Sunday, July 01, 2007

Complication Simplified

From Praesidium Respublicae comes an interesting post on religion from a historical perspective. Overall, it's a good review of some principles that have existed in religion from the beginning of mankind's time on this earth, many of which still exist today in some modified form or fashion. Sam makes some comparisons that are spot on and worthy of thought and consideration.

For many years now, I have adhered to a principle that (for me) has drawn a stark contrast between religion and Christianity, and has put all things theological into a certain relative perspective, one that has been highly instrumental in helping me sort out the truths and the myths. It is:

Religion is man's attempt to reach God (or some other named form or deity), while Christianity is God's attempt to reach man.

Think about this for a second.

Sam at PR states in his essay:

Early man, in trying to understand the forces of the natural world, developed a belief system in which many gods represented forces of nature.

Those of us that know and understand history know that man has been curious about the possibility of higher beings and an unseen realm that contains answers to physical mysteries. When attempting to answer questions about why it rained and other natural elements which man could not control, it was easy to assign some kind of supernatural explanation to them. And in doing this, man also determined that adverse events out of his control, had to be the result of something he was or was not doing that the force behind this element was not pleased with.

The multitude of deities that evolved from man's reasonings about these things, was one example of man complicating things, more so than was originally intended. He could not fathom that there was one entity that was over everything, he had to have many to explain the different phenomena that he experienced.

One example found in the Bible is the story of the tower of Babel. After God sought the people to disperse and populate the earth, the people thought they'd build a tower into the heavens, to be with God. Man tried, but as the rest of the story goes, they soon found their languages confused, thus no coordination could take place. By man not doing the will of God, his actions brought on more complications to a world that seemingly had one simple directive.

But, at the time of God's choosing (and only at that time), He sent his Son into the earth to redeem mankind. By sending Christ here and offering Him as the ultimate sacrifice, God and man made contact. Not through man's doing or effort, but by God's. After that, man had need of no more rituals, no more sacrifices, and no more ceremonies to touch the mind of God, for God had provided an opportunity that man need only accept and believe. God's purpose in all of this, was not complicated at all.

What was His purpose?

I firmly believe, the purpose of this effort was to free mankind from the horrible curse that came upon mankind, from Adam and Eve's actions in the Garden of Eden. That curse was death. God had told Adam that if they ate of the tree at the center of the garden, in that day they ate of it, they would "surely die". It's obvious that He did not mean they would die that same day. But He merely meant the day they ate, they would have this onus around their necks. It meant that instead of having eternal life, they would face a day whereby they would cease to exist on this earth.

If we read John 3:16, we can see this was the distinction being made for hope of restoring an opportunity for eternal life (as it would have been, had Adam and Eve not disobeyed and brought the curse on mankind in the first place):

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

This is one of the most quoted scripture by Christians of all denominations, yet it is (I feel) one of the most misunderstood. Note that the distinction is not between spending eternity in Heaven or Hell, but having everlasting life over death.

So, when Sam asserts and asks the following:

Modern religion assures us that there is an after-life existence in either heaven or hell. Remember, one must believe it in order to achieve it . . . but one really must ask if there is a heaven or hell, what has happened to the souls of all those millions of people who lived long before Jesus or Allah? Have these ancient souls been condemned to a never-ending torment just because they happened to live at the wrong time, or in the wrong place?

I have somewhat of an answer.

I say all souls that have died (before or after Christ came and redeemed the world are now dead), are now awaiting the day when their names are called to come forth in the resurrection, the same resurrection that Christ experienced. Those that are known by God will live again. That is the hope, that is the promise. Furthermore it is my belief that the Roman Church in the Dark Ages deliberately twisted passages from the Bible that were meant to be interpreted in a metaphorical sense, and not literally. Those passages became mainstream, because Rome wanted tight control over its subjects through the Church.

In short, I do not believe that there is a special place that God sets aside for those He wishes to torment (with angels all standing around the camp fire pit saying; "Goody, goody, they are getting what they deserve"). The lost souls that have done evil, killed innocents, and blasphemed will not fry and pop in the pits of hell, throughout the ceaseless ages of eternity. They will die and stay dead forever.

The current concept of Hell is just one example of how man has overcomplicated Christianity, as has been done with most religions throughout the annals of time. God gave Moses and the children of Israel the Law, it wasn't long before they complicated it. By the time Christ came, they had it so over-saturated with unnecessary rituals, that it was unrecognizable, from it purest form.

