Some place great importance on the age old questions like is there a god, is there life after death, what is the nature of life? I am here to say that the answers to these questions are totally immaterial to life.
Obviously I take great pleasure in thinking about these questions. But the bottom line is that the answers are not known and I donít believe they ever will be known to us within this life. Sure there are people who will tell you they know there is a God. They are misusing the verb "to know". They believe there is a God. They have faith there is a God. They canít imagine there not being a God. Those are all reasonable statements. But you, nor anyone else, knows there is or is not a God, or many Gods.
I try to base my philosophical thoughts on what I know, or think I know. In The Platform for My Philosophy I try to lay out the difference between what I know, what I perceive and belief. I do not have a strong belief myself so if you wish to pit another belief against mine, I hope you find that to be illusive. I accept that there are many who believe in a vengeful God with a flowing beard. I accept that there are many who believe in quite a different God. I would not quarrel with someone who said there were many gods or none. Donít bother to try to poke holes in my image of life being like a video game, that our reality is virtual reality for a player outside of life, out in that belief zone. It is just another possible explanation for what is going on outside of our lives as we know them.
Does any of this make a difference? Does it make a difference if there are one or many gods? I donít think so. Does belief in one or many gods make a difference? I donít think so. What does make a difference is how each of us acts, how we live our lives. If we believe that our belief is the only true belief and we condemn any who believe otherwise or think of them as being wrong or lesser human beings or feel ourselves superior, THAT makes a difference. It is how we live our lives that makes a difference. When belief influences the way we live our lives it makes a difference.
Itís your life. It is not your parentís life or your siblingís or your childrenís, nor is it Satanís or Godís. It belongs to no one else. No one else can live it. No one else is supposed to live it. No one else is responsible for it. It is yours and yours alone. If everyone understood this and took full responsibility for his or her life, Iím sure we would have an even more wonderful world.
My essays, notes and quotes will give you access to my thoughts. They are nothing more nor less than that.
If you find some of my thoughts helpful to your journey, I am overjoyed.
If you find them disturbing, I apologize. It is not my wish to disturb or upset. They are only thoughts.
If they make you angry, youíll have to figure out why for yourself and I sincerely hope you do. They are only thoughts.
I am getting great pleasure out of thinking. For me, concentrating on the meaning of life is as satisfying as, I presume, it is for a golfer to concentrate on an important putt. I donít place any greater or lesser importance on my pleasure than on the golferís pleasure. I write these thoughts largely for myself though it is quite possible that if I were the only person in the world, I would not bother.
Would I still think if I were alone? One of the things I have found when I am alone is that I frequently think in the past tense. "As I walked up the road toward Mt. Vesuvius from where the bus had dropped me Ö" I was 27 when I was having that thought in those words while climbing Mt. Vesuvius. I wrote them down in my diary along with the thought "If there was only one person left on earth, and he was I; He would die. Why?"
Why? Because the thought in my head seemed to indicate that I was not climbing through a flowering orchard on a spring day with the cone of Vesuvius ahead of me for my current pleasure but rather for an experience that I could relate to others. Otherwise, why were my thoughts not in the present tense?
Deep breath. "Ahhh. The air is so sweet. God! I love this." I breathe the air again. I look toward a sound and see a bird. As I emerge from the orchard and start up the cone I can feel my body carrying me upward smoothly. I pause and turn to look out over the bay of Naples.
No words in my head about what I am doing. Iím just doing it. No recording necessary. Would my mind be blank, blank of worded thoughts that is? I shouldnít think so. The bird might call to mind something I know of birds that could be added to. The fragrance of the air might recall a spring day somewhere in my past. The pull of gravity on my body might bring thoughts of pride at my fitness or a resolve to become more fit. But Iím glad my thoughts werenít in the present tense. Realizing that brought the philosophical thought, that I was not doing this for myself alone. It is those somehow larger thoughts that I enjoy most, larger and more debatable.
There are many things I would not do were there not other people to tell but that is a different thing from thinking. If all other people on the planet suddenly disappeared, would I stop thinking? First, I would probably think that was strange. Then I might think it a bit frightening. My life would clearly be different with no one to talk to. I would have to sort out my needs and figure out how to meet them. There would be no one to generate electricity or make matches. How would I cook food? Where would I find food? There would be a lot to think about, at least at first.
At the age of 27 I thought that I would die if I were the last person on earth. Now, Iím not so sure. Of course, I would die eventually, but Iím not sure that I would just curl up and die because the only reason for living was to communicate with others. I think I would want to solve the important questions like food and shelter and then I think I would be able to amuse myself with thoughts about the meaning of it all. What was going on? What was I supposed to be doing? The thoughts might not be global or cosmic so much as "What is over the horizon?" "Am I truly alone in the world or are there people that I can find somewhere?" "How did this happen?" Ah, the thoughts seem to progress toward the more philosophical fairly soon.
It is more difficult to try to understand thinking before there was language. One model would be animals, I suppose. What does the woodchuck think when itís nose touches my electric fence for the first time? How do animals learn to be fearful of predators? Are they fearful or merely cautious? What did the early hominid think before language? Can there be thoughts before language?
