Archive for the 'Good stuff' Category

A reassessment 10

September.27. 2020

I remember a religious instruction class in high school (years ago) when the teacher, a certain Irish brother, was trying to explain the doctrine of transubstantiation.

His main point, of which he was quite proud of, was that this doctrine is what differentiates Catholics from other Christians.

The doctrine has to do with the host (the bread) in Holy Communion.

To Catholics, when the bread has been consecrated, it literally becomes the body of Jesus—it has been transubstantiated.

Whereas to other Christians, it only symbolizes the body of Jesus, its substance is still bread.

But does it really matter?

It brings to mind the other great argument about how many angels can fit on the head of a pin.

Does that matter too?

In short, does it really matter what we think or believe?

To move on to weightier stuff, take the Resurrection, does it really matter if we believe or disbelieve it happened?

Or the divinity of Jesus.

Does it matter whether we believe Jesus is the Son of God?

To put it in another way, does it matter whether we believe that the sun exists?

What if we suddenly decide that the sun is a figment of our imagination, that it really doesn’t exist, will the sun stop rising the next day?

Yes, we place too much importance on ourselves and what we believe in.

Whether the bread has become the body, whether Jesus is the Son of God, whether it is ten or a hundred angels on the pinhead, has nothing to do with entering into the kingdom of Heaven.

So here’s what I propose.

Put every doctrine, every dogma, every belief to the ‘Kingdom Test.’

If it doesn’t uplift you and create a life of joy and abundance for you, it’s just so much happy talk, you can disregard it.

Because whether you believe or disbelieve that Jesus is the Son of God, that belief or disbelief will not change the incredible saving power of his teachings.

Just as if you stop believing that the sun exists, that disbelief will not stop the sun from rising tomorrow and continuing to give you its life giving warmth.

A reassessment 9

August.30. 2020

There’s one thing about the teachings of Jesus that make it stand out from the rest—his focus on love.

Forget the miracles, the attempts to elevate him to God status (through many reverse prophecies), the so-called promise of a second coming, the ‘seated at the right hand of the father’ stuff.

These are superficialities that are easy to manufacture.

The greatness of Jesus’ teachings lies in his radical message of love.

Love as a constructive force, love as a positive energy that uplifts us as well as the rest of the universe.

And this is why it’s important to do this exercise.

The objective is not to invalidate but to revalidate his teachings and bring them into the 21st century.

To remove ancient superstitions and focus instead on the wisdom contained within his parables and metaphors.

First, the concept that we were created by a Creator (Father) and that we bear within us the same divine spirit.

Second, the spirit of the Creator is filled with love, with positive energy. This energy is personified as the Holy Spirit.

Third, to be able to live a life of joy and abundance—called the Kingdom of Heaven—we have be filled with the same spirit of love (metaphorically, we have to let the Holy Spirit ‘enter’ into us.)

Everything else is just fluff.

All the dogmas, the ‘visionary’ stuff, the bureaucracy, the fear mongering (an afterlife in Hell), the false promise (an afterlife in Heaven), the elaborate rituals, the elaborate costumes.

All these are dispensable.

Of course those who are most heavily invested in these man-made artifices would be the first to protest and disagree.

A reassessment 8

August.29. 2020

I was talking politics with a friend the other day.

That’s of course not a good idea. And the end of the conversation was predictable—phones slammed down and end of friendship.

Why is it so hard to talk about politics or religion with someone?

Because people get their facts from different sources.

To have a real discussion, there must be some sort of common ground.

In the case of my friend, he gets his facts from a famous talk show host—facts which I know are wrong.

For instance, he told me once Kim Jong Un is only 4 feet 10, that’s why he had to build up his shoes.

Well, I have seen photos of Kim Jong Un and he’s definitely not 4 feet 10. That is an undisputed fact which is easily confirmed.

So why does he believe in these fake facts?

Because his hero, the talk show host says so.

That’s a similar problem when discussing religion.

People who believe in a religion have an unswerving belief in their facts and doctrines.

In Christianity, the unswerving belief that the Bible is the word of God, and everything within it is the gospel truth.

For example, when you suggest that perhaps Jesus never claimed he’s the only Son of God, their instant reaction is, well, it’s written in the four gospels.

Well, what if you don’t believe that the four gospels are the undisputed word of God, that they contain lots of embellishments inserted by the early church fathers to sell a certain agenda?

(One of those agendas to elevate this great teacher to God status.)

