9-10-13 1:40List-Based Morality

Karla: Obviously, some bad things have been done in the name of Christianity. But how does that make Christianity itself a bad thing? Sure, some people take the teachings of Christ out of context and twist them to suit their own needs. But at least Christianity a better foundation for morality than believing in nothing!

Okay, so you could debate all day if it is the "religion" that is bad, or if it is just "bad people who happen to be religious." I sometimes mention the fact that there are practically no atheists in prison, but people often do not accept that as an indication that atheists are generally more law-abiding. That's fine...it's interesting to note anecdotally but it's far from definitive. Certainly, anybody can be anything, good or bad.

However, it can be argued that, generally speaking, the morality of non-theists is "sturdier" than that of theists. This is because the morality of non-theists is not arbitrarily derived by another, handed to them from the outside, and judged from "above." It is derived from a personal examination, created from within, and judged therein. As such, instead of a "list of rules" which must be followed, and which can in fact be followed without understanding, non-theistic morality is more of a decision-making algorithm, where understanding is the crucial factor. It is this ability to make decisions with understanding that makes non-theistic morality more practical and flexible, and less likely to be confounded or abandoned in circumstance.

Here is a perfect example from another discussion. Krystal had speculated that everyone might be given one more chance after death to get right with God. Another poster then supposed:

If your theory happens to be right.... why don't we let everyone live all "willy nilly" and do away with prisons and laws and all other social structure.....Lets party like its 1999 and live it up. Tap the keg and strip. Screw anything with legs....

I wanted to be sure this is what she meant, so I then questioned:

Do you personally feel that, if Krystal is correct and everyone gets one last shot to choose to believe in God after death, then that would mean that we could do away with all laws and social structure and party like it's 1999?

The poster responded:

Through her opinion sure, Why not live it up and do what you want?? Instead of "wishing" the teller at the bank would make a mistake and give you all the money in the safe.... why not hold a gun to her head and tell her you want it? There is no consequence....right? I'll just clear it with the Big Guy at my judgement.....

I was compelled to ask at that point, "Can't you think of any other reason not to do that besides what The Big Guy thinks?" She could not.

This, it would appear, is an example of a "list-oriented" morality, with partying and sex on the bad list, along with armed robbery. In this system, "what The Big Guy thinks" is the only arbiter of what is moral. This kind of thinking completely fails to acknowledge, or even notice, that there are other reasons not to do ill, like because it is unfair and because it harms people and because society cannot function without agreed-upon standards of behavior.

I am not saying that all religious people use list-based rather than decision-based morality. However I would say that Christianity in particular presents a list-based morality and it would certainly be easy to get stuck there. Non-theists, however, bereft of faith in the list, are basically forced into the kind of personal examination from which decision-based morality is derived. By this set of factors, I think it could be successfully argued that decision-based non-theistic morality would be superior to list-based religious morality.

Karla: The problems are not the fault of Christianity as a whole.

I have seen this often, that you can't blame Christianity for the actions of Christians. Of course you can't, but that doesn't mean they aren't related. Christians and Christianity are not separate. Christianity does not exist apart from Christians. And there are some elements of Christianity which I think must be considered, if not the fault, then at least contributing factors in some cases.

For one thing, Christianity is heavy on list-based morality which can often leave one high and dry if the situation fails to conform to the parameters of the list.

For another, when Christians do ill at the same or higher rates as people in other faith categories, ya gotta wonder why Christianity does not steer them measurably righter, when this is exactly what it is supposed to do, and so many claim that it can be counted upon to do this.

Most significantly, Christianity places an extreme emphasis on in-group acceptance and out-group rejection. Throughout life, Christians often define themselves by the particular sect they are in, considering those who share exactly the same beliefs as fellows and those whose beliefs differ in ways as heretics. The entire point of death, in fact, is defined as a sieving process by which some are channelled into Heaven while others are shuffled off to Hell, forever separated into "us" and "them."

I would hazard to suggest that in-group vs. out-group mentality is one of the gravest problems facing the human race, and a significant factor in almost every human conflict. From the Hatfields and McCoys, to the Protestant vs. Catholics, to the North vs. South, to the Allies vs. the Axis...from the Democrat vs. Republican, to the Enlightened Democracies vs. the Islamofascist terrorists, to the hard-working upstanders vs. the lazy welfare slobs, there is practically no division which cannot be defined by who we consider to be "the good ones, like us" and who we consider "the other guys."

By specifically being divisive, particularly in terms of "us, the saved" and "everyone else, the hellbound," Christianity is a strong contributing factor to in-group/out-group thinking. Since "us vs. themism" is so very problematic in an interconnected world, any factor that feeds into this thinking is partially to blame, and Christianity is definitely one of these factors.

Karla: But you are still only pointing to the people who abuse this and not the religion itself.

Does the religion of Christianity say that some people will go to Heaven and others will not?

Karla: Well, yes...but there is some interpretation about who goes there.

Well, there you go. That is promoting in-group/out-group divisiveness. That is contributing to serious problems for our world. That is not "abusing Christianity." That IS Christianity.

Karla: If only Christians acted more like Christ, the world would be a better place.

