Blog Archives

For those who feel unqualified, under qualified or disqualified to play a significant role in God’s doings in this world

If you are a believer who feels unqualified, under qualified or disqualified to play any sort of role in the Almighty’s work in this world, do yourself a BIG favor and watch the interview below.

 

 

►►MY MOST POPULAR BLOG ENTRIES (CATEGORIZED)

Confident BusinessmanCANCER, ALS, REVERSING ARTERIAL BLOCKAGE

Killing cancer, sparing the patient (Targeting tumor cells while leaving normal ones unaffected)

Looking for treatment options for ALS, heart disease, cancer or eczema?

Reversing arterial blockage: Experimental regimen that worked for man facing amputation of his lower legs

Read the rest of this entry

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

Judaism Starburst grunge backgroundhttp://summerclouds.weebly.com/summer-clouds-blog/prophecy-is-primarily-about-israel-the-jewish-people-not-America

Did the Almighty send an emissary to the ancient Cahokian (American Indian) people?

for-choctaw-doc-blogDo you believe the Almighty ever spoke directly to an American Indian tribe? I do not mean face-to-face but through an emissary. I do and will now share with you the particulars behind my conviction that God/HaShem/The Great Spirit did reach out to the Cahokian peoples (American Indians, yes, but their exact ethnicity much less language is unknown):

Long before Columbus and other 15th century European explorers & adventurers landed in North America, there was the Cahokia, a Mississippian American Indian “mound building” people who thrived from about 750 CE to 1300 CE with their biggest city being about 6 miles from present day St. Louis. My own tribe, the Choctaw Nation, has its roots in the Mississippian culture which naturally makes Cahokia of great interest to me.

To read the rest CLICK THIS LINK

Nota bene, my fellow American Indians: Prophetic Word: Restoration Promised to the First Nations of America

Following Messiah and living the faith authentically is countercultural & radical. One way to do so is in community as a monk or nun (Married or single is OK)

A little YouTube fun along the way

CHOCTAW DOC SHOW“THE CHOCTAW DOC SHOW” (7M:21S YOUTUBE VIDEO): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mSsHJWvYbLo&feature=youtu.be

WELCOME TO CHOCTAW DOC’S CEREBRATORIUM (VERY SHORT VIDEO): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kveW1kW-t2I

ALTERNATIVES & OPTIONS (SHORT VIDEO BY CHOCTAW DOC): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9tR6iAHCcrc

Links to Choctaw Doc’s main web & blog sites (Free information & articles galore)

for-choctaw-doc-blog

CHOCTAW DOC ON ABOUT.ME: http://about.me/ChoctawDoc

ALTERNATIVES & OPTIONS (SHORT VIDEO BY CHOCTAW DOC): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9tR6iAHCcrc

“THE CHOCTAW DOC SHOW” (7M:15S YOUTUBE VIDEO): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1VVBKk-venc&feature=youtu.be

 

CHOCTAW DOC’S CEREBRATORIUM: https://biotheorist.wordpress.com/

CHOCTAW DOC’S LINKED-IN PROFILE: http://www.linkedin.com/pub/choctaw-doc/24/126/207
CHOCTAW DOC/SUMMER CLOUD’S SPIRITUAL WATERING HOLE WEBSITE: http://summerclouds.weebly.com/
CHOCTAW DOC’S SCRIBD PAGE: http://www.scribd.com/ChoctawDoc

Alienation: Pervasive and insidious

Take a moment and read through the eight book quotes below.

“Today, concern about man’s alienation is expressed by many: by theologians and philosophers who warn that advanced in scientific knowledge do not enable us to penetrate the mystery of Being, and do not often widen the gulf between the knower and the reality he tries to understand…”  CLICK TO READ MORE

Green cemeteries: An alternative to environmentally-unfriendly burials!