To do this reassessment exercise requires one to be completely unbiased, to have no emotional attachment to any of the doctrines or facts discussed

In other words, to stand outside of this thing called Christianity, and almost see it like it’s just another cult.

When you have this totally unbiased mindset, when you do not have anything invested in any of its belief systems, that’s when you will be able to think for yourself and make some honest conclusions.

As opposed to simply regurgitating what you’ve been told by your childhood catechism teachers, your parish priest, your Sunday pastor, or one of those smooth talking televangelists on TV.

The key is to think for yourself..

Of course, people who don’t want you to think for yourself would never stop reminding you that you’re not qualified to think for yourself.

Yes, of course they’re the only ones qualified to think, and while they’re at it, why don’t you get their latest book for a gift of $50.

A reassessment 7

August.28. 2020

I remember the story of St Patrick which my mother used to tell in my younger days.

Apparently, St Patrick had a hard time explaining the concept of the Trinity to the king or some leader in Ireland. How can one God have three persons within it?

And then St Patrick happened to see a shamrock and the rest is history (or mythology).

To us, living in more enlightened times, the concept of the Trinity is easy to understand.

Think of human beings.

We have a body, a mind, and a spirit—together these three things make us who we are. It doesn’t mean that we have three separate entities within us.

But what are we to make of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit (aka Holy Ghost)?

The Father is easy to understand—He’s the Creator, the source of all things.

The Holy Spirit refers to the spirit of goodness (goodness defined as uplifting rather than downshifting) in the universe—the Spirit of the Father and all his creations.

The Son is a bit problematic. Orthodox theology would have you believe it refers to Jesus.

But if you read what Jesus really taught, we are all children (creations) of God. Which leads to a reasonable conclusion that the Son refers to us all, the offsprings (creations) of the Father.

The concept of the Trinity of course was not mentioned directly by the great Teacher.

It was dogmatized by later bureaucrats, based on what they understood from the writings and teachings at the time.

The strict dogma led to the traditional depiction of the Holy Spirit as a dove or a tongue of fire. All metaphorical ways to explain an abstract concept (goodness).

But like many other metaphors, the metaphor took on a literal meaning, and now the Holy Spirit has suddenly assumed its own existence as a separate entity.

The simplest way to understand the Holy Spirit is that it is not something outside of us.

Rather, it is our spirit–when we see the light, and become good, our spirit becomes ‘holy.’

Metaphorically, when that happens, we have been ‘touched’ and transformed by the ‘Holy Spirit.’

Some may say the above explanations sound a bit tortured. And why go to the effort of trying to explain something that could just as easily be debunked as ancient superstitions?

Because the concept is powerful if we strip away the metaphors.

The concept that the Creator God is in all of us, his Creations, and that we have a divine nature in all of us and can become ‘holy’ like our Creator.

A reassessment 6

August.26. 2020

What is this thing called spirit? When the Bible says God is spirit, what does that mean?

When Jesus says, ‘born of the spirit,’ what does that mean?

The word ‘spirit’ is used liberally in daily life.

For instance, ‘his spirit is broken.’

Or ‘the spirit of the law,’

Or ‘capture the spirit of the work.’

So there’re many ways to interpret the word.

Some even think of spirits as entities, like human beings except that they exist without a body. For example, many cultures believe that the departed still exist as wandering spirits or ghosts.

In general usage, however, the word ‘spirit’ is usually taken to mean ‘essence.’

For instance the spirit of the law means the essence of the law

‘Capture the spirit’ means capture the essence of something.

When used in the context of human beings, it refers to our basic humanity, which is quite separate from our physical body.

In all these meanings, spirit always refers to the basic quality of something.

But what happens if that something is gone or dies?

Take the common saying ‘the spirit of the law.’

Can there be a spirit if there’s no law?

In other words, can there be a spirit of nothing?

That’s the problem with spirits as independent entities. When the object or person is gone, its spirit also goes with it.

The concept of God as spirit of the universe is easy to understand.

Think of the universe as a work of art and God is the essence, the spirit of that work of art.

This is all harmless musings. As physical beings, it’s probably impossible to comprehend what the word ‘spirit’ really means.

And maybe spirits don’t exist; maybe they exist only in our imagination.

When I suggested earlier that God as Spirit is probably bigger than His creation, the universe, I was falling into the same trap of physicality.

As physical beings, we tend to see things in a physical light.

So we gaze into the night skies and the immensity of the universe overwhelms us and perhaps we wonder where the God Spirit could be in all this.