Undoubtedly. Christ, as portrayed, was a heck of a guy.

However, if Christ was saying that some people would get the "good" afterlife and others would not, then He too was promoting in-group/out-group divisiveness and He was wrong to do so.

Karla:The idea of an "in-group" and an "out-group" is so contrary to the majority of Christ's teachings...

If "Christ's teachings" were the sum total of Christianity it would be a very different religion. However I never said Christ was the problem. I said Christianity is the problem. I never said Christ promoted in-group/out-group divisiveness. I said Christianity does.

Karla: ...and then the only divisiveness in Christianity is a construct of the people who interpreted and/or recorded Christ's actual teachings.

Fine. The people who did the constructs are more responsible for Christianity than Christ was. But the fact that Christ was inclusive and Christianity is not does not redeem Christianity from being divisive.

Karla: My question is, if you don't believe in heaven or hell, then does it really make a difference to you?

I am not the only person in the world. I am concerned with more people than myself.

Karla: How can something be wrong if it doesnt' exist for you anyway?

It is wrong to promote divisiveness.

Karla: Since I don't know who is going to be saved and who isn't and since I don't know how much faith it really takes, I am loathed to point to anyone and say that they are in the "out-group."

That's nice. However you are not Christianity. There are plenty of Christians who think that all the people who are not saved are in the out-group. This is not them "abusing Christianity," this is them following Christianity.

Karla: You say this, but have you even read the bible?

I have, cover-to-cover. If you think I just missed the page where it says everyone goes to Heaven, no matter what they think or believe or do, then please point it out.

Karla: If you are going to judge Christianity than I ask you to judge it by Jesus and His teachings.

Sorry, no. The day that Christianity is condensed to just Jesus and his teachings, I will evaluate it on that basis. However as long as Christianity includes things besides just Jesus and his teachings I will evaluate those things as the parts of Christianity they are.

Karla: The fact that other Christians do not stick to His teachings is not a failure of God or Christianity but the people who practice it.

That is just not true. It is a central tenet of Christianity that only some people get to Heaven. That is a failure of the Christian philosophy and of any who choose to embrace it.

Karla: You still have not proven to me that the fault is with God...

Whoa, who ever said it was God's fault?

Karla: ...instead you are furthering my stance that the fault is with the people who worship Him.

The fault is the central tenet of Christianity which divides the in-group of the saved from the out-group of the damned.

9-09-13 1:40Souls and Enlightenment

Caption Marvel: Do people have souls?

Sandra: Yes, we have souls.

Our souls came from God.

We are given them when we are conceived.

Our souls will either go to heaven or hell when we die, depending on whether or not you believe Jesus is your savior.

What about people who tried to believe Jesus was their savior but couldn't manage it? Hell for them too? And what about people who never heard of Jesus? Hell, also?

Sandra: Of course. You don't get points for trying. You either believe or you don't.

That's too bad. I know many wonderful, good-hearted people who don't happen to be convinced by the Jesus story, or who happened to have been raised with a different type of religion. Any God who would see such sweet, wonderful people, who make life a joy for others, languish in Hell for eternity just for this, is cruel.

I wouldn't do it to them. Too bad God cannot be as compassionate as I am.

Sandra: God is wonderful and loving and all those terrific things. He is also just.

How do you figure? What is just about this?

Sandra: You have a right to your own way of thinking and belief system.

If people have a right believe the wrong thing, then why does God punish them for doing it?

Sandra: They were warned. If people believe the wrong thing and he punishes them, well...they did it to themselves.

Yes, but how is believing the wrong thing worthy of punishment? Is being wrong about it evil?

Sandra: It's going against God. Don't you punish your children when they do wrong and don't listen to you?

If I did, it would only be so that they could learn from their mistake and do better next time. How could being sent to Hell for eternity teach a lesson for next time? There is no next time. So to what end is the punishment?

Sandra: It's justice. I know you don't want to hear this. The truth hurts sometimes.

How can I confirm that your description of how God works is the truth?

Sandra: We can't create our own God and make him fit into our own perfect little mold. He is who he is.

How can you confirm that this description of what He is, is accurate?

Sandra: My faith is too strong and I feel God in my whole being to question him or his existence.

I am not questioning the "existence of God." I am not an atheist. I am questioning how you know that your description of God is what He is really like.

Sandra: I can only tell you to find out for yourself.

This I have done, and continue to do. However what I am discovering for myself is that what you are claiming cannot be substantiated.

Sandra: If you earnestly search and want to know the truth, God will open your eyes and show you through your own reading of the bible, surrounding yourself around Christians and remaining open minded.

My earnest search has revealed that Christains do not know anything more about God than anyone else.

Sandra: I want for you to find what I am saying is the truth.

Then back it up. If it's true there should be some way to confirm it.

Sandra: It doesn't work that way. You want easy answers and there are none.

I have massive amounts of energy which I can dedicate to understanding difficult answers if necessary. I only want answers that can be confirmed to actually be answers and not just speculation.

Sandra: It takes years of studying and learning, an open mind, and faith.

