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When these specific events happen, you will know “doomsday” is near

SOONER THAN YOU THINK - CoverHere is a analytic thought exploriment for you: Sit down and juxtapose current events (especially the darker side of the news) with the prophecies in both the Hebrew and Christian scriptures. I suspect that if you weren’t concerned about where civilization is headed before this exercise, you likely will be afterwards.

If you happen to be a Baby Boomer you probably have watched a succession of popular books and films on eschatology themes (“End of Era” events and corresponding prophecies) such as those of Hal Lindsey (Author of the bestselling 1970 book, “The Late Great Planet Earth“) come and go. A look back through these makes it very clear that nailing down the “End Times” is an iffy enterprise. However, today events are unfolding that line up with ancient prophecies in ways that are both starling and difficult to dismiss or gloss over.

And it isn’t believers in the mainstream religions that are blogging and tweeting on “End Times” prophecy. The Web abounds with fearful speculation on the part of people who are more secular in their thinking than religious or spiritual.

Many people are turning to prophecy teachers for help in piecing together and understanding what is unfolding. They are not so much asking “Is this stuff true?” but, rather, are saying things like “The books of Daniel and Revelation (among others) are being fulfilled right before our eyes. But are we yet in the End Times?”

There is no lack of books and videos by prophecy experts who have tackled this question.  One of most cogent recent books (which I recommend) is Sid Roth’s book* “Sooner Than You Think: A Prophetic Guide to the End Times“.

I have read Roth’s book and probably one hundred other recent tomes on the subject, distilled down what I deem on target, and come up with the following tentative conclusions:

First off, I do, yes, believe we are on  the cusp of what is so oft called “The End Times”. However, with this said I do not believe we are not as close as some writers and believers think, although things could come together quickly to herald in the “final chapter”.

We are, I believe, at a crossroads in history in which the timing of prophetic events rests with what people (especially believers) do or don’t do. If for instance,  believers intercede and begin behaving themselves and eschewing sin, then I believe the Almighty will give humankind more time before the seven year “Great Tribulation” kicks off. But if believers do not make teshuvah (i.e., repent & then do what is pure, right & holy) and get their ducks in a row in every respect, the Great Tribulation could commence in no time at all.

Here is what I am certain must happen that will signal we are entering the seven year Great Tribulation:

Before I get into the meat of the matter, let me share some thoughts on the very popular line of speculation that states a future Mahdi will be the Anti-Messiah, i.e., a phony messiah who gives lip service to keeping the rules governing Jewish conduct laid out in Torah but whose actions will encourage lawlessness. This is illogical as the prophesied Anti-Messiah is a false messiah, and the only way this man could qualify as a messiah Jews will accept is to be Jewish. However, with this said it is possible the anticipated Mahdi could fulfill the prophesized role of “False Prophet”.

Now for a rundown of “what’s coming down the pike” including those specific events that precede and declare that “The Great Tribulation Lies Immediately Ahead”:

(1) There will be a war in the Middle East in which Iran, Syria and other Arab countries will try to attack & conquer Israel. This is prophesied in Psalms 83. This invasion will fail. However, I believe that during the attack an Arab or other missile will veer off its prescribed path and strike and destroy the Dome of the Rock (The one major physical impediment to the rebuilding of the Temple). Damascus will also be utterly destroyed. As a result of Israel’s victory, she will also acquire vast new territory and think herself safe. Walls will come down and a false sense of invulnerability will take hold.

(2) With the Dome of the Rock gone and the Islamic world paralyzed by widespread destruction, Israel will be commence building the Third Temple unopposed and, following its completion, resume animal sacrifices for sin (Check out The Temple Institute’s website at https://www.templeinstitute.org/ and http://www.jewishroots.net/library/end-times/rebuilding_the_temple.html).

(3) During this period of time the world will be in economic and social chaos, most likely due to the Psalms 83 Arab-Israeli war and the destruction of many oil refineries and other industrial complexes across the region (Not to mention nuclear contamination unleashed by the military destruction of Iranian nuclear facilities and any others in existence in the area at the time). Things will get so bad that it will seem as though the 1930s in Germany have come roaring back (As in it will take a wheelbarrow of money to buy a loaf of bread).  Stocks and such will likely become worthless or nearly so. And, as you might expect, It is during this dire time — when the world is desperate for leadership that will set things right  — that  the Anti-Messiah will rise to power rapidly and forge a peace treaty that will formally end Arab-Israeli hostilities (A prophesied 7 year peace covenant)..

(4) At the mid-point of his reign, the Anti-Messiah will enter the Temple in Jerusalem and declare that he is not only the Jewish messiah, but divine or semi-divine to boot (A malignant narcissist whose self-serving evil will dwarf that of his “spiritual predecessor and twin”, Adolf Hitler). This will result in the Jewish people (among others including genuine Christian believers) turning against the evil one’s regime.

(5) Following the Anti-Messiah’s sacrilegious announcement, the “Wrath of Satan” laid out in the book of Revelation will then begin. This includes almost 3.5 full years of persecution (Jews and believers) and the inauguration of a cashless economic system in which only those who embrace the Anti-Messiah as their source and take his “mark” (radio frequency identification biochip most likely) will have access to goods & services. The church will see the “Great Apostasy” unfold quickly, as many believers will be expecting to be spared the Great Tribulation and will be unable to deal with living in the midst of it (A great many will willingly receive the implant and even turn against believers who do not). Apparently, though, there will be “cities of refuge” in which genuine believers who have God’s favor will be able to escape the reach of the Anti-Messiah. [This “Pre-Wrath” perspective is ably laid out in Sid Roth’s book and also in Robert Van Kampen’s “The Sign” (1992) and his “The Rapture Question Answered: Plain and Simple” (1997), among other cogently argued works on the subject]

(6) Towards the end of the 3.5 year Great Tribulation period, perhaps about 45 days before the final curtain goes down, God’s Wrath will be loosed on the inhabitants of this planet. As believers will not  be subject to this, they will be removed to Heaven (Parousia or Rapture). They and all the saints in Glory will return with Messiah at the end of this period of God’s Wrath to restore & inaugurate the Almighty’s reign over men.

So, bottom-line — once people see the Psalm 83 war, the construction of the Third Temple, and the enactment of a 7 year peace treaty between Israel and her Arab neighbors (and possibly others), the Great Tribulation will be at-hand. I am hoping and praying this will not happen for many decades yet. However, if believers (and it is they and not unbelievers who stay God’s anger with sin) continue to “play church”, chase women, drink heavily, and pretty much do whatever the world offers in the way of pleasure & narcissistic self-indulgence, the Great Tribulation could be realized within a few year’s time.

The good news is that many, many ministers, priests and others – men and women who have been given the gift of prophecy by the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit), – are saying a Great Awakening (like those in past history such as the one spearheaded by John Wesley) is coming to America and to other lands as well. Many of these spiritual turnaround periods lasted for decades. If this one does, then the Great Tribulation will (I posit) come to pass in the 2060s.

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* Readers interested in hearing what Sid Roth has to share from his book and other sources, should click this link (Video)

RECOMMENDED READING

Robert Van Kampen’s “The Sign” (1992) and his “The Rapture Question Answered: Plain and Simple” (1997)

2015-2070: Red moons, ancient prophecies, and more

Church Is Facing a Dietrich Bonheoffer Moment

Biblical prophecy is primarily about Israel & the Jewish people, not America!

