sometimes i wonder if humans are intrinsically good. i see examples of great goodness and great evil in every age and every culture, and it seems to me that the masses live somewhere in between on the bell curve of morality. perhaps humans are born into this world as blank slates: desperate destitution seems to engender as many acts of violence as it does loving sacrifice; and our own culture of wealth and materialism spawns as much apathy as it does almsgiving. humanity as a whole has the power to build paradise on earth or a living gehenna (or even cause the extinction of our own species). my rational mind tells me that one path is as likely as the other, but i have an irrational faith and hope that good will prevail. i am hoping that this faith in the goodness of humanity will be like a self-fulfilling prophecy.
although i lean heavily towards atheism (in principle if not in practice), i think that god is a good idea. i’ve appropriated gandhi’s concept that ‘truth is god’, and i am trying to use this concept to drive myself towards an ideal me and to help my fellow sentient creatures towards paradisiacal joy on this earth. i revere truth, i rejoice in truth, i worship truth, and will fight and perhaps even die for truth. (at the same time, i ask–along with pilate–”what is truth?”). i have little hope and even less evidence for life beyond death; but perhaps living this life as if i will live eternally will help me to value the ideals of compassion, non-violence, and sacrifice above that of self-preservation.
got up at 1am to work on various web development projects. this is going to be a looong day.
that sleep-thing always gets in the way, anyway. very annoying.
anyhow, i’m going to take a break right now and tell you all about how i’ve been seeking for jesus.
please keep in mind that i consider myself an atheist, albeit a quirky, inconsistent one. i have the utmost respect for believers of all faiths who strive to practice the core teachings of their religion. but i also have a powerful respect for our individual and collective powers of reasoning and am not willing to suppress sincere questioning and seeking in the name of faith. if you are offended by a protrayal of jesus as much less than divine, i advise you to skip this post.
i’m trying a different approach this time. i’ve been spending less time on my knees and more time with my nose in the books, and i’m having a marvelous time. i’m finding the historical, wholly human jesus a fascinating person.
trying to track down the flesh and blood mortal jesus is like reading a mystery novel–you have to piece together a few vague clues and pierce through the verbal screen the author has created to throw the reader’s suspicions off track. or it’s like trying to study black holes–you can’t study these phenomenon in person and are unable to directly view them, but you must content yourself to look through the mists of space and time through limited instruments which can only reveal how the object being studied affects the material around it.
the only information we have about jesus were from authors who wrote about him decades after he died. the gospel of mark was written 20-30 years after his death, the gospel of john almost 70 years after the crucifixion. luke and matthew were written in between these two. we don’t even know if they were written by matthew, mark, luke and john–the names of the anonymously written gospels were assigned one to two hundred years after they were created (to put this timeframe in perspective, the united states is 225 years old).
almost all that we know of jesus comes from people who had a stake in his mission and proclaimed divinity. the few references to jesus from jewish and roman observers briefly acknowledge his execution but refer primarily to the growth of the band of christians who worship him. the earliest gospels were collections of sayings–the birth and passion narratives were added later and patterned on stories from the old testament.
various pictures are painted by historians, but the one i find most satisfying is created by john dominic crossan, the premier jesus scholar of our day. crossan’s research methods are meticulous, and he has painstakingly pieced together a mosaic of jesus as a itinerant, illiterate (but with powerful powers of oration), healer-preacher and peasant social revolutionary. crossan’s jesus was a powerful advocate of radical egalitarianism who tore down the social stratification and the barriers between men and women and the various classes of jews in his day. he reached out to the leper and brought her back into the fold, and ate with tax-collectors and harlots. he comforted the destitute, saying that theirs was the kingdom of heaven (this was modified by later, well-to-do authors to read “blessed are the poor
the gospels paint a warm, friendly picture of pilate–he appears to be a concerned, if somewhat cowardly, man who tries to rescue jesus but finally gives in to the demands of the people. the historical pilate, however, treated the jews and samaritans with such disrespect for local religious customs and suppressed protests with such brutality that the emperor tiberius had him recalled to rome. odds are that a peasant revolutionary who caused disturbances during passover–a volatile time when the romans were on high alert–would not have been granted a personal audience with the roman procurator but would have been summarily jailed or executed. the gentler, kinder pilate was portrayed by christian authors who were trying to distance themselves from the jews–they were writing at a time when romans had destroyed the temple at jerusalem and were stamping out jewish rebellion.