Why do you think I have not done this? I am reporting to you that "You have to believe in Jesus as your savior or else you will go to hell" is not the conclusion that has been yielded by my years of studying and learning. I cannot confirm this, and my years of studying and learning seem to indicate that this is just something that people say.

Sandra: Send me a PM if you wish and I will try to help you.

I appreciate your willingness to discuss it further if you are able. If you are, I would like to know your thoughts on my questions, like how you figure punishing souls for eternity is similar to parents punishing children for their own good.

Sandra: Again, you want God to fit in your little perfect box of who you think God should be.

It could be that your description of God is just what you want Him to be in your little box. How is anyone supposed to tell who is right and who is just little boxes?

Sandra: However, if you are an atheist, these statements won't matter to you whatsoever.

I'm not an atheist but I can't figure out how these statements make sense to you.

Sandra: Faith is being sure of what you hope for and certain of what you don't see.

Do you think people should be sure of everything they hope for and certain of everything they don't see? Or just some things? Which things? How can we know which ones?

Sandra: I feel God in my gut and in my life which is richly blessed.

A lot of people feel God in their gut and that seems fine. I am not an atheist, or trying to argue that this doesn't happen. What I want to know is how you have confirmed that "You have to believe in Jesus as your savior or you will get the bad afterlife" is an accurate picture of God? Does your gut have a way to confirm this?

Sandra: He wants us to want his son.

To what end?

Sandra: I am Christian and see more like God sees because the holy spirit guides me and I totally trust God.

That is a pretty big claim. What evidence is there that Christians "see more like God" than other people?

Sandra: I can not make you ever understand my viewpoints and my reasoning and I will not try.

If your reasoning is sound other people should have no trouble understanding it.

Sandra: We are cut from two different cloths.

We are both human beings.

Sandra: I won't be answering any more of your questions.

Well, that's too bad, but not unexpected.

Man, I would LOVE it if people asked me about my understanding, and gave me a platform to explain it! I could answer questions about it all night. I'd be thrilled to. I don't understand when other people have this opportunity and don't take it.

But, if you don't care to, thanks for the time you have been willing to share. I appreciate it.

Sandra: It seems like you're trying your best to find reasons not to believe instead of reasons to believe.

I am not trying to do either of those. I am trying to find a way to communicate with you.

Sandra: I think it's best you consult a bible for your answers.

There is no reason to think the people who wrote the Bible know more about God than what I am able to discern myself.

Sandra: If you wish to learn more, please read God's word, but you first have to believe it's the truth.

Unfortunately, that would work for everything. How do I know what to believe is the truth first and what not to?

Sandra: I hope you find what you're looking for.

Generally speaking, I have found much of what I am looking for. In this conversation, I am mainly looking for a way to engage you. I'm sorry it hasn't worked, maybe another time.

Sandra: Jesus says, "If you look for me in earnest, you will find me when you seek me."

There is nothing un-earnest about the way I have been looking. I have looked in earnest, and I have found plenty. However what I have found makes the Christian stuff look puny, cruel and unfounded. Particularly the doctrine of Hell, which is why I attempted to engage you on the topic when you brought it up.

Caption Marvel: Actually, I would like to hear your views.

This does me great honor, thank you so much for asking.

Caption Marvel: Do people have souls?

On the subject of souls, I would say that we know nothing of them. We have only speculation.

Speaking more generally, I would agree with the Buddha that existential questions about "gods" and "souls" are unanswerable, and a distraction from enlightenment.

I would say, if you want a soul, be one now.

Caption Marvel: So, do you relate more to Buddhism & why?

Buddhism is the practice of enlightenment my husband was using when we met. It is certainly working for him, so I began the practice also. It seems to be working for me.

Buddhism happens to be a well-known path to enlightenment, but it is not the only one. There are many, and not all are "spiritual." The life philosophy and ethics of Epicurus, for example, are an excellent framework for enlightenment, and they are non-religious.

The authors of the New Testement certainly intended to portray Jesus as an enlightened man, so the archetype is available in Christian tradition as well. It has forms in some other religions also.

But I would say I'm not particularly "religious." My enlightenment consists of a practice, not a worship or a set of faith beliefs. The main advantage of Buddhism is that it says what it is and does what it says it does.

Caption Marvel: What about it feels more right than, in this particular instance, Christianity?

This is a great question, thanks for asking.

The one thing that I would not use to make a determination about the unknown is what "feels more right." I have all kinds of feelings about the unknown and so does everyone, but nothing we decide "feels right" about the unknown can be confirmed to actually be right.

We could speculate all night about when souls start, where they go, and whether souls are green, or blue, or purple. But there is nothing that can be known to pick any one speculation over any other. It's just a big question mark, like so many other unanswerable questions. Taking up various positions about it just creates unresolvable conflicts, because no one really knows.

Luckily, you don't have to know any of that to become enlightened. This may be why the Buddha said the questions of "gods" and "souls" are a distraction. Attainment is about getting it going on here, now, with what we do know.

As for Christianity, it does have an enlightened man at its center. But for some reason, the goal of the adherents is not to become enlightened themselves. Instead, the goal is to be saved from "damnation" in the "afterlife."

This seems lame for two reasons.