  Most of us naturally resist thinking about our earthly demise and the “disposal” of our remains. We Baby Boomers likely tend to harbor hope that we will somehow cheat death — or at least put it off for 100 or more years. Whether you happen to live 100 years or more, one day you will “pay the piper” — that is, kick the bucket, buy the farm, cash in your chips, etc. For us American Indians death is simply a matter of changing worlds. We trust that the Great Spirit/HaShem/God is not a jack booted thug intent on consigning most people to some sort of eternal torment for missteps committed during a handful of years or decades but, rather, is intent on reconciling most of humankind to himself. You may disagree — which is something we American Indians respect — though I personally am hard-pressed to understand people who promote a theology which portrays God as a judge who (to be honest) differs little from those who populated the “People’s Courts” in Nazi Germany. Be that as it may, I am here to place before you something more pragmatic — more “here & now” – namely how you will dispose of your mortal remains. Many will opt for being embalmed and buried in an airtight coffin that is sunk in a concrete jacket so as to minimize deterioration through time. This is a personal choice, though there are powerful arguments against this — if only because embalming fluid and such has a deleterious impact on the local environment. If you are open to an alternative — something ”green” — consider having your mortal remains disposed of in a green cemetery (If it could be pulled off I’d argue for the establishment of burial platforms much like my Plains Indian ancestors and brothers utilized in various localities. There is something inherently appealing about raising a body up to meet the world above and beyond IMO):

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/3947912/ns/us_news-environment/t/texas-cemetery-offers-green-burials/

http://www.greenburials.org/FAQ.htm – includes a list of green cemeteries

http://www.ethicianfamilycemetery.org/ – for my fellow Texans & interested others

Nota Bene: I have no financial or other ties to MSNBC or the Ethican Church or the Ethical Family Cemetery.

Copyright 2012 by Dr. Anthony G. Payne. All rights reserved but spread it around anyway.

The Spiritual Aspect of Holistic Medicine

The foundation of holism or holistic medicine rests on a triumvirate — body, mind and spirit. Actually, as the mind is an expression of the various regions of the brain — a species of the physical — we are really dealing with body/brain and spirit. The former, of course, has been probed and explored using the tools of medicine and science. No one questions their reality. Spirit, on the other hand, by most definitions is non-material, and thus lies beyond the purview of science; that is, one cannot demonstrate spirit using a gas chromatograph, scanning electron microscope, or any other tool in the armamentarium of science.

But what of the effects of spirit? If it exists, should we not be able to detect its effects on the physical realm? This is a question which now occupies many philosophers, some scientists and physicians, and many laypeople.

One very often cited manifestation of spirit lies in the realm of answered prayer. Numerous studies have been carried out in which patients with a given affliction were divided into two groups: One received prayer (experimental group) and the other (control group) didn’t. The prayers were offered off-site and no one involved in the study knew who was being prayed for and who wasn’t (double-blind).

The bottom line of many of these studies is that prayer appears to have made a significant difference in the relief or cure of the malady or affliction in the experimental group, while those in the control group had no appreciable change in their condition. The rigor of these studies has been found wanting by countless impartial investigators. That is, flaws in study design, methodology and/or execution have basically invalidated the findings of these clinical trials.

What of the healings connected with religious shrines, such as Lourdes? There have been approximately 69 healings connected with Lourdes which have met the Catholic church’s criteria for a bona fide miracle — 69 out of the hundreds of thousands of petitions for healing. This is not statistically significant. In short, the numbers do not support the notion that the rate of recovery/healing at Lourdes is greater than would be expected to occur as a result of normal processes. (One can expect a certain percentage of even incurable illnesses to suddenly and inexplicably go into remission. These recoveries happen to non-believer and believer alike — and hence appear contingent on natural and not supernatural mechanisms.)

I know what many of you are thinking — “Leave it to a skeptical, non-believing blankety-blank science guy to trash our sacred beliefs.” If you are nodding your head in agreement — you are dead wrong. First of all, I am a believer. I also believe that God hears and answers prayer — and even heals people. Well, wait a minute, isn’t this contradictory or hypocritical, given what I wrote above? No, indeed, for I do not allege that my beliefs are based on hard science nor the manifestations of spirit, or God so physically evident as to permit measurement or quantification. In fact, those who believe that spirit, God, or any aspect of the supernatural can be demonstrated in a controlled study or lab experiment invite upon themselves the unenviable task of proving their claims. (It is always incumbent on those who propose the existence of something which can be physically detected and, thus measured, to do just that.) And I, for one, do not believe that they will ever garner any substantive proof. Why?