A world gone mad and what lies ahead

YOUR “GET SPIRITUALLY EMPOWERED CRASH COURSE”:

But let me add this caveat: A lot of Christian theology and beliefs (including portions of the books above) draw on the very flawed letters (epistles) of Paul (Saul of Tarsus). It is therefore important that you also acquire the knowledge and insight to identify what is edifying and true from what is not. These two free, online resources will help you mightily in this regard:

http://www.judaismvschristianity.com/

Jesus’ Words Only (Second Edition 2007) (Free online in its entirety) by Douglas J. Del Tondo, Esq.

ARE YOU IN AN ADULTEROUS MARRIAGE?

If you are in a 2nd (or..etc.) marriage you need to dig into these websites:

http://www.cadz.net/remarriage.html

http://www.marriagedivorce.com/index.php

http://www.biblicalresearchreports.com/divorceandremarriage.php#scripturalevidence

 

© 2015 by Dr. Anthony G. Payne. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

 

More spiritual than religious? Perhaps a messianic God-fearer?

PATH UP - MORGUEFILEAccording to various polls a great many Americans consider themselves more spiritual than religious, and more than a few are disenchanted with organized religion and do not hold clerics in especially high esteem. If you belong to this fraternity you have landed on the right doorstep. CLICK TO READ MORE

Delusional Beliefs: A Normative Coping Mechanism?

One online source defines the term “delusion” thusly:

delusion

n 1: (psychology) an erroneous belief that is held in the face of evidence to the contrary [syn: psychotic belief] 2: a mistaken or unfounded opinion or idea; “he has delusions of competence”; “his dreams of vast wealth are a hallucination” [syn: hallucination] 3: the act of deluding; deception by creating illusory ideas [syn: illusion, head game]

Source: WordNet ® 2.0, © 2003 Princeton University

This pretty much lines up with how psychiatrist Karl Jaspers, MD, defined “delusion” in his seminal book General Psychopathology. Dr. Jaspers gave three main criteria for a belief to be considered delusional:

  • Absolute certainty (A belief is held with absolute conviction)
  • Incorrigibility (A belief is not changeable by compelling counterargument or proof to the contrary)
  • Impossibility or falsity of content (A belief is implausible, bizarre or patently untrue)

Undoubtedly many of you reading this hold fast to specific religious or other beliefs that meet all 3 criteria. To your way of thinking this is a demonstration of faith, a strength that pleases the Almighty. Nothing will sway you from what you hold to be sacred truth. Maybe you fear dire consequences in this life or the next should you deviate from the faith tradition you were inculcated in as a child or embraced later on. You may not even be able to consider the remotest possibility that what you believe about (say) biblical accounts of miracles or specific stories or accounts could be misinformed, misguided,  or just plain wrong. As one neo-Pentecostal minister put it, “God said it, I believe it, and that settles it”. This appears to be a timeless species of faith down through the millennia of human history.

Many fundamentalist believers and scholars from the major faith traditions engage in the most incredible feats of mental gymnastics to preserve sacred beliefs. Many Christians, for example, believe that their scriptures are inerrant, while abundant evidence exists that their Bible is chocked full of contradictions and is anything but free of error. For example, the book of Genesis alone contains two separate accounts of the creation saga that contradict one another profoundly http://www.skepticsannotatedbible.com/contra/accounts.html. The same is basically true of the story of Noah and the flood http://www.sullivan-county.com/identity/2cs.htm. But rather than modify their belief system to accommodate logic and fact, they force a fit between religious dogma and contrary evidence (Or just deny the evidence altogether or define or otherwise alter it such that it accord with belief). This imposition of religious dogma or belief on the process and findings of history and science has given the world an incredible array of pseudo-historical and pseudoscientific books, documents, papers and such that, well, help reinforce the delusions of multitudes of “true believers”.

http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/jim_meritt/bible-contradictions.html –Contradictions in the Scriptures

http://www.skepticsannotatedbible.com/contra/by_name.html  – Contradictions in the Bible

http://www.nobeliefs.com/DarkBible/darkbible4.htm – Absurdities and troubling entries in the Bible

Mind you, I am not an atheist or an “enemy” of religious beliefs or faith. My family tree is one brimming over with fervent Protestant fundamentalists, southern Baptist deacons, creationists and even charismatic and neo-Pentecostals. My late maternal grandmother, Faye C. Whittle, a rather extraordinary woman who helped aid and encourage my studies in science and medicine, was about as devout a Bible-toting woman as you could hope to meet and fully fundamentalist in her thinking. I did not often challenge her beliefs…..and was especially less inclined to do so as she reached into her eighties and nineties – for reasons I will weave into this essay shortly.

My own quest for “religious truth,” which is to say a faith that is concordant with logic, biblical scholarship, historic fact, and the findings of science led me first to Roman Catholicism, then ultimately to Judaism. Yes, there are some commonly held Jewish beliefs that run contrary to this thrust, but at least there is room for reconciling all this within most Jewish traditions.

Some of you gentle readers are probably having an “ah hah” moment as you read all this. Some will surely be thinking, “Well, if I embrace delusional beliefs, so does he. So does everyone”.

No doubt most of us – even those who are ultra-diligent in their efforts to bring every aspect of their lives into accord with logic, fact and sound reasoning – harbor some belief, conviction or idea that is at the very least unfounded or suspect, but which we resist discarding unless and until contrary fact compels us to. Such a belief or idea may not constitute a full-blown delusion or delusional belief, but it in some respects belongs to the “fraternity”. Psychologists have shown that we all possess cognitive filters that bias what we perceive and believe; mechanisms (if you will) that tend to find patterns in things (often where none exists), discard ideas or facts that contradict cherished beliefs or views, and inflate our own self-perception of being objective. This tendency to be self-deluded and to deceive others has survival value. Deception is part and parcel of nature itself, something documented by field ethnologists and primatologists studying the behavior of chimpanzees and monkeys.  

While not immune to delusional beliefs, in my own case precious few (if any) of my core religious beliefs meet Dr. Jasper’s 3 criteria. How so? In a word, I am willing to modify or reinterpret them to gel with logic and compelling scientific and historic fact. My belief in the Almighty, for example, is resolutely entrenched (A delusion according to many skeptic friends) – but my views on His nature, interaction with humankind, activities and such is amenable to modification in light of reason, logic and fact. Actually, this willingness to modify or discard one’s beliefs about anything that is redefined or overturned by new evidence lies at the heart of the scientific method. Without this plank, there would be little scientific progress. And while this process can and does generate evidence and reasoning that wrecks havoc with many beliefs long held to be sacred, this is not something to be feared or resisted. If religion and religious beliefs are to genuinely enable us to zero in on truth, it must necessarily be informed by the scientific method, critical thinking and hard logic. If not this, there is only a retreat into blind faith – this being often a wellspring of irrationality and, in the case of fundamentalism, a path to unhealthy extremes and even monstrous intolerance and bloodshed. 

Of course, the mere idea that one has birthed, embraced, nurtured or perpetuated delusional beliefs is, for most of us, something we tend to resist or deny. After all, to be delusional or harbor such thoughts is invites the stigma of being weak or intellectually failed or possibly given to a form of pathology (Disease). And I would readily agree that more extreme expressions do indeed reflect a pathological form of aberration or deviance. Especially forms that are divisive, that create or sustain barriers that marginalize others or foster bias, racism or ethnocentrism, or otherwise diminish our individual or collective human potential for caring for others, extending kindness and aid to strangers, and encouraging a peaceful coexistence that denies justice, opportunity and fairness to no person.

