Quora.com and goodreads.com have been popping up more frequently in online meanderings over the past couple of weeks. Quora is basically a question and answer site, but not in the sense of querying Google or Wolfram Alpha. It's not a search bar that spits out answers; Quora is to Google is as an essay test is to multiple choice. The answers returned are ostensibly from "experts," but anyone can pose a question or answer. Just try to know what you're talking about if you submit an answer, for the sake of the other users.
Goodreads is a place to discuss works you have read, or are reading. It's got the requisite user-populated bookshelf, where you can add the titles that you have read, are reading, or would like to read. Like Quora, users can pose a question, or "explore" works, among a group of other readers. You may be "friends" with someone on the basis of their having read the same book that you are reading, or you may choose not to be friends with anyone. In any case, the book explorations/discussions can quickly shoot off onto tangents expected or otherwise, with hours or days passing between contributions by others. It's great!
What struck me about each of these (I believe I stumbled upon goodreads.com from a Quora question somehow, but I'm not entirely certain of that) is the quality of the communities. There don't seem to be a large number of users yet, although Quora is gaining traction, but those who participate do so with thoughtful effort. These discussions encourage thought and introspection, which can only advance the attempt to know thyself.
Better never to have met you in my dream than to wake and reach
for hands that are not there.
- Otomo No Yakamochi
Mother Teresa actually conversed with Jesus, according to her. Not surprising, considering her universally acclaimed saint-like existence. The problem was, it happened almost 50 years before she died. She spent the rest of her life after that communication in a desperate, fruitless attempt to be in communion with him again. Excerpts from her letters convey such utter despair and spiritual emptiness, that one must come away from reading them with the impression that surely she must have ultimately turned her back on the Church, if not on God himself.
She did not, however. Her unanswered prayers simply led to her searching, grasping, ever more intensely, which made the deafening silence all the more unbearable. Still, she persevered and carried out the request that was made to her by the voice of Jesus all those decades earlier, a request to take care of the wretchedly poor and sick of Calcutta, which she did until she died.
Where is the happy ending for the saint? It was not to be found here on earth during her bodily existence. Like Jesus, her heartfelt questioning of why her father had forsaken her had no effect on her plight. All she, all they, wanted, was to simply know that their father was with them, that it wasn't all a dream, that the hands were indeed there. But that was not to be. Not yet. And still, their faith endured.
How long is "long enough?"
If you were born to do something that you only got to actually "do" for 3 years of your life, would it be worth it? How about if you were offered the chance to do it for 20 years instead - would that be more worthwhile?
It depends on what that certain something is, obviously, but there are many, many people aged 35-45 who really feel called to do something different with their lives and are always defeated by the thought that it's somehow too late. It may be something that takes a year or more to prepare for and transition to, and in their well-meaning, pragmatic minds, it simply doesn't make sense to start all over again since they're already 40 years into their lives' journeys and have bills to pay and mouths to feed and future college tuition looming.
Why bother, they may ask, if they only have another 20 years left to travel down that new path? What could they possibly accomplish in such a fleeting blink of an eye?
I don't know what could be accomplished by a specific called and dedicated human being in a mere 20 years. But I know that a fireman can save a life in a matter of minutes - don't you think the person that he saved, as well as that person's family and friends, would consider that fireman a success in his career, even if that was the only day he ever worked? I know that Martin Luther King, Jr. changed the lives of all Americans in less than 20 years. And I know that Jesus of Nazareth changed the entire world in just 3 years of doing what he was born to do.
20 years is a mighty long time to make a mark on the world and its inhabitants, even if that world is the size of an elementary classroom and the population is 25 9-year olds, and 40 years old is way too young to give up on a dream.
Writing is entirely too dependent on the reader. You can be the most talented, inspiring, grammatically perfect writer the world has ever produced, but the ability of your written words to convey what you intend to convey is completely subject to the limitations of the reader. The skills of reading, the gift of empathy, a technical or literary or subject matter-specific vocabulary, the chance that the reader reads the language in which the message has been composed, are all determining factors in whether or not the recipient of the message will fully grasp the words on the page (or the screen, or the slab, or whatever the medium may be) in the intended manner.