Consider this: In virtually every religious tradition God requires that humankind both apprehend His existence and relate to him via faith — a conviction based not on the physical and demonstrable, but on sheer belief. If God were to reveal Himself in the lab or clinical trial setting — say, by answering the prayers for healing in an experimental group at rates which exceed chance — the need for faith would be dispensed with. We could base our confidence, our belief in the spiritual and a First Cause (God) on the hard data provided by the study in question.

This, of course, would make God the author of a serious contradiction and would obligate most major religions to toss out many of their principle doctrines concerning the nature of the deity, the need for faith as a requisite for apprehending the divine, et cetera. It would also raise serious questions as to the reliability of revealed truths about God (oral and written traditions).

Since I do not believe God would ask one thing (faith) and then reveal Himself in a concrete, scientifically demonstrable fashion, I am not surprised or dismayed that laboratory experiments and clinical trials do not turn upon any credible data which stands up to scrutiny. I also realize, however, that there are some who believe that faith isn’t the only requisite to apprehending God or the supernatural and will continue to carry out studies aimed at catching a glimpse of the divine in action.

In my opinion they are wasting both time and money, but should they one day prove to be right — if they do incontrovertibly demonstrate the efficacy of prayerful supplication (to God) in healing a given malady — skeptic and believer alike will be making some rather profound changes to their distinct perspectives. This isn’t beyond the pale of possibility. I think, however, that such definitive proof will in some ways weigh more heavily on the religionist then the agnostic or skeptic.

While the debate rages and the studies plod along, what role then should the spiritual play in healing/medicine? I think most physicians — even diehard atheists — at the very least accommodate a narrow species of “spirituality,” in the sense of encouraging hope and making use of patient expectation to afford relief, if not cure.

In holistic medicine, on the other hand, the spiritual element more often takes on a different character and importance. The holistic medical community plays host to wide range of spiritual beliefs, including American Indian, New Age, Buddhist, Christian. As long as this spirituality is not called “scientific” or “hard science-based,” or makes claims which can be tested using the tools and methods of science, its place in the patient care repertoire of holistic health care practitioners remains a matter of personal prerogative. And doesn’t faith and personal prerogative lie at the core of human spirituality?

In the final analysis, I think we will find that the substantiation of faith begins and ends on one’s knees — and in one’s heart — and not in the laboratory.

Copyright 2011 by Dr. Anthony G. Payne. All rights reserved.

Rats in the Cosmic Laboratory: Is God A Scientist?

http://anthonypayne.hubpages.com/hub/Feeling-Alienated-You-have-a-lot-of-company

Stepping Outside the Religion Box: A new book by Jim Haverlock

 

The Supreme Trap Box by Jim Haverlock
The Supreme Trap Box

Looking for God?
Do Religions follow the Teachings of Christ?
Are churches “infallable”?
Do you have your own questions about God?

What you will read in this book:

*Preface
Chapters:
1. Embroidery of Life
2. Everyman’s way is right, in his eyes
3. 21st Century – vs – early B.C.
4. Religions – Rules/Regulations / Sins
5. Wisdom Literature
6. Genesis-Purity-Compassion-
Chocolates Because so many of us “lay people” question this topic, it may just be time for a lay persons view point and expressions, that may open new doors, or provide more questions for each of us to ponder.

7. Infallibility
8. Hypocrisy
9. Just for Fun
10. Communication with God
10a. Angels, Guides, Spirits
11. Trap Box – Supreme
12. Closing Notes
*About the Cover
*Foot notes / references
*Suggested Readings

Want a sneak preview? <—Click this link

The Spiritual Aspects of “Holistic” Medicine

The foundation of holism or holistic medicine rests on a triumvirate — body, mind and spirit. Actually, as the mind is an expression of the various regions of the brain — a species of the physical — we are really dealing with body/brain and spirit. The former, of course, has been probed and explored using the tools of medicine and science. No one questions their reality. Spirit, on the other hand, by most definitions is non-material, and thus lies beyond the purview of science; that is, one cannot demonstrate spirit using a gas chromatograph, scanning electron microscope, or any other tool in the armamentarium of science.

