Sunday, June 24, 2012

The Superpersonal God

This post is part of the History of the Devil series from Chapter 1: Good and Evil as Religious Ideas.

The gift of mental power comes from God, Divine Being, and if we concentrate our minds on that truth, we become in tune with this great power. - Nikola Tesla
Tesla had some interesting religious views.  I haven't done an exhaustive study on his beliefs, by any measure, but it appears to me that he was a Monist.  Tesla's Monism seemed to be a hybrid between a monkey religion and a cat religion (see Sabio's great post on these religion types).  Tesla's upbringing was Christian, but he was a voracious reader who came to appreciate other religions as well, like Buddhism.  Possibly due to that Christian influence, while Tesla's monkey god just lumbered around doing what it pleased, it would also be just as happy to carry and guide us if we were willing to "concentrate our minds on that truth."

When we left off in the last post, Carus had made the conjecture that the God of the future would be superpersonal, and he would go on to say how we could tap into that knowledge of God...
But how shall we reach this knowledge of the superpersonal God? Our answer is, with the help of science. Let us pursue in religion the same path that science travels, and the narrowness of sectarianism will develop into a broad cosmical religion which shall be as wide and truly catholic as is science itself.  HOD, P3, Paul Carus
What Carus suggested here is developing an empirically based religion!  Instead of relying on unique revelations made to specific people in divine scriptures, he posited that the powers of objective observation would reveal the real God.  However, Carus was not ready to trash scriptures completely...
Symbols are not lies; symbols contain truth. Allegories and parables are not falsehoods; they convey information: moreover, they can be understood by those who are not as yet prepared to receive the plain truth. Thus, when in the progress of science religious symbols are recognized and known in their symbolical nature, this knowledge will not destroy religion but will purify it and will cleanse it from mythology.  HOD, P3, Paul Carus
In some ways, Carus' prophesy has come true.  For example, while there are some serious moral blunders God's Law (the Torah) in the Old Testament, such as complacency to slavery, conceptually there are some truths which can be skimmed from the myth:

A dietary restriction on eating pork would have been effective at preventing trichinosis parasite ingestion (Leviticus 11:7).  Isolating people with skin infections would help prevent the spread of contagious varieties (Leviticus 13:45-46).  Destroying a house which had an untreatable case of spreading mildew would prevent respiratory issues of the occupants (Leviticus 14:43-45).

In abstraction, the Torah was a system of repentance, thankfulness, obedience to a moral and legal code, and the love (and fear) of God.  The rewards for adherence were said to be happiness, prosperity, peace, health, and long life.  Recent scientific studies on gratefulness show an increase in the subjective feeling of happiness associated with the regular practice of being grateful.  A society where people obey the laws sets the stage for stability and security, which in turn can help lead to prosperity.  Peace, on an individual level, can be a product of obeying the law, as you have less to worry about if you are doing what you should be doing, and when everybody else does the same.  Finally, as far as health and long life, well, there is some evidence suggesting that a practicing belief in God will extend your life and promote health as well.

However, the God that Carus is suggesting is not wholly defined in any religious tome...
We define God as "that authoritative presence in the All, which enforces a definite moral conduct." God is that something which constitutes the harmony of the awe of nature; God is the intrinsic necessity of mathematics and logic; God above all is what experience teaches us to be the inalienable features of righteousness, justice, morality. This presence is both immanent and transcendent: it is immanent as the constituent characteristic of the law that pervades the universe; it is transcendent, for it is the condition of any possible cosmic order; and in this sense it is supercosmic and supernatural.  HOD, P3-4, Paul Carus
So this is not quite Tesla's Monist God here. Rather, this is similar to the God Albert Einstein was referring to when he said:
"I want to know how God created this world... I want to know His thoughts; the rest are details."
Although, instead of Carus, Einstein followed the earlier writings of Baruch Spinoza, as can be seen in Einstein's lesser-known quote:
"I believe in Spinoza's God, Who reveals Himself in the lawful harmony of the world, not in a God Who concerns Himself with the fate and the doings of mankind."
By contrast, Carus expanded beyond scientific laws, and into the foundations of our selves...
We do not say that God is impersonal...  ...God, although not an individual being, is the prototype of personality; although not a person, thinking thoughts as we do, deliberating, weighing arguments, and coming to a decision, he is yet that which conditions personality; he possesses all those qualities which, when reflected in animated creatures, adds unto their souls the nobility of God's image, called personality. Therefore we say, God is not impersonal, but superpersonal.  HOD, P4-5, Paul Carus
Thus, Carus' God is at the heart of our understanding and our motivation. Not to say that we all understand this God, or that we are all motivated to the same course of action. There will be many differences as surely as there are different personalities. However, through reflecting on the universe, our own daily lives, and the lives of others, we can comprehend who we really are and why we do the silly, horrible, and wonderful things we do. With that comprehension comes the fully realized ability to change for the better... at least I would like to think so.