If I try to think without using words, I think I can have thoughts. Are they thoughts or emotions? Certainly they would be extremely limited compared to thoughts possible having had the benefit of receiving thoughts from others through the written and spoken word. Hunger, shelter, sex are processed through the brain. Those are the "thoughts" I can imagine without words as I sit here half a million or so years later. It was clearly thoughts that brought about the development of tools. It has only been within the past 3,000 years that we have been thinking philosophically. Most of our thought up until then, I suspect, was focused on survival and on improving the quality of life.
What is my dog thinking when she huddles close to me during a thunder storm? What is she thinking when, alone in the house during a thunder storm, she gets into the bathtub? If dogs could communicate about things like thunder, would they exchange ideas on how to cope, try out each otherís ideas, and come to a general agreement on which strategy worked best?
Before language did hominids wonder what thunder was all about? Did they try to figure out a reason behind it? Once they developed language how did they come to the conclusion that thunder was caused by a god driving his chariot across the sky? As I try to think myself into the skin of people living under those conditions it seems a pretty logical explanation for something that was inexplicable at that time.
Aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Bibb
A ship at sea is a whole community,
A hundred men and the moon.
I think, therefore I am,
A hundred men and the moon.
I think I am alone.
That was written shortly after I was discharged from the Coast Guard. Itís nice to know that I was having thoughts like this at age 23. I hope the arrogance can be attributed to my age. Of course my shipmates were thinking. Most of us were thinking about sex most of the time but there were some with whom I had thoughtful conversations. Probably all my shipmates had thoughts about the meaning of life at times.
I donít remember how I became aware of French philosopher Descartesí famous "Cogito ergo sum", I think therefore I am. It ultimately became the platform for my philosophy.
After satisfactorily proving his own existence Descartes went on to try to prove Godís.
I recognize that it would be impossible for me to exist with the kind of nature I have--that is, having within me the idea of God--were it not the case that God really existed. By ĎGodí I mean the very being the idea of whom is within me, that is, the possessor of all the perfections which I cannot grasp, but can somehow reach in my thought, who is subject to no defects whatsoever. [Meditation III, paragraph 38]
Descartes says that his existence includes the perception of a perfect God and that the perception was not learned but came directly from God. When God made Descartes he programmed him with a belief in a perfect being. I accept his perception that his understanding of God was implanted in his existence. How could I possible challenge it? If he were alive, we could discuss the difference in our perceptions. However, it is unlikely that either of us would be changed. Anyway, heís dead.
I believe that my knowledge and understanding of God comes from things that have shaped me since my birth. I joined a church, went to Sunday school, listened to sermons, read the Bible, read many books that expressed ideas concerning God and have listened to many people express their understanding of God. I classify the experiences in the previous sentence as second-hand or coming from others of my species in this perception that I recognize as my life. I have also experienced blazingly colorful sunsets, towering mountains, the oceanís roar and power, the tinkling sound of a rill in a brook, a babyís grip, the smoothness of a thigh, and the explosion of flavor released by a vine-ripened tomato. I classify these experiences as first-hand and not coming from others of my species. To which should I give more credence in my search for an understanding of a god?
Is there a God and, if so, what is the nature of God? I exist and I perceive this thing that I call my life and everything contained in it. I donít know anything beyond that. I donít perceive through first-hand knowledge anything beyond that. The notions of things outside my perception that I call my life come from others--notions of life after death, reincarnation, heaven, hell, a supreme being watching over me.
One of those notions is the big bang theory of how the universe came to be. That is based on scientistsí perception as they study the universe that everything in the universe is moving away from everything else at a rapid speed. They determine this by the color of light they can see and an understanding that the color is a wave and that changing the wave length will change the light. Light moving away from the perceiver will be different from light moving toward the perceiver because the wave lengths are elongated or compressed respectively. I have not directly observed this phenomenon but I am willing to accept it from the things I have read. All the scientists know is what they are observing, the color of the light coming through space. They believe the color indicates that everything in space is moving away from us. From that they have formed the theory that the universe is exploding.
Our sun was a bit in the explosion. It got spinning around and some chunks were thrown off forming our solar system. Our planet cooled down and as it cooled life came into being. Single celled life that evolved into life as we know it on Earth today.
If you buy that, as to how we came to be, you are still left with how did the material form that was involved in the big bang? I am not aware of any scientific theory answering that question. It is an interesting question to ponder and questioning the big bang theory and evolution are also worthwhile stimulus for thought. However, it seems unlikely that I will ever, within this life, come to an assurance of how the world came into being. Even if science comes to a reasonable answerÖ Well, I canít imagine such a thing so I canít finish that sentence. I like the ancient explanation that the world rides on the back of a giant turtle and the turtle stand on the back of an elephant. When asked what the elephant stands on the subject was changed.
Rather than search for something for the elephant to stand on or anything in between I am content to credit God. What is God? My creator. What am I? A thinking being that perceives what I call my life which includes everything within my perception.