But spirits are not bound by physical limits and laws.

Spirits, if they exist, probably exist in an entirely different realm. Science might call it dimension.

So what is the point of all these ramblings?

The point is to avoid being taken in by smooth talkers and scammers, who would try to sell you a product that they probably know doesn’t exist.

(As evidenced by the constant stream of high profile scandals plaguing the religious community. If they really believe in an afterlife of eternal damnation, would they be committing all these horrendous crimes?)

A product that you can’t go back and say, hey, you sold me a lie, give me back my money. (Because it’s supposed to be in the afterlife. Or in some imaginary future.)

A product that is entirely based on blind faith and trust.

Because if the concept of a God Spirit that lives in a physical universe or billions upon billion of stars sounds a bit farfetched to you, imagine the very imaginative scenarios they’re selling.

A God who lives in the skies with his son, and the son will come down again in a rapture, and then rule the earth for 1000 years, just to name a few of their ‘beliefs.’

There was a cult a few years ago that believe that a spaceship was going to come to earth at a certain time and bring its followers with them.

Most people would agree that it’s a crackpot delusion. (Which is borne out by the outcome.)

But some of these same people would have no problem believing in some other equally fantastic scenario.

The lesson in all this is that if you’re going to start a cult and sell some grand fantastical scenarios, make sure your apocalyptic vision is going to occur in a distant future, when you have passed on, so no one can come and ask you for their money back.

A reassessment 5

August.20. 2020

There is always a danger when you place too much faith and trust in something or someone—the danger that you would be misled and exploited by unscrupulous players.

This could be true of science too.

Science is not the infallible source of information that its practitioners would want you to believe.

Take for instance, their theories of the universe.

There was a time when it was the ‘steady state theory’ which believes in an unchanging universe.

This has now been superseded by the ‘big bang’ theory which believes in an ever expanding universe.

So what’s next?

Hard to predict.

One thing for sure, it would be something different again.

In the light of these shifting theories, should we even base our reassessment on science, on what science has told us about our world?

The answer is yes, because there’re many things that science has gotten right.

Just look at the world around you and everything you see tells you science has gotten many things right.

So while it’s possible that the universe is not it’s what it’s made out to be by modern science, it is an incontrovertible fact that we live on a small planet that circles around a small star which is part of a galaxy of stars.

That much we know just by peering into the night skies.

If you examine the physical elements in many ancient beliefs, many of them are based on the flat earth principle.

That’s the basis of the concept of heaven and hell, one in the skies, the other beneath our feet.

It is my belief that science does not invalidate many of these beliefs.

It just demands that we reassess them in a spiritual light.

Instead of a physical space, heaven is possibly a state of existence in a spirit realm.

Instead of a Being, the Creator is possibly just an energy that exists universally in the universe, an energy that lies at the heart of everything.

Instead of a fallen angel, the devil is just the dark side of our human nature.

The confusion between physical and spiritual is a failure of understanding, a failure to delve deeper, a failure to differentiate between metaphor and physical truth.

Even Jesus had to deal with this kind of shallow thinking.

When he said, “no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again,” one wise guy by the name of Nicodemus asked, “How can someone be born again when they are old? Surely they cannot crawl back into their mother’s womb to be born again.”

Jesus’ response, “No one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and spirit.”

A reassessment 4

August.15. 2020

The question of making sense is an important part of this exercise.

It is important to note that ‘making sense’ in this context is more about plausibility than complete understanding.

Anything is possible but not everything is plausible.

Children believe there’s a Santa who lives on the North Pole.

But so far, no expedition to the North Pole has discovered this guy, so yes, it’s highly implausible.

Same thing with Hell, supposedly lying underneath us, in the depths of Earth.

We’ve been drilling into the earth for quite some time now and still no evidence of this place of an eternal fire with the requisite pitchforks.

I can go on, and these may sound like pretty ridiculous examples but there are people who actually believe in such things.

They also believe in an ‘end time’ starting with a rapture when they will meet their “Savior” in the air, followed by seven years of tribulation, and then an earthly kingdom established to reign for 1000 years.

Pretty far out, maybe not impossible, but is it plausible?

And just how did these fantastic beliefs begin?

First an unquestioning subservience to certain self appointed ‘authorities.’ You basically suspend all powers of intellect and abdicate all personal responsibility to think for yourself and allow this ‘authority’ to think for you.

Which leads to a blind belief in certain writings simply because you were told that they’re the word of God.