For one thing, it seems a little too convenient, doesn't it? All the good stuff which Christinaity promises is placed inside the big unknown question mark area where it cannot be checked or confirmed by anyone living. Hmm.

And for another, this gives people an easy out - "just believe this!" - instead of having to do the work of becoming enlightened themselves. People expect to simply ride on Jesus's coattails into Heaven after they die instead of becoming enlightened now.

I think that's a shame. It totally misses the point of there being an enlightened man one's religion is named after. If Christianity was about how to become a Jesus Christ, it could be a path to enlightenment. But it doesn't seem to be about that.

I thank you again for asking, please let me know if you have any questions at all about this. I enjoy discussing it. :-)

Sandra:I have to jump back in again. I hope I'm welcome to.

Of course. I am honored that you would discuss it with me.

I want you to know that I have considered your words very carefully. This kind of dialog is very important to me, and I thank you.

Sandra: Christianity is not about head knowledge, common sense or intellect...

Yes, I am fully aware of that. But a system that doesn't stand up to head knowledge, common sense or intellect is a system that is lacking an important touch on reality. When Christianity is in conflict with knowledge, common sense and intellect, we have to ask why.

Sandra: ...it's about faith, which is about believing something that cannot be proven.

As far as anyone is able to demonstrate, believing in things that cannot be proven is not important.

Particularly when it comes to the unknown, a simple "I don't know" usually suffices, especially since that is the truth.

Sandra: That is why people who think this way will be atheist, agnostic or Budhist or whatever.

I think you are over-generalizing here. I know some knowledgeable, common sense intellectual people who are Christian.

Sandra:It doesn't make it wrong since we all have the right to our own beliefs...

We certainly have a right to our own beliefs, but having the right to have them doesn't mean they can't be wrong. You have every right to believe "the earth is at the center of the planetary system," but that wouldn't make the phrase an accurate description of what is actually the case.

Sandra: ...it just makes us kind of cut from a different cloth, as I said previously.

People are people. They can freely convert from theist to non-theist, Christian to Buddhist, Wiccan to pantheist to deist to atheist and back again. It is not a matter of the "material" you are "cut from." It is a matter of what you are currently choosing to think.

Sandra: You mentioned that we don't have enlightenment, but I have to disagree.

I did not say that Christians "don't have enlightenment."

I said, the goal of adherents is not to become enlightened. I think most would agree that the main purpose of Christ's sacrifice on the cross was to provide salvation, a route to heaven and redemption for the debt of original sin. They might also list blessings of the Lord, the answering of prayers and the bestowing of grace as other benefits.

But certainly, you almost never hear Christians specifically mentioning "enlightenment" as part of the discussion.

In fact, I think if you asked most hell-believing Christians whether they would prefer enlightenment now or to be spared from hell later, they would pick the latter. For example, hell believers frequently float Pascal's wager as their reasoning, saying they would much prefer to take the chance of being wrong now by believing in Christ if he isn't real, than take the chance of being wrong later by not believing in him, and ending up in hell.

When the question is framed as a choice between accurate understanding and salvation, the fear-based choice wins. Salvation is clearly taking firm precedence over all other concerns.

Sandra: You just can't see our enlightenment from your end because your head knowledge tells you it can't be so.

No. One, you have no idea what I can see from my end or what my head knowledge is telling me. Two, I didn't say it can't be so. Read what I wrote. I specifically said, it could be so, if it was being pursued in that manner.

Three, I am perfectly capable of seeing it when it occurs. I personally know people who are pursuing Christianity as a path to enlightenment in the Buddhist sense. However that practice is extremely different from the typical Christian. The list of beliefs that they do not share in common with you would probably make you decide they were from that "other cloth." They don't believe that Jesus was the son of God, or that he was born of a virgin, or that believing in him is how you get the good afterlife. They don't believe that he magically raised the dead or multiplied the servings at the fish-n-loaves dinner.

The people who are pursuing Jesus as a path to enlightenment are taking the words of Jesus and using them as lessons to create enlightenment in their lives in just the same manner that Buddhists utilize the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama. They do not worship Jesus as a supernatural being. They consider him a teacher.

Sandra: I get more enlightened to Jesus every day of my walk in Christianity...

I think I see where the disconnect is. You seem to be using the term "enlightenment" as "growing in understanding," and I would not disagree with that usage. In fact I have often seen Christians discuss this aspect of the faith, using other terms. This is certainly part of Christianity and I am perfectly aware of that.

Sandra: And, actually, we are in training to become more like Jesus.

I would agree that Christians do claim that they are trying to be more like Christ.

Sandra: Our goal is to become more "like" him and his way, but we can never be Jesus. Our human flesh makes sure to that.

Unfortunately, they also claim that it is impossible.

Sandra: I'm enlightened to my sins, I'm enlightened to the sensitivities and needs to those around me, I'm enlightened to the beauty of this world, I'm enlightened to the miracle of life, I'm enlightened to who I really am, how I should change and who I should become...the list of enlightenment goes on and on.

I don't doubt that you are growing in your knowledge and awareness of the things you describe, and that is a wonderful and admirable thing. I agree this is "enlghtening" in the general sense of the term.