But what of the effects of spirit? If it exists, should we not be able to detect its effects on the physical realm? This is a question which now occupies many philosophers, some scientists and physicians, and many laypeople.

One very often cited manifestation of spirit lies in the realm of answered prayer. Numerous studies have been carried out in which patients with a given affliction were divided into two groups: One received prayer (experimental group) and the other (control group) didn’t. The prayers were offered off-site and no one involved in the study knew who was being prayed for and who wasn’t (double-blind).

The bottom line of many of these studies is that prayer appears to have made a significant difference in the relief or cure of the malady or affliction in the experimental group, while those in the control group had no appreciable change in their condition. The rigor of these studies has been found wanting by countless impartial investigators. That is, flaws in study design, methodology and/or execution have basically invalidated the findings of these clinical trials.

What of the healings connected with religious shrines, such as Lourdes? There have been approximately 69 healings connected with Lourdes which have met the Catholic church’s criteria for a bona fide miracle — 69 out of the hundreds of thousands of petitions for healing. This is not statistically significant. In short, the numbers do not support the notion that the rate of recovery/healing at Lourdes is greater than would be expected to occur as a result of normal processes. (One can expect a certain percentage of even incurable illnesses to suddenly and inexplicably go into remission. These recoveries happen to non-believer and believer alike — and hence appear contingent on natural and not supernatural mechanisms.)

I know what many of you are thinking — “Leave it to a skeptical, non-believing blankety-blank scientist to trash our sacred beliefs.” If you are nodding your head in agreement — you are dead wrong. First of all, I am a theist. I also believe that God hears and answers prayer — and even heals people through various means including the ministrations of physicians. Well, wait a minute, isn’t this contradictory or hypocritical, given what I wrote above? No, indeed, for I do not allege that my beliefs are based on hard science nor the manifestations of spirit, or God so physically evident as to permit measurement or quantification. In fact, those who believe that spirit, God, or any aspect of the supernatural can be demonstrated in a controlled study or lab experiment invite upon themselves the unenviable task of proving their claims. (It is always incumbent on those who propose the existence of something which can be physically detected and, thus measured, to do just that.) And I, for one, do not believe that they will ever garner any substantive proof. Why?

Consider this: In virtually every religious tradition God requires that humankind both apprehend His existence and relate to him via faith — a conviction based not on the physical and demonstrable, but on sheer belief. If God were to reveal Himself in the lab or clinical trial setting — say, by answering the prayers for healing in an experimental group at rates which exceed chance — the need for faith would be dispensed with. We could base our confidence, our belief in the spiritual and a First Cause (God) on the hard data provided by the study in question.

This, of course, would make God the author of a serious contradiction and would obligate most major religions to toss out many of their principle doctrines concerning the nature of the deity, the need for faith as a requisite for apprehending the divine, et cetera. It would also raise serious questions as to the reliability of revealed truths about God (oral and written traditions).

Since I do not believe God would ask one thing (faith) and then reveal Himself in a concrete, scientifically demonstrable fashion, I am not surprised or dismayed that laboratory experiments and clinical trials do not turn upon any credible data which stands up to scrutiny. I also realize, however, that there are some who believe that faith isn’t the only requisite to apprehending God or the supernatural and will continue to carry out studies aimed at catching a glimpse of the divine in action.

In my opinion they are wasting both time and money, but should they one day prove to be right — if they do incontrovertibly demonstrate the efficacy of prayerful supplication (to God) in healing a given malady — skeptic and believer alike will be making some rather profound changes to their distinct perspectives. This isn’t beyond the pale of possibility. I think, however, that such definitive proof will in some ways weigh more heavily on the religionist then the agnostic or skeptic.

While the debate rages and the studies plod along, what role then should the spiritual play in healing/medicine? I think most physicians — even diehard atheists — at the very least accommodate a narrow species of “spirituality,” in the sense of encouraging hope and making use of patient expectation to afford relief, if not cure.

