It seems to me that the fundamental facts about when, where and by whom the books of the Bible are written, are hushed over, not even talked about, problems are avoided or minimised, leaving ambiguities that mislead the reader and convey a false idea of reality. How can I believe anything they tell me? If God inspired the words, then wouldn’t He have inspired all the correct details? If the Bible is God’s word, wouldn’t he have ensured that translations his people base their lives on, are without error? Then, why are there contradictions? Did God just change his mind about what is right and wrong? What is the point in having a book of rules and instructions that is so open for different interpretations? All these questions makes me think that the Bible contains error and cannot be regarded as 100% full proof evidence of anything. I believe it’s best to treat the Bible like any other historical or non-fiction book, keeping in mind the author, their motivations and situation and the knowledge available to them.
In biblical times people thought the sky was held up by two mountains, and had no idea how far east and west that land extended. Far from their contemplation are facts we know now like the earth being round, revolved around the sun and not the other way round, and that the sun was just one of millions of stars in one of millions of galaxies. These people did not consider people living in lands as far away as Southern Africa, East Asia, the Americas or Australia. They did not know, probably wouldn’t care at all, that these foreign peoples had their own religions, experiences with spirituality and transcendence, their own relationship with “God.” How is one race’s “God” different from another race’s “God”? Only in the way each group has constructed their image of this almighty, incomprehensible power, which was based on their consciousness and experience at the time. Each race had various “prophets” or leaders, who had a deep intuition as to what would be good for their people. These leaders created the rules and often claimed they came from a transcendent God, which, if you believe God is inside us all, this is true. To increase people’s obedience to the rules, they described rewards and punishments akin to their sense of justice at the time.
After much consideration I have come to the conclusion that these are not mutually exclusive options. Jesus was both the son of God, and the son of Man, in the same way that you and I are sons and daughters of God too. Jesus contained God inside him, just as we contain God inside us. Jesus was an expression of God in the same way that you and I are expressions of God too.
In my mind, I accept Jesus as being born of Mary and Joseph, and the doctrine of the Virgin was most likely added to encourage pagan adoption of the new religion. Similarly Jesus did not rise from the dead in physical form, but it seems more likely that the resurrection passages were written allegorically and also taken form pagan religions.
I imagine Jesus was an enlightened spiritual leader and social activist, motivated to make a difference in his world: to help people be happier and experience peace on earth both within themselves and with their neighbours. It would seem more likely that Roman soldiers executed Jesus as they saw his nationalistic freedom fighting as a threat, than caring about the wishes of some Jews who saw him as blasphemous. When Jesus died on the cross, I think it makes sense that he died only in the physical sense, and similar to the presence I feel of my dead grandfather and dead Oma, Jesus’ disciples probably felt Jesus’ spirit with them. They decided not to give up on Jesus’ vision of a socially just world, of non-violence and human rights for the Jews – a realisation that provided them a purpose for their lives, and how they could play out a what in turn can be seen to be a significant role in the evolution of man and civilisation. Hence they set out to continue Jesus’ mission and spread his ‘good news.’
Does a caterpillar know what it’s future holds as it builds it’s cacoon?
The term God in Hebrew simply means “I am” or “I will be what I will be.” That is, us as a people unfolding our destiny. p289 (Maddox) Us humans can only think within constructions of what we have ever seen, heard and experienced. Hence we construct our image of God in our own image. Throughout history we have personified this power in attempt to comprehend it. Some personified it as aspects of environmental nature like the sun, or as representations of aspects of human nature like greed or love. The Israelites personified this power as the most powerful thing they knew, the king. The imagery in the Bible describes God as the most powerful king, sitting on a throne in a golden luxurious castle, in a city of peace.
People of every culture and time have sought to please this power, so that they may be blessed with food and water, victories at war, sunshine for their crops, and life after death. In earlier times, people thought they must give sacrifices (animal or human) to please this power. Enlightened leaders like Jesus and Buddha realised that this wasn’t necessary. More beneficial to society would be a doctrine on non-violence. Loving each other, even those who do use wrong, will bring about heaven on earth. Heaven and Hell are also images constructed in our earliest consciousness, at a time the only explanation for the sun’s movements was that it was being carried across the sky by angels. Heaven in the sky, amongst the beauty of the stars and the beloved warmth of the sun. Volcanic fires from beneath the earth, brought death and destruction thus explained as creations of an evil God from below.