However, this is not enlightenment in the very specific Buddhist usage of the term. My usage of enlightenment refers specifically to the action of transcending suffering through focused attention and the practice of non-attachment.

Non-attachment is a measure of enlightenment, as used in this way.

Sandra: I'm enlightened to where Jesus plays a part in my life and my walk with him. He's the center of it all for a Christian.

I would say that for a Christian as you describe, non-attachment is hardly a consideration. People are extremely attached to Jesus, to his offer of salvation, and to getting to heaven. Also to there being a God, to Him being the jealous God or loving God or wrathful God of the ancient texts, to the presence of God's blessing and intervention in their affairs, to being in line with Biblical prophecy, to being a sinner by nature, etc. The more Christian dogma one believes, the more the attachments there are - to Christ being born of a virgin, to him rising from the grave, to God thinking homosexual acts are abomination, to Israel being the holy land, to the immenent coming of the Rapture and the End Times, etc.

Beliefs are attachments. They are attachments to specific speculations of the unknown.

Just for contrast, I would mention, as an example, that the Buddha is supposed to have been a prince, the son of a powerful king. However Buddhists are not attached to this as a faith belief. If some ancient scroll was unearthed which showed that the buddha was actually the son of a merchant, it would change nothing about Buddhism. There is no attachment to the story.

However if ancient scrolls arose which showed that Christ was not the son of God, it would upset everything in Christianity because the attachment to the belief is endemic to the fabric of the faith.

I would add, however, that one place where Christain enlightenment and Buddhist enlightenment can overlap is in the development of compassion.

Sandra: In your type of religion/belief, whatever is the appropriate way to refer to it, it's more about you.

Yes, my life is about me, as far as anyone is able to tell.

Sandra: In my belief system, it's more about Jesus Christ being the center.

I would say that having some other being play the starring role in your life does not represent anything like the Buddhist understanding of Enlightenment. As far as anyone can tell, Jesus is not here. We are.

Your personal growth in spiritual understanding is a wonderful thing and I laud you for it, but as long as you concerned with getting to heaven, being forgiven of your sins, having Jesus be in your life right now, etc., you are not pursuing the non-attachment that leads to transcendence of suffering which would constitute the Buddhist usage of the term.

Sandra: I hope I explained the difference in an understandable manner.

Certainly, thanks. I hope you understand now why I say that Christianity is not concerned with enlightenment. I mean, it is not concerned on the transcendence of personal suffering through focused attention and the practice of non-attachment.

I thank you again for speaking of this with me and I hope you will feel able to continue.

Sandra: I feel this response is a contradiction between what you say and what you believe. For me, reincarnation does not stand up to head knowledge, common sense or intellect either; it also lacks an important touch on reality for me.

As I mentioned, you should seriously not attempt to tell me what I believe. I have never said that I believe in reincarnation.

Sandra: Isn't reaching nirvana (enlightenment) a main point of Buddhism?

That has nothing to do with reincarnation.

Sandra: Were is the proof of a reincarnated individual?

None that I know of. I am not concerned at all with reincarnation. For one thing, reincarnation is a Hindu concept, not Buddhist. The Buddhist interpretation is called rebirth, and it is a somewhat different concept. Second of all, Buddhism arose amid Hinduism and rebirth appears to be a Hindu graft onto the Buddha's teachings to make it more acceptable to the zeitgeist of the time.

The Buddha himself taught "anatman," or "no soul."

Sandra: Until I can see documentation and know for a fact that the original inception of a particular human being has followed various life paths, I will have to conclude that what you say is just like the choice to believe in Christianity...a non-proven avenue of belief.

That is not what I say. I have never claimed that reincarnation is real or taken a stand on non-proven avenues of belief. I think you may have me confused with someone else.

Sandra: Where is the proof that Budda reached nirvana?

There isn't any. Perhaps he didn't. However it doesn't change the fact that Buddhist teachings work for reducing suffering. For example, scientific studies have shown that Buddhists are actually measurably happier than people in other faith categories.

Since it's supposed to be a system for creating happiness and that is what it is doing, that seems good enough for the moment. What the Buddha really did or didn't do is not important.

Sandra: It's heresay to me, just as Jesus' ability to be raised from the dead may be hearsay to you or that heaven exists, or that he served thousands from two loaves of bread.

That's fine, it's hearsay to me too. I am not concerned with whether the story of the Buddha is completely accurate.

There are compelling arguments to show that neither Buddha or Jesus existed as actual people. However in Buddhism that doesn't make a shred of difference. The wisdom of the words stands separately from the individual. "Buddha" could actually be a committee, but what does it matter?

However if Jesus was not an actual person that changes everything for most Christians.

Sandra: You may not "worship" Buddha, but you do follow his teachings and must believe in the important aspects of them (reaching nirvana, reincarnation, etc)...

Not necessarily, and you should stop trying to tell me what I must believe.

Sandra: ....or else you are just picking which fit for you personally.

This I do when I follow any recipe or system. Why not?

The difference with Christianity is that there is no tenet in Buddhism which says you must accept all of it, or most of it, or any particular part. The Buddha himself instructed people to reject any teaching that they could not personally verify, even his.