In holistic medicine, on the other hand, the spiritual element more often takes on a different character and importance. The holistic medical community plays host to wide range of spiritual beliefs, including American Indian, New Age, Buddhist, Christian. As long as this spirituality is not called “scientific” or “hard science-based,” or makes claims which can be tested using the tools and methods of science, its place in the patient care repertoire of holistic health care practitioners remains a matter of personal prerogative. And doesn’t faith and personal prerogative lie at the core of human spirituality?

In the final analysis, I think we will find that the substantiation of faith begins and ends on one’s knees — and in one’s heart — and not in the laboratory. 

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

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.

 

_____________________________________

“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

 

 

______________________________________

© 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.

Life and beyond: Is the outcome one of futility for most?

Day in and day out I wage war on the Great Grendel; that perennial, merciless foe of life that in all its incarnations makes a mockery of that innate desire in all of us to thrive and perchance depart this world full of years and wisdom. I speak of helping folks in their personal battles with disease, injuries, malignancies and such; incipient death in all her myriad manifestations and machinations.

          In the midst of sharing a yoke with so many ailing people and their caregivers, I am sometimes struck by the element of futility to it all; futility insofar as the very best outcome is death deferred. When you think about it, we all wind up defeated as it were here in the physical realm. Even this world which most of us love so dearly and cling to ferociously  — as well the cosmos of which it is a part – are likewise destined to die and enter a perpetual night (Barring what at this point appears unlikely –  a “reverse course” and repeat big bang).

          This “resistance is futile” state-of-affairs is rather obvious, yes and though true begs the equally obvious: What other recourse is there? One of the earliest and no doubt strongest drives to evolve is that of self-preservation (3 Primal Drives, Essay), without which this world would be for the most part a vacant planetary lot.  So we strive to live and flourish, take a stab at leaving some kind of legacy — be it children or ideas or a body of work or some such monument — and hold death at bay until our strength is exhausted or we are otherwise left with little choice but to release our grip on this world.  There is continuity in all this, but we all realize somewhere deep down that family and achievement do not confer immortality; that everything will be consigned to a vast, universal graveyard. And besides, there would be very little gratification in any sort of immortality predicated on familial or other forms of physical continuity, unless (of course) we were to find a way to actually become physically immortal, ageless and free of infirmity or debility.

          Until we can confer immortality sans aging and debility — something that lies on the far side of tomorrow – we are left with but a single recourse: Resignation – with or without a belief in a postmortem spiritual life. This acknowledgement of inescapable inevitability can be a liberating, even positive thing for those who hold fast to a religious faith, as well as for those who do not. For example, the atheist who believes existence ends with one’s physical demise might tend to view death as freedom from infirmity, debility or such. Since he does not anticipate a postmortem life review and reckoning, there is little to fear other than the physical process of dying itself (If prolonged or painful). The “death as freedom from suffering” theme is a logical no doubt shared by most religionists, to which is tacked on the erstwhile conviction that there is a “life after life”  that has a pleasant outcome (At least for those who share a specific set of beliefs or who otherwise are deemed or made worthy of sharing the Almighty’s presence).

          I can appreciate both perspectives, but must confess that some species of religious belief concerning the afterlife is antithetical to assurance, hope or anything positive. For example, many fundamentalist Christians believe that most (if not all) non-Christian folks will wind up consigned to Hell or something like it forever. Now this is not too disturbing if you belong to the minority whose beliefs and practices guarantee one a privileged slot at the Divine banquet table. But – and here is where things get interesting if only from a psychological perspective – many of these true believers go through life uncertain as to whether they will actually merit a place in Heaven. I know, because during my nearly half century sojourn through life I have met or otherwise dealt with scores of devoutly religious people, mostly fundamentalist Christians, who are plagued by fears that they will somehow far short at Judgment and be consigned to Hell. So consider: We have a segment of religious believers – possibly a large one – who believe that despite their faith and pious efforts, they will probably fall “short of the mark” and be tossed into a house of horrors for eternity (For those who read this who are religious and believe otherwise concerning these matters, set aside theological or scriptural arguments to the contrary and focus instead on what this spin engenders in those who harbor it). Among the things I have noted in these often “quietly tortured souls”: A deep seated pessimism and sense of hopelessness, though not of the sort to send them running amok in the streets armed with an AK-47 – if only because this would surely turn the likelihood of going to Hell into a certainty. So what we have here is an incarnation of religious faith – faith being by its very nature a vehicle for instilling values, imparting hope, inspiring love and charity, promoting worship and social responsibility, and so forth – that is suffused with an undercurrent of agonizing uncertainty and fear, self-loathing, and a maddening sense that one would probably have been better off not being born at all.