But what of delusional beliefs that do not give rise to or involve these negatives? Many would argue that a delusional belief is always antithetical to fullest personal development or best appreciation of reality, and this is a reasonable contention. However, I tend to view “benign” delusional beliefs as an effective coping mechanism; a way of ably dealing with the pain, vicissitudes and ugly moments in life, as well as being a mental tool for handling the contradictions and seemingly irreconcilable aspects of life.  In this sense, I see delusional beliefs as not only a tendency, but a normative coping mechanism.

And in this vein, truly benign delusions can play a useful role when it comes to the genesis or maintenance of our individual and shared (societal) weltanshaung or worldview; the mental constructs of reality we fashion and refine all the days of our lives. They also can have beneficial physiological effects. People who, for example, believe that ultra-diluted homeopathic medicines effect or foster healing despite overwhelming scientific evidence that they do not produce statistically significant results in well designed and executed clinical trials, nonetheless can and sometimes do perceive good things “going on” that in and of itself is encouraging; that may spawn some corresponding benefits such as one would expect when a person stops being anxious and fearful, and adopts a positive frame of mind. There are studies that link this species of faith or belief with reductions in resting blood pressure.

Delusions can also give life purpose or special meaning in some instances or settings. Consider those who vest tremendous money, time and energy in pursuit of beliefs, events or practices that are contradicted by a confluence of historic and/or scientific fact, logic and well honed scholarship. Some actually border on the irrational, while some truly are. However, when such beliefs, pursuits or devotions cause no harm to self or others, do not generate intolerance or violence or other negative behaviors, do not wind up sanctioned by the state, and basically function to endow the lives of believers with a sense of purpose or meaning, then they have arguable utilitarian merit.  

Of course some species of delusional thinking can obviously set the stage for doing great harm to others. One need look no further then Nazi Germany to see this. In this tragic example from history’s darkest page, delusional beliefs and the pseudo-history and pseudo-science they sprang from and reinforced became ideology, then law, and finally a national religion of sorts. The Nazis elevated malignant delusions to sacred status and then took them to their logical conclusion: Repression, brutality, murder and finally genocide.

Given this, it logically follows that people need to be vigilant in terms of identifying, openly exposing, countering and even legally penalizing all forms of delusional thinking that clearly leads to the deprivation, denial or erosion of basic human rights to any group, creed, religion or what-have-you. Humankind can ill afford a Fourth Reich.

But what of countering benign delusional beliefs that offer solace and comfort? This brings me full circle to my maternal grandmother: She believed that her New Testament was inerrant and, as such, was a reliable and sure guide to all that’s needed to assure a place in God’s realm (following death). Yes, there were many occasions – many kitchen table chats on religion (especially during her more vigorous 60s and 70s) — in which I placed before her facts and reason that clearly demonstrated the errancy of scriptures. This she resisted solely on the basis of her faith, not reason or logic or fact. And while this belief influenced her life and actions to a degree, she did not seek to have this view become the law of the land or promulgated in public schools as fact or paraded as science in the classroom. At first I diplomatically and gingerly challenged her stance, but ceased doing so as she grew older and frailty began to take its toll on her physical and mental faculties. Who would be so callous as to deprive her of a delusion (inerrancy) which was a vital component of her worldview (Especially given its benign, tempered expression, as well as its utility in terms of dealing with her own mortality)? Not me.

“No man is happy without a delusion of some kind. Delusions are as necessary to our happiness as realities.”

-Christian Nestell Bovee

 http://www.famousamericans.net/christiannestellbovee/

 

The cup of delusions runneth over:http://www.crank.net/

A critical look at homeopathy:http://skepdic.com/homeo.html

What is Pseudoscience?http://www.chem1.com/acad/sci/pseudosci.html

THE DARK BIBLE

Foreword

A Short History of the BIble

Atrocities (a few)

Sex, Obscenities, Filth

Morality And Paradoxes

God, Satan, Jesus, Heaven

The Inferior Status Of Women

Bibliography

About The Dark Bible

http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/guido_deimel/judaism.html

http://www.religioustolerance.org/imm_bibl1.htm#diff

http://www.dhushara.com/book/orsin/decalog.htm

http://home.teleport.com/~packham/bible.htm

http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/donald_morgan/atrocity.html – Atrocities

http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/donald_morgan/absurd.html – Absurdities

http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/donald_morgan/inconsistencies.html – Inconsistencies

http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/donald_morgan/precepts.html – Questionable Guidelines

http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/jim_meritt/bible-contradictions.html – List of biblical contradictions

http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/donald_morgan/vulgar.html – Vulgarities

http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/mark_ball/bible.html – Errancy

http://www.angelfire.com/pa/greywlf/biblegod.html – BIBLEGOD – A God of Love or a God of Atrocities and Murder? 

NOTES ON BIBLE PROBLEMS Compiled by Richard Packham

http://home.teleport.com/~packham/index.htm

CONTENTS

MORALITY IN THE BIBLE

MORAL MODELS

HUMAN SACRIFICE

ANIMAL SACRIFICE

WAR

GENOCIDE AND SLAUGHTER

CRUELTY, BARBARITY, VIOLENCE

DECEIT, TREACHERY

LYING

INCEST

POLYGAMY, CONCUBINAGE

PROSTITUTION

ABUSE OF WOMEN, WOMAN’S INFERIORITY

ABANDONMENT OF WIFE, CHILDREN, FAMILY

HYPOCRISY

HOMOSEXUALITY

EXTORTION

CANNIBALISM

SLAVERY

DRUNKENNESS

RELIGIOUS INTOLERANCE, CLOSED MINDS

OBSCENE, OFFENSIVE, INDECENT, EROTIC PASSAGES

ABOUT GOD

PUNISHMENTS

GENERAL PRINCIPLES, LAWS

PARTICULAR EXAMPLES OF GOD’S PUNISHMENTS

CONTRADICTIONS

NUMERICAL CONTRADICTIONS

GENEALOGICAL CONTRADICTIONS

DETAILS OF EVENTS – OLD TESTAMENT

DETAILS OF EVENTS – NEW TESTAMENT

CONTRADICTORY DOCTRINE, COMMANDMENTS

CONTRADICTIONS ABOUT GOD

OTHER CONTRADICTIONS

OTHER PUZZLES, ANOMALIES, QUESTIONS

PROPHECY IN THE BIBLE

PROPHECIES OR PROMISES NOT FULFILLED

“FULFILLMENT” OF NON- EXISTENT PROPHECIES

“FULFILLMENT” OF PASSAGES NOT PROPHECIES

PROPHECIES CLAIMED AS FULFILLED

PROPHECIES IGNORED BY CHRISTIANS

PRECEPTS OFTEN NOT OBEYED BY BELIEVERS

OLD TESTAMENT PRECEPTS

TEACHINGS OF JESUS NOT OFTEN FOLLOWED

HISTORICAL / GEOGRAPHICAL INACCURACY, ANACHRONISMS

SCIENCE

EXAGGERATION, “TALL TALES”

WEB LINKS, BOOKS, PERIODICALS

© 2009 by Dr. Anthony G Payne. All rights reserved.

YOU MAY NOT COPY, REPRODUCE, DISTRIBUTE, PUBLISH, DISPLAY, PERFORM, MODIFY, CREATE DERIVATIVE WORKS, TRANSMIT, OR IN ANY WAY EXPLOIT ANY PART OF THIS DOCUMENT. WITHOUT LIMITING THE GENERALITY OF THE FOREGOING, YOU MAY NOT DISTRIBUTE ANY PART OF THIS DOCUMENT OVER ANY NETWORK, INCLUDING A LOCAL AREA NETWORK, NOR SELL NOR OFFER IT FOR SALE. IN ADDITION, THIS DOCUMENT MAY NOT BE USED TO CONSTRUCT ANY KIND OF DATABASE

Rats in the Cosmic Laboratory: Is God A Scientist?