only one body with evidence of death by crucifixion has been recovered from palestine during the time of jesus, in spite of the thousands who were tortured and killed this way. part of the horror of crucifixion was that the relatives would not be able to retrieve the body and prepare it for proper burial. most bodies were left for the birds and beasts to desecrate and then were cast into limestone pits. extra-canonical accounts of jesus’ death and burial show an evolution of the narrative, from burial by enemies, to simple burial by friends, and finally to a regal embalmment by nicodemous in the gospel of john.
jesus’ followers were devestated and surprised by his death and the literate among them would have searched the hebrew scriptures for comfort and explanation, and latched on to anything that spoke of sacrifice and rebirth. the principle of ressurection was not new to the christians, but was taught by the pharisees he condemned.
in this way, historical truth was replaced with metaphoric truth.
so anyway, this is what i’ve been spending a lot of time on, and i’m thoroughly enjoying myself. but it is now time to get ready for work. ciao::
i have relationships with christianity, mormonism, buddhism and secular humanism. sometimes things get rocky. i’ve drifted away from some and grown closer to others. i trust some more than others, but in general, they are all my friends. i learn from each. they comfort me and give me hope when i am down.
i’ve run into islam a few times, and we sometimes greet each other nervously when we pass, but there is some tripidation.
today i joined a group of muslims in worship. it was like stepping into a foreign land for me. the men and women worshipped in different rooms. we sat on a prayer rug on the floor. as each student or professor found an open spot on the rug, they bowed down several times. one young man stood up in front facing the same direction as everyone and sang in melodious arabic.
later, a quiet gray-haired man stood up and addressed us, his speech punctuated with arabic phrases. he spoke of how allah had given muslims the responsibility to care for the world–muslims and non-muslims alike, and how muslims have failed in that responsibility. he told us that the qu’ran condemns the killing of innocents–even in times of war, the qu’ran specifically prohibits the killing of an enemy soldier who loses his arms in battle and cannot wield a weapon. the qu’ran even forbids the destruction of structures in war.
he quietly condemned those who lead and participated in the attacks on new york and the pentagon–they were only a handful of people and did not represent the billion muslims in the world. the other muslims had a responsibility to expose this evil and stop it from happening again. he gave historical examples of islam’s tolerance and encouraged those in the room to build a world where islam can flourish through the positive examples of the just dealings and tolerance of its followers.
as i left, several people greeted me with the word ‘salaam’–’peace’. i did feel some measure of peace. the anxiety i felt earlier had melted away during the good brother’s talk.
i know islam a little better now. the ice between us is beginning to thaw. perhaps, in time, we too will become friends::
every time i watch the trailer for this movie, i get tears in my eyes. i only go to the theater two-three times a year, and one of those slots will be reserved for this movie. watch it if you to want get a glimpse into what every mormon missionary goes through during their two years away from home. the typical young elder experiences a coming of age, seduction/temptation, separation from loved ones, deprivation, culture shock, physical danger (action and excitement), harsh rejection, unspeakable beauty, profound love, and intensely sacred spiritual moments (a missionary’s life is anything but boring!). the other side of heaven promises all of this, and i can’t wait for it to come out.
i may not be the ideal mormon today, but i am grateful for the experience of my mission::
i am on a quest for content. i am climbing the everest of internet pages and peering into the cracks and crevices, seeking for those rare golden nuggets of well-written personal narratives, essays, and journal entries. if you know of any sites that publish quality content on a regular basis, please let me know, or share them with all of us.
i ran into this gutsy piece by lance arthur of glassdog fame. he writes about the ordeal of coming to terms with his homosexuality publically and privately. the funny thing is, i can totally relate. (don’t worry, jana, i’m not gay.) my issues do not have the strong consequences and stigma that gays have to deal with, but they are complex and are certainly real enough to me.
outwardly, i am a faithful mormon who teaches inspiring sunday school classes. i don’t drink anything stronger than decaf tea, i pray at least five times a day, i sing bass in the choir, and on occasion, i help the missionaries knock on doors. on the inside, i am confused about my faith. if you ask me if god exists, my intellectually honest answer will be, “there is no proof of god’s existence.” i am a closet atheist. there is increasing dissonance between my public church persona and my true self.
amazingly, when i revealed to my bishop (the equivalent of a pastor in most christian churches) and to former my elder’s quorum president (the men’s group leader) my state of mind, they both felt that i should continue teaching. i carefully craft my lessons to inspire and uplift while avoiding any explicit statements of doctrine.