          Interesting, most Christians I’ve interacted with down through the years hold to a “trust and obey and all will be well in the great by-and-by” expression of their faith, while often confessing that those who do not embrace this are probably going to Hell. Surprisingly, I have found few among them I would characterize as intolerant elitists who defend their faith in inappropriate ways. And while what they profess appears to infuse many in their ranks with abject uncertainty and fear for their own eternal fate — and portrays those outside their ranks as holding one-way tickets on the fire and brimstone express – these folks by-and-large do not seek to impose their beliefs on others or deny those outside their ranks the right to disagree with their views or reject them outright. This probably reflects the influence of America’s democratic values and traditions on religious folks, which is good all the way around. 

          And let me lay to rest the notion I am singling out fundamentalist Christians by widening the proverbial lens: To whit, various surveys taken down through the years here in America indicate that most people believe themselves to be essentially good and (among believers) bound for something upbeat after their mortal demise. Many of these no doubt feel that while this is true of themselves, it is not going to be the case for those who do not share their religious beliefs or spirituality. And this conviction is not exclusive to fundamentalist Christians by any means, for one can readily find abundant examples of the “I’m in, but you’re not” mentality among many Jewish and Muslim clerics and laypeople.

          Whatever reckoning and subsequent purgation or punishment there is that follows this life, I can’t help but marvel over these two primary, interwoven futilities: We wage relentless warfare with disease, age, decline and infirmity that sometimes buys us time but not a reprieve from walking life’s final “green mile”. And then following death for some – many – maybe most – depends on who you listen to — there is consignment to purgatory or Hell; a fate which surely constitutes the grandest futility conceivable – that of ever having lived at all. And if most folks do go to perdition, does this outcome not signal that the divine experiment is a failure? “Rats in the Cosmic Laboratory: Is God A Scientist?

It can be argued that the experiment was by design geared to winnow out the wheat from the chaff, and is a success by virtue of the fact it is achieving this end. But if this is the case, then it is a success that truly is eclipsed by its horrific cost. And even though the responsibility for this colossal failure lies in human missteps and bad choices and not with the Almighty, it begs the question: Once it became clear that more folks were going to Hell than to Heaven, why not bring everything to fruition quickly and end the experiment? To do otherwise – to leave such an apparatus running – surely constitutes both a wanton cruelty… and the penultimate futility…in anyone’s book (“Good Book” or otherwise).

Is there a perspective more consonant with logic and fairness? (Both are crucial attributes of the Divine according to most religions). There are many, chief among which in my opinion is reflected in this positional statement from the Judaism 101 website:

 

Although there are a few statements to the contrary in the Talmud, the predominant view of Judaism is that the righteous of all nations have a share in the Olam Ha-Ba. Statements to the contrary were not based on the notion that membership in Judaism was required to get into Olam Ha-Ba, but were grounded in the observation that non-Jews were not righteous people. If you consider the behavior of the surrounding peoples at the time that the Talmud was written, you can understand the rabbis’ attitudes. By the time of Rambam, the belief was firmly entrenched that the righteous of all nations have a share in the Olam Ha-Ba.

http://www.jewfaq.org/olamhaba.htm

                  

  1. Submitted for your thoughtful consideration by Dr. Anthony G. Payne       

           

 

© 2005 by Dr. Anthony G. Payne. 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

 _____________________________________________________________________________

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

 _______________________________________________________________________

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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