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Hi Bruce, You say: As I see it, God is the state of consciousness in which the universe experiences itself as one single infinite being. I understand that this is your view of God and the universe. I just happen not to agree with it. I see God as infinite, and the universe, both spiritual and physical, as a created and therefore finite entity. From my perspective, the very act of creation involves putting boundaries, or limits, on infinite reality. And the very act of limiting infinity makes the created entity non-infinite, and therefore non-God. And: Now to someone who might say "Bruce, I disagree with you. We are *always* distinct from God" -- well, I can't disagree with that either. I'm one of those "someones." I believe that we are created distinct from God and will always be distinct from God. From my perspective, being forever distinct from God means that we can be eternally in relationship with God. If you are able to hold in your mind simultaneously both the idea that we are all God and the idea that we are non-God, who am I to argue with you? No good would come of such an argument. I could say that I agree in some sense, but the way you and I understand it is different. And to sort it all out would require a large volume of not very productive philosophical hair-splitting. In the end, it's not what we believe, but how we live pursuant to what we believe that really matters. Belief is useful only to the extent that it prompts and guides us to serve our fellow human beings in helpful and practical ways, and to treat them with respect, compassion, and love. Personally, I have no problem with people disagreeing with one another in their beliefs and perspectives, as long as there is oneness on the issue of loving and serving our fellow human beings. To me, that, and not particular doctrines and beliefs, is the heart of religion and spirituality.
Hi Matt, You say: As for freedom, I think there is a spectrum of freedom in the Universe. The more advanced the being, the freer. Sentient animals are free to follow their impulses. Animals that can understand options are free to go with the option they choose. Humans can have varying levels of self- and other-understanding and thus are free to varying degrees. Some people seem to act only on impulse; some people seem to act upon their deliberations. I agree that there are many different kinds and levels of freedom. For example, we may be free to believe something, but not to act upon it. Or we may be free to choose between two options, but not a third option. I was speaking of what I consider to be ultimate human spiritual freedom. In terms of that freedom, the question is whether we humans have the ability to choose our own eternal course? Or must we inevitably follow the course that God or the Universe has set for us, and end out at a destination that is pre-determined for us? I have a problem with every spiritual perspective that has us all ultimately re-merging with God, or all ultimately entering nirvana, or all ultimately achieving oneness with the universe, or however it is conceived and phrased. If our ultimate destination is inevitable, and it's just a matter of time (whether milliseconds, decades, or cosmic eons) until we get there, then are we truly free? Or are we simply rats in a maze, taking a longer or shorter time to reach the cheese, depending upon how many wrong turns we take along the way?
Hi Matt, Thanks for your reply. My apologies for misrepresenting your views. I was speaking rather loosely in terms of my own definitions of God and human spiritual freedom--which is not very helpful for the purposes of open discussion. You say: I think the crux comes down to whether a creator God created everything according to a plan. I think there is no such entity. I may or may not believe in such a God, depending on how it is defined. I do believe that there is an omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent God who created the universe according to a plan. However, I do not believe this means that everything inevitably and inexorably plays out in deterministic fashion according to God's plan. My view of God's plan is that it involves ultimate, eternal human freedom in the sense that we can, if we wish, permanently reject God's plan for our lives. Or we can accept only some part of God's plan, but not all of it. The "plan" itself is not some detailed set of exact instructions that we must follow to the letter or suffer God's wrath. Rather, it is an open-ended process of spiritual rebirth and growth that we are invited to engage in. A few months ago I posted an article along these lines in which I turned Thomas à Kempis's famous aphorism on its head: God Proposes, but Man Disposes . . . and God Re-Composes This article pretty well sums up my views on human freedom vs. God's plan. Of course, if we reject God's plan, it does involve certain unpleasant consequences. But those consequences are not punitive on God's part. They are simply the cause-and-effect (aka karmic) results of acting contrary to the laws of the universe. If I choose to bang myself on the head with a brick, I'm going to hurt or kill myself. That's why God suggests (metaphorically speaking) that we not bang ourselves on the head with bricks.