In one especially poignant scene in the movie “Shadowlands”,* famed English writer and Oxford University professor, C. S. Lewis (played by Sir Anthony Hopkins) has gone to a pub with his brother, Wally (Major Lewis). Having just lost his wife, Joy Gresham Lewis, to cancer, Mr. Lewis is met with expressions of sympathy offered up by friends and colleagues who are attempting to console him. An interesting exchange ensues between an Anglican vicar and Mr. Lewis:

Vicar: Only God knows why these things have to happen, Jack.

C. S. Lewis: God knows, but does He really care?

Vicar: Of course. We see so little here. We’re not the Creator.

C. S. Lewis: No, no. We’re the creatures, aren’t we? We’re the rats in the cosmic laboratory. I have no doubt that the experiment is for our own good, but that still makes God the vivisectionist, doesn’t it?

“Rats in the cosmic laboratory.” An apt analogy if the universe is an experiment in process. But is this the case? If God were running an experiment or cluster of experiments (some embedded in others), it would indicate that something is being tested — an hypothesis or many hypotheses — whose outcome is unknown. While some religious traditions might accept a God who is not all knowing, and hence might need to perform such experiments, this is conjecture. (Actually, God is conjecture, insofar as His/Her/It’s existence lies beyond the purview of science; which is to say, belief in God is not based on provable fact, but on faith) Bearing this in mind, what follows is pontification built on conjecture, albeit hopefully both informed and thought-provoking.

What we do know of the cosmic cauldron and the processes that gave rise to us can be succinctly summed up thusly: The universe we can measure and probe appears to be the expression of physical laws in operation. The Big Bang happened, stars and galaxies formed, planets formed, and on at least one world, this one, life arose and evolved to that state which we call “consciousness.”

For we who believe in God, the laws that set all this in motion and govern it are the handiwork or signature of the divine. This is not something scientifically provable, but like the concept of Providence, is based on faith.

And while some people might still cling to the idea that humankind is the center of the universe, the scale and grandeur of our universe would suggest otherwise. We are rather insignificant, at least in terms of our impact on the cosmos. We are, at best, perhaps big fish in a very, very small pond. And least we get puffed up about this exalted position, the dinosaurs held a similar role for about 170 million years before going belly up. Mass extinction, in fact, has occurred no less than five times during geologic history. We are but a massive comet or asteroid strike, nuclear war, or the like away from joining the dinosaurs. (A compelling enough reason to take out some “species insurance”, as in set up a human presence elsewhere in our solar system. Mars seems a likely prospect.)

We are the tentative king of a very, very small hill. And what natural processes produced and govern, God seeks to relate to. At least this is the basic message of most extant (as well as extinct) religious traditions. And within the constraints posed by our individual limitations, i.e., our genetic-based propensities as amplified by environmental and other situational factors, the ancient brain wiring or paleocircuits in our brains, etc., we go through life making choices and exercising that which we know as “free will”.

Is the universe thus an experiment and we it’s aim? While the universe may well an experiment, it seems doubtful that it designed specifically to produce conscious life forms like us. Which is to say, life forms capable to distinguishing “I” from “other”, and of contemplating its own mortality (It is unlikely that God can relate to a life form lacking these 2 cognitive features. Only a self-conscious creature that knows it will someday die would be capable of responding to anything God shared concerning an existence beyond the grave). Even if we accept the Weak Anthropic Principle, which asserts that the laws that govern our world would tend to give rise to life and something like us, it still seems unlikely that the “local phase” of the grand cosmic experiment was designed to produce us. Indeed, as the late paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould was fond of pointing out, if we were to go back and rerun the history of life, it is doubtful anything like us would emerge at all.

The experiment,..the universe,…did obviously tool us into existence. And God, it would seem, set about to interact with and relate to our bipedal twig on the primate branch of the evolutionary bush. Assuming that what we know and identify as “free will” is more real than illusion, the question naturally arises, “If God knows everything and is absolutely sovereign, how can humankind truly have and exercise free will?” And if God does not know in advance precisely what we will do or say, then He is less than omniscient and sovereign. If omniscient and absolutely sovereign, then while the universe may be a grand experiment in progress, we have been removed from it by God’s exercise of sovereignty. But if God is not omniscient and/or sovereign, or somehow attenuates or submerges either or both, then the give-and-take twixt God and humankind, the tests posed and our responses and God’s, do constitute a social experiment (of sorts) in progress. Logic and an abundance of scriptural support tend to argue for a divinity who works within and in response to contingency; who experiments and then blends our responses into the fabric of His grand designs . And this, I argue, makes God a scientist.

 God as scientist: Support from ancient writings

Support for this view can be readily found in the Tanakh (Hebrew scriptures), which contains numerous stories and accounts that suggest that God is posing a test or permitting same, watching for the results, and responding accordingly. Consider the account of Abraham and his son, Isaac. In chapter 22 of Genesis, God has instructed Abraham to take his son to the land of Moriah and “offer him as a burnt offering on one of the heights that I will point out to you” (verse 2). Abraham, a man who trusts God implicitly, is facing perhaps the severest test of faith imaginable. But for whose benefit is this test for? Abraham, Isaac, or God? Maybe all three? In verse 12 we see that for sure God has benefited by way of gained insight: “And he said, ‘Do not raise your hand against the boy, or do anything to him. For now I know that you fear God, since you have not with held your son, your favored one, from me’ “(Gen. 22:12). “..now I know…”. Now. Before the test? The clear implication is that prior to the test,…this particular experiment,…..God did not absolutely know the outcome (albeit He probably had a good idea extrapolating from Abraham’s past acts of faith and obedience).

In the book of Ezekiel, we again see God conducting a test. In this instance, He goes looking for someone to divert judgment being executed:

“The people have practiced fraud and committed robbery; they have wronged the poor and needy, have defrauded the stranger without redress. And I sought for a man among them to repair the wall or to stand in the breach before me in behalf of this land, that I might not destroy it; but I found none. I have therefore poured out my indignation upon them;…(22: 29-31)

See also Exodus 15:25

If the future were closed, known and thus settled from God’s vantage point, He would learn nothing from these tests. But we are told repeatedly that God uncovers something unknown; that free will is being exercised and as such outcomes cannot be known until the person making a decision has made it.

The contingency element in human affairs is underscored by numerous biblical entries that imply conditionals such as “if/then”. One example is to be found in the account of God’s declaration to King Zedikiah in Jeremiah chapter 38 (Part of which is quoted herein):

“If you surrender to the officers of the king of Babylon, your life will be spared and this city will not be burned down. You and your household will live. But if you do not surrender to the officers of the king of Babylon, this city will be delivered into the hands of the Chaldeans, who will burn it down and you will not escape from them.” (verses 17-18. Emphasis mine)

We can also find supporting evidence of the (at least partial) tentativeness of history in the various accounts of God having changed his mind:

In the 32nd chapter of Exodus, God has told Moses of his intent to destroy Israel. Moses prays and we read “And the Lord renounced the punishment He had planned to bring upon His people.” (verse 14).

Among contemporary Christian theologians, the religious and philosophic notion that human-divine interaction is unfolding and not predetermined, is treated and perhaps best characterized in the writings of proponents of “open theism”. One very highly acclaimed introduction to this is a book by Dr. Gregory A. Boyd titled “God of the Possible: A Biblical Introduction to the Open View of God” (ISBN: 080106290X) Content description of this book, as well as many others that delve into various aspects of Open Theism, along with pro & con articles and posted point/counterpoint exchanges can be found on the “Open Theism Information Site” (www.opentheism.org/) . It is well worth the proverbial ‘look, see’.