That is enough about God for now. This book is about the History of the Devil and evil, for good reason...
While the idea of God has received much attention from philosophers and progressive theologians, its counterpart, the dark figure of the Evil One, has been much neglected. And yet the Devil is, after all, a very interesting personality, grotesque, romantic, humorous, pathetic, nay, even grand and tragic. And if we have to declare that the idea of God is a symbol signifying an actual presence in the world of facts, should we not expect that the idea of the Devil also represents a reality?  HOD, P5, Paul Carus
Just as many people today portray God in their own likeness, how the Devil is portrayed also provides revelations of the inner workings of a mind and/or culture. If you know a person's Devil, you know their fears and insecurities, and maybe even their repressed desires.

I hope you will enjoy the coming studies as I blog the rest of the book, and dig into the cold, black heart of evil.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Would God Thank You?

In a recent debate on my "Bitter Focus" post, a commenter scoffed at my suggestion that Jesus did not thank Martha for the effort she had put forth; calling my idea speculation, despite the fact that the text does not record any hint of Jesus being appreciative of Martha's self-sacrifice.  That brought to my mind the fact that nowhere in Jesus' recorded life does He thank anyone other than God.  So that got me thinking...

Would God thank you?

I'm not talking about on Judgement Day, when God is looking back over your life, would He say "thank you for your service to Me."  I am just referring to the simple, polite, and congenial way in which you thank people for their efforts.  If you, like Martha, opened your house up for God, would you expect Him to thank you?  And I don't mean "expect" as in "God would owe it to you."  Rather, I mean do you think that it is in God's nature that He would voluntarily offer up His thanks to you in appreciation for your effort.

The knee-jerk reaction is to think "Of course God would thank you!  Don't be ridiculous!"  However, there is very little support of this idea that I remember in the Bible.  Maybe I am remembering wrong.  Please feel free to help me out if I am in error here.

I know in the Scripture that God will bless you for obedience, and you will be Saved if you believe*, but there is nothing that suggests God would actually thank you.

This is important, because that little, tiny phrase can mean so much to us; often much more than our wages.  We crave to be acknowledged personally for our efforts, beyond the impersonal blessings or compensation we may receive.

* Naturally, the debate still rages on regarding whether or not Salvation is through only belief, or if it also requires works.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

The Atheist Response

I can't help myself.  Sometimes, something comes along that just sticks in your mind until it's addressed, and this is one of those times.

Lorena at On Leaving Fundamentalist Christianity posted a set of questions and her great replies regarding atheism.  These ten questions originated from thebiblereader as part of a post he or she called "The Atheist Challenge."  I love these questions because they represent common misconceptions that Christians have.  I am not picking on thebiblereader here.  For all I know, he or she may know that these are misconceptions.  He or she did fire off another series of good questions aimed at Christians on the next post.

1. If there is NO God, then their is no Measurement or Standard for morality? Then what will define morality?
    The concept of morality is actually born from society.  If you are alone on an island, there is no need for a moral law saying not to murder.  But if you add anyone else, then a whole host of morality laws spring forth from your own need for survival and your best chance to thrive.  You can't have much of a society if murder is the norm.  The basic moral laws are common throughout the world, not because God implanted them in our hearts, but because they are critical for the survival and prosperity of the society.  The finer points, such as gender roles, are more subject to interpretation, which is why we see such a wide range of variance in moral customs outside of the basic "do not murder," "do not steal," etc. 
    Let us not forget that it was society that ultimately decided that slavery was wrong, not God in the Bible.

