I changed my mind about…

I’ve been reading What Have You Changed Your Mind About? , a collection of essays by some of today’s leading minds about what they’ve changed their minds about and how the change came about. In the prologue, the editor John Brockman presented the 2008 Edge question:

When thinking changes your mind, that’s philosophy. When God changes your mind, that’s faith. When facts change your mind, that’s science.

What have you changed your mind about? Why?

Science is based on evidence. What happens when the data change? How have scientific findings or arguments changed your mind?

Here’s a response that I came up with:

I change my mind often and it’s usually because I’ve given a matter much thought or because I’ve found new facts, revelations, or insights and thoughtfully tested my beliefs against this new information or caused me to look at things in a new perspective. If God has changed my mind about anything, I’m certain it was not through faith but through other means.

It’s unlikely that God has ever changed my mind but over the years I have certainly changed my mind about God. I never had strong religious beliefs and for most of my life I basically assumed that I was, by default, a Christian as that was the predominant religion of the culture in which I was raised.

As I grew older I began to consider my own mortality and began to take matters of the spirit more seriously. I can’t say it’s true for anyone but that was the case for me and I’ve witnessed this change in others.

My sister once described our family’s religious preference as “non-church-goer” and that seemed to sum it up rather well. When I began to think about spiritual matters I began from the assumption that I was in the broad category of Christian yet I could not see myself as a member of any particular church or denomination. I noted that the one thing they all had in common was the Bible so rather than have pastors and priests interpret the Bible for me, I decided I’d read it myself and come to my own conclusions. (I’m sure that priests and pastors will tell me that this was the wrong approach.)

I opened my Bible to Genesis 1:1 and began reading. As I pored through the Old Testament I didn’t find my faith. Instead I found seemingly reconcilable inconsistencies, incongruities, and contradictions. The god I found was wrathful and vindictive with more than a few personality disorders.

I moved on to the New Testament and began reading the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. I found several discrepancies between them and more inconsistencies, incongruities, and contradictions. I also looked at some of the Gnostic Gospels (declared heretical by the Church back in the fourth century) and found many passages in them that were nearly identical to passages in the Canonical gospels. To be fair, I did find that many of the teachings of Jesus had merit.

Reading the Bible did not make me a better Christian nor did it help me find my faith. It did, however, cause me to question my assumption of Christianity which I eventually abandoned completely. But it was not only my reading of the Bible that led to my renunciation of my assumption. There were many other factors which included exposure to non-Western philosophies, theologies and cultures, engaging in deep contemplation, and applying seemingly unrelated disciplines as quantum mechanics.

I found that I could not reconcile the concept of a personal deity especially the Abrahamic traditions. As one who has stepped outside the box and peered back inside, I’m inclined to view a relationship with such a deity as dysfunctional. The Western theological view of man’s relationship with nature and the universe also seems contrary to what I’ve experienced and observed.

I do not consider myself an atheist and I disagree with most aspects of the atheist viewpoint. I’m open to the possibility of something that could be described as god-like. I used the word god for the lack of a better term. To me any concept of god would be beyond name and form (infinite, eternal and omnipresent). It could be an imperceptible force or energy, or even an intelligence or a supreme consciousness. I’m certain that there are levels of consciousness and forms of energy that are beyond what our current science can observe and measure. And I suspect that there is something beyond quantum physics that we have yet to explore.

For now I don’t align myself or identify with any religion nor do I see any reason why I should. There are elements of Christianity (or its basic teachings) that appeal to me although many of them are similar to teachings found in many other religions. Eastern philosophies such as Hinduism and Buddhism have a certain appeal but I’m not willing to bind myself to them either.

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter what you believe but what you do in your life that matters. We are all responsible for our own liberation or salvation, however we conceive it. We must all walk our own path; no one can walk it for us.

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God’s Plan

If you believe the Biblical story of creation as described in Genesis, have you ever considered it to be the justification for a Holy War against Nature? And since we are, despite our denials, a part of Nature then this Holy War extends to all of Humanity and ultimately ourselves. Since the dawn of human civilization Mankind has been engaged in all out war against Nature (ourselves included) and if we carry it out to its logical conclusion we must, inevitably, bring about out own extinction. Unless we surrender, it’s the only possible outcome.

Other species have survival instincts but like good soldiers, we have trained and conditioned ourselves to disregard our basic instincts. Instead we have developed an almost instinctive propensity for self-destruction. Man is the only species to have ever developed a myriad of ways to potentially bring about its own demise. No other species has ever had that capacity. Is self-extinction God’s plan for us?