Have you ever wondered why Jesus apparently left no writing from his own hand to be handed down through the ages, so that all may know his words directly? Among the many possibilities:
Unlike writing, speaking is a two-way conduit. If anything needs clarification, it can be handled on the spot. And we all know of the importance of the way the words are spoken, the emphasis on certain phrases, the emotions involved, the facial and bodily expressions, and all of the other nuances that are lost when words are left to the hand-guided stylus alone.
Eventually, the teachings and witness of Jesus were written down to the best of certain people's abilities, for preservation as well as efficiency of delivery to as wide an audience as quickly as possible.
That, however, is not how he originally delivered his message to his disciples. Perhaps he charged them with orally delivering his teachings as he himself delivered them; perhaps not. And maybe each of them told others as they may have instructed to do, and those others told still others, which could have eventually resulted in a message every bit as confusing and unintended as the presently evolved written word and tradition can seem to be.
When God wants to communicate with us, he does it in a direct way, leaving out the middle man, leaving out the written word, speaking directly to our hearts and any other part of us that is capable of hearing, or showing us exactly what we need to see in order to be able to fully comprehend whatever it is that he needs us to understand. For many, perhaps the Bible and/or going to church is all that is necessary for sending and guiding us along a perfectly acceptable path, a "good enough" life, an earthly existence which needs no redirection from God as long as the basic rules and regs are observed (especially the one about embracing Jesus as the Way, the Truth, and the Life). For others, something more, or at least different, would be appreciated.
What might an example of that "something more or different" be? I have no idea. As always, I'm all ears.
A respected professional acquaintance also happens to be an atheist. Not of the agnostic persuasion, but of the "religious beliefs are ridiculous superstition" sort. We see eye to eye on most topics besides this one, and each of us realizes that the other is entitled to his own beliefs.
I stumped him though. Just once, but it stuck with me. You see, he is a very rational man, as was Thomas Paine. Thomas Paine was a "deist," a believer that there was a creator of the universe of some kind (which is more than I can elicit from my acquaintance), but not in God per se, and certainly not in any organized religious belief system. Paine's greatest work was Rights of Man, which was, among other things, an extremely well-reasoned attack on religion (particularly "revealed" religion: in a nutshell, though something may well be revealed to someone, anyone else to whom it is not directly revealed is merely subscribing to the revelation in a secondhand, word of mouth exercise that is entirely dependent upon the credibility of the source to which the thing was revealed; we are, in essence, believing in that source, more so than what that source alleged was revealed to him or her).
The deist movement had a great influence on some of the Founding Fathers; hence, although the United States of America was clearly founded as a nation of Christians rather than a Christian nation, it is still somewhat notable (at least to myself) that for all of the references to God in the Declaration of Independence, there is no mention of Jesus Christ. Which brings me to the point.
One simple question to my friend and to all non-believers who are firmly and patriotically rooted in the tenets of our nation's founding documents and ethos: if all men are endowed with certain unalienable rights, among them life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, who exactly endowed them with such? And if the clear and correct answer of "their Creator" is rejected by these non-believers, then it should therefore follow (in their minds, not mine) that all men are not, in fact, endowed with these rights.
That is a terrible thought, one which could tear down the entire belief and value system of America and democracies everywhere. If that is the case, if all men are not endowed by their Creator with something that makes us different from the rest of creation, then we must in fact be no different than the rest of creation, and therefore subject to the same "survival of the fittest" rules and procedures as the rest of the universe (take what you can get, enslave others, enrich yourself - in other words, the same thing that our current exercise of "Extreme Capitalism" is producing). Clearly, there is something within many of us that rejects that possibility, the possibility that we are no higher than the animals in the scheme of things. That "something" can be traced back to the Greeks of 400 BC and beyond, as well as to other cultures and eras in human history. And if that "something" is not God-given, from where does it emanate?
And if you were wondering about the spoils of that great philosophical victory over my atheist friend: nothing less than the utterance of his heartfelt "good point."