Within Judaism, an “open view” type of perspective can be found among many rabbis and scholars. Many aspects of this line of thinking can no doubt be traced back to the Pharisees. According to the Jewish historian, Josephus, the Pharisees, mindful of the fact that predestination precludes free will, essentially concluded that humankind is predestined to a certain station in terms of the material aspects of life, but has absolute free will in areas that impact spiritual life.  

The Islamic faith also boasts a school of thought that leans towards contingency, and free will as a supreme player in human affairs and in God’s dealings with humankind. This perspective is supported by many passages in the Qu’ran, such as “Surely the Almighty changes not the condition of a people unless they change that which is in themselves.” (13:11), and “Whoever goes aright, for his own soul he goes aright; and whoever goes astray, to his own detriment he goes astray.” (39:41)

 God as scientist: Methodology

The actual nature and extend of the experimental work God engages in is, of course, unknown. Judging from accounts recorded by ancient biblical writers such as that of Abraham and Isaac (above), many tests seem geared to gauge such human qualities and attributes as faith/trust, capacity for obedience, the mechanics of decision making, and various aspects of judgment and reasoning. Some appear to involve only a within subject, single variable design. Others reflect a between subjects design, some being single variable experiments and others multiple variable.

While we cannot ascertain the exact mechanics of the divine research program, it would seem from the glimmers of methodology we see reflected in the ancient record that God would use approaches that are not entirely removed from those we ourselves have found reliable in terms of generating meaningful approximations of reality. One logical possibility is Bayesian inference, a powerful method of analysis that involves comparing hypotheses. The Bayes theorem, worked out by Rev. Thomas Bayes (1702-1761), assigns probabilities to all the possible outcomes of an experiment, combines this with relevant knowledge obtained or known prior to performing the actual experiment, and then calculates the probability of each hypothesis being true given the actual observation. In a nutshell, the Bayesian approach readily facilitates the modification of existing beliefs or views in the light of new evidence.

According to the Bible, on more than one occasion God expected Israel to change course (repent), but they did not do so (Isa. 5:2; Jer. 3:6-7, 19-20). God apparently modified certain aspects of the divine agenda accordingly, though undoubtedly without compromising crucial long-term objectives. This process could reflect His use of Bayesian reasoning.

To learn more: A very concise lay level introduction to Bayesian inference is “In praise of Bayes”, The Economist, Sept. 30th, 2000 http://www.cs.berkeley.edu/~murphyk/Bayes/economist.html
 Concluding remarks

The many tests and conditional promissory statements found in ancient accounts of God-human interaction support the notion of free will as ascendant over predestination, and bespeak a future that is at least partially undetermined. They speak eloquently of God being an experimentalist who, after obtaining a result, weaves the new thread into the immense fabric that is His grand design.

It has been said that Albert Einstein had a plaque on his mantle that read, “God is a scientist, not a magician.”Whether or not this in any way reflected the great scientist’s sentiments, one can’t but marvel at how appropriate it was — and is.

 

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“The most important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing. One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality.”
                                                                                                                                                      Albert Einstein

 

 

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© 1993 Savoy Pictures, Inc. (distributed by HBO Home Video)

Scripture quotations from the Tanakh, 1985, Jewish Publication Society.

 

“Rats in the Cosmic Laboratory: Is God A Scienst?” Original © 2002 by Dr. Anthony G. Payne. This Revised version © 2007 All rights reserved.

Hitler & HaShem (The Almighty)

Rabbis and Christian theologians down through the centuries have wrestled with biblical accounts of the Almighty in which He imposed punishments or sanctions, as well as direct military and civil action that flies in the face of what is deemed fair, just or decent in most cultures, past and present: http://www.angelfire.com/pa/greywlf/biblegod.html

 Of course, contemporary religious experts tend to agree that a great many of these stories are fables or myths borrowed from ancient societies that predate the authors of the various books of the Bible. They also recognize the anthropocentric and ethnocentric biases and cultural filters of the writers and scribes who committed these biblical tales to parchment (as it were). But even with all these allowances and concessions, there remains a disturbing pattern of supposedly divinely ordered brutality towards and outright wholesale slaughter of foreign tribes and entire nations. These biblical “cleansing actions” and fiats have underlying premises and logic that appear to have informed some of the darker chapters of history, including the ideology and policies of the penultimate incarnation of evil, Adolf Hitler. 

One writer who very adroitly goes into how Hitler’s beliefs and actions parallel and mirror Biblical morality and standards is Jim Walker whose writings are found on a website bearing the moniker “Hitler compared to God/Jesus/Christians” http://nobeliefs.com/hitlerchristian.htm. Here are but a few of Walker’s insightful notations (Excerpts pieced together):

Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have,

and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling,

 ox and sheep, camel and ass.

-I Samuel 15:3

Hitler attempted to utterly destroy the Jews and all that they had and had millions of men, women, and infants executed. As for animals, Hitler had far more compassion than the Biblical God; he felt kindness for animals.

 (Note: In no sense do I mean that Hitler fulfilled any prophesy, mind you, but rather that Hitler’s actions remained consistent with the actions of the alleged God described in the Bible.)

I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things.

-Isaiah 45:7

 Hitler created peace when it suited him and created death and destruction when it fit his needs, which by Christian standards means “evil.” Hitler did all these things in similar God-like actions reported in the Bible.

Not only did Hitler’s atrocities remain consistent with God and Jesus’ actions in the Bible, but his intransigent attitude parallels many of the fanatical beliefs of Right-wing conservatives of today. Hitler even used his faith in the same way as many mainstream American Christians. It appears clear from the history of Christianity that Hitler brought nothing new to Christianity, albeit he brought its violent nature to new heights.”

This is not to say Hitler didn’t distort and infuse such standards with perverse beliefs of his own, but this alone does not permit one to dismiss logical contradictions, conundrums and catch twenty-two’s between Nazi philosophy and the murderous campaign against “impurity” (Jews, gypsies, homosexuals, political dissenters, etc.) it gave rise to—- nor ancient Israelite beliefs and their wholesale slaughter of peoples that were designated as “defilers” of their culture & community. Slaughter attributed to HaShem.

If you look closely and resist facing what history and scriptures plainly disclose and declare, you will come to see more clearly than ever before the vast array of incredibly discomforting parallels between the reasoning of the ancients and the Nazis (and all other perpetrators of genocide). And while abundant apologetics exist that try to distance Biblical accounts and actions from the moral malignancy of the Nazis, the arguments given can be recast easily & readily to support the Nazis (And they were – by the Nazis — creating a movement with all the trappings of messianic fervor and religiosity).

http://www.infidels.org/library/magazines/tsr/2000/4/004anti.html  http://www.nobeliefs.com/DarkBible/darkbible3.htm, http://freethoughtfirefighters.org/a_wager_on_old_testament_atrocit.htm, http://www.ebonmusings.org/atheism/atrocities.html, http://www.geocities.com/paulntobin/godbible.html, http://www.biblicalnonsense.com/chapter10.html

So moral reasoning and logic alone cannot (to my way of thinking) explain, defend or justify the many dark episodes and pronouncements in the Hebrew Scriptures.