Hi Luciano, You say: Yes, maybe people experiencing Cosmic consciousness are just trying to describe something new and ineffable, and that is their only way to describe it. Yet, people who got a "glimpse" of Heaven, via NDEs, do not describe it in the same way that people who experienced Cosmic consciousness. Of course, there are at least as many different kinds of experiences in the spiritual world as there are here on earth. Different people will experience different things under different circumstances. To put it in some context, according to Swedenborg, what people who have brief experiences of the spiritual world ordinarily encounter is neither heaven nor hell, but what he calls "the world of spirits," which is midway between heaven and hell. This is the place where everyone first goes after death. Like earth, it has a mixture of good and evil. This doesn't tell the whole story, though, because also according to Swedenborg, people who die are met on the other side by angels from the highest "heavenly" (or "celestial") realm of heaven. My sense is that this still takes place in the world of spirits, but heavenly angels "travel" there in spirit to accompany the person over to the other side. Once the need for their presence is over, the dying person leaves them and moves into conscious awareness of the scenery of the world of spirits. Of course, there is huge variation in this, too, as we know from the many different accounts of near-death experiences. The point is, the ordinary NDE experience is actually taking place in the world of spirits (according to Swedenborg's description of the afterlife) rather than in heaven. An experience of cosmic consciousness, however--if genuine--would be an experience of one or another level of heaven. Angels themselves have differing experiences throughout the passages of their lives. They aren't always living in a state of cosmic consciousness. Sometimes they have a sense of oneness with God, and sometimes they are more focused on the people around them, or the tasks in front of them. So even though the higher angels are familiar with the experience that we would call cosmic consciousness, they don't spend their entire lives lost in the vast wonder of it all. Like us, they have lives to get back to after having one of those ineffable experiences.
Hi Luciano, Thanks for your response. You say: But *if* He created us, and He truly is almighty, He could have created us able to experience the same He is experiencing. I just don't like the idea of a Creator that keeps the best for himself... maybe it's my ego speaking, but a life of being a mere creature, even an evolved one, without being able to taste that primordial, divine experience of being one with God, sounds a little unappealing. The thing is, in order to experience the consciousness of God as it is in itself, you would have to be God. This means it would not be you experiencing it. It would be God experiencing it. The real question here is whether there actually are created beings who are distinct from God, or whether everything is God. If everything is God, then of course our task would be to re-merge with God, as pantheistic religions and philosophies generally hold. But if God has created distinct beings who are not God, then the task is different. It is not to re-merge with God, but to come into relationship with God. If this is our human situation (as I believe it is), then we will never lose our individual identity. Rather, that identity will come into closer and closer relationship with God (and with fellow created beings) such that, to use a paraphrase Swedenborg's rather paradoxical language, the closer we get to God and the more we realize that everything good and true in us is from God, the more distinctly we will feel that we are our own unique self. My view of the universe is as an (almost) infinitely diversified set of created beings, all of whom (and which) are in relationship with God and with one another. In this system, God does give us as much of the experience of God's consciousness as we are able to handle. But since we are distinct beings, it is not possible to give us the full and exact consciousness of God because, as I just said, that would mean that we were God, undifferentiated, instead of being in relationship with God. Without relationship, I find the universe to be rather pointless. If God is already infinite, omniscient, omnipotent, and so on, what's to be added by spinning out a whole universe to "learn" and "experience" things that God already knows? But if the purpose of the universe is for God to be in relationship with other beings who are distinct from God, then it starts to make some sense to me. You add: Also, I've never heard anywhere else of the spiritual realm being finite. Well, you've heard it now! As I understand it, God is the only infinite being. Everything else is created and therefore finite.
Hi Lynn, Thanks for the link to the Stanislav Grof article. He does sum it up very nicely! In particular, for several years now I've been actively thinking about what "the church" will look like in the new spiritual era that is now dawning on humanity. I still don't really know. But one conclusion I've come to fairly firmly is that there will be no priesthood standing between God and the people, representing God to the people and the people to God. Everyone will have a direct relationship with God, without the need for human intermediaries. But I agree with Grof that there will still be a need for spiritual teachers and guides. Otherwise I'd be totally out of a job! ;-)
Hi Matt, You say, quoting me at first: ||The crux of the matter is whether God truly gives us freedom, so that we can have a distinct will either in harmony with or opposed to God's will.|| We do not have such freedom. If that is your view, then this is the crux of our differing perspective on the issue of evil in the world and our responsibility for it. If we are not free, then we are not responsible for anything we do, including the evil things we do. It is all simply the playing out of forces bearing upon us, over which we have no control. I cannot accept such a view of humanity. If it is your view, then there is a fundamental gap between your perspective on the human condition and mine. You say: Ah, but the argument is not that God deserves a slap on the wrist if evil goes beyond a certain point on planet Earth. The argument is that an omnipotent God does not appear to *exist in the first place* if evil goes beyond a certain point. If there is no such thing as human freedom, then yes, atheism would seem to be an inescapable conclusion. It does seem to be a general feature of atheism that ultimately, the reality of human freedom is denied. Everything is the result of physical forces. Human consciousness itself is a mere side-effect of those forces, and has no power over the inexorable workings of blind evolution. You seem to extend that picture to include spiritual reality, which I find interesting. More commonly, a denial of God's existence is paired with a denial of the existence of spiritual reality. Still, if there's no freedom, and our lives are pre-programmed, what's the point of it all? We're just puppets on a stage that has no puppet master.