With that in mind, it only stands to reason the same has been done with Christianity and does much to explain why so many people are confused and even turned off by something that in it's purest form, was simple and easy. God uncomplicated religion and man messed it back up as he does everything he touches.

Questions? I'll try to answer them, best I can. If not, ponder on these things and see if they do not make a little sense.


Mustang said...

This could turn out to be one hell of a discussion, LA (pun intended). Sam draws similarities between prehistoric man, ancient civilizations, and modern societies. He cites animal and human sacrifice, which seems to be a common denominator throughout the ancient world, and certain religious rites that demand genital mutilation. We can say that most societies no longer make sacrifices, except for certain Voodoo rites and in radical Islam. Sam seems to be saying that many aspects of ancient and modern religious beliefs remain constant – and from his illustrations, it would appear that he is right. As to “life after death,” the question really does defy logic because there is absolutely no proof of another dimension or place. If someone told you that he expects his soul to be drawn to the sun or moon when he dies, and that he would thereafter live in harmony with a god, you would conclude that this person is a nut case. With that as a given, why is a belief in heaven or hell plausible?

Have you ever noticed how we share “knowing looks” whenever someone speaks about his or her belief in reincarnation? Why is reincarnation any more difficult to believe than the idea of heaven, or flying away to the sun? Stretching this idea even further, how arrogant we are to assume that there is no other life (like us) anywhere in the entire Universe.

It seems to me that the plausibility of any belief system must begin with philosophical or theological texts. For those who profess Judeo-Christian beliefs, there is an overwhelming reliance on the scriptures. Personally, I enjoy reading them as historical texts, many of which may be simply metaphorical stories designed to show man how he should live his life and relate to others in his community. It would be near impossible to have a harmonious community if everyone was engaging in adultery, or if they demonstrated little regard for property rights. The problem with the scriptures, however, is that we don’t know who wrote them. More than likely, the Old Testament is a collection of stores that began in an oral tradition. As tribal scribes wrote them down, and re-wrote them later when the papyrus wore out, how do we know that the stories weren’t changed to suit the writer’s sense of propositional appropriateness? Even more recently, we note a tremendous difference in the telling of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth – with reference to Matthew, Mark, and Luke. John, whom you’ve cited, never knew Jesus, and so while we credit John with spreading Christianity, we have to ask, “Based on what?”

I agree with your statement that “man messed it back up as he does everything he touches.” Isn’t that what Sam is saying? If God exists, and my faith tells me he does, it would be better if he weren’t a “dead-beat dad.” If we are His children, it would be really great to hear more directly from him from time to time because God must realize how difficult it is to maintain one’s faith when he never reveals himself to us – which would be about all the proof we’d ever need about his presence, and his expectations of us. You know – as a father should be engaged with his children. Jesus lived two-thousand years ago; if he sits at the right hand of God, it would be nice to hear from him, too – other than our consciences that tell us when we’ve messed up.

Finally, I would like to note that the word of Christ evolved over many years, based on two essential principals: That man should love God with all his heart, and that he should love others as he loves himself. This contrasts significantly with the teachings of Islam, which came to the world through force of arms. Apparently, the Arab race never quite got over the fact that Abraham expelled Hagar and Ishmael into the desert.

LASunsett said...

Hi Mustang,

//John, whom you’ve cited, never knew Jesus, and so while we credit John with spreading Christianity, we have to ask, “Based on what?”//

John was one of the original 12 disciples. Are you thinking of Paul?

//That man should love God with all his heart, and that he should love others as he loves himself.//

This is another point in my case of how God simplified (or fulfilled)the Law, with the coming of Christ. All 10 Commandments fall under these two.

If we truly love our neighbors as we love ourselves, we will not steal, commit adultery, kill, covet, or any other such thing. Likewise, if we truly love God, we will not have any other Gods before Him. At the time of Christ's walk on this earth, the Israelites had perverted the Law by their corruption. He exposed that corruption while here, which is why they eventually had Him killed.

As far as death is concerned, the Bible is clear that death is the penalty for our sins. Paul wrote to the Romans and made this statement:

For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

And while it's true that many different writers had very different perspectives in their accounts, this statement by Paul lines up with what John said. Sin (and its penalty, death) was brought into the world by Adam, and yet, through God's grace in sending His Son to the earth to die for us all, it paved the way for death to someday be totally eradicated.