Yes, it’s not impossible that they’re the word of God but is it plausible?

The key to this reassessment exercise is to put everything under the cold glare of simple common sense and ask ourselves, is this plausible?

As they say, if it sounds too fantastic to be true, it probably is.

A reassessment 3

August.15. 2020

The nearest star to us is 4.367 light years away. That’s 40,208,000,000,000 km. Which means the distance between the two stars closest to us is 40,208,000,000,000 km.

Our sun is part of a galaxy called the Milky Way. It’s estimated that there’re 150 billion to 250 billion stars in the Milky Way.

Let’s say conservatively that there’re 150 billion stars in the Milky Way galaxy and all separated roughly by about 40,208,000,000,000 km. (Just generalizing for simplicity’s sake.)

As Americans like to say, try to wrap your head around that.

Now that’s not all.

How many galaxies are there in the known universe?

What if we simply guess that there’re ten of them?

Imagine ten Milky Ways out there in the universe, all with about 150 billion (conservatively) stars. How many stars is that?

Pretty mind boggling. That’s 150 billion multiplied by 10.

But no, it’s more than ten galaxies.

How about 20 galaxies, 20 Milky Ways out there? Even more mind boggling this time!

But wait, (as the late night TV salesman is fond of saying, there’s more!) according to Google, there’re about 100 billion galaxies.

Now try to wrap your head around that one!

If one galaxy has (conservatively) 150 billion stars, how many stars are there in 100 billion galaxies?

So we come to the age-old question.

Who created all this?

Who is the Mastermind behind all this?

Some white-haired old guy living in a place called heaven perhaps, a guy who apparently has a son? A son who had to die for you to save you?

Why does a Being who created this beyond-vast universe have to assume human form and be scourged and be crucified by the very beings He created, because He loved them and wanted to save them?

If that makes sense to you, this might be a good place to stop reading.

Science is still scratching the surface of this thing called reality. But we can make some conjectures based on what we know.

One conjecture:

There was a moment of creation triggered by some energy which we can call the Spirit.

It is reasonable to assume that the Spirit that created the universe has to be bigger than its creation. So the Spirit is at least as vast as the universe itself.

The spark (which science calls the Big Bang) that started the whole thing is still in motion today. It’s the same energy and process that gave birth to everything in the known universe, including us.

You can call it creation though science calls it evolution. They are one and the same.

Simple minded people can only relate things to their own reality.

To them, the concept of creation is coming up with the finished product at first try, kind of like building a bookshelf in your garage.

And to try to debunk ‘evolution,’ they will give absurd examples of how it’s impossible for a Rolex watch to assemble itself through some random act of so-called evolution.

Equating the process of creation to making a watch, no matter how fancy it is, is what I mean by simplistic. It is based on the assumption that the universe operates according to human logic.

But what may appear random to the human mind may be part of a complex design.

There was an incredibly wise man who understood the mysteries of the universe. To explain the mysteries to the simple folk at the time, he used simple metaphors.

Most notably, to describe the Spirit that created us, he called the Spirit ‘Father.”

That makes perfect sense, because since we’re all created by this Creator Spirit, we’re technically His offspring, in a loose kind of way.

So what about all the details in the Bible?

Well, we’ll have to separate the elements into the two categories I mentioned earlier.

And understand that it was a document written by ancient men in the Bronze Age, who despite their primitivity, had an uncanny ability to fathom the truth (notwithstanding the many other primitive beliefs contained within it.)

Part religious tract, part history, part mythology, part literature, the Bible is not the monolithic infallible word of God that it’s made out to be.

There’s a lot of wisdom but there’s a lot of other stuff too.

And no, it’s not a matter of cherrypicking and choosing the content that appeals to us.

It’s more a matter of differentiating between the incredibly variegated content within its pages and separating the wheat from the chaff, to use one of its figures of speech.

A reassessment 2

August.14. 2020

The first thing to do in our exercise is to separate the physical from the spiritual.

For example, a garden, a tree, a fruit, an ark, two tablets, a mountain, a miracle, a scourging, a death by crucifixion, a resurrection, days of tribulation, rapture—these are all physical things. They take place in the physical realm.

In contrast, a sermon, a parable, a prayer—these are spiritual things because they deal with things of the spirit.

Many religions are filled with physical details but one thing about the Bible makes it stand out.

When you examine the physical elements, they actually have a deeper dimension; they actually make sense in an allegorical way.

I see a similarity here to song lyrics.