1. Did you help someone that really needed it, or get such help from someone else, in a way that each of you will always remember?
2. Did you read a book in 2009?
How many: 1 or 2, 5 or 6? Fiction or non? Did you learn anything via the written word?
3. Did you visit a city you've never visited before?
For how many days? Did you do something or see something new to you while you were there?
4. Did you start work in a different job, or at a different company or location, or take some new classes in 2009? Did you spend your days with a different group of people than you did in 2008?
5. Did your relationship with anyone living with you noticeably improve? Or worsen?
6. Did you try or experience something new? Did you learn anything in a hands-on way?
Was it something you always wanted to try or know? And even if it wasn't, did you still make the most of it?
In short, did you spend 2009 living, or dying?
"Any religion that professes to be concerned about the souls of men and not concerned about the city government that damns the soul, the economic conditions that corrupt the soul, the slum conditions, the social evils that cripple the soul, is a dry, dead, do-nothing religion in need of new blood."
"Your blog is refreshing because you're not afraid to just write what you think. A lot of people might think that some of the stuff you write is kind of...controversial." That's what Sam told me.
And since he did, I might infer that Sam doesn't agree with all of my viewpoints. Yet he, somehow, can appreciate the fact that a person has viewpoints, even if he doesn't always agree with them. That someone is for something, rather than against everything, which Republicans seem to be nowadays. I think it just illustrates that the out of favor political party always realizes that this is a never-ending struggle between two centers of power, and even when you lose, you can just bide your time until you are once again in power. And only when in power can a party actually try to ram through whatever it thinks it has the best shot at getting gone.
When out of power, the best a party can do is keep the other party from accomplishing anything. ANYTHING. If it's disastrous for the country, then obviously it would be opposed. And if it's great for the country, then it would be opposed - why would one party do anything to help the other party get re-elected next time around?
Anyway, that was a digression. The point is, Sam could be a musician, a scientist, a man of God, or whatever he wants to be. But rather than choose just one to the exclusion of all others, he has chosen all of them at one time or another. And rather than cling to his personal views or beliefs or values as the only truly valid ones, he recognizes that there are others out there; but then, he goes beyond the point where most would venture: he actively seeks out the differing perspectives and tries to make sense of them, or at least to understand from where the other idea originates.
I think the best part of conversing with him is that, when you say something he obviously doesn't, or couldn't, agree with, he doesn't argue or debate. He pauses, then says something like, "that's interesting," and then an actual discussion can ensue, which is so much more enjoyable than debates or arguments!
That's what I call refreshing.
Pope Benedict authored an encyclical that was published last July and received a lot of attention due to its economic focus. Encyclicals are issued infrequently; usually 1-2 years apart, sometimes more, sometimes less.
This one calls for a better economic existence for the people of the world. It does so from a different perspective though: the view of a Pope, who sees people not as economic units or Catholics or Muslims or Americans or Yemenis or Capitalists or Communists, but as God's creations, all of whom are to be charitably and truthfully loved and treated as equal parts of one whole.
Presently, humanity is a competitive lot. Many would argue that that competitiveness has been the very thing that has driven us to our current state of development and wealth. But what about cooperation? Wouldn't that be an even more productive force? If we draw a series of concentric circles around us, with ourselves at the center, then our immediate family, best friends, good friends, friendly acquaintances, people we don't know, people in other countries, people with other beliefs or customs, etc. in larger and larger circles that extend further and further outward, we would find that we would go to any lengths to assist those nearest us, and then to lesser and lesser lengths to help those away from us. Why do this? Well, in a selfish way, it does help us to have those nearest us in a state of well-being. But we don't even get to that realization, because we don't think about it. We just help our spouse, or our child, or our parents, if they need it and if we are able. Or even if we are pretty much unable.
We don't economize the decision, because they ARE us. And we are each better off for it. But where should that stop? Is the innermost circle the boundary, or is it the next circle out? Or the next? Who decides? We do cut it off at some point, because it is after all a competitive world, and at some point, we would be taken advantage of. But if the competition were to end, we would have no need for our defensive posture, and would be free to help whomever we could, regardless of how far their circles radiated out from us.