Must there be a god? Canít we just accept our life and all that that entails? We have a body. There is air, water, vegetation, sky, universe. There are cells, microorganisms, other people. This whole system is ours to explore, to use, to glory in, to abuse. This is all pretty concrete. We can touch, feel, taste, smell, hear, see or otherwise have an understanding or awareness of the "reality" of life.
Think of a video game where the hero, the image you manipulate, exists in a certain environment, moves through it. You project yourself into that image for the game. You act and react to the environment whether it be finding your way through a maze, shooting down alien invaders or jumping across a stream using various floating objects to keep you afloat. You are not aware of the mechanics that create the environment or of the challenges that await you just off screen. Most of us can play these games happily without caring who created them or how they did it. Of course, we do know that the game was created by a person and that people assembled it, loaded it on a truck and delivered it to the place where we engage in playing it.
In the game of life there is no such understanding. With our understanding of life and all that that entails we know that we couldnít create this. We have no clue as to how this all came about, no clue scientifically, that is. We can take life back to a single celled being that could reproduce itself and we can, through investigation and some speculation, come to a pretty logical sequence of events of the evolution of life. Well done.
But then how did the earth upon which life could form come into existence? My favorite at the moment is the Big Bang theory in which all the matter in the universe came together through gravitational pull and when it had all collected into an incredibly dense mass it exploded. This accounts for the fact that all the stars and other universes that we can observe appear to be moving away from us and each other at an explosive rate.
If you buy that theory, where did the matter come from? Or
where did the space come from?
Ultimately, no matter what theory we use, we come to a place with an unanswered question, something that cannot be known. That is why a god or gods are necessary.
I canít help but wonder what the reaction would be if a god manifested itself to the entire world population. Letís imagine a voice that reached every person in the world in their language. It said the same thing to us all at the same time. It gave us advice on living using the messages that have been revered in various cultures as coming from God--the guidance from Jesus, Buddha, Confucius, Moses, Jopseph Smith and others. Would we all rejoice at finally having a definitive answer? Would we all then believe that there was one God for us all and that this God was the creator of the universe and the giver of life, the final answer? Or would we ask, as Bill Cosbyís Noah did when God spoke to him, "Who is this really?" Would we ask how God came into existence? Can we ever be satisfied with the answer?
Clearly some can. Many are happy in their belief. Since there are many beliefs, though all rooted in the same place, it is unlikely that any manifestation of a god would satisfy all. The irony is that the most devout would be the last to believe unless the manifestation occurred in the manor they expected.
What is God?
If God is the answer to the unanswerable question, our question of how did life and all that that entails come into being, is he/she/it not then our creation? Our creation, not because there is no "real" God, but because we donít know anything about a real God. We invented God because our species needs answers to questions, feels uneasy with unanswered questions. Once invented, we embellished. Some gave God a form, a likeness; some gave God powers, some gave their God words and some gave emotions--all were characteristics they themselves had or were desirous of having. Their God spoke in their language, was their color and their shape though larger, better.
Is this, are any of these embellishments, the real God? The answer resides in each personís reality. God for most today is an image that has been passed down through many, many generations. That image has changed dramatically over the years. The God that permitted, nay, promoted, the burning of women at the stake only 300 years ago in Massachusetts does not exist today, for example, though the Congregationalist religion still has many followers.
Might it not be worthwhile to try to define God through an investigation of "Godís Works" rather than manís? That is, an investigation of life and all that that entails. "All that that entails" certainly includes organized religion but this exercise is designed to look at organized religion as a creation of man and to look at all organized religions objectively. One religion may seem more valid than another to any given person--obviously that is the case. Is that any more or less significant than one personís liking for one vegetable over another or one house style over another.
My investigation begins with the easy part, my life. It is easy because it is what I know best. I am intimately involved with it on a daily basis. If I think about it, I can sort out the things that make my life better. A purposely weak word. Better than what? I was about 10 when I learned it was better not to stick my finger in hot fudge right off the stove. I might have learned, at the same time, that it was better to listen to and obey my mother. I donít think there is a lot of evidence that that occurred.
So I do things that make my life better and I learn what makes my life better largely by trial and error or, better put, by trial and success. I have learned that I feel better when I give something of myself, whether my time, a helping hand, a smile, or money. Sometimes the giving can be painful, working as a volunteer on a job to which my muscles are unaccustomed may cause some physical pain but I have learned that I will feel so good inside and that the feel-good feeling is much more lasting and valuable than the physical pain, that it is worth it.
What is the source of this feedback that I get? God? It seems so.
Another way of putting this revelation is that it is "more blessed to give than to receive?" Ah, a Biblical quote. So, an investigation of my God-given life leads to a validation of a Biblical quote. The Bible must be the word of God then, right?
But, wait. The Bible says "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth." Yet whenever I have done something that fits that quote it has made me feel bad. I feel better when I forgive and forget. It is clear to me that, for me, turning the other cheek is better.
Is God within me, guiding me? Should I put my faith in myself? Should I trust myself to find the better path?