 Scriptures, of course,  reflect the human element — ideas, interpretations, contradictions http://home.freeuk.net/jesusmyth/page5.htm  etc. – they serve human needs (Social coherence and personal wholeness, according to religion scholar Prof. Loyal Rue in his thought-provoking book, “Religion is Not About God”) – and reflect more about human nature than that of the Divine. It is said all scripture is Misnah – commentary – and not so much history and especially not science. I agree wholeheartedly with this. And, of course, regional values, myths and views intruded everywhere and suffused and informed what the various scribes and religionists believed and recorded. But be that as it may, there is a recurrent theme of almost cold-blooded malevolence in the Hebrew scriptures: God appears to invoke the very arguments for cleansing conquered lands and peoples, as well as punishing those who deviate from keeping the Law (Oral & written) that were used by pagan religions, kings and later genocidal dictators like Adolf Hitler to reinforce and perpetuate their ideologies (And some of these ideologies, like Nazism, had some aspects of their belief system and practices  Biblical beliefs, laws and such).

Of course, according to scriptures the Almighty’s agenda is one that will redeem and reconcile humankind (in whole or part depending on whose spin you agree with) while evil men tend to enact laws and take actions that lead to a life that is at odds with the program and objectives He sanctioned (And by so doing estrange people from Him). Yet while the ends are presumably different, the means to them seem disturbingly similar and in many instances are virtually identical. Indeed, the methods, language and some elements of reasoning attributed to the Divine and that voiced by various evil personalities such as Hitler differ little in kind or degree.

We must, of course, allow for the limitations imposed by human language itself, culture, as well as our neurobiology. We must also do our best to wrestle underlying truths and subtle messages from hyperbole, corrupted text, myth and legend in the scriptures.

That the scriptures are filled with borrowed, fallible, contradictory, and corrupted myths, legends and fables should not disturb us. Consider what the Almighty had to work with, as it were: A tribal people who were steeped in regional myths and superstitions. Some in the fundamentalist or Orthodox camp actually believe God dictated scripture pretty much like a boss might to a secretary or executive administrative assistance; at least with respect to the Torah (Pentateuch). This is nonsense, for had this been the case He would have given humanity a document or set of documents immune from flaws, and by so doing handed down proof of his own existence. In short, no faith would be needed to believe in the Almighty or his stated agenda. A set of flawless, infallible scriptures impregnated with scientific and historical truths centuries ahead of those He was inspiring or speaking to would remove all doubt as to origins and make it impossible for doubt to exist about the reality of the Divine. Indeed, “No faith needed” would have been axiomatic and there would be no legitimate grounds for agnosticism or atheism.

 A fallible set of scriptures is not so disturbing really. It makes us dig and work and argue to arrive at what God meant and how we should respond. What is disturbing is not the flawed image of the Almighty nor the presence of various distorted or mythic things attributed to Him, all having been rendered by flawed men and women, but the seeming reliance of God on violence, cruelty and outright “ethnic cleansing” to forge and maintain His hold on the hearts and minds of the Jewish people of antiquity. 

Was He so seemingly bloodthirsty and quick to punish because fallible, almost primitive men and women left Him little to work with in an ancient setting but this? Or was this just how these ancient people’s interpreted things and acted accordingly? Or could it be that the Almighty was both learning and growing with His people, and had His hands tied in terms of available means to preserve the Jewish people from corruption and conquest? (Limited in that He would not override human free will and also utilized human nature and social mechanisms rather then supercede them?)

To invoke a crude analogy: Picture a group of trainee mechanics standing before a car – hood up – a limited set of tools sitting before him – parts scattered everywhere — their goal is to create a harmoniously running engine. There are two instructors present – “good mechanic” and an “evil mechanic” — standing on either side of the trainees. The good instructor wants to help the students create a smoothly functioning automobile. The evil mechanic wants to thwart the good instructor by influencing as many of the trainees as he can to mess things up by doing things like putting useless or ill fitted parts into the engine. The evil instructor’s machinations quite naturally force the good mechanic to get those trainees who follow his lead to take and use some of the tools in the same fashion as the evil mechanic, doing violence as it were to extricate ill-fitting or even dangerous parts from the engine so that they can get the right and proper ones installed. This tug-of-war goes back and forth seemingly endlessly.

Scriptures depict God’s ultimate goal as being one of harmonizing and reconciling as many people to Himself and His sanctioned ways as possible. But in order to pull this off, He must rely on a limited set of tools and options,….as limited as we are. It is, in a very real sense of the word, a pitched struggle that is part of an experiment in-progress; an experiment with a goal, of course.

Indeed, the Cosmos and humankind in particular are, in my opinion, expressions of a divinely initiated experiment (Rats in the Cosmic Laboratory) whose ultimate goal is harmonization with HaShem and his being (“Holiness”) for as many as will “walk the walk”. As such, those impulses and elements and actions that lead to good or conversely evil ends would seem to represent the variables in the ongoing experiment — the “drugs” if you will — that by act-of-will (choice) leads to genuine harmonization between subject & experimenter (HaShem) — while the other appears to do so, but degenerates into greater disharmony and the ultimate chaos unleased by unbridled selfishness (Estrangement from HaShem and what this entails in this world and the next). This aspect of the Divine experiment constitutes a sorting mechanism of sorts; the one referred to by various biblical writers as “sorting the wheat from the chaff”. It tests both men and women, revealing to us individually and collectively our inner nature and the consequences of our choices along the way.     

Because the tools, methods and sometimes even the reasoning employed by good and evil people are virtually identical, discretion becomes paramount. This is where many religious and political systems fail utterly — trading that which reconciles people to each other and the Almighty for that which winds up accomplishing the opposite.

In the end, scriptures indicate the experiment will run its course and produce a final result: Harmony twixt humankind and HaShem for many. Many who die in sin/error/missteps get redeemed and participate in this harmonious world (material and incorporeal), while an unrepentantly evil, unredeemable few are separated from this redeemed plane of existence — presumably for eternity. Or until obliterated, which some Jewish sages considered their ultimate fate. This is certainly more merciful than what many Christian denominations fancy for the unredeemed/unredeemable — Hitler, Stalin, Caligula, etc. A mercy more characteristic of the Almighty that sages like Hillel knew and championed by virtue of their faith, teachings and deeds.

Pulvis et umbra sumus

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http://www.angelfire.com/pa/greywlf/biblegod.html

http://www.infidels.org/library/magazines/tsr/2000/4/004anti.html

http://www.nobeliefs.com/DarkBible/darkbible3.htm

http://freethoughtfirefighters.org/a_wager_on_old_testament_atrocit.htm

http://www.ebonmusings.org/atheism/atrocities.html

http://www.geocities.com/paulntobin/godbible.html

http://www.biblicalnonsense.com/chapter10.html

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Hitler compared to God/Jesus/Christians

by Jim Walker

http://nobeliefs.com/hitlerchristian.htm

Our Incredible Shrinking Life & Influence: Staring into the Face of our own Mortality (Death & Dissolution)

In Heaven, the ancient sages tell us, neither deeds nor their doers are lost to time and its cruel machinations. But here in this world, most of us will fade from memory – and then history, be that history a professional accomplishment or award or merely an entry in the Social Security rolls. A few will endure far longer; those extraordinarily accomplished few, both good and evil. And even they will be diminished across time in most cases, starting out as a book and then gradually, inexorably being whittled down to a chapter, then a paragraph, and then an ever shrinking footnote.

