Hesitant to Admit

Each time I start a book I take a picture of it and post it to Facebook and Instagram. I was hesitant to post this one. Why? Because so many of us are taught by our church leaders not to question the bible. That the scriptures are the infallible Word of God and therefore cannot be questioned. I’m sorry to say that many of my traditional Christian friends are very close-minded and judgmental of other points of view. I’m not saying they are cruel, mean, and wrong, I’m saying they aren’t willing to consider possibilities. And that’s not a Christian trait, it’s a human one.

My question has always been, if God created man in His image, gave him a soul and discerning mind, why would He not want us to question the world around us? If the bible is so crystal clear, why are there so many vague and seemingly contradicting statements? And if Jesus wanted us to take Him at his literal word, why did he speak in parables and why didn’t he write out the words He wanted us to keep sacred? The answer I’ve come to so far is that He doesn’t, that he wants us to discover Him on our own, one on one, on our own terms. He wants us to come to Him. And He’s been trying to reach us since creation.

So I read, and I read a lot. I read about different religions, other points of view, old writings and new. And I pray. I spend some time each day in meditation and prayer, allowing myself quiet space to hear and experience that still small voice inside me, the one our creator put there. And I come to my own conclusions. And I hold those conclusions lightly. I know many people have a problem with this, but I cannot for the life of me see why. I have decided not to spend my energy trying anymore. There are some things I just cannot understand and I’m ok with that.

Once again, I cannot remember how “The Pagan Christ: Is blind faith killing Christianity?” by Tom Harpur came to my attention or why I added it to my reading list. It was likely an article I read, another book, or a podcast that I heard, but somewhere in my studies this book was dropped into my lap. The title, of course, is intriguing, and the subtitle is something I’ve considered as well. I wanted to know more.

On first glance, if someone were to insist that the stories and themes from the Old and New Testaments were not original, you’d assume that the person was trying to show you why they believe they are fakes, stolen from other more ancient works, not created by the true Son of God. But that isn’t what he’s trying to say at all.

I’ve heard from Christian teachers throughout my life that the similarities between older scriptures and unrelated teachings from other religions were put there by Satan to confuse and distract us from the truth. But that doesn’t resonate with me at all, it never has. When I come across these similarities, it doesn’t discount my faith in one creator god at all. It encourages me to dive deeper into the past, to read more, to pray more. I want to be closer God, to know who or what He really is. The similarities connect me with the past, with other cultures, and with God. They are the common denominator in the equation of life.

When I read about ancient Egyptian myths and their similarities to Christ stories, I think, “God was here too. Of course He was!” When I read about Buddhist teaching stemming from the same timeframe as Jesus, I think, “He was here too!” If God is the creator, that piece that connects every living thing that I believe He is, why would he not be? The common denominator in all scriptures across time and physical space, is the Truth.

I feel that we put a limit on God when insist that one group of people, one time, one person, one group of writings are the only time that God attempted to communicate with His creation. If I am to consider the bible as a completely historical document, it feels ridiculous. There are books that are clearly not historical and we accept that. There are also parts of books that are clearly not historical, and there are parts that we used to consider historically accurate that we clearly do not now. And then there are the parts that are clearly cultural and limited in scope. How can we assume that now, all these thousands of years later, we have distilled the bible and Christianity to what it was always meant to be?

Seeing the bible as a “Truth” document, one that can help me get a part of the picture of what God really is but never the complete picture, resonates in my heart and inspires me. God gave me a mind and a heart, one unlike any other creature He created, one like Him. I intend to use that gift.

This book added to the picture in some big ways. I’ve sifted through it a couple times after reading it, looking for quotes to jump off from and write about, but most of the pieces I highlighted or noted were personally enlightening or so complex that once I pulled them out of context, they didn’t have the same impact. But I will leave you with this one,

“Things are not simply true because someone somewhere first said them, or because they are collected in books such as the Bible. They are true because they ring with full authenticity on the anvil of our souls.”

When I read this and then sat reflecting on it for a bit, my question was, “What if it rings true to my soul alone? Or what if it rings true to a small collection of people but no one else?” My opinion is, then it isn’t Truth. Truth is the same for all people, in all times, in all cultures. The common denominator. What meets that qualification is broad and vague. To me it boils down to, love the creator and treat others as you wish to be treated. Apparently, that is more complicated than it sounds.