What is "Godís Work"? Certainly the trees and waterfalls and weather; the universe and cell structure; the natural world including all the plants and animals including humans. What of plastic, skyscrapers, computers, books? Those are Humanís Work. Yes, but, if God is the creator of humanís, then Godís work also. How about referring to it as Godís Work once removed? It is all before us as part of our life, of what life entails.
We can look at a cathedral and feel pain that so many people gave so much of their life for a monument in the belief that they were serving their God or we can marvel at the beauty of the structure and of the faith that created it. Some might think that the author of this piece wants people to turn their back on their faith. That would not make me feel better. What others do is their business. It is not my business to make anyone feel badly in any way.
Why do I write this if not to get people to believe what I believe? Good question. I can not deny that it feels good to have others affirm my beliefs. In that spirit, I say to those who believe in an organized religion that I have found much wonderful teaching and guidance in all of the religions I have studied. What I challenge in organized religions is interpretations of the original teachings that try to get followers to think theirs is the only true religion and that anyone who does not believe as they do is wrong.
Perhaps one of the reasons the Bible is such a good book is that it defines God as the creator of life. It defines it though a folk tale "Öand on the seventh day he rested." and then he created Adam and Eve. But if you take away the folk tale, you still have God, the creator, the definitive answer, an answer to a question for which we as a species seem to need to have an answer. If there is a better answer for the perception I call my life, I have been unable to imagine it nor have I seen any clues as to what it might be.
But canít you ask, "Where did God come from?" No, because we are defining God as the creator and acknowledging that we have to accept this by definition. God is the word we use for the beginning, the creator. It may be simply an individual as most religions today envision or it may be a committee, another society, or a complex series of events.
We might get closer to an understanding if we put aside all notions we have about God and about the creation of the universe for that matter. What we perceive is our life from sometime after our birth (at least my memory doesnít go back to my birth) to perhaps our death. This is what I think we should be looking at. All that is within this perception need not have the depth of history we perceive any more than it need have unseen structure. The creator of our life may have created something for us very similar to a video game. When we think about our soul living beyond our life as we know it, perhaps we are envisioning, or trying to envision, some entity living, experiencing, our life through us much as we experience a video game through animation in the game.
© February 27, 1999
Why is there a God II?
If asked in an inquisition, "Do you believe in God?" I would probably answer, "Whose God?" Not only are there many religions and differences in the characterization of God in each but within any religion there are many different understandings of God. Dare I say there may be as many different understandings as there are people?
Consider a time before the Ten Commandments. It must have been chaos--people running around killing others, fornicating, coveting, stealing, lying. I deduce this from the Ten Commandments. If those things werenít happening, why bother telling people not to do them? If those things were happening, is it not reasonable to assume that reasonable people thought they were not appropriate or, at the very least, that life in the society would be better if these things were not done? Wouldnít it make sense to wish for some super being who could bring order to chaos?
Another way to look at why there is a god is to investigate how
God has been perceived by others, what God has been credited with doing.
To explain the inexplicable;
To give us strength beyond what we think we possess;
To be vengeful;
To provide constant oversight for our actions--moral policing.
a pri∑o∑ri adj.
1. Proceeding from a known or assumed cause to a necessarily related effect; deductive.
2. Based on a hypothesis or theory rather than on experiment or experience.
3. Made before or without examination; not supported by factual study.
Consider an experiment taking a number of babies and placing them in isolation from the world as it exists. Have them tended to by mutes and have them learn language through a television screen and books. The broadcasts and books would be such as to provide a good education but limited to the perceptible world. They would learn nothing of creationism or evolution, the universe, how plants grow, or what causes weather. Would they have an innate sense within them that there was a creator, a god? "Oh, God! What a beautiful sunset. Thank you." Or would the approach be to study many sunsets and think about what might be happening, perhaps link rainbows to sunsets and study light passing through water and reach some observed reason for the colors of the sky when the sun is close to the horizon? Or would they seek a supernatural explanation? "The Gods must be playing ball. One God throws a burning ball across the sky and it lands in a shower of sparks on the other side of the sky and goes out. Another God throws the unlit ball back where it is relit and thrown again.
Historically the last possibility came first. Apollo, Hyperion, Helios, Ra and Mithras were among the early sun gods and there were gods for the sea, the weather, love, volcanoes, fertility and war to name the principals. They appear in most early cultures. Those gods came through seeking answers for unanswerable questions. Then came the belief that there was just one God which is the basis for most Eastern religions today. Scientific answers came next. They have been and are being contested by religious followers who believe that the scientific findings undermine their belief. The notion of a priori knowledge came along about the same time as scientific exploration.
The notion that we are born with a belief in God has been debated by better scholars than I for a couple of hundred years or more. I doubt that my historic argument would change minds. So, if we try to project the outcome of the experiment, it seems likely there will be proponents of all the possible outcomes.
© November 19, 2000
What is the Nature of God?
I would ask, "What is the nature of my God?" but Iím afraid some would go off on a tangent accusing me of having my own god or of thinking I am god. Those who do so would probably come to that conclusion anyway, so letís start there.