The ultimate reason that we cut it off, however, is because at some point, we stop seeing people in those outer circles as ourselves, as part of one whole, as members of our family, and instead see them as others, competing with us on some level. It is within our power to choose to see ourselves and our self-interests as secondary to a higher purpose and authority. We choose not to do this. And even if we did make that unlikely choice and live our lives accordingly, we would most likely "lose" by all conventional methods of score keeping in this life. Almost every single one of us is not ok with the prospect of that outcome. I know I'm not, even though I wish I was.
It tells me something about myself that is hard to come to grips with: that, given the choice between this world and the next, the demands of this world win out in almost every single case. And unfortunately, there are probably over 6 billion separate individuals just like me in that regard, instead of a single One with 6 billion parts.
If ever a title of a post could make people move along without pausing to read so much as the first sentence, this post's title would be up to the task. Which is exactly the subject of a lengthy, yet lovingly drawn out essay by Leon R. Kass found in the new quarterly publication, National Affairs.
"Looking for an Honest Man" explores the author's search for truth and meaning (my words, not his; he prefers the term "human being," or better still, "mentsch") through his own exploration of the humanities: philosophy, religion, and other stuff of the intellectually elite. But it resonates for a reason, and that reason is that he tried and succeeded at "real life" first. He went to Harvard, was a molecular biologist, worked for civil rights in Mississippi in 1965, and woke up to the realization that the life well-lived need not include Harvard nor advanced degrees nor the mental snobbery of Boston. In fact, as Kass would discover, those very things can and do work against real happiness, real living, real life:
"In summer 1966, my closest friend had me read Rousseau's explosive Discourse on the Sciences and the Arts, for which my Mississippi and Harvard experiences had prepared me. Rousseau argues that, pace the Enlightenment, progress in the arts and sciences does not lead to greater virtue. On the contrary, it necessarily produces luxury, augments inequality, debases tastes, softens character, corrupts morals, and weakens patriotism, leading ultimately not to human emancipation but to human servitude."
Rousseau's work is near the top of my list, but I've first got to finish Thomas Paine's Rights of Man while barely having waded into Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics (which Kass admirably expounds upon for a few meaty paragraphs, serving to whet my appetite further). The author drives home the shortcomings of a society's (our society's) humanities-less education and worldview, which will only drift further afield as it advances along the math and science-based continuum ad infinitum (how's that for mixing advanced mathematics and classical Latin in a single phrase?) as he compares the sagacity of ancient thinkers to the present-day average American mindset:
"We focus on condemning and avoiding misconduct by, or on correcting and preventing injustice to, other people, not on elevating or improving ourselves. How liberating and encouraging, then, to encounter an ethics focused on the question, 'How to live?'...How eye-opening are arguments that suggest that happiness is not a state of passive feeling but a life of fulfilling activity, and especially of the unimpeded and excellent activity of our specifically human powers — of acting and making, of thinking and learning, of loving and befriending."
A long-form quarterly publication launching in this environment may not have a great chance at making it. Honestly, there may not be a thousand people in America with the attention span to get through an entire issue. But I will savor it while it's here, and hopefully some of you can find - no, make - the time to do the same.
This is a tough one. They are sometimes used interchangeably, but they are not the same.
When something that you believe is disproved, you no longer believe it. Simple enough. Not so with faith; faith is "shattered" or "lost." On the other hand, faith cannot be proved or disproved. You have it or you don't, but it can be shown to be neither valid nor unjustified. That is why, when testing my own beliefs and my own faith, I can find my beliefs to rest on shaky ground, while my faith remains strong. There is a growing gulf, now a chasm, between the two for me. CLEARLY, I cannot continue to believe what I have always told myself I believed. But just as clearly, I know God created and set things in motion.
Did I ever believe it? Doctrine, along with the process of indoctrination, is both a blessing and a curse. They are employed for good and for evil. Humans are uniquely susceptible to, and exploitable by, such forces. They require you to say "I believe" until you reach the point that you actually do, or at least convince yourself that you do, because really, you should believe, shouldn't you?