Anyway, thanks for stopping by.

Mustang said...

It is possible, LA, that I am just getting too old to keep up with you youngsters. On the other hand, maybe I get confused because we had a recent pope named after two saints, rather than just one. Having done the mea culpa, I would be interested in your opinion about the apparent inconsistencies in the gospels about the ressurection of the Christ. Specifically, would a modern court give their testimony any credibility?

LASunsett said...


//I would be interested in your opinion about the apparent inconsistencies in the gospels about the ressurection of the Christ.//

When a crime occurs and it is determined there are witnesses, the cops always interview them separately. Usually there are varying accounts, because the event was seen from different angles. What the cops are looking for is something that is consistent between them all.

If the crime is particularly traumatic, there is some element of shock that may cause some difference in the accounts, Was he wearing a blue shirt or aqua? You know--things like that.

This could be the case with the Apostles immediately after Christ's death. They most certainly were in shock for a number of reasons. Here was a man they revered and thought would set up a kingdom in Israel, as was foretold by many of the OT prophets and here He was just killed, mercilessly. Then, they receive another shock when they discover He is alive and walks among them from time to time. That's a lot to digest in a short span of time.

When you put that with the fact that the Gospels were written quite a while after the events, then you have some room to make some errors, especially in the specific details. The Apostles, being human, were not able to recall every last detail after so much time had passed. In short, they'd slept since then.

What I have focused on in my studies is not necessarily the differences of some minor detail that makes little difference in the grand scheme of things. But, I have looked closely at the consistencies that are found in the varying accounts.

Also, we have to take into account the backgrounds of the four writers. Matthew was a tax collector, Luke was physician, John was a fisherman. Of the four writers the three synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) are pretty close in their accounts, albeit all three written from different places and times (no cell phones or e-mail). The thing that makes this so important is, of the three, only Matthew was a disciple. Mark probably got his account from Peter (one of the twelve) and Luke probably got his account from Paul, who got his from Peter, as well. Yet they parallel each other in many areas.

John was one in Christ's inner circle (John, Peter, and James)and had direct knowledge of Christ's teachings, as did Matthew. His perspective was more intimate in the details than the other three. Because of this, he was probably more affected by all of this trauma, than Matthew and certainly more than the other two that got their accounts second hand.

Praesidium Respublicae said...

Religion has had an undeniably important influence on individuals, and to the societies to which they belong. If one believes that Christ was sent to earth to save mankind, there are two additional suppositions: The first is that it didn’t work, primarily I suppose because it is impossible to save mankind. Second, the failures of the institutions of religion have done more to cause people to turn away from it than it ever has to draw people into it. Not much has changed in the past twenty thousand or so years. People are capable of believing incredible things, not the least of which is that God will love us if we murder innocent people in His name. But I am struck by how similar attitudes are between modern religionists, and those who lived thousands of years ago. Islamacists continue to make human sacrifices to their god, and Jewish, Christian, and Muslim societies continue to practice ancient rites that make absolutely no sense.

I do believe that more harm has been done in the name of (pick any deity), than has any good come from it. When people were little more than rock apes, they warred with one another over whose god was the strongest. In spite of the evolution of human beings in the past ten thousand years, we still have one group of people trying to conquer others in the name of their god. For those who believe in God, it is enough to make them really quite angry that religion has been (historically) such a miserable failure. It is amazing that anyone should believe in a higher being – forget the other tenets, such as life after death. And by the way – isn’t it interesting that man’s only motivation for following the word of (pick any deity) is that it may benefit us, personally? I suggest that man would not be acting any differently if it were suddenly proved that there was no heaven, and there was no gods.

But LA, if it is true what you say about God reaching out to man, wouldn’t you say that it has been a while since any man felt the warmness of His hand upon us? I don’t suggest that this is God’s fault, but Mustang did make a good point: are we likely to follow an actively engaged deity, or one with whom no one alive has ever heard directly? Religion loses something when the leaders of the world’s great religions fail to sit down together, with a common purpose, and work toward solving what has become an intolerable conflict. Rather than giving us comfort, or showing us how we can live together peacefully, these so-called men of God drive mankind even further apart. If it is true that the God of Abraham is also the God of Christians and Muslims, what is the conflict about? Why do truly good people have to be murdered, as was Gandhi, simply because he worships God differently? I remain disgusted by “religious conflict.” We are no more enlightened today than those who lived ten thousand years ago; we just have better beer.