In the 60’s, deliberately obscure lyrics was the trend, everyone was writing deliberately obscure stuff.

But there were good obscure lyrics and there were bad obscure lyrics.

In good lyrics, the deliberately obscure stuff actually makes sense (think Dylan).

Whereas in poor lyrics, they’re just nonsensical rhymes that make no sense whatsoever (think Bee Gees).

In the Bible, many of the tales involving physical elements have a deeper meaning.

Let’s take the creation story. This passage in particular.

“Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.”

Not only is it poetically beautiful but it also expresses the void that existed before creation. Like a good poem, it’s not meant to be taken literally, you interpret it. You could put it under the cold glare of modern science and it still makes sense.

But the best part is the garden, the tree of knowledge and the fall.

It’s easy to see that this is an attempt to describe the human condition.

Man’s nature is inherently innocent, but when he gains knowledge, which is an inevitable part of growing up, he becomes corrupted by knowledge.

Loss of innocence makes him aware of his vulnerabilities (naked) and so he tries to hide himself under many layers of artifices.

Metaphorically, he’s expelled from the garden of innocence to wander in the wilderness.

So how does he get himself back to the garden, this state of happiness and innocence?

He needs a redeemer and of course the Redeemer came, and what did the Redeemer say?

“Unless you become like children again, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

In other words, if you want to go back to the garden again, you must go back to a state of innocence again, you must become pure again.

The above is just my interpretation.

Using the song lyrics analogy again, a good lyric enables many different readings, and they all make sense to each one of us in its own unique way.

There is no one way to interpret it. One interpretation does not invalidate the other.

Of course you can interpret it the traditional way too.

Which is to literally believe that there was an actual garden, and a tree and a fruit and a serpent, and an eviction from this paradise, and then the Son of God had to come down to earth and take human form and die a gruesome death so we can all be saved again.

It’s a personal choice.

When I gaze into the night skies and see the countless stars, and try to imagine the vastness of space, somehow the idea of God (the spirit that dwelt in the void before all time) having a ‘Son’ ( a very human concept) just doesn’t fit into this Big Picture.

Add to that, this “Son” of God had to come down to earth (from heaven? Where is this heaven? In the skies?) to die for our ‘sins’ makes even less sense.

A reassessment

August.13. 2020

The immensity of the known universe is beyond mind boggling, and we’re probably still scratching only at the surface. Who knows what still lies beyond the reach of our best telescopes.

In this reality, the gods of our current religions seem as quaint and as unbelievable as the old Greek gods or any other gods.

Let’s take the Greek gods.

Nobody these days believes that thunder is a god, or that the sun is a god, or that there’s a god residing beneath the waves.

Yet, for some people in ancient times, these gods were very real.

Now suppose a time traveler arrives in ancient Greece and tells the inhabitants that thunder is not a god, that it is just a natural phenomenon and that the sun is just a star among billions upon billions of stars.

Imagine what their reaction would be.

Yes, they would probably think the time traveler is too smart for his own good, or worse, kill him for blasphemy.

We live in an age where our knowledge is beginning to overtake our old beliefs.

And we can deny it or we can reexamine them and see if they’re still relevant.

Most religions and concepts of god are based on two things.

  1. The need to explain our existence.
  2. The need for a sustainable social structure based on certain moralistic principles.

The first tries to imagine the beginnings of our known reality, and the end.

The second gives us social order based on certain principles that enables us to coexist peacefully, in other words a moralistic system.

When you examine religious writings, most of them fall into one of these two categories.

It is obvious that under the glare of our present knowledge, the first category is the one that will take the most hit from a reassessment.

Because it is based on knowledge that existed at the time these beliefs were formed.

And because they were based on current knowledge at the time, when current knowledge changes, they too have to change to reflect current reality.

As with the Greek gods, when our knowledge of our natural world became sophisticated enough to explain all these natural phenomena, they became superseded.

I predict the same thing will happen to our present belief systems—our concepts of heaven and hell, angels and demons, God as a being who presumably has a son to redeem us.

And the concept of a heavenly kingdom, where the good will all go to live in the afterlife, with the angels and the heavenly Father for all infinity.

Or the reverse, the bad going to an eternal fire where they will live in torment for all eternity.

I predict all these will become superseded too.

In the light of our current knowledge, this old notion of God and the whole afterlife concept is as quaint and as unbelievable as the ancient gods of Apollo and Thor and Neptune.

So amidst all this, is the Bible still relevant?

I believe it is. That’s for the next few articles.