Religious Literacy?

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You know, I really should write down where I found the recommendation for a book that I put on my Amazon wish list the moment I add it. I could easily put it in the comments and translate that to the book itself when I get it, but I have forgetten every single time. I’m not sure where I got the idea to read this one. I thought it was from a recent article that I read on a blog, but when I found that article it wasn’t in there. Oh well. Live and learn. I’ve left a post-it note for myself. Maybe now I’ll start!

“Religious Literacy” by Stephen Prothero

Many times, books that describe different religions can feel condescending to your own. I remember reading about different religions in high school and college textbooks and they always treat it like ancient mythology or fiction. There’s little respect for tradition. This book did not feel that way, at least from my Christian perspective.

It’s also not difficult to read and doesn’t get into deep details. It skims over the surface of history and points you in the direction where you can find more information throughout the book and in a “Further Reading” section at the back of the book.

Basically, it goes through a general history of religion in the United States, where we started and why, how it evolved over the years, and where we are now. It also gives great reasons why we should be generally familiar with all major religions whether we are religious ourselves or not. His thinking is that you can’t separate religion from history, philosophy, or science because it’s usually an integral part of why things have happened in the past. It’s a part of the story and if you throw it out, some things just don’t make sense anymore, or they look flat and uninteresting.

I agree. We can’t understand why the Pilgrims came across the ocean if we don’t know religious history. We can’t understand the slavery issue in the US, or Martin Luther King Jr.’s peaceful protests, or most of the issues in the Middle East, if we rule out any religious history study. As a Christian reading this, I felt a tad convicted about my lack of knowledge about my own religious history. You’d think we’d all at least know the differences between our own denominations, but most of us don’t.

I look at having a basic understanding of major religions the same way I look at any argument. We should define the terms before we start any discussion. If I don’t know that “Jesus” is not defined in the same way in all religions that know of him, then how can I even begin to discuss how we should be following him?

So now I’ve come to the end of another wonderful book with six more books and several Wikipedia pages added to my reading list. That means I got my money’s worth from this one!

Connected by Souls

We’ve all heard it before.

“No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as any manner of thy friends or of thine own were; any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind. And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.” – John Donne

Earlier this week I listened to Aubrey Marcus’ interview with Humble as I drove to meet a friend for hiking.

The part I’m talking about starts at 8:40 but at 10:00 he says it most clearly. I’ll paraphrase. “We’re a drop in the ocean. If we separate ourselves completely, we’ll dry up.”

We all feel the longing to connect with other human beings at some level.

Christians say that God is in us, that we are created in His image, that we have a soul. What if that soul is actually a part of God and therefore, we are all connected in that way?

Remember the Borg from Star Trek Next Generation? All of the Borg are connected by a hive mind. When one is separated, it continues to communicate with the hive and becomes anxious, longing to return to the hive. If there is a small group of them, they operate as a smaller hive and aren’t as lost, but they still work toward reuniting with their source. What if we are like that with God?

What if that feeling of being disconnected and lost is because we have been separated from the source and now it’s getting worse because we’ve become separate from each other? On this physical plane, we can’t completely return to God, but we connect in small groups to ease our separation anxiety until we can. Or at least we used to.

When asked which was the most important commandment, Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Matthew 22:37-40

To love the Lord God with all my heart, soul, and mind, is to honor the creator. To love my neighbor as I would myself, is to honor the creator in them. We love them on earth until we can all return as one to God.

The Brothers!

I’m finally getting to The Brothers Karamazov this week. It’s been on my shelf since January and I kept putting it off because there were easier books to read. I love Pevear and Volokhonsky’s translations of Dostoevsky and I’ve actually been looking forward to reading this. I’m already enchanted, although it is complicated and I can only stick with reading it for about an hour at a time. I’ve ordered a couple easier books to fill in my daily three hours I hope to achieve this year!

I thought I’d write about some of lines I highlighted as I go instead of waiting until the end. I know this is a LONG and pretty dry book for most, but it does have some interesting thoughts in it!

Here’s what I have today!

Page 52 “If you are repentant, it means that you love. And if you love, you already belong to God…with love everything is bought, everything is saved.”