Of course, we persevere because, well, there really is no choice but to move on in some fashion. And we hope, too that maybe somehow we will defy the odds and hang on longer and have a bigger impact than our deeds and feats so far suggest; that somehow we will have a more profound influence tomorrow than we did today. That maybe our existential misery and angst masks a genuinely “Wonderful Life” and, like George Bailey, some flesh and blood or other worldly version of Clarence Oddbody will pop into our lives and reveal how influential and thus important we truly have been… and are. Such are the fairy tales we carry into adulthood; the delusions and illusions we nurture because they keep us believing the improbable. And why not? These give us comfort, instill hope and make it possible to cope with a reality which spits in our face and mockingly dangles our insignificance before us; a reality that reminds us that with each passing day we are drawing ever closer to that day all hope of turning the tide will slip forever from our grasp, chased from this world by our last mortal breath.

Why do we rail so against insignificance and dissolution? Should we not embrace these, as opposed to denying them? Is denying them tantamount to saying we are both vital to the universe, maybe even its crowning achievement and centerpiece? But can we embrace the cold hard reality of our mortality and insignificance without sinking into a species of despair deeper and darker than any grave? Can we use such a conscious realization to some good end? But who, you ask, but the clinically depressed would want to embrace them until they have to, which for most of us is likely on our deathbed? Is not denial or disassociation in this instance good for us? Would not an open embrace of our mortal puniness lend us to pessimism and even cynicism? Is not optimistic hope healthful and its polar opposite detrimental to our best interests – body, mind and soul? Does not our survival instinct argue that we must press on – the future being a hoped for gap of sorts that runs ahead of us which we gladly fill in with “…I will do or be better….more dutiful, good, and thus significant….tomorrow”?! 

It seems so natural to resist and even oppose that which casts us in a poor light or threatens our person, as this can diminish or even extinguish our existence…our unique physical presence in this world and in the social scheme of things. Did not Dylan Thomas wisely implore us to “Rage against the dying of the light”?

 And here in America, endowed as we are by our Constitution with the “inalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”, and fueled by unbridled competitiveness from boardroom to bedroom, we seem especially unwilling to do or say or even think that somehow, someway, someday…we will beat the odds and buy or bargain or scientifically negotiate our way around or beyond our own mortality and petty ego (And it is an ego that will not let death have the final word even – as tombstones and obituaries bear ample witness to).  

But consider this hard, cold fact: Even for the few of us whose names will endure for as long as there are men and women to “tell the tale” ….both here on Earth and on any worlds we visit and eventually colonize…the physical Cosmos will one day wind down and die. Some envision our kind making an exodus into other universes or dimensions, …buying time and perpetuating ourselves over and over again as one universe dies and we escape to another….which is at present only informed speculation and wishful thinking.  But should this actually prove to be the case, you can count on the “immortals” of history shrinking in significance as new names crowd out the old.   

In light of this, what are we — stubborn, stupid or just plain foolish?  Perhaps we are none of these. Maybe we are just inveterate gamblers, like cigarette smokers who plainly see that the odds of escaping disease or impairment are stacked against them, but who blithely smoke on, smug in their conviction that they will somehow win the biological lottery.

In the final analysis, what is wrong with us? Why can’t we embrace reality and (Ahem) live with its message and implications? Are we incapable of doing so without sinking into a morass of hopelessness, from which the route of escape is drugs, booze, sex, superstition or pseudoscience – singly or in some combination?  Why is our mortality and ultimate insignificance so terrifying? Will having everything we are and have achieved wiped out when our world dies – when the universe dies (if we manage to colonize far flung worlds) — mean that the whole cosmic play (as it were) is a colossal, meaningless, unmourned tragedy?

  •  

So why am I parading human mortality and our ever increasing insignificance with the passage of time before you? Surely only a curmudgeon or pathologically morbid soul would plunk himself and his readership down all in front of a mirror whose backdrop is, well…. basically a desert or cemetery!

It’s enough to make you, well…….run into the arms of your own…or someone else’s….faith tradition! But even we who believe in the Almighty have to wrestle with the issues of our mortality and insignificance – plus the added possibility that the tally of our words and deeds may leave us considerably diminished in stature compared to what we believe to be the case.  Heaven must surely have a hierarchy of sorts, its own pecking order based on individual merit; which is to say, status as reward for acts of faith, charity, love, sacrifice and such while a man or woman was alive. And as such, there surely will be a class of post-mortem dwellers in God’s realm who will be, well…less significant…less notable and respected and regarded… then most others (Insignificant, in short). 

Well, with all due respect to Milton, better to be insignificant in Heaven than significant in Hell, yes?! But even so, eternally existent but insignificant is an odd form of comfort for believers on this side of the veil.

So we theists, it would seem, must wrestle with pretty much the same mortal issues as the agnostic or atheist, only they are not concerned about what lies beyond the grave…while we are. In terms of this life, it would seem the nonbeliever has a lighter load of baggage than the believer.  Faith, it would seem, has its limitations and perchance cannot move every mountain – on this or the other side of life.

So where do we look for comfort or reassurance, if there is any to be had? Can we surmount or banish the specter of our own demise, and the fact the ripples we made on the human pond will likely diminish over time and then be lost for good? How do we get over the death of our oft trumpeted (but frankly overstated) individual and collective human uniqueness – as well as the distant demise awaiting our evolutionary womb (The Cosmos that birthed everything including us)?

The answer, as such, has always been there — plainly staring back at us.

  •  

There are many things the ancient philosophers and prophets got right, and much they got terribly wrong.  In the Bible – the Hebrew Scriptures, that is – the Earth is depicted as a cube floating in water with a dome placed over it bearing holes through which the light of Heaven reaches people at night (Starlight). A global flood is suppose to have occurred ages ago, although there is no geologic evidence of it whatsoever and, had such a flood taken place in the timeframe and manner depicted, the thermal energy generated would have turned the entire body of water into a boiling cauldron that would have eradicated life both in and floating on it.

The litany of mistakes, contradictions and mythic elements in the Biblical scriptures is staggering and well documented. While fundamentalists do mental handsprings to reconcile that which cannot be reasonably reconciled, most believers realize that their Bible is not and never was meant to be a history or science book. It is primarily a means of communicating values and a code of conduct that in some respects is simply an endorsement of moral behavior and propensities longstanding in our species; a sense of what is right and wrong – the Torah within, if you will – that evolved in our primate ancestors, conferred survival advantages, and thus was preserved and elaborated in the hominid lines that lead to our branch of the primate evolutionary bush.  

But these ancient texts also contain stories — myths in the sense of The Epic of Gilgamesh  — that reveal profound insights into human nature. This isn’t too surprising, given that these peoples had to grapple with the same life and death issues that resonate throughout human existence. But what is surprising, is that some of the insights contained in their myths and stories were not seized on and fully developed as the text was being hobbled together. Later, yes, others came along and extracted the more poignant insights and messages woven into the ancient text, spinning interpretations that have waxed and waned in popularity down through history. Some both saw and wrote about what I will shortly share, but it never quite seemed to reach the status of widespread consensus among believers (Among Jewish Rabbis and informed congregants, yes, but less so rank-and-file Christians and such) . But like a book or letter or set of keys sitting plainly in front of our faces which simply does not register, that which is “obvious” can readily be missed.

The odd thing is that the insight we seek is contained in the very first book of the Hebrew Scriptures. It is as though the keys we are looking for, have been hanging in the lock of the main door of our house all along.      

  •  

The old saying “begin at beginning” is an apt one when it comes to ancient Biblical insight into the origins of our all too human propensity to seek to elevate and perpetuate ourselves. The mythic story of Adam & Eve in the Garden of Eden tells the tale:

Now the serpent was more subtle than any beast of the field which HaShem G-d had made. And he said unto the woman: ‘Yea, hath G-d said: Ye shall not eat of any tree of the garden?’