Buddhism is a body of ideas, from which anyone can draw lessons, try them on for size, and then continue to utilize or not as indicated. Faith is not required or expected.

Sandra: Your points for discounting Christianity simply because we focus on a being who can't be proven as the son of man, or his virgin birth, life or miracles can't be proven is exactly how I feel about Buddhism.

Please, take this up with someone who has unsubstantiated Buddhist beliefs. My argument to them would be the same as to Christian faith beliefs - demonstrate that this is true, or don't claim that it certainly is.

Sandra: As an example, you think the earth revolves around the sun so to speak, and I believe the sun revolves around the earth. Neither one of us can prove anything, so now what?

Now this is just ridiculous. We can check. It can be definitively demonstrated that the earth revolves around the sun, by directly observing this happening. There are mountains of evidence and observations of this going back centuries to support this conclusion.

There is exactly zero evidence that the sun revolves around the earth. They are not equivalent viewpoints.

Sandra: We can both claim our way is right, but it would get us no where.

Only if you chose to abandon reason and facts and disregard everything that can be shown to be true about the solar system.

Sandra: You claim people aren't cut from cloth, they can change, but I disagree. If a person is a "true" Christian, once they see the light of it all, it is hard to sway back and forth. Solidity in one's faith is hard to shake if it is genuine.

There are people in this very discussion who have moved from sincere solid faith to questioning to changing their beliefs. At the Crossroads, I have encountered many former Christians and even seen the transformation occurring over the course of some months. It happens.

And I think most Christians would happily acknowledge that people can change to Christianity from other systems. So obviously it is not about what "cloth" you are made of but what you choose to think.

Sandra: When you say someone follows Jesus without divinity, I'm confused as to what parts of Christianity she is following. Is it just the personal traits of Jesus; kindness, forgiveness, etc?

I would describe it as a practice of compassion.

Sandra: You say, "Jesus isn't here now." Jesus isn't here for you because you don't believe. I "feel" Jesus here, in my heart in the form of the Holy Spirit, who guides me each day.

I have no doubt that you feel things in your heart that guide you each day. However this is not unique to Christians and there is no evidence that this is actually "Jesus."

Everybody feels things in their heart. But when a Shinto feels something in his heart he believes it is the guidance of his ancestors. When an Apache feels that, she believes it is the intervention of the Life Giver. When an atheist feels it, he may think it is his intuition.

There is no evidence that this feeling is Jesus, and isn't ancestors, the Life Giver or just intuition. In any case, you don't have to believe anything in particular to get guidance from your heart. It happens to everyone.

Sandra: You cannot prove he is not here.

I cannot prove that you don't have invisible magical microscopic monkeys that fly out of your nose every time you sneeze, either. Perhaps you do. Should we entertain the notion?

Sandra: You and I can't physically see him, but I can sense him.

People sense a lot of things. There is no evidence that what you sense is different from what I or any other person senses. It is not known what some of the things we sense are, and there is no reason to think it emanates from Jesus particularly.

Sandra: Thanks for being gracious and fair in your posts.

My thanks to you for this as well. This discussion has been very clarifying for me and I appreciate it.

9-09-13 1:40The Bible's Mixed Messages about Homosexuality

Oleander: Most people think that The Bible condemns homosexuality. Actually, if you consider different translations, it's a bit ambiguous what is meant, like perhaps it just means to condemn "male and female prostitutes." So maybe we should have second thoughts about condeming gays.

The problem is the idea that humans should be deciding good and ill based on "the bible."

Oleander: What do you mean?

The "bible" could say, straight out, unambiguously, that anyone who thinks a homosexual thought should be immediately stoned to death. That doesn't mean we should do it.

It doesn't matter what the bible says. The bible can be wrong. We have to forget the bible and figure out how to handle human behavior based on what humans actually are and what works and what doesn't.

We only have to look at this reality with our own eyes to see that homosexual behavior is naturally occurring and is no more inherently harmful than heterosexual behavior. What difference does it make what the bible says? Can we not see the reality for ourselves?

ZooKeep: The bible has been re-translated a ton of times, and who's to say that the people who translated didn't get the wrong impression?

It could be translated perfectly and still be wrong.

That is why this issue remains a problem. Many people will not consider the idea that the bible could be wrong.

Consider this. The Quran can easily be interpreted as entreating believers to kill infidels. There is a lot of wrangling over the translations and interpretations there, too. But what difference does it make? Even if the Quran said, straight out, that infidels should be killed by believers, that doesn't mean there is any excuse in this world for believers to kill infidels based on what it says. What is says does not matter at all. Killing people is wrong. If the Quran says to kill people, the Quran is wrong. Holy books can be wrong.

If we want to avoid making gay people - and other human beings, like "male and female prostitutes" - into second-class citizens, we have to forget what the bible "says" is bad and just find out for ourselves.

9-08-13 11:56Death Penalty

SugarTree: Did you hear about that man who tossed his four kids from a bridge in Alabama in 2008?

Cases like these are why I feel I could never support a complete ban on the use of the Death Penalty. NOTHING, not even death, is a suitable punishment for people like this.