I recall a joke that was prevalent in the scene shop at the summer stock theatre where I learned my first trade as a stage manager. Someone would utter the explicative "God damn it!" after hitting his or her thumb with a hammer or when some inanimate object did not behave as hoped. The reply would snap back "Whoís god, your god or my god?" Maybe it doesnít sound like much of a joke related here but it got many laughs that year and relieved tensions. Perhaps you had to know the person who introduced us to the comeback. He was the only Jew in the crew and we came to count on him for funny one-liners. But we all adopted this particular one so it wasnít limited to a difference between Christian and Jew but between individuals.
The joke was expanded to elicit the reply, "My god."
"Then it is a false god."
"My God" is the correct answer. How can there be any other? How can any of us know the God of anyone else? I am going to describe my God to the best of my ability. As you read what I write you may come to some understanding of what God means to me. You may nod you head and say, "yes, that is the same as my god." But you and I are not the same. We have not had the same experiences. We do not have the same genetic make-up. While objectively we may have very similar feelings about God, God is still going to be a part of us, coming from our mind. That is simply the definition of subjective: "existing in the mind; belonging to the thinking subject rather than to the object of thought" (The American College Dictionary, Random House)
My God has no visage, no form, no shape however he is similar to me in some undefined way--"he" because I am a male. He is compassionate, thoughtful, hopeful, interested in me, playful, appreciative...
When I write, words frequently come to me from whence I know not. "Visage" just came to me. I thought it was the word that would best fit my thought and when I looked it up, eureka, it was exactly the word I wanted. I know that it did not come out of nowhere, that I have at least read it before and may have used it but if you had asked me if it was a word in my working vocabulary, I would probably have thought not. Wherefrom then? God? The Muse?
Up on the ladder shingling the side of the barn with a handful of cedar shingles. The shingles are of different widths and seldom do I find the right combination to fit the last few feet of a course easily. The shingles in my hand fit the space perfectly! I look upward and say "thank you!"
Trivial, some might say. How could one trivialize God by thanking him for such a small, silly thing? And my thanks, is it sincere? Arenít I smiling and feeling kind of playful? I donít sincerely place God somewhere in the sky. But it is not a silly or trivial thing for me. I am sincerely thankful and it always makes me feel good to express thanks. In this case there is no one to express thanks to. I could thank the shingle gods or the cedar gods or the god of good luck or all of them. Thank you for this fine day. Thank you for the ability to shingle this barn. Thank you for saving me a round trip on the ladder. What I am really being thankful for is my life.
© November 19, 2000
What do I believe?
"belief 2. conviction of the truth or reality of a thing, based upon grounds insufficient to afford positive knowledge." The American College Dictionary
Moving through the three levels of understanding--my own existence, my perceptions, and understandings beyond my perceptions (see the Platform for My Philosophy)--I want to talk about the third level as the area of belief. While I think it is quite reasonable to question the nature of my existence relative to a creator or the "world" in which the creator functions for purposes of discussion in this world, among those who are a part of my life, it is helpful to use the language and understandings of this world.
We all know that water exists, that any animal deprived of water will die, that water has a property of wetness, that it has weight and will fall when it pours over a cliff. Protestants, Catholics, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Native Americans, people in Iceland, in Australia, in Africa and in Antigua all have a similar understanding of water. All people have a similar understanding of human bodies, trees, mountains, tables and airplanes.
A common expression these days is "thinking outside the box." When I talk of belief I am thinking of life as I know it being inside the box and belief being outside. I have explored the beliefs of many and find some more and some less compelling which seems perfectly reasonable. There are some who say they know what is outside the box. That is jolly good for them but they will have to excuse me if I donít give their knowledge any more credence than the beliefs of others. Their "knowledge" is coming from them to me. I canít think that I will give more credence to something that comes to me from a fellow being than I will give to something that comes to me directly from God. Frankly, I think God has given me all of the information I need to be appreciative of the gift of life and that to request more or to accept information from another source that might alter my appreciation might be unappreciative.
There are some who say I should not question my belief in God. What I am questioning is what others would have me believe.
What do I believe? I believe that I have a life and that this life was a gift. I accept the gift with open arms, heart, soul and mind. I accept the pain and I revel in the pleasure. I have no idea what is outside the box though I have studied a lot of different theories put forward by others. I have thought of several theories myself but I give them no more credence than any other serious theory. The giver of this gift I call God. I think it possible that the giver of life is interested in how I use this gift. It is possible that my life is manipulated at times by the giver of life. It is possible that I am learning things that will prove useful after this life is over.
I see no need to be more specific or to know more. What happens
within the box is easily a full-time job. There is always more to learn.
Learning that touching a hot stove is painful is an easy and early learned
lesson. Learning that committing a kindness has many happy returns is a much
more sophisticated lesson. Living a joyously, drunkenly, serenely, divinely
aware life is a full-time job.