2. If there is NO God, then there is NO meaning or purpose to Life; So not everything meaningless since there is no God? So what will the purpose of living? Without God, does the Atheist have purpose?
    This is an interesting question because it is never really fleshed out on the other side.  If the God of the Bible is real, what is the purpose or meaning to life?  Really, it's just to entertain God, but perhaps the believer would like to rephrase that to be the purpose or meaning is to love and be loved by God.  So ultimately the answer to the question of what provides meaning and purpose is love.  However, we know that the love of God is not mutually exclusive of all other loves; you can love God and love your spouse, your children, your parents, your friends, etc.
    Asking if an atheist can have purpose and meaning without God is like asking if you can love anyone else other than God.  Clearly, that is possible.

3. Are you an advocate of New Atheism and Darwinism? If so then the most extreme and logical form of Darwinism is Eugenics, Survival of the fittest. Would you support this? Why or Why Not?
    I think the terms "New Atheism" and "Darwinism" are being used in different ways than I am familiar with, because in my mind there is no way you could combine the two into a conclusion involving a conflation of Eugenics and Survival of the Fittest.
    As for the latter questions, I would not support Eugenics because a systematic approach to terminating lives or forced sterilization based on arbitrarily decided criteria is repulsive to my morality.  It is the moral equivalent of genocide.  There are just different genes at play.

4. If we are ancestors/descendants of Apes, then why are there no transitional fossils or species to support this theory?
    It is an incredible disservice to Christianity, or to any faith for that matter, to ask an atheist about evolution within the context of religious debate.
    Don't get me wrong, here.  I mean, I know why you are asking the question, and why it is relevant.  Genesis has the creation story, and clearly Jesus believed that God created man (Matthew 19:4-6).
    Yet think about it:  Evolution merely shows us that it is possible for mankind to have developed without God's input.  It does nothing to prove or disprove the existence of God (except for suggesting that Genesis is inaccurate and thus may have the "house of cards" effect on the rest of the Bible), nor does the possibility of evolution preclude God's involvement in the development of man.  Evolution is only a scientifically discernible process.
    By asking about evolution, you unintentionally affirm that there is no "personal relationship" that people have with God/Jesus that is real.  The truth, or lack thereof, of evolution holds no clout in the reality of my relationships.  How could it?  And yet somehow evolution comes up as being important in our debate about this "real" God and Savior.  This implies that there is no way to discern the Christian God's existence outside of having faith in what you have been told and what is written in an old book.  Indeed, faith does come from hearing, not from discernment.
    The strategy behind this question is to get people to doubt evolution, because if evolution is out of the way, the door is open wider for the possibility of a god.  So let us admit the possibility of a god.  If you had some tragic accident wipe out your memory on a island where you were all alone and without a Bible, how would you ever come to the conclusion that a god is actually the Christian God?
    But back to the question at hand, though.  There are actually some transitional fossils, as a little research would show you.  But at this stage in our understanding, transitional fossils are just icing on the cake, or maybe just the sprinkles on top of the icing on the cake.  DNA holds a living archive of our evolutionary history.  Studying mitochondrial DNA has rendered the Biblical concept of Adam and Eve to be nothing more than a myth.

5. Do you believe in Human Nature? It is Human Nature to believe in God, if so, why do you go against human nature and not believe in God?
    It is not necessarily Human Nature to believe in a god.  Take this tribe with no religion, for example.
    Humans do have the faculty for what psychologists call "agent detection."  That is, we see events and ascribe some cause to them; some force or being that made the event happen.  If you hear a strange noise in your house in the middle of the night, you may think that a burglar is in your home.  This agent detection often serves us well for our own protection, and thus explains why it is in our nature.  There are many other factors at play, but this agent detection is a major one as to why belief in a god was, and continues to be, fairly common, as we (as a people) detect a divine agent in certain events.
    However, the mind's ability to discern an agent can be fooled.  The noise in your house in the middle of the night may instead be from the beams of the house contracting as they cool down.  It is through investigation and research that you can determine if the noise is in the house is a burglar or a natural physical phenomenon.
    Similarly, I have done the investigation and research, and I have discovered that my mind was fooled into thinking that a god existed.  That is why I go against Human Nature.  Perception and reality are often two different things.