Who cares about him?

The reason the death penalty is wrong is not because of what it does to HIM. Fuck him. It's because of what it does to US. It makes us killers. It's not worth us throwing away our own morality and becoming killers just because of insane wastes of human life like this.

SugarTree: He also told he judge that he wants the death penalty.

In that case they should just give him a gun. He can take care of it himself.

9-08-13 8:54Facts About God

Katy: There are the facts about God, something everybody can agree with.

Your conjectures are not facts about God and not something that everybody can agree with.

Katy: Anything we cannot make personally, it is made by God.

No. Have you ever looked at anything which was actually made? There is zero evidence of involvement by any intelligent agent. The elements are fused by heat and pressure in the heart of stars. Complex molecules were formed from elements by the heat and pressure of geothermal activity and cometary impact on the early earth. Living beings are made by their DNA using nothing more than the molecules in their vicinity and a billion years of trial and error to figure out what to do.

Nothing, not one thing in this universe, looks remotely as if it was made by a top-down intelligence. So, wrong.

Katy: God's love is all over this world.

Every bit of love in the world is being loved by biological brains.

Katy: We are like God, we are God's hands and feet in this world.

No human has even the tiniest scrap of information about any gods so there is no possible comparison of us to "them."

If you want to say something everyone can agree with, describe something that corresponds accurately with realtiy. People will agree with you if they can verify what you are saying.

9-07-13 7:11Good and Bad

Laura: You said that "good" and "bad" don't exist outside human minds, that they are just what we think of what happens.

So, I suppose in your opinion, something is wrong if it causes harm and suffering? And something is right if it is pleasurable?

I don't make generalized judgements about hypothetical, unspecified "somethings." I weigh the actual harm and suffering of a specific thing against the actual benefits on a case-by-case basis and then decide the best I can.

What alternative method are you proposing for determining morality?

Laura:Your method makes it difficult to have laws.

How do you figure? We have laws.

We as a society examine a circumstance or occurrence and make some laws to deal with it. Sometimes the laws are workable and helpful and sometimes they aren't. Sometimes we change them to make them work better.

Laura: Laws don't fit all circumstances. How do you propose we deal with this?

We do the best we can. That's why we have trials, judges, and juries - to examine the specifics on a case-by-case basis.

Laura: Many laws seem ludicrous in some situations.

That is why sometimes a judge suspends a sentence. Sometimes we use jury nullification. Sometimes we change the law.

Laura: How could your principles be applied in society?

These are the principles of our society. How does what I am describing differ from what our society is doing?

Laura: You are saying good and bad are just relative. But if good and bad don't exist except in our minds then how do we determine it?

If you are suggesting that good and bad actually exist outside of our minds then the burden of proof is on you to show where / how.

Laura: You are the one claiming good and bad only exist within our minds. The burden of proof is on you.

We are talking about it. Obviously, good and bad are concepts in our minds.

Laura: But without God, who gets to be the judge of it?

We do.

Laura: Is allowing the majority to decide any better than using God to justify our actions?

At least "the majority" is a real thing that can actually be shown to exist.

And, nobody ever said that the majority always does a good job. As humans our general sense of morality is evolving. A mere few centuries ago the majority considered slavery okay. A mere few decades ago the majority considered segregation okay. A few short years ago a majority in our country considered killing Iraqis okay.

We just have to examine what occurs, as individuals and as a society, and do the best that we can to find ways to make things work. If it doesn't seem to be working we can try to fix it. What other way is there?

Laura: We can rely on the absolute morality of God!

Shoving the responsibility for human morality off on God doesn't help. What person gets to decide what God's morals are?

9-06-13 10:11Relationship With...?

Tara: You don't know the Lord. When you spend time with the Lord in His Word and prayer, you get to know Him.

This is ridiculous. You can't spend time getting to know your new boyfriend by reading letters someone else wrote on his behalf and talking to him in your head. You can only "get to know" someone who is actually here, interacting with you.

Tara: SAY THIS: Jesus, I open up the door to You!

This I have done, on more than one occasion, in absolute sincerity. However nothing happened.

Tara: I do believe that God is greater than man.

That's nice to believe but since it is undetectable it is meaningless.

Tara: I do know that if you asked Jesus and were sincere and had a true heart in confessing your sins and asking him to save you then he did.

Since it's undetectable, what difference does it make?

Tara: An Eternity of difference Raver.............

You hope.

Tara: Coming in to God, establishing a relationship with Him, getting to know Him through his Word is far different than hanging out with some dude and getting to know what he likes and doesn't like.

How so?

Tara: I'm sorry you feel nothing happened when you asked God to enter your life. I have to ask this, what were you expecting to happen?

I didn't know what to expect. Anything at all happening would have been something. However nothing at all happened.

Tara: A relationship with God is indeed different than say, the relationship I have with my husband.

Of course it is. I never expected God to be my cosmic boyfriend. But a relationship takes two, with both parties participating. So far God has never done His side of the relationship.

Tara: He hears you and even if He does try to help you, guide you, if you do not have complete Faith you are not going to be able to understand what God is trying to do for you.