Why do we call out to the creator in times of ecstasy? "Oh, God, what a beautiful sunset!" "Oh, God!" "Jesus!" "Dios, mio!" Those last three can be found all coming in a rush in pornographic literature and movies. I find it interesting that we often call our godís name at the time of sexual climax. It is not done as a profanation. Is it a call for help? An explosive expression of thanks? Perhaps a recognition of a closeness to god at that moment. Those who have never heard a partner call out a deityís name or called it out yourself at the moment of climax or shortly after or who are unfamiliar with this phenomena through reading or movies have some research to do.
Some people ask, "If this is all there is, if there is no life after death, whatís the point?" I answer with another question. Whatís the point of all the structure, the rails, the equipment that go into a roller-coaster? When I was born I was put on a ride with marvelous ups and downs and twists and turns. Iím not about to close my eyes and hope for it to be over. I enjoy the apprehension as we near a crest and the feel of anotherís body pressed against mine as we thunder around a turn. This turn, this crest, this body and that body each in their turn, each moment, each thrill, each new view are entities in themselves, a moment to be aware.
Can a life lived fully, a gift enjoyed to the maximum, displease the giver?
© October 23, 2000
What do I believe II?
I canít state, "This is what I believe." It needs to be a question now and I suspect it will always be a question. It is a question that is interesting to ponder. Iím talking now about that realm outside the circle of perception, outside the box, the bubble, beyond the known. The area of belief, faith, conviction, theory.
I can put forward some theories but without conviction or faith and I only believe they are as good as any other theories.
Do I believe in God? Not in any form that meets with the descriptions of God I have elicited from people of faith. Not in any form. I believe that this life of mine is a creation of some sort and with my limited knowledge which requires that a creation have a creator, I believe there is a creator which I name God. Does this "God" tell me how to live my life? Not in words. I can describe in words how I have learned to live my life in a way that I think would please any God I have read about. In other words I live my life in a way that is pretty consistent with the teachings of the Bible, the Koran, the Book of Mormon, etc. I donít kill, I havenít committed adultery for quite a few years, I love my neighbor as myself, etc. But I donít believe there is a god judging me or that there will be a time when some god will judge me.
What keeps me on the straight and narrow? A chuckle bubbled up in me when writing that old saw. "Straight and narrow!" Ha! No straight and narrow for me. Give me the twists and turns of a mountain road and the broad plains and waters to roam over.
Why do I not commit adultery, to take one of the commandments that I did not keep for many years? I love sex. I love women, many women in a carnal way. If the morality of our civilization allowed multiple marriages or free sex and my wife was OK with it and I found willing partners, whoopee! But that is not the case. I love my wife very much and I learned that my whoopee hurt her deeply. That didnít make me feel good. The sex did but that was nothing compared to the pain my wifeís hurt inflicted on me.
Some might say, "God did this and did that and caused you the
pain as payment for your sin." Blah, blah, blah. Doesnít work for me. God set my
life in motion with lots of things to learn about. Some of them I was able to
learn about without suffering pain but my mother telling me the fudge was very
hot did not keep me from sticking my finger in and getting burned. The Ten
Commandments did not keep me from committing adultery and I doubt they are the
reason I have never killed anyone.
My favorite metaphor for life is a video game. When we play a video game we become the central character in the game whether it is a frog trying to cross the road or a warrior seeking great treasure. We canít just drop a coin in the slot and take the game to its successful conclusion the first time. It takes several tries with us learning each time and getting farther into the game. There I am projecting myself into the game, being the warriorís psyche, brain, soul. The warrior doesnít know anything about me. He is stuck in the game, on the other side of the screen. He has his hands full defending himself and searching for the treasure. Now pull back, back, back, farther until you are outside my bubble of awareness, outside the circle of perception, way out there in belief/faith/theory/conviction land, outside perception on the other side of the screen looking in at me playing that video game. From that perspective what do I want me to do?
Is that what I believe? Not really. I only believe it is as
good a theory as any other.
Do I believe in a life after death? No. Do I believe there is no life after death? No. I very strongly question the advisability of worrying about a life after death. I see only disadvantages in such a belief.
First, it seems ungrateful to the creator of this life to be looking toward another life ("Hey, God, nice life you gave me but you and I know itís not the real thing, right? More to come, right?" "INGRATE!!" Flash! Blam! Splat!)
Second, There are too many examples of people trashing this life, polluting the creatorís water and air and land. We have presidents of the most powerful nation who should be providing leadership to the world regarding protection of Godís gift to us but who were hell bent on trashing that gift in the name of the almighty dollar. But they ended their speechs with "God Bless."
Third, belief in a reward in another life distracts from the rewards in this life. If there is a heaven and hell, they are right here in this life. People put themselves in one or the other by their actions. One should recognize ones power and responsibility.
Fourth, belief in an afterlife diminishes our responsibility in this life. When we lay off our responsibilities it diminishes our self-respect and self-respect is the basis for self-love which is the basis for loving others which should be an ultimate goal, one with great rewards in this life. Why, it is absolutely heavenly.