I think Jesus still lives on today. Not as a person sitting beside his father in the clouds, but in the same spiritual presence we will return into when we die. It seems unlikely that we will keep our separate presence when we die. Our memories and personality is contingent to our consciousness in a particular moment in time, it is not possible to take anything from earth with us when we die, and many of us would not even want to. Instead I imagine that when we die we reconnect in our entirety with the omni-presence of God living on through every person, animal, plant and cell in the universe. To me ‘God’ is everything including you and me. This means I am a Panentheist. Pan = everything, en = in, Theos = God. Everything in God. Are not all religions somewhat Panentheist? This makes sense to me. It is consistent with science, physics, history, other religions, and even with atheists. It seems more biblical than a belief in a supernatural separate God as it emphasises transcendence and God’s presence. It means that we never die, but are even now living out a moment of our eternal life. The most incredible thing about this design is that we are given the choice to live out our present moment in a state of heaven or a state of hell. Individually and collectively this is our choice, and a choice we must make in every moment of every day.
Even Atheists do not deny a great power behind our being, a Great Unknown energy that motivates cells to split, life to live, to evolve and to create. The different between Atheists and Theists seems to come down to whether one wishes to personify this power, or leave it as an abstract collage of mathematical formula and quantum hypothesis. When it comes down to it the circular nature of the Cosmological argument – that something can’t come from nothing, and hence something must have already existed, but where did that something come from – highlights the fact that there will always be some things we can not know.
There exists a connection between all matter in ways we still cannot comprehend, and for this unknown power to be presented as omnipotent (all powerful), omniscient (all knowing), and omnipresent (always present) power, does make sense. In English the personification of this power we name ‘God’. In Hebrew it’s ‘Jehovah’, in Arabic? it’s ‘Allah’ in Japanese it’s Kami, in Spanish it’s Dios and in Indian it’s Deva. Sometimes I think this energy should be named something more descriptively appropriate like many New Age religions and Spirituality movements tend to do, like say The Void Potential or the Fatherly Oneness… The name of this power does not really matter but what I think we must recognise is the common goal of all humans is to have a connection with this power so that we might live out our purpose in the continuing evolution and creation of our world.
When it comes down to it, what do we all want? “To be happy.” And what does this mean to us? We want to feel peace inside, and be surrounded by peaceful people in a peaceful world. Ultimately this is what all the wise teachers throughout the times have tried to help us get one step closer to this state.
We each hold a significant potential to leave this world in a better place than we arrived. We have been lucky enough to be born into a human body with a human mind – with potentials beyond what we presently realise and imagine. Every day we wake, we breathe, we think and we move, and we can make of that day whatever we wish. We can live for the short pleasures, or the longer-term satisfactions, or a bit of both. Fulfilment is most potent when we are connected with God, when we listen to His signs, when hear His voice inside us, and when we have faith that that voice is guiding you in the way that will most benefit you and the world.
The realisation that nothing lasts forever is another confronting idea, but once you accept it, it is one that frees you from fear. Think about it. Money could be worth nothing tomorrow – our currency could crash and all your hard-earned savings become worthless. Your house could burn down and your home insurance company may fold. You may be left with a big fat nothing. Your wife or husband could pick-up their bags and leave with the kids. Every day we get older, and our appearance perishes. We walk on the streets and drive our cars – constantly at risk of some kind of accident that may kill us, or in many ways worse would be to be left in a deformed state that would burden the people we love. I don’t say these things to increase your fear, but in order to let go of that fear. We crave security yet can never achieve it. Life is in a constant state of transience, it never stops for a break. We can fear the unknown or we can embrace it.
The only certainty in life is death. Hence death is a concept we must not fear, but should embrace, the returning to God and to the oneness of all that is.
There is a long history of Christians killing Muslims going back to the Spanish Inquisition, where heretics were tortured to death under the justification that it is better to save their soul by torture, then let them live. This killing continues in recent times in Iraq, Bosnia and Kosovo. In the process of colonialism, the West saw their culture as superior and forced people to convert to our culture including converting to our religion in order to be saved. Bringing them ‘out of darkness and into the light’ meant to enculturate them into our civilisation – alternatives were seen as barbaric and primitive. Much of our conception of salvation has to do with making our culture the dominant one.
We can even see the battle cry in War on Terror – for ‘freedom and democracy’ is a belief that our culture is superior. The way to ensure our security is to make everyone think like us. Religion gets tied up in that battle. We do not own god. We cannot fight battles stating that He is on our side. Religion, culture and politics are intertwined so in order to find a peaceful political situation we can start by finding a peaceful religious one.
If we really love our neighbours, we will not judge them, nor condemn, or think of ourselves as better than them. True love is not compatible with a claim to own a single path to God and to be the only religion with access to the Truth. With this attitude, religion will always be divisive force for humanity. Instead we must be empathetic toward each other and desire to learn from other’s connection with God, rather than try to impose our connection on them. We must be honest to ourselves, recognising the unavoidable fact that whichever religion we prescribe, it is but a consequence of our life’s experience that brought us to that acceptance of truth: whether it be the religion of our parents, our partner, our friend, or some inner voice that called you into some particular church. It was not separate from the ethnicity, nationality and culture that you were born into.