Yes, the religious always blame me. They claim that I was not doing it right and that is why nothing happened.

However if God has half the power people claim He does you would think that He could find a way to manage despite whatever shortcomings I may possess.

Tara: He isn't the one lacking in power............it may be you.

Yes, the religious always blame me. However you would think that God could find a way to manage anyway.

Tara: All it takes is a genuine heart truly seeking and loving Jesus.

My heart is not one iota less genuine than anyone else's.

Tara: I can't imagine being separated from God's love forever.

That sounds pretty scary alright. My hubby says, "Be a love unto yourself."

Tara: When you asked for him to enter your heart, did you believe without a doubt that there was a God?

I thought so at the time. However, in retrospect the "without a doubt" requirement does not seem very fair. If I am just not able to honestly rid myself of every single possible doubt, I don't see why that should disqualify me. I am what I am. If this is what God gets He should be satisfied with that.

Tara: You have to do it for the right reasons and believe with all your heart.

There is nothing wrong with my reasons. They are as good as anyone's.

Tara: No i don't blame you.....

You said it's not God, it may be me. It certainly sounds like you are saying that my lack of whatever is the reason.

Tara: That's just it, i think you are trying way too hard.

Yes, people always tell me it is because I am doing it wrong.

Tara: All you need to do is receive Him, essentially saying, "Yes, Lord!"

Yes, I have done exactly this, on more than one occasion. However nothing happened.

Tara: He cares more about your heart - your spirit than anything....

If God cares about my heart and spirit I'm sure He would find that I have a perfectly good heart and spirit.

Tara: If you're hurting inside from something that until now has kept you from opening yourself up to God, tell Him about that hurt. If you're angry with God, tell Him. He can handle it. He won't strike you dead.

I do not fear being struck dead. However, I am not hurting or angry either.

Tara: When you're done telling Him about it, give Him some time to answer back. Just be silent, and listen for His voice.

This I have done. Since I am trained in meditation, I am probably more adept at silencing the mind than most people are. However in silence I find only silence.

Tara:Then i am Truly Sorry.

There is no need to be. Seeking is its own reward, regardless of the outcome.

Tara: Still, I am very sorry.

I'm not. But, I appreciate your concern.

Tara: ..i am sure you think your decision to not believe in Jesus is the best one for you.

I have not made any decision one way or the other. I do not believe anything in particular about Jesus, either for or against. I am just telling you what I have experienced.

Tara: You choose to either Believe he exists or he doesn't.

Wrong. I have not chosen either. I am willing to wait and see.

Tara: Jesus isn't halfway Jesus.

It is certainly not about what Jesus is or isn't. It is about how we have labeled our experience.

Tara: It's not hard, he is either God or not God.

Or, there is some other situation which exists which we are not able to fully comprehend. I certainly don't claim to have the answer. I am more concerned when people claim they do have the answer. If they do, they should be able to share it with me in a manner which I can apprehend. I am not fundamentally different from anyone else.

But, not so far.

Tara: if God isn't, then there is no ultimate redress for human suffering.

Perhaps there isn't ultimate redress.

Tara: If God isn't, then there is no true meaning to life, no transcendent meaning, no ultimate meaning.

Perhaps there isn't transcendent meaning. Or perhaps the transcendent meaning has nothing to do with God.

Tara: if God isn't then we can never know what is good just because there is no ultimate good to be known...

I don't have much trouble sorting good from not good. It's not that hard. But, perhaps there is no "ultimate" good.

Tara: If God isn't then what is now called "God" is at bottom mere preference.

I would certainly agree with that.

Tara: If God isn't, finally, then life is a capricious jumble headed for a death whose very deadliness reaches back and begins to deaden life long before we die.

Perhaps this is how it is. Perhaps not. I can certainly see an unbroken chain of life that continues back into the misty reaches of time, and ahead for as long as we, and our circumstances, allow it. Where there is death, first there is life, and that's cool.

But, just because you do not like the implication of No God, that doesn't automatically mean God. Only actual God means God.

9-06-13 9:10After Death Hologram

Zeenat:I think I still believe in some sort of an afterlife, either heaven, reincarnation, floating soul, or something, because I don't like the idea of completely disappearing.

I don't like the idea of completely disappearing either, but there are many facts of life I don't like. My distaste for this idea does not translate into actually having belief that an afterlife actually happens. Beingness seems to arise from physicality. At best, what occurs is a total unknown. My like or dislike of this is not dispositive to it.

Which is not to say that I don't have any ideas about it. So far, the best solution I can come up with is to have my personality recreated as a hologram. I plan to leave enough of my personality behind in my art and writings and scrapbooks so that when technology reaches the level of true artificial intelligence they can make a replica of me. Maybe it wouldn't really be "me," but it would seem like me, and that seems better than nothing. Then, free of the limitations of the human body, "I" would go on to make incredible art throughout the ages.

The only trick would be getting the programmers of the future to pick me to recreate. But I have no doubt that, sooner or later, people will try to use computer intelligence to recreate Mozart, or Einstein. If I want to get on the short list I'd better step it up a bit. :-)

In the meantime, I live for now. As for later, who knows...I may be pleasantly surprised.

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