2 And the woman said unto the serpent: ‘Of the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat;

3 but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, G-d hath said: Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die.’

4 And the serpent said unto the woman: ‘Ye shall not surely die;

5 for G-d doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as G-d, knowing good and evil.’

6 And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat; and she gave also unto her husband with her, and he did eat.

Source for quote: Bereshit – Genesis 3 – Hebrew Scriptures

Many Christian theologians looked at this morality tale and pegged it as an act of both capitulation to temptation and an act of rebellion against the Almighty; an evil that stained humankind with an “original sin” that has undermined human nature ever since and from which men require redemption or salvation. This is not how the learned descendents of the men who wrote the Hebrew Scriptures including Genesis see it.  And it is in their take on the Genesis story and the nature of humankind that points us to a proper perspective.

The Jewish Talmud is essentially a collection of rabbinic discussions pertaining to Jewish ethics, laws (instruction/revelation), customs, and history. It has two components: the Mishnah, the first written compendium of Judaism’s Oral Law; and the Gemara, a discussion of the Mishnah and related Tannaitic writings that often ventures onto other subjects and expounds broadly on the Hebrew Scriptures (The Tanakh). The terms Talmud and Gemara are often used interchangeably.  (Adopted from the Wikipedia entry for the Talmud)  

In-a-word, the Talmud articulates a cogent view of our basic nature and relationship to God:

In Genesis 2:7, the Hebrew Scriptures Bible state that the Almighty formed (vayyitzer) humankind. The spelling of this word in Hebrew is unusual insofar as it uses two consecutive Yods instead of the one that is expected. Learned Rabbis and ages have inferred that these Yods stand for the word “yetzer,” which translates to “impulse,” with the existence of two Yods here indicating that humanity was formed with two impulses: A good impulse (the yetzer tov) and an “evil” impulse (the yetzer ra).

The yetzer tov is considered the moral conscience, the inner voice that reminds us what’s right (internalized and native values) when confronted with something that is that is unlawful (forbidden).

The yetzer ra is difficult to nail down, because there are diverse ideas concerning its nature. It is not a desire to do evil in the way we think of it in the West, but instead is widely considered to be our selfish nature, the desire to satisfy personal needs with little or no regard for the moral consequences of fulfilling those desires.

The yetzer ra is not a bad thing, as the Talmud notes that without it people would not build homes, marry, have children or even carry out business affairs. But the yetzer ra can lead to wrongdoing when it is not controlled or offset/counterbalanced by the yetzer tov. For example, there is nothing inherently wrong with being hungry, but it can lead some folks to shoplift food or just grab morsels and eat as they are shopping in a grocery or convenience store. There is nothing inherently wrong with our libido or sexual desire, but if it leads a person to commit rape, adultery, incest or such then the yetzer ra has won out.

The yetzer ra is generally viewed as internal to a person, as opposed to being an external force acting on a person. The “the devil made me do it” thesis is not in line with the majority of thought in Judaism. Although some say that Satan (Adversary to what is lawful) and the yetzer ra are one and the same, most rabbis view Satan as merely a personification of our own selfish desires, rather an external force or being that acts on us from without.

Of course, people have the ability to choose which impulse to follow: The yetzer tov or the yetzer ra. That is the essence of the Jewish understanding of free will. The Talmud notes that all people are descended from Adam (i.e., a mythic representation of early humans that evolved in Africa), so no one can blame his own wicked conduct on his ancestry. To the contrary, we all have the ability to make choices (unless profoundly impaired mentally-psychologically), and we will all are accountable for the choices we make.

The foregoing six paragraphs are adapted from Judaism 101: Human Nature

And now, with your indulgence (O’ Reader), I will expand on this:

Now, as indicated above the evil impulse is actually a good thing, so long as it doesn’t get out of hand. In a way, the evil impulse is our survival instinct; the ancient wiring that helps us avoid a premature death due to starvation, predation, attack or such,  while concomitantly compelling us to perpetuate ourselves (Both biologically and in terms of the words and deeds we leave behind).

 In Eastern religious – and we must realize that Judaism came out of a Near East milieu and thus shares some features in common with religious traditions that arose and spread throughout the ancient world – evil is not always considered the polar opposite of good. It is part of what makes the whole function properly. If you’ve seen the yin-yang symbol, then you have an inkling of this holistic dance as-it-were.

Evil then only becomes a problem when it overshadows the good impulse (yetzer tov) or throws things out of balance.  And what happens when the yetzer ra (“evil”) eclipses the yetzer tov (“good”)? Self takes center stage and begins trying to direct all the other players. This spirit of selfishness makes us….flee our mortality and resist insignificance.     

Keep in mind that selfishness does not make on evil, but does so when it takes us far beyond preservation or survival into the domination, usurpation, marginalization, suppression or even extirpation of anything (thoughts included) or anyone that we perceive as a threat to our inflated Self.

In some respects, this strategy works – the evil become immortal in history and perpetually significant (influential) – but equally hated and despised (A poor trade-off in the hearts and minds of sane and reasonable peoples).         

Psychology and not just the historic record also bears witness to what happens when one feeds the bulldog – which is to say, lets the yetzer ra dominate. Studies have shown that when a child is spoiled and his self-esteem is fed ad libitum, you’ll wind up with a spoiled brat, a criminal, a narcissist or worse.

So we have fingered that aspect of ourselves that makes it almost impossible for us to embrace our mortality and accept death and dissolution. So how do we get and keep yetzer ra & yetzer tov in balance such that fear of death& dissolution does not get the upper hand? Here are few approaches I’d like you to consider:

  • The Buddhists strive for Nirvana which the Wikipedia entry describes as “the perfect peace of the state of mind that is free from craving, anger and other afflictive states (kilesa). The subject is at peace with the world, has compassion for all and gives up obsessions and fixations.” While probably a difficult road for many Westerners, there is much in Buddhism one can “dose adapt” to achieve a healthier frame-of-mind and outlook, i.e., as in living in the moment (“Timelessness”) and putting your ego in the back as opposed to the front seat as you go about your daily affairs. Click to access an introduction to Buddhism    
  • Give yourself over to helping others less fortunate than you are. This is good for those you help and good for you in terms of shifting your focus from self to others and also letting your yetzer tov take the lead. You not only feel better about yourself, but for believers there is the prospect of post mortem recognition and acknowledgement (rewards) by the Almighty.  
  • There is a popular adage among many religionists which goes, “Let go and let God.” In real world terms, it means to do all you can about a given situation then release it to God’s keeping and have faith He will handle things in your best interest (albeit your best interests may involve pain, loss or such). Some might call this kind of surrender defeatist or fatalistic and it is in some extreme forms. However, when done with a heart that trusts, this release is adaptive and thus healthy.
  •  Stop seeing insignificance and dissolution as a negative. This seems to run contrary to our survival instinct and by no means I endorse embracing death or wishing for it, but rather putting it in perspective as a built-in feature of the natural order that paves the way for others (those who survive us) to hopefully experience at least some of the joys and growth-conductive experiences and challenges we have.  

There are many others, but I’ll leave it to you to explore and ascertain what’s “out there” and what works best for you. The main thing is that you recognize that while self-preservation and resistance to death is natural (A primal drive – 3 Primal Drives) – the yetzer ra – it is important to engage in practices and thought patterns that bolster the yatzer tov.

Mazel Tov (“Good fortune”) and l’chaim (“To life”)   

 

 

© 2009 by Dr. Anthony G. Payne. All rights reserved. Private communication use permitted.

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