“what’s the big deal?”, you ask. what horrible consequences could i possibly face from those nice, smiling, clean-cut, family-friendly mormons? if i were to reveal my loss of faith, i would experience a serious loss in spiritual status in eyes of my mormon peers. to most members of the church, my comments and teachings on spirituality would carry less weight, less moral authority. without a conviction or belief in the fundamental principles of mormonism, i would not receive exaltation and would not be be able to spend the rest of the eternities with my family. my friends would feel pity for me and for my wife.
the hardest situations revolve around family. jana and i agreed to raise the children as devout mormons. how do i keep this promise if i am an open free-thinker? also, there would be no chance of seeing my own son’s or daughter’s weddings in the temple. my in-laws might see me as someone who could keep my little ones from achieving salvation and therefore a less than ideal husband and father.
maybe these things don’t seem like a huge deal. maybe i’m just a total yellow-bellied, lilly-livered, ballsless, no-guts coward.
i’m making progress, though. it is a long, slow, painful process. it is only a matter of time before i step completely out of my closet and reveal myself in all of my positive, atheist, humanist glory. you have been a great help. and lance arthur’s experience has inspired me. thank you, lance. human experience may vary in the details, but ultimately, we are driven by the same fears and desires–we all want to be understood, accepted, and loved::
aaron’s mom has joined the readership and is sharing her wisdom with us! i have arrived! this has got to fit into the definition of success somewhere. i know that aaron respects his mom a lot, and i respect aaron a lot, so i’m excited that a busy person like her can take the time to share her thoughts with the rest of us. thank you, joyce.
I have no concrete proof of Godís existence. I feel that with so many competing claims and with so much supposedly riding on the answer, the burden of proof lies on god. Instead, the religions I have encountered teach me that I need to accept his existence on faith. (They also create their own set of equally improvable other-worldly rewards and punishments associated with the faith.) The problem is, many different religions have this competing claim. Do I accept Elohim, Allah, Jesus, or Jehovah (all these names mean different things to different religions, but Jehovah seems to have many different incarnations) on faith? Why should I exclude the others?
Mormonism, the religion Iíve had the most experience with, teaches me that if I pray with faith and ask God concerning the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon, he will reveal the truth to me, usually through a feeling or conviction that the writings are true. I wonít deny that Iíve felt this conviction before, after a lot of praying, reading and talking about the book of mormon. The problem is, Iíve met people from other faiths who have asked and sought out with the same sincerity and received the same affirmative answers concerning their own faiths. No one faith seems to have a monopoly on miracles, answers to prayer, and spiritual affirmation::
i’ve gone for over 48 hours without posting. i spent at least seven of those hours prepping for a well-received sunday school lesson (gospel doctrine) on the history of the mormons in kirtland, ohio and the opening of the lds mission to england in 1837 by heber c kimball. the underlying message i tried to get across is that we all have missions, callings and responsilbilities and that we can have success beyond our wildest dreams if we commit ourselves to pursuing them. i also got to pitch my favorite theme: that every human being has tremendous potential for good and that we help or detract the people around us from that potential by our words and actions.
i am the strangest self-proclaimed atheist i know. i taught sunday school, i prayed for and followed inspiration in prepping my lesson, and fasted for a guy who is recovering from surgery because i’m worried about him. i believe in inspiration, and acknowledge that fasting and prayer may have some efficacy–i’m just not sure what the source of the power may be. hey, i use electricity all the time, but i don’t know if its source is hydro, nuclear, wind, or fossil fuels.
aaron made a good point in response to my ‘success’ post–that the ‘driven’ people i excluded from the happiness-through-helping-others still have the same motivations as less driven people. they still crave attention, money, knowledge, or a better world; they just seek after these things with greater intensity. thanks, aaron for the input, and for tightening up my argument. lets here it for the free marketplace of ideas!
i added a quotes section. go there for quality, if not quantity::
i love finding words that set me on fire and fill me with light. my scripture is found everywhere: in a whitman poem, in the bhagavad gita, in a friend’s encouraging words, in beastie boys lyrics, and yes, even in the christian bible. yesterday ken posted the following, which is definitely worth sharing with everyone:
“buddhism defines your actions as the bodhisattva vow:
the passions of delusion are inexhaustible.
i vow to extinguish them all at once.
the number of beings is endless.
i vow to help save them all.
the truth cannot be told.
i vow to tell it.
the way which cannot be followed is unattainable.
i vow to attain it.”
adam yauch of the beastie boys makes a similar promise in his ‘bodhisattva vow’:
i try to make my every action for that highest good
with the altruistic wish to achieve buddhahood
so i pledge here before everyone who’s listening
to try to make my every action for the good of all beings
i renew my vow today to do all that i can to help all my fellow beings to reach their ultimate potential. thanks ken::
i asked god today if jesus is my personal savior. received no answer::