Hopefully people can be honest enough with themselves, after enough soul-searching, to know that if they really don't believe something, then merely reciting the words does not fool God. Creeds don't leave wiggle room; they don't allow for individuals to customize exactly what they really do feel. Everyone needs to believe the exact same thing, because those who know best - well, they know best. But when one doesn't even know exactly what every word means in the native tongue, how could he or she possibly know what the original words and expressions in Ancient Greek conveyed? The Early Fathers of the Church, from Alexandria and Jerusalem and Rome and Damascus and Byzantium and Lyon, may have known exactly what they believed, but it's profoundly unlikely that their exact intentions in their varied languages have been completely passed to me in English.
So do I continue to recite the creeds, to set an example for my kids? I may be wrong, after all, in my faltering belief in Orthodoxy. Yes, I do continue. And I raise them to explore, to search, to know themselves, so that one day, they will be spiritually and mentally strong enough to believe what they know and know what they believe. And I'll leave it up to God to instill them with the faith that no creed or religion can instill, no matter how many years of ritual and devoted practice they go through.
An account from a contemporary of the writers of the four Gospels illustrates the problem of accepting the testimony of others as "revelatory" to you personally, as we Christians do with the Bible. This problem was addressed in a post last week.
Tacitus was a Roman historian who was born roughly 20 years after Christ was crucified, and died roughly 80 years after the crucifixion. During that span, scholars believe the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were composed. Tacitus even mentions Christ being crucified on the order of Pontius Pilate in Judea in one of his books.
Tacitus also recounts the life of the Roman Emperor Vespasian, who, sometime before 70 A.D., traveled to Alexandria, Egypt. While in Alexandria, he was approached, and we'll let the words of Cornelius Tacitus in one of his great works entitled The Histories pick up the story there:
"In the course of the months which Vespasian spent at Alexandria, waiting for the regular season of summer winds when the sea could be relied upon, (1) many miracles occurred. These seemed to be indications that Vespasian enjoyed heaven's blessing and that the gods showed a certain leaning towards him. Among the lower classes at Alexandria was a blind man whom everybody knew as such. One day this fellow threw himself at Vespasian's feet, imploring him with groans to heal his blindness. He had been told to make this request by Serapis, the favourite god of a nation much addicted to strange beliefs. He asked that it might please the emperor to anoint his cheeks and eyeballs with the water of his mouth. A second petitioner, who suffered from a withered hand, pleaded his case too, also on the advice of Serapis: would Caesar tread upon him with the imperial foot? At first Vespasian laughed at them and refused. When the two insisted, he hesitated. At one moment he was alarmed by the thought that he would be accused of vanity if he failed. At the next, the urgent appeals of the two victims and the flatteries of his entourage made him sanguine of success. Finally he asked the doctors for an opinion whether blindness and atrophy of this sort were curable by human means. The doctors were eloquent on the various possibilities. The blind man's vision was not completely destroyed, and if certain impediments were removed his sight would return. The other victim's limb had been dislocated, but could be put right by correct treatment. Perhaps this was the will of the gods, they added; perhaps the emperor had been chosen to perform a miracle. Anyhow, if a cure were effected, the credit would go to the ruler; if it failed, the poor wretches would have to bear the ridicule. So Vespasian felt that his destiny gave him the key to every door and that nothing now defied belief. With a smiling expression and surrounded by an expectant crowd of bystanders, he did what was asked. Instantly the cripple recovered the use of his hand and the light of day dawned again upon his blind companion. Both these incidents are still vouched for by eye-witnesses, though there is now nothing to be gained by lying."
Two things: first, should I believe this account, the exact same account given by some of Christ's followers about similar healing powers, because I am told that "these incidents are still vouched for by eye-witnesses" and that "there is now nothing to be gained by lying?" And secondly, should the fact that there is ALSO a pagan account of this miracle attributed to a different a healer, a different God, in a different land, necessarily negate, or even lessen, the chance that Christ did in fact perform a similar miracle?