LOVE that! What does repentant mean? “Feeling sincere remorse or regret.” What other reason would you feel that way about something you’ve done hurting someone if you didn’t love that person? I regret cutting off the person behind me on the freeway because I recognize their humanity and I love them. I didn’t mean to, or I did mean to but didn’t realize it would make them so angry. As a Christian, we believe God is love. To love is be part of God. To love is to recognize the image of God in all of us.

Page 57 “’I love mankind’, he said, ‘but I am amazed at myself: the more I love mankind in general, the less I love people in particular, that is, individually, as separate persons.’”

And then this one, “and yet I am incapable of living in the same room with anyone even for two days, this I know from experience. As soon as someone is there, close to me, his personality oppresses my self-esteem and restricts my freedom.”

Don’t I know it! Actually, I underlined the first line but the next one is funnier to me and I can really relate to it. The first line confuses me. Why would that be? I can understand thinking that when you really get to know individual people and try to love them, the more you don’t love mankind as a whole. But this is the opposite? Not sure what he means here.

Page 64 “What would become of him if the Church, too, punished him with excommunication each time immediately after the law of the state has punished him? Surely there could be no greater despair, at least for a Russian criminal, for Russian criminals still have faith. Through who knows: perhaps a terrible thing would happen then – the loss of faith, perhaps, would occur in the desperate heart of the criminal, and what then? But the Church, like a mother, tender and loving, withholds from active punishment, for even without her punishment, the wrongdoer is already too painfully punished by the state court, and at least someone should pity him.”

Such a pretty picture. If you punish a person so much that they are completely outside of society and cannot return, you may as well kill them because they will become more dangerous to society. It gives a human no reason whatsoever to become a better person. The State may punish you for breaking its rules, but the Church should still honor your soul and treat you as a brother.

Page 67 “A socialist Christian is more dangerous than a socialist atheist.”

Thinking about that one. Maybe because you can damage or destroy a person’s soul by it, not just their life on this earth? Socialism requires force and if a Christian Church were to force you to participate in socialism and punish you by ostracism if you did not comply, it may turn you against Jesus and forever separate you from God.

Page 69 “…European liberalism in general, and even our Russian liberal dilettantism, has long and frequently confused the final results of socialism with those of Christianity.”

140 years ago! I hear or at least see memes about Jesus being a socialist so often and it seems like such a shallow understanding of what Jesus preached. Again, socialism requires force to accomplish its goals. If people could leave, take their money and labor elsewhere, it wouldn’t work. Jesus preaches free will and a voluntary acceptance of His gifts. You could say that it is forced because to accept it means you “go to hell” but that can be debated as well. I personally don’t believe in a literal hell but a figurative one. Jesus’ gift is a reunion with God after death. Without him, our body dies and we are forever separated from Him. You cannot have what you do not accept freely. I realize that can be debated and I respect that, but these are my views.

Page 77 “Let worldly men follow their dead with tears; here we rejoice over a departing father.”

Isn’t that what Jesus said to do? Let the dead bury their own dead. We, who have accepted the gift of Jesus of everlasting life with Him, should be rejoicing to know that those who leave this world with that gift go to be forever with the Lord in joy and we will see them again soon. I didn’t grieve that much over the “loss” of my Grandmother. I miss her sometimes. I wonder what she would do or say about things that are happening now. I feel like she’s on a long trip without me and we will be reunited someday. She isn’t gone. She’s having the time of her life with God. How can I be sad? It’s the same when my kids are off somewhere doings something awesome or my Mom is living up in Fernley. They are happy. Why would I not want my loved ones to be happy, even if it is without me? How could anyone be so selfish.

News Reports

If Jesus was the Son of God and people believed it, why didn’t they write any of these activities and words down while it happened? Why did no one report on it until at least 60 years after His death and resurrection?

That’s the question around this house lately. And here’s what I have come up with…

Maybe…just maybe…Jesus and His followers didn’t leave any books, writings, letters, etc., for us to follow because He knew we would worship the books as idols; sacred texts instead of the sacred being.

Maybe He knew His instructions were so clear and simple that they didn’t need to be written down.

“Jesus said unto him, thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” Matthew 22:37-39