6. Can Nothing come from Something? Doesn’t that violate The First Law of Thermodynamics?
    You meant "Can Something come from Nothing?"  Right?  ;-)
    Do you ever have any original thoughts?  Where do they come from?
    Rather, I think the angle of your question is, without God, why is there an existence at all, and does that existence violate the First Law of Thermodynamics?
    This carries the same weaknesses in the argument as the point about evolution above, in that by invoking scientific principles to allow for the possibility of God, you implicitly and unintentionally make the case that you can't simply "know" and have a relationship with God in any kind of obvious manner, without first thinking Him into existence.  This is the opposite of real relationships.  You don't have to think a person exists before it is possible to interact with them.  Instead, their reality is intuitively obvious by observation. 
    Your question also carries with it the assumption that there was a state of Nothing.  That requires knowledge of what the universe was before the Big Bang, which is entirely speculation at this point.  We can't effectively judge if we have violated the First Law unless we fully know the starting conditions.  So your question can't be answered, relative to our own existence.

7. It seems that a society of Atheist are immoral and self-destructing. Why would anyone want a Godless Society, just look at our examples, North Korea, Maoist China, Stalin, & Pot Pol?
    According to a 2005 survey, there are possibly nine countries where more than 50% of the population does not believe in a god:  Sweden, Vietnam, Denmark, Norway, Japan, Czeck Republic, Finland, France, and South Korea.
    I don't know about you, but I can think of many worse places to live than Sweden or Japan.  They are hardly examples of "immoral and self-destructing" societies; at least not any more-so than the USA.

8. If you were to die, and you were before God. And he was getting ready to pass judgement on you, What would be your reaction or thoughts? What plea would you give him so he does not judge you harshly?
    I picture it going like this:
    Me:  I read your Book, but I wasn't impressed. 
    GOD:  Oh, yeah, I know you have.  I've gotten some chuckles from your blog about it.  That Book is such a disaster that I am surprised anyone believes in Me.  If it wasn't for laziness, language barriers, and confirmation bias, I'm sure Christianity would have died out centuries ago.  It's certainly not My best work, but, hey, I had a bit of a learning curve.  This God-stuff ain't as easy as it looks, you know.  
    Me:  Oh, sure, I can understand that.  
    GOD:  Did you ever make it to the fjords of Norway?  
    Me:  Um, no, I never did.  
    GOD:  Those were one of my better works.  Stunningly beautiful!  Hey, how about you and I get some tea and biscuits while we do a fly-over of the fjords?  
    Me:  That would be awesome!  I knew it.  I knew that if you existed, you would be so much better than anything anyone said or wrote about you! 
    GOD:  Ah, thanks!

9. What would convince you atheism is wrong? And that Christianity is Right?
    Atheism isn't a way of life, it is just a lack of belief in a god.  So, logically what would convince me that atheism is wrong is proof of a god.  Just like I don't believe in leprechauns, but if a leprechaun appeared before me, well, obviously I'd start believing in them.
    And for Christianity to be right?  Naturally that requires similar proof.  It would be great if Jesus would show up out of thin air and give me a hug.  Given his alleged divine powers, that should be pretty easy for Him to do.  Given how much He supposedly loves me, and He should want to do that as well.  This isn't about commanding God to do my bidding, or a rejection of what He has allegedly already done for me.  This is about love.  If you have someone you dearly love, and you have the means and time to be with them, why wouldn't you?

10. Why are you an Atheist? Why do you NOT believe in God? Why do you reject God? (You can be as detailed as you want.)
    I'm an atheist, in one sense, because I've neither experienced anything spiritually nor seen persuasive evidence to suggest that a god exists.  I'm an atheist, in the Christian sense, because I've actually studied the Bible.  If you would like more details about that, please visit my Bible blog.  :-)

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Coming Back Around

I've got a backlog of eight technical reports and some expenses to process, but I am approaching the end of the tunnel.  The light's getting brighter.  The future's so bright, I've gotta wear shades.

There is another chaotic job to cover next week, but I expect a return to normalcy shortly thereafter.  Well, at least as "normal" as I get.

The irregularly scheduled posts will soon continue in regular fashion, and I'll soon get the chance to visit all of your blogs again..  Thanks for bearing with me.

By the way, here's an insider's tip regarding my other blog.  I schedule the posts, but I do so with a "hidden" code.  They go up after 7 AM Eastern time, but exactly when is the code.  Posts at 7:01 are ones with content I think is so meaningful that I wish all Christians would read.  As the posts get later, they are generally less potent arguments, ranging up to 7:07.  So if you are pressed for time, or are just interested in the big issues, you may want to skip the later posts and instead focus on what's coming out at 7:01-7:03 AM.