The answers to both questions, for me, is no. I don't believe that the spit of a Roman Emperor cured a blind man and a crippled man. And I don't believe that the recounting of Vespasian's miracle should dictate what I do or do not believe about God. They are mutually exclusive. Too many scholars make the argument that, because similar stories exist in the pagan world, accounts of the followers of Jesus must necessarily be rejected. Christians will say, "hey, they stole that story from the word of mouth going around from early Christians," while non-Christians will say "hey, Christians assimilated pagan beliefs and stories into their own mythology." Maybe the Gospel accounts happened as recounted, maybe they didn't, but it cannot be established definitively either way. So it is left to what we "believe," and hopefully "know," somewhere in the cores of our being, in our hearts, regardless of the persuasiveness of written words presented to us as "revelations" which "are still vouched for by eye-witnesses."
A thing happened, or it didn't. It was experienced, or it was not. We know it, or we merely believe it.
Regardless of the occurrence or fact and whether or not it actually transpired, however, the story does not end there. The "story," in fact, can only now begin. And that is the difference between the two truths that we search for. One truth is an account of something that has happened, is now happening, or may in the future happen. It is only as true as the recollection, or the imagination, of the one telling the story.
The other truth is Truth with a capital "T" and does not depend on a storyteller. It is, or it isn't. And it is very specific. When the number 3 is pushed on my calculator, then the + key is pushed, then the number 3 is pushed again, then the = key is pushed, the display will have a 6 on it. That is a Truth. But me telling my friend that I pushed a 3 then a + then a 3 then an = and then saw a 6 on the screen is the truth [small "t"] as recounted by me to the friend. Did it actually happen? There's no way to know. Was it likely to have happened, if in fact I pressed the keys that I said I pushed? Or, less certainly, could it conceivably have happened the way I said it did, even though it may not have been likely?
Questions such as these are important. They illustrate not only what we know, but also what we can know. Then, that "knowledge" can be compared to a "belief." But the belief does not require the knowledge in order for it to be held as a belief; nor does the knowledge require a belief in order that it be true. They are mutually independent of each other. Knowledge and belief can reinforce each other, but do not depend upon one another.
This will sound strange to those who know me or my writing, because it will sound like I'm questioning my faith. I am not. What I am questioning is something else, though I'm not sure what. I suppose I'm questioning the truth of the Truth, or the story that has been handed down as the explanation for it all: I am saying that I cannot accept that what the Bible says is all true. In fact, I cannot accept that any specific part of it is true, although the Truth has somehow inspired men to attempt to convey orally and in writing the sentiments that they had intensely experienced so that others may come to know what they knew through direct revelation. I cannot accept that God said "Thou shalt not kill" to Moses, because I cannot accept that God spoke or wrote in English or any other spoken or written language developed by man. I CAN accept that it was conveyed directly to us, somehow, that killing other people is wrong. That it was conveyed to each of us directly in a way that transcends spoken or written language; in a way that we simply "know," in a way that is revealed to us as the Truth. That is the definition of a revelation in the spiritual sense. Accepting the word of another person, however, is not a revelation; that is merely trust in the other person. Thomas Paine clarifies what I'm trying to convey in the early chapters of The Rights of Man.
Is it possible to have faith while questioning the human sources which corroborate that faith? It is if it has been instilled in us directly, which should be the only way that it can be instilled. Why would God do it any other way? Why would God have our eternal salvation be left to individuals choosing whether or not to believe the stories of people who lived thousands of years ago that were subsequently handed down and translated into other human languages that didn't have the same meanings and sentiments as the language of the first person to record the story? I don't believe He would do that. I believe He would instill faith in our hearts through direct, unspoken, unwritten revelation, and leave our beliefs or non-beliefs in Biblical accounts out of the equation. Either we have faith, or we don't. It's not evidence-based, and it shouldn't be determined by whether or not I believe the infinitely mangled accounts of what did or did not happen, nor by how or when or to whom they happened. If I need to know something, He will see to it that I know it.
And that's the Truth.
"Do, or do not.
There is no try."