Technology has brought people from all over the world together and now we have the opportunity to unite as one species- the most intelligent, creative and powerful species on this planet. We can learn from each other’s experiences with the indescribable spiritual power, and we can re-interpret all we know of it in a way that is relevant to the society we desire today.
It’s very confusing when there are so many religious beliefs that surround us, especially when those with faith, exalt their own beliefs and denounce the beliefs of others. This confusion is not new, over two thousand years ago when people faced similar circumstances, the Buddha gave them some advice, which I think is good advice for us today:
Do not accept anything on mere hearsay (ie thinking that we have not heard for a long time)
Do not accept anything by mere tradition (ie thinking that it has thus been handed down: through many generations)
Do not accept anything on account of rumours (ie believing what others say without investigation)
Do not accept anything just because it accords with your scriptures
Do not accept anything by mere inference
Do not accept anything by merely considering the appearances
Do not accept anything merely because it agrees with your preconceived notions
Do not accept anything merely because it seems acceptable (ie should be accepted)
Do not accept anything linking that the ascetic is respected; by us (and therefore it is right to accept his word)
But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept and abide by it.
Kalama Sutta, p 3 (Silva, 1994)
Lack of expertise should not disqualify anyone from participation in important debates, provided that one is honest about the gaps in one’s knowledge. Donald Rumsfeld’s infamous concept of “known unknowns” is helpful here. We cannot know everything, but we can – if we are humble enough – estimate more or less accurately the dimensions of our ignorance.
Rejecting or finding meaning in context?
Do the above findings lead me reject all I have ever learned, seen and felt of God, the value of the Bible and the Christian religion? At first I did reject Christianity- I felt betrayed, like it was all a bunch of lies and that I didn’t know what I could trust. But as I learned more about evolution theory, I saw a mysterious force that seemed to be driving it. As I travelled I continued to talk to ‘God’ and feel ‘His’ comfort. I realised:
Is peace possible? I guess that depends on what you think is peace? What does a peaceful world look like? Once we have a vision, it won’t be long before it becomes reality. So yes, I believe peace is possible, and it’s up to us to create it.
If we were to look critically at our religion, identify facts, faiths and frauds, we can set an example for other religions to do the same. By not claiming ownership of absolute truth, others will not feel so unease about disclaiming theirs. Diminishing the arrogance and elitism that comes with a belief that we are the only ones going to heaven, acceptance and tolerance will increase and resentment and enmity decrease. It starts with us and our own personal realm of influence. By changing ourselves, a momentum will begin whereby others follow.
Penn wrote in 1684, ‘Governments rather depend upon men than men upon governments. Let men be good, and government cannot be bad. If it be ill, they will cure it. But if men be bad, let the government be ever so good, they will endeavour to warp and spoil it to their tune.’ (Ferguson 1978 p113)
If we change, our governments will change and our world will change. Conflict may always exist yet violence need not. Violence against others and ourselves, both in thought and in action, is no good for anyone. World peace is not an abstract unachievable dream stated at beauty pageants. Peace is possible, and it starts with you.
A Time for Everything
1 There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under heaven:
2 a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
3 a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
4 a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
5 a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain,
6 a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
7 a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
8 a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.
Let us move forward in love, questioning, analysing and thinking for ourselves – it is time for peace!
All of the above was written around 2007 and at the moment I don’t have time to give it it’s deserved attention to editing and making sure everything in it is sources and makes sense. I think it’s important to keep all understands as tentative to the discovery of new information and since this time my understanding of a physical resurrection has now changed. That is, if Jesus’ spirit appeared to the disciples as the Bible says, even fundamentalist Christians if they really think about it do not believe it to be a fully physical resurrection. The Bible says Jesus appeared and disappeared seemingly walking through walls and vanishing into nothing. It also says the disciples did not recognise him at first – this would infer he was not resurrected into his rotting body-corpse. After watching John Polkinghorne on www.meaningoflife.com I realised that a spiritual resurrection on a quantum physics type of level could have been a little bit physical as well. There are so many unknowns so I guess with an open mind we can continue a ongoing conversation on the never-ending pursuit to get a better understanding of the unattainable truth.
In case you want to go back & read some parts again:
Chapter 1 – Introduction Click here
Chapter 2 – Is the Bible the “Word of God”? Click here
Chapter 3 – Is Jesus Christ the “Son of God?” Click here
Chapter 4 – Discussing the contradictions Click here
Chapter 5 – What does this mean for my life today? Click here
For further reading still, check out some developing thoughts on Who, or what is “God”??? Click here