What do I believe? I believe that this life goes much better when it begins with showing gratitude for what we know, for our perceptions. I give thanks frequently and irregularly. I donít give thanks for the food at each meal. I do not have a morning or evening prayer. I do not worship weekly. I do not say or write "God bless" until it becomes meaningless.
I feel God blessed me when he gave me this life. I ask for no further blessing. I feel it is up to me to take this blessing and use it, cherish it, be thankful for it, pass it on to others, protect it. In doing that I praise the Creator and, if the Creator is watching, I feel confident my life will please.
© April 5, 2001
Duality, the belief that we have something, a soul, that exists independently of the body. Descartes failed to prove duality as have all others who have tried. I shanít try.
There is anecdotal evidence. I have some myself. Bringing my 96 year old mother home from one of her last stays in the hospital she told me of an experience she had that was something more than a dream. She told of being in this wonderful place and all her friends were there. She positively glowed when she related the story. She was probably describing a place that she had been taught to believe was where she would go when she died, right? Skeptic though I may be, the way she told the story, the way she looked and the condition of her mind the rest of the time force me to believe she, at the very least, had a powerful dream. She did not make up the story to try to convince me there is a life after death.
In the hospital a few months later on her deathbed we had an
encounter that absolutely could not have been under her control. I had found her
unconscious that morning. The ambulance took her to the hospital. I sat with her
much of the day holding her hand, talking to her, but got no response. The
doctor and I conferred and agreed that nothing should be done to try to revive
her. He told me she might hang on for a week but it would probably not be longer
than a day. He had reason to hedge his bet as she had already lived four times
as long as he said she would 16 years before.
That evening my daughter and I went to visit her. I expected to find her as I had left her but she shocked me by opening her eyes, looking at me and demanding, "Where am I?!" I was flabbergasted. How had she revived? Should I call the doctor and have an IV attached? "Where am I!"
"In the hospital."
Angrily and with strength in her voice," How did I get here?"
"You were unconscious when I came in this morning andÖ"
"How did I get here?"
"I called the ambulance." She just kept getting more frustrated and angry. To use one of her pet phrases she was mad as a wet hen and nothing I said was answering her questions. She gave up trying to get an answer and Caitlin had an opportunity to express her love for her grandmother and to say good by.
What was that all about!!? While driving home I decided that she was not asking about the events of the day or about anything on this earth. I believe that she had been in that other place glowing in her surroundings when she was suddenly yanked back to this world. How did she get here indeed? Was it a dream that she was rudely pulled away from or another world? If another world, she still didnít know who was pulling the strings or how.
Some may ask how I could not believe in a life after death after that personal experience. First, I donít disbelieve in a life after death any more strongly than I believe in such a possibility. I can say Iím an agnostic which means I donít know but I go a little farther than that. I donít care. Thatís not to say that Iím not curious. I find the possibility interesting and worth thinking about. But the philosophical things that are most important to me are those that guide and inform my life. Life is the period between birth and death. There is a tremendous amount of information to be dealt with in that reality. There are tremendous rewards within life.
Am I not comforted by thinking that my mother is in a nice place, a place that made her glow when she thought about it and that made her angry to be pulled away? No.
That may, undoubtedly does, seem cold to some. I canít speak
for others feelings. I donít deny them their beliefs nor do I care to diminish
them in any way. It may be simply that I am less feeling than some. Or it may be
that I feel my relationship with my mother was whole, complete. We had no
outstanding issues. I didnít feel I owed her anything or that she owed me
anything. She is gone from my life and my life goes on. She does not visit my
thoughts very much at all. She is part of my history but I am living here in the
present and she is not part of the present. I am grateful to her for much.
A possibility other than my relationship with my mother is my relationship with myself. I am at peace with myself in a way that is entirely different than before what I feel comfortable calling my rebirth. That took place about 5 years ago (Iíd have to look at my writing to figure out exactly when.). It was nothing so remarkable as an epiphany. No one but me saw any difference but the change to me was dramatic. I think I lost fear though I have not been tested and really donít care to be.
This life is so marvelous I simply canít see any point in spending much time envisioning another life that may be better--or may be worse if you believe in a heaven and a hell. If the soulís fate is determined by the kind of life led by the mind and body and the determination is made by the creator, the giver of life, than how better to receive an afterlife reward than to live this life, this gift, to the fullest? What better way to live it than in ways that bring joy and take pleasure? How could one be more thankful of a gift than to use it well?
Was my motherís soul recalled briefly or did she awaken from a dream? To what purpose and why at that exact moment? Some may say it was to make me a believer. That is their reality. Since I believe itís all about me my answer is that the experience was given me for me to contemplate which clearly I have done. Since you are reading this it may have all been so you could read about it and have it affect you however it does.
© January 14, 2000
Has God ever "spoken" to me?
Sound of sawing---Vooopah, vooopah, vooopah.
Booming voice, "Noah."
"Noah, this is the Lord."
"Right." vooopah, vooopah, vooopah.
"Noah, I want you to build an arc."
"Whatís an arc?"
"I want you to build it 40 cubits by 60 cubits."