Establishing Christianity throughout the Empire, then the world. Ending slavery in America. So many deaths and years in the pursuits of these objectives before they were eventually accomplished. What would the Jedi Master have ruled? Didn't they merely "try," rather than "do?" And consequently, wouldn't he have been disappointed and unimpressed? No, and no. Doing, as opposed to trying, is committing to something completely, with the mindset of "failure is not an option." Doing is more than taking a shot, seeing what happens, keeping your fingers crossed; it is taking the field knowing that victory is assured, even if your own death occurs before that ultimate victory is realized. It is saying that this thing is larger than I am; I am doing my part in the pursuit of the larger goal.
Lincoln and freedom DID win, even though people did die; Jesus won, though countless martyrs perished and continue to perish along with Him. These people did, they did not try.
Searching for and finding Truth, regardless of belief, is something that I believe all people are here to do. Helping people do this is very important to me, though I haven't made much progress. When I die, if there is still great hostility and war based on religious as well as non-religious beliefs (I'll grudgingly concede that possibility...), will God look at my life as a failure? Will He say, "Tom, you tried but did not"? Or will He say "you did"? I'm doing and will continue to do the things in this life that will hopefully leave Him no choice other than the acknowledgment of my doing, starting with myself and sharing as much as I can with others. Even if it's still not completely done.
From the University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill's website for their Religious Studies program:
"Writing for religious studies takes place within a secular, academic environment, rather than a faith-oriented community. For this reason, the goal of any paper in religious studies should not be to demonstrate or refute provocative religious concepts, such as the existence of God, the idea of reincarnation, or the possibility of burning in hell. By nature, such issues are supernatural and/or metaphysical and thus not open to rational inquiry."
And here I was, thinking that I'd been studiously writing about religion, when all I was doing was expounding on the "supernatural" that is "not open to rational inquiry."
My apologies to all of you and your rationally inquiring minds. I'll do my best to keep my religious studies confined to matters that do not "demonstrate or refute provocative religious concepts, such as the existence of God," etc.
Some say that there is no God. That we believers are full of nonsense. That, rationally, it cannot be the case that the world, the universe, was created by a creator.
I say that, rationally, how possible is it for you to exist in the exact way that you do, at the exact place, in this exact moment, doing exactly what it is that you are doing? It is "statistically" so unlikely as to be virtually impossible, mathematically speaking. Yet there you are, as yourself, right now, doing what you are doing, wherever you happen to be.
Some say that it's not that significant that Christianity exists and is strong and vibrant throughout the world, 2000 years after its founding, even after considering all that it has endured. That, after all, in light of so many competing religions and philosophies, something was "bound" to beat out the others, wasn't it? And that one thing just so happens to be Christianity, even though it could just have likely have been any number of other beliefs. It's the Romans, by golly, that we have to thank for Christianity's dominance!
I say that, to the contrary, who's to say that any set of beliefs that was present and relevant 2000 years ago in a specific, unique culture and place would have any business surviving and thriving throughout all of the ensuing eras of human history, across cultures, all over the world? It is not a militaristic belief system, although many have gone to war in defense of it. It has had its share of dark periods and individuals, as it is a human institution. But when so many have been moved and continue to be moved to make the sacrifices that they have made, including their very lives, for their belief, it is no wonder that it is as prevalent today as it is. The unanswerable question posed to those who do not believe is this: what is the source, the inspiration, for that level of devotion? What would you lay down your life for, what would you be torn to shreds and voluntarily devoured by wild beasts for, what would you be consumed as a human torch for? Money? No. Your love, your children? Possibly. Your belief in something not of this earthly existence? What could have that kind of power over even one person, let alone so many people across so many years?
If you don't believe, if you are not seeking the Truth with your head, your heart, and your soul, then what are you doing with your life, with your existence? Ask yourself the questions that must be asked, the big important universal questions, and you will quickly realize that in order to find the answers, you must necessarily rely less on statistics and probabilities and rationalizations and excuses and the limits of human reason. Employ them to your head's content to have it all make a little more sense in terms of constructs and understandability, but realize that they are not of themselves able to provide the answers that you seek. Have faith in the veracity of eyewitness accounts of God's walk on earth as Man and in all that has transpired since, and you will have made a good start for yourself.