Here’s something else to consider. If your God created the Earth (or by extension, the Universe) just for us then why is everything He created for us trying to kill us?

We Are at War

We are all soldiers in a war that has endured for countless millennia and we are the enemy that we seek to destroy. We are the combatants, the prisoners, and the casualties. We are at war with Nature and, by implication, we are also at war with Humanity since Humanity is a part of Nature. And if we are at war with Humanity then we are also at war with ourselves as we are part of Humanity. We are at war with ourselves, our humanity, and our nature.

All people have confrontations with Nature but people who have learned to live in harmony with Nature rather than confront it, have also learned to live with their own humanity and their own nature. We refer to these people with adjectives like primitive, aboriginal, indigenous, backwards, and uncivilized.

“Civilized” people, on the other hand, see Nature as something which must be conquered, tamed, and made to do our will. Civilized people see themselves as striving to gain mastery over Nature and as being separate from it. By denying Nature, we also deny our own nature and suppress it. Civilization is is essentially the denial and suppression of Nature. Because civilized peoples see themselves as separate from Nature, they feel they are superior to it. This notion extends to other peoples whom we deem as less civilized than we are. We see them as inferior and separate from us. Anyone or anything we deem to be inferior must be controlled, suppressed, or destroyed. Thus, we declare war on them.

War is always about power and control over people, territory, and ideas. In our war footing, we have defined civilization, religion, commerce, and politics in terms of power and control.

From the Book of Genesis:

23 There was evening and there was morning, a fifth day.
24 Then God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures after their kind: cattle and creeping things and beasts of the earth after their kind”; and it was so.
25 God made the beasts of the earth after their kind, and the cattle after their kinds, and everything that creeps on the ground after their kind; and God saw that it was good.
26 Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
27 God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.
28 God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
29 The God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the surface of all the earth, and every tree which has fruit yielding seed; it shall be food for you;
30 and to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the sky and to every thing moves on the earth which has life, I have given every green plant for for food’; and it was so.
31 God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.

Genesis 1:23 -31 (Updated New American Standard Bible)

Genesis is the root of the three major Western religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. These verses justify our war on Nature, Humanity, and Ourselves as a Holy crusade. According to this scripture, God told us to subdue the Earth and rule over everything that lives upon it. But in order to subdue the Earth and rule over it, we must separate ourselves from nature and see everyone and everything as separate form ourselves. Since, according to The Bible, God create it all, we must also see ourselves as separate from our God.

Yet we are not separate from nature or humanity. Nor are we separate from God. And we are certainly not separate from ourselves or our nature.

Religion can be an instrument of war and throughout history it has often been used as such. Religions are often instituted among men as a means to establish power over others and to acquire wealth, territory, and resources. Isn’t that also the purpose of war? Religion is often used in the war against ourselves. Religions demand obedience and use guilt and shame to force us into submission and conformance.

According to Genesis, God provided us with everything we needed for life but left it up to us to sustain it. If we look back on our progress in the great war with Nature, it should be obvious that Nature is victorious in the end. We are fighting a war we cannot win. It seems that the Holy mandate of Genesis 1:26 has doomed mankind to bring about its own extinction. When our time on Earth has passed, the earth that God created for our benefit will once again flourish, at least until the Sun dies out or the Earth is struck by a gigantic meteor.

Christmas Objections

Though I claim no allegiance to any religion or belief system, I have no objections to Christmas as a secular or religious holiday and I begrudge no one their beliefs. Indeed, I am very much in favor of the sentiments and ideals that the holiday represents. Still there aspects of the holiday which I find disfavor.

I vehemently object to the crass commercialization of the holiday that seems to begin earlier with each passing year although commercialization has pervaded nearly every holiday, both religious and secular, on the calendar. The commercialization of holidays caters to the greed and avarice of everyone involved – manufacturers, retailers, shoppers, and recipients. Black Friday is the most blatant and most extreme example of this greed and avarice. Black Friday, the “official” beginning of the Christmas shopping season is, in fact, the antithesis of Christmas.

I also have objections to those who most vocally proclaim the sanctity of the holiday. Often these same people are the most deeply mired in commercialism, greed, selfishness, and self-righteousness. They claim abundant faith in their Lord yet they fail to heed His teachings either out of ignorance or indifference to them.

Faith and belief can only lead you to your path. Only you can walk the path. No one, not even Jesus, can walk it for you. Ultimately, you alone are responsible for your own salvation.