"Whatís a cubit?"
"A cubit." pause "I used to know what a cubit was."
"Who is this really?"
Has God ever instructed me directly? You betcha.
The first time I can remember I was about ten. My mother had made some fudge. Knowing that I was anxious to have some she asked me to put it outside where it would cool more quickly. It was a pot of liquid sugar and chocolate that had just come off the stove. She told me in no uncertain terms that I was not to touch it because it was very hot.
I carefully carried it outside. It smelled so good and looked so good that I just had to have a taste. I stuck my finger in, really in, a couple of knuckles worth. I guess my thinking was to do it quickly so I wouldnít get hurt but to make sure I got a good taste. I dropped the pot and screamed, of course. The pain was so vivid that I can almost feel it now on my right index finger.
God had instructed me that fudge was hot and that it clung to oneís finger and remained hot on oneís finger. The finger blistered but I carry no scars.
Godís instruction included advice that I listen to my mother--that she had good advice and my best interest at heart. Itís difficult to measure exactly how well I learned that lesson. Certainly there were things she told me after that event which I rejected but I do feel that the event had a positive impact on my motherís credibility.
A few years later she told me I should join the church. I went to Sunday school classes and church and then took classes to prepare me for joining the church. I remember that the classes were with the minister in his home and I remember going before the whole congregation to be accepted into the church. I was probably 13.
We moved from the country to a small town within walking distance from another church of the same denomination. A couple of years later I stopped going to church. One of my friends played the organ and another friend never missed church or Sunday school but it wasnít for me. My reason being what I thought to be hypocrisy. In the late fifties in rural New Jersey most phones were on party line. It was practically impossible to make a phone call for a couple of hours after church. I listened in a few times and found that the conversation was between the most devout of the churchgoers and the topic was what people were wearing and other "disgraceful behavior". To my young mind they were being judgmental, I judged, and over trivial even vain things. Not consistent with my understanding of our religion.
There were two churches in that small town. Both were Presbyterian. It was not such a religious community that it could support two churches of the same denomination. I donít know what caused the rift that split them. What was important to me at the time was that adults who supposedly believed in loving their neighbors couldnít even love the people with whom they worshiped. Teenagers are notorious judges.
I felt it would be fine if people went to church for the singing, for the camaraderie, for an uplifting talk which, I suppose, is what they were doing. But the ugly looks and words bothered me and the intolerance. Perhaps 13 was not a good age to be instructed in the Bible, too close to the age of questioning everything. Perhaps the instruction I received was too heavy on love and tolerance and did not place enough emphasis on an eye for an eye.
Whatever. I still feel the same way I did when I left the church. To gather together to sing, to be thankful, to inspire and be inspired, to gain knowledge that will be helpful in everyday life, to smile and laugh and be joyous with other people is a wonderful concept. To feel better than someone else, to judge others, to spend an hour feeling self-righteous, to hear frightening or diminishing messages is to be avoided.
I ultimately had to give up trying to convince my mother that I could lead a good life without going to church. Oh, she was proud of me and thought I was leading a good life but she often expressed regret that I did not go to church. She took is as a personal failing. Iím sorry, Mom.
It has been fairly recently that I have focused on trying to understand and separate instructions that come directly from God and those that come from others of my species. Many consider the Bible to be the word of God. OK. Maybe. Whatever. It was written by men. There are a lot of things described therein that are fantastic. There is nothing in my experience or even supported by second-hand or third-hand experiences that leads me to believe in burning bushes or parting waters or virgin births. That doesnít detract from some of the excellent advice that can be found in the Bible.
If that thought presents a problem, consider the Mormon religion. It is founded on what God said directly to Joseph Smith. Mr. Smith was an uneducated man living in western New York when an angel visited him in 1827. He was guided to buried golden plates upon which were hieroglyphics which he was able to translate with the aid of the "Urim and Thummim," miraculous spectacles which enabled him to decipher the otherwise illegible text. Mr. Smith was a real man and whether or not you believe he was visited by an angel it is difficult to read the Book of Mormon without marveling at how it came about even if it was simply conceived and written by Joseph Smith alone. It serves as a modern-day miracle for me. Yet I am not a Mormon.
I do not think of myself as a skeptic. I donít really care if the Red Sea parted or if Joseph Smith translated hieroglyphics. If a great voice spoke to me or an angel appeared or someone walked across water to tell me that the purpose of my life was to collect as many things as possible before I die, Iíd have a real dilemma on my hands. How could I ignore a revelation? Yet the message goes so counter to what I do believe my life is all about that I cannot imagine being able to take the advice. Iíd have to say, "Come on. Get out of here. Youíre kidding, right?" Or if the message were to become celibate or to stop having so much fun, to stop gardening, stop being silly, stop enjoying other people, to stop writing; Iíd have trouble believing the message. How could I tell if it was from God or if it were the Devil in disguise?
Could I believe a voice or apparition that told me to stop enjoying the body and the life that God gave me? I donít think so.
So, Iím not looking for any miracles other than those I encounter daily.