Good question, short answer: no. Here's why. There is only 1 truth, arrived at by as many paths as there are people in the world. How can this be, you ask? Well, there IS a catch, as you may have guessed. The catch is that the paths all must contain one common element, and that is the Word Incarnate, a.k.a. Jesus of Nazareth. Although none of us gets to choose where our paths begin, including those of other beliefs, we do control them with our choices and intentions throughout our lives.
Think of humanity as a map. Every person on earth is a road on the map. No two are alike, every single one starts at a different point, but they can intersect, they can overlay each other for short stretches or for long, they can detour, they can merge, they can stop, they can start again. Some are shorter than others, some are much straighter while others tend to meander around. For true Christians, however, they all arrive at one final destination, and that destination is the doorway to eternal life and truth. The name of the doorway is Jesus, it is very well-lit and easy to find, there is no toll or secret password. All you have to do is set your life to the built-in autopilot feature, accessible through your active deployement of Christian faith, hope, and love, and you will arrive unscathed and none the worse for the wear. Happy traveling!
The Main page is changed up a little in order to encourage visitors to subscribe or bookmark Faith + Reason = Truth. I've gotten back to posting 5 days a week, and as with exercising any muscle, the more you write the easier it is!
If you're a blog visitor to this or any blog, then you should make every effort to engage through Comments. At first, if you're new to it, you may be a little scared to expose your thoughts or feelings to "the whole world" [or at least that gigantic portion of humanity that happens to be reading that blog, that post, and your Comment]. Then, you may feel like you need to offer something new or insightful or never-before-conceived-of-by-humanity - but that feeling too shall pass.
Eventually you will find and settle upon your own voice; as you continue to engage, you will strengthen and sharpen that voice, or maybe even alter it, if you don't like what you're discovering about yourself. THIS is what the whole point of it all is! It takes awhile; in fact, it will probably take the rest of your life if you're lucky. The best part, for me anyway, comes after you've built a body of work through your Comments on other blogs and no doubt your own, and you are able to relive what you've said, what you've thought, what you've felt, what you've experienced at various moments in time. Preserved for you and everyone else, for better or for worse.
What are you waiting for? Go now - find something worthy of your opinion - and write it!
If you see a person in expensive clothing or jewelry of their own possession preaching the Word, run the other way.
If they own an expensive vehicle or home, they are not truly following the Way.
Why, you ask, can't a person be fully on the path while owning expensive things? Because if they had found and embraced the Truth, then they would not only have no need for such things, but they would actually shed them as quickly as possible. Look at Jesus of Nazareth. Look at the Apostles. Look at St. Francis of Assisi, who, unlike the Apostles, actually had wealth and then discarded it when he found the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Look at St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, or if you prefer, look at people who were not Catholic saints. Look at Gautama, look at Ghandi.
When one discovers the Truth, through faith and reason, one has no need or desire for things of this world other than physical sustenance. At least that's what I gather from study of the subject.
Where does this leave you? I'll tell you where it leaves me: doing my best to stay on the path, but leaving much to be desired with my efforts - and certainly not yet arrived at the destination. My craving for things of this world are very strong, and I continue to devote way too much of my time and being to attaining and enjoying them. I see the error of this way, yet choose to rationalize my actions as being geared toward providing for my family or trying to make the world a better place. That is why true spiritual people who are called to serve God and nothing else cannot have spouses or children; the conflict of interest is too much to resolve, and either God or the family will be short-changed. I'm not sure what the correct course is, which is how I know I haven't yet arrived at the place I seek - for if I had, then I would be absolutely sure of what my priority should be, and would be able to act accordingly. My family would not only understand, they would embrace and join in the decision themselves, for themselves. But it is not something I can ask of them or anyone else, nor am I ready to do so.
So I will continue along the path, clinging to both God and my own life, while hoping nothing ever forces me to choose one over the other, as has happened countless times throughout history going back to the martyrs and to Jesus himself. Let's hope that's enough for now.