impending apocalypse. They involve human realities and circumstances all of us understand.

We need to work past our desire for quick, supernatural answers to what we don’t know and dig into the real, practical, and spiritual lessons of the Bible. When you study it carefully, the Bible tells you a lot about what is in the Bible and why it is there. Very little of it has to do with factual history. Most of it has to do with showing how Judeo-Christian communities and religious traditions have evolved from polytheistic superstitions, to national monotheism, to universal monotheism, and finally to a personal relationship with God that conquers fear including the human dread of death. It’s good stuff and I want to learn even more. However, to grow in our understanding of ultimate truth as a community and to help facilitate public discussions of Christian teachings, we need to respectfully set aside supernatural Christian dogma and give natural Christianity the full consideration it deserves.

When we learn we grow, and when we grow we change, so let’s make it all right to change our minds as we learn. 

Monday, December 15, 2014

Understanding Good and Evil

Jesus taught that we should care and be good to each other.  Here is how to tell if your actions are good or evil.

Good: When you do something that helps or supports others because you care, and what you get out of it is irrelevant.

Evil: When you do something that harms or takes advantage of others, but you don't care, because you get what you want by doing it.

Pretty simple explanations that don't need to be complicated by exceptions. 

Spiritual Action Plan:  Do good.

Monday, November 17, 2014

On Being Spiritual

Being spiritual is not a secret, nor something one must acquire through religious rituals or rigorous training. Spirituality is that inner awareness that there is meaning and truth beyond what can be physically seen, felt, heard, and measured. You can track your own spiritual experiences by being aware of those moments in which you understand and appreciate something, anything.

When a flower looks beautiful, that is a spiritual moment. Beauty is a personal spiritual experience. In the moment of beauty, the features of a flower, a sunset, or the caring interactions among people, have more meaning than could ever be described by scientific measurements. There are limitless scientific details that could be collected to describe any event in the universe, but as soon as an event has meaning, it is no longer just an objective event. It has entered the realm of the spiritual.

Everything that is important to the human mind is spiritual. We know this is true because everything the human mind believes is real must be accepted on faith. You might use scientific measurements to describe objects and events, but at the end of all the analyses, you must still decide what you are going to accept as truth and what must be set aside. Then, whatever you hold to as truth, will guide how you experience the universe. Yes, a life filled with meaning is a highly spiritual experience.

You cannot choose whether or not to be spiritual, because you always are, anyway. The real question is what kind of spiritual life have you chosen to experience and to share with those who cross your path? Do you bring love into the moment, or reject it? Do you build or tear down? 

        Even rejecting a spiritual life is a spiritual act with power to affect  oneself and others.  Accept your spiritual nature, embrace a loving attitude, and live the freedom, comfort, security, and joy that you deserve. 

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Religion, Science, And God

        Are not the practical human outcomes of a belief more important than any religious doctrine used to create or support a belief?  If not, then your god is religion, itself, and not ultimate truth or God.

        Religion cannot refute scientific fact and science cannot explain what is not knowable. We humans do a horrible job trying to describe or explain that which we simply do not know and never will know. Both religion and science are efforts to understand that which is unknown.  

        Bottom line, we realize there is ultimate truth, but we steadfastly refuse to accept the fact that we don’t know it and will probably never grasp it through either science or religion.

     Religions are constructed around ideas that help us explain the meaning of life and the destiny of humanity.   There is no reason religious beliefs cannot progress in synchrony with scientific knowledge. They are both anchored to the same realities.  Trying to separate the two leads to religious apologetics that stretch far beyond the most distant limits of plausibility.

        Myth, symbols, and allegory appear to be the primary tools of religion, which, of course, do not have to be literally true to be divinely inspired or spiritually meaningful. Religious hierarchies (human beings) can decide church doctrine and dogma, but they cannot dictate ultimate truth.  

         Religious leaders and congregants can gather together in meetings or councils all they want and vote on doctrine and dogma, but their votes or the divine pronouncements of their highest ranking leaders' have no impact on what truth is and will always be. Both religion and science should be used to support the development of spiritual awareness within individuals and not to bury the human spirit under sanctified tenets of human intolerance.

        Science is a procedure for gradually discovering truth, objectively, but the truths we understand at this moment based on scientific findings are very primitive when compared to what ultimate truth must be. As with religion, it is not at all clear that humans are capable of scientifically determining ultimate truth and we may have to rely on spiritual awareness and inspiration to stretch our minds towards its highest understandings.

        Science is heavily dependent upon what we know from the past and on the rational examination of new ideas, now.  Despite what is known, any idea about what is yet to be discovered is pure conjecture. 

       Anyone who is interested and wants to learn research methods can participate in scientific investigations and many do. However, no one, no committee, no profession, no organization controls the advances or direction of scientific discoveries. They progress one proof at a time, worldwide.

        Since ultimate knowledge is beyond our cognitive abilities, it is futile to pit religion and science against one another.  Neither can lead us beyond our limits of understanding.  

         However, as we approach this limit, if we do maintain integrity between our scientific knowledge and our religious beliefs, then our spiritual senses at that moment would serve as the most accurate compass pointing toward the threshold of God, the source of all being, life, and consciousness.

       Religion and science are reflections of the same reality. Any conflict between them can only arise from human error.