Faith and belief

Faith and belief are often considered to be one and the same. I have given the concepts and faith and belief considerable thought and contemplation and I have concluded that while they seem to be similar, they are not the same at all. They are two distinct and separate entities. One can have faith without a belief just as one can believe without having faith. Faith and belief are independent of one another but they can coexist.

Faith is intuitive and internal; it comes from within. Belief, on the other hand, is external. Beliefs are entirely derived from external sources — what you’ve been told, what you’ve read, what you’ve experienced, and what you’ve observed. Belief is based upon what one perceives as one’s external reality. One can point to something outside oneself and say, “This is what I believe and why I believe it.” Faith, on the other hand, is completely intuitive. One cannot point the the source of one’s faith and say, “This is why I have faith.” One can only know that it is.

A set of beliefs may be used to support or justify one’s faith but it is not necessary. Faith can, and often does, exist independently of a belief system or it may even be contradictory to what one believes. It is also quite possible and, indeed, quite common for people to be firmly entrenched in a belief system and either have no faith or to believe that their belief system is their faith, blissfully not knowing the difference.

I claim no religion

I claim no religion but I do not identify as an atheist. I might be considered agnostic, literally meaning that I don’t know. A belief in a supreme deity is uncertain but not likely. However, I am certain that I do not believe in the God of Abraham, and the systems of beliefs that run contrary to my sense of reason, my understanding of the Universe, and my own experience. I strongly suspect that modern interpretations of Western religion are very different from what the original prophets and mystics were trying tell us. It is mainly the modern interpretations (the last 17 centuries) that I find troublesome.

I would like to believe that there is something greater than us, a supreme consciousness, a force, or an energy that binds the Universe but the empirical evidence for it seems to be, at best, sketchy, anecdotal, and circumspect. Still, I’m hopeful that something of that order does exist and I’m open to possibilities.

There is so much that is beyond ordinary human capacity to observe and comprehend. Our science has made great strides in observing and measuring more and more subtle particles, forms of energy, and frequencies but much still lies beyond our senses even with the most advanced scientific instrumentation.

I’m certain that there are energies and frequencies that are beyond name and form — what we can sense and comprehend intellectually. You can call it Divinity, God, Brahman, Supreme Consciousness, The Force, The Great Spirit, or any other name you wish to give it. Whatever we call it, it is eternal and exists outside of the restrictions of our perceived reality based on our concepts of  time and space. It transcends our reality. We cannot give it name and form because when we attempt to describe it in terms we can understand, we limit it to our limited reality, thus restricting our understanding of it and our connection to it. Ultimately, it must be experienced intuitively, not intellectually.

As for religions, I find Vedic philosophies intriguing but I’ve found myself gravitating toward Buddhism, not necessarily as a religion but as a life philosophy. The Buddha never claimed to be a god, the son of a god, nor did he claim there was a god. He simply taught four basic truths and demonstrated that there was a way through which we could, through discipline and our own efforts, achieve our own salvation. It’s a path that requires more work than maintaining a belief that someone will grant you salvation but ultimately a path worth the following.

No religion yet on a path

It’s not often that I remember my dreams. Usually, all I have after waking up are disjointed fragments that usually fade within a few moments of opening my eyes.  That said, occasionally one of these fragments will stick with me. Such was the case when I woke up yesterday.

In this dream I was being interviewed for something and one of the interviewers asked me about my religious beliefs. I responded that I had no religion and followed no sect but I did endeavor to follow the precepts of The Four Noble Truths and The Eightfold Path that were taught by the Buddha.

It’s true that I don’t subscribe to any religion to include Buddhism. On the other hand, I do find Buddhism interesting and much of what I’ve read, makes more sense to me than many other religions. Most of my knowledge of Buddhist thought comes from The Teaching of Buddha by Bukkyo Dendo Kyokai. My daughter-in-law gave me the book several years ago and I’ve read it several times and I’m currently reading it yet again. I’ve also read a couple of books by Pema Chödrön. Other than that, my exposure to Buddhism has been online. So, I wouldn’t say that I’m a practicing Buddhist.

Maybe this dream fragment is a revelation or a not so subtle hint about my spiritual path. At the moment, I can’t say for sure what significance it has. It might not have any but it’s still an interesting prospect and a direction that bears looking into. I have kind of stuck on the path for the past couple of years so maybe it’s a finger pointing out a possible direction out of my rut.