Thank you for stopping by Praesidium Respublicae, and for linking to us in this post.

LASunsett said...


Thanks for your visit and comments. They are most welcome here, anytime.

//The first is that it didn’t work, primarily I suppose because it is impossible to save mankind.//

Not yet.

//the failures of the institutions of religion have done more to cause people to turn away from it than it ever has to draw people into it//

This is because man has felt the need to institutionalize religion. When Christ sent out the twelve, the real message was purer. But as time passed, those that understood this event and what it meant died off and the next thing they all knew was that man had corrupted the faith, with charters, laws & bylaws, rules and regulations. In short politics crept into the entire thing.

Here's something to think about.

How far can you run into the woods?

The answer is halfway, because then you'd be running out. Right?

I say this because, the Church that was built by Christ went into the wilderness and has yet to surface again. But what I think is, what goes into the wilderness will be coming out after it reaches the halfway point. It is my belief that the Church is more than halfway through. This is discussed in metaphoric form in Rev. 12. Pay particular attention to the woman.

LASunsett said...


Oops, hit the publish button to soon.

//Thank you for stopping by Praesidium Respublicae, and for linking to us in this post.//

You are most welcome, but I have to say that the pleasure was mine.

Rest assured, I think you make some extremely valid points in your argument. I didn't want to open, what could turn out to be, a can of worms on your site with a long comment, so I did it here. Plus, I have been overly deficient about posting here on this blog for awhile. (Your post stirred the gray matter upstairs)

Thank you again

ms. miami said...

las- well, before i present my point of view, i'll just begin with we'll have to agree to disagree.

1) regarding adam & eve and the tower of babel stories, i personally don't see these stories as falling outside the rubric of:

//When attempting to answer questions about why it rained and other natural elements which man could not control, it was easy to assign some kind of supernatural explanation to them//

adam & eve is a nice catch-all for explaining why life is hard and unfair, why bad things happen, and why some higher power isn't stopping bad things from happening. the tower of babel is pretty self-explanatory.

2) regarding the portrayal of jesus in the gospels, if we move beyond the factual or logistical inconsistencies, i see a much larger discrepency. the synoptic gospels pretty much present jesus as a rough-around-the-edges, sometimes unstable and unpredictable, and confusing person whom they love. john, on the other hand, presents a pretty polished, erudite and focused guy.

it's possible that each writer sincerely perceived jesus in these different ways. however, i don't see it as possible for both versions to be true. the historical jesus lies somewhere underneath these writings.

(sidenote- i think that we have to acknowledge a certain artistic licence on their part. for example, there is no historical evidence for a census in that part of the roman empire at the time of jesus' birth, yet it was advantageous from a old testament prophecy perspective to place his birth in bethlehem.)

3) i agree with mustang that if one bases one's belief on faith in the veracity of certain texts that one must also acknowledge that other belief systems based on faith must be equally plausible.

personally, i'm content in accepting that we just can't know everything and i choose not to adopt any particular storyline as a greater truth.

ms. miami said...

p.s.- i'll just reiterate previous arguments on the role of islam within violent muslim extremist movements.

i think that the role of religious doctrine is just as minimal in these cases as it was in the protestant/catholic irish conflict.

although religious doctrine marks group affinity and gets used as substantiation for violent acts, it's just a struggle between group a and group b over power and money.

unfortunately, the current case of muslim extremism gets very complicated since group a can be either "the west" or "sunnis" or "shia" depending on who group b is.

btw- fareed zakaria had a great article in newsweek last week (or perhaps the week before) on the status of muslim extremism from a larger perspective.

LASunsett said...


//well, before i present my point of view, i'll just begin with we'll have to agree to disagree.//

That's new? (wink wink, nudge nudge, say no more say no more)

Seriously, I do not know what I can say that will persuade you to believe. More importantly, that's not my goal, anyway.

But if it's scientific proof (and only scientific proof) that would persuade you to consider any of this, I cannot offer any. Nor can I offer any signs like many in the time of early church, sought after. Only by faith can you come to believe anything theological, be it Christian or whatever.

That's one of the many beauties of this.

But faith, in some cases, is somewhat diametrically opposed to science. I cannot prove faith, I can only attest to it based on my own experiences. That may not be proof in the scientific world, but it's proof enough for me.

In Hebrews 11:1 this is how faith is described:

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

What would take me a multitude of word to say, this pretty much says it all.