Hi Michael, Thanks for a good survey. I'm skeptical of other-world travelers who make lots of very specific predictions about material-world events. First, I agree with Lynn that the future is not set in stone. Our choices affect what happens. But more than that, someone who claims to have had his spiritual senses open, but coming out of that experience focuses on physical events, has missed the point of the experience. Predictions of political upheavals and nuclear explosions are mere parlor tricks. The greater events and realities of our existence are all spiritual. They have to do with the rise and fall of enlightenment and of mutual love.
Toggle Commented Dec 2, 2014 on Reconsidering Dannion at Michael Prescott's Blog
Hi Matt, About the level of intense suffering to be found on this planet, I should add that the worst of it does seem to me to be human-caused. It's true that there are natural disasters that kill hundreds of thousands, and in rare cases even millions of people. But the biggest death tolls in history, running into tens of millions, have been caused by despotic human governments. In areas of the world where there is rampant malnutrition and starvation, the causes are largely political. With present knowledge and technology we could easily feed several times the current population of the world. The fact that there is insufficient food in some areas of the world has to do either with a lack of will on our part to provide food, or in many cases, an active intention on the part of various militias and governments to use starvation as a weapon in wars over control of territory and resources. Even the results of natural disasters are greatly magnified by human decisions to take the easy way out. Why do earthquakes in third world countries, and in poor areas of wealthy countries, kill so many more people than earthquakes in wealthy areas? Generally it's because of shoddy building practices. We have the capability to build earthquake-resistant buildings. But when we build cheap, shoddy buildings instead in order to make or save a buck, those buildings crumble and crush people in an earthquake that would not even do serious damage to a well-constructed building. Also, much of the sickness and disease that we suffer is due to our own poor living practices. If we go through our lives smoking, drinking large quantities of alcohol, and sitting on the couch eating junk food while watching TV, what can we really expect? There are clear, scientifically demonstrated correlations between many of our living practices and many of our diseases. These correlations are well-known and well-publicized. Yet we keep on doing things that we know will cause us to become diseased and eventually to die. Millions of people literally smoke and drink themselves to death, even knowing that they are slowly killing themselves. I know there are people who get sick and die through no fault of their own, due to environmental or genetic causes over which they have no control. But the vast bulk of sickness and disease in this world is linked to known causes that we could easily eliminate if we had the will to do so. Yes, there is some pain and suffering built into the system that God designed. But the more we look at the major causes of pain, suffering, and death in our world, the more obvious it becomes that we bring the bulk of it upon ourselves either through negligence or through harmful and foolish actions. Is it really God's fault if we, knowing how we could fix the worst causes of pain and suffering in our world, choose not to do so either because we are too lazy and self-indulgent or because we are actively pursuing wealth and power at the cost of millions of human lives and untold pain and suffering?
Hi Matt, You say, quoting me at first: ||I happen to believe that that new spiritual era now dawning will also be Christian in essence. But it will be so different from the previous version that it will not be recognized as the same religion--because it won't be the same religion.|| I don't think it can be Christian in that the core "truth" of Christianity--that Jesus died on the cross for our sins, etc.--isn't true. That myth was adequate packaging for the *genuine* truths of Christianity: love of neighbor, altruism, etc. But it's a myth whose time has come and gone. The idea that Jesus died on the cross for our sins, as it is usually interpreted in traditional Christianity, is false and non-Biblical. Did you know that there is not a single passage anywhere in the Bible that says that Jesus paid the penalty for our sins? Did you know that there is not a single passage anywhere in the Bible that says faith alone saves--that in fact, faith alone is specifically rejected as saving in the Bible (see James 2:14-26, especially verse 24). Did you know that there is not a single passage anywhere in the Bible that says that there is a trinity of persons in God? Traditional Christian doctrine about God and Jesus is false for many reasons. One of those reasons is that the fundamental doctrines of Roman Catholicism and of Protestantism are taught nowhere in the Bible. They were invented over the centuries by various Christian theologians who totally missed the point of Christ's teachings. This whole subject is a little far afield for Michael's blog, and I don't want to hijack this into a debate over Christian doctrine. But if you're interested, go over to my blog and click on the link toward the top of the right navbar for "'Christian beliefs' that the Bible doesn't teach." From there you'll find links to articles that offer a very different understanding of Christianity and what Christ was doing here on earth--one that is much more solidly founded on what the Bible actually does say, and that doesn't require us to check our brains and our empathy at the door.
Hi Matt, You say, quoting me at first: ||That atheist argument is an argument that God cannot exist because given the existence of evil, God would have to be either weak or evil, neither of which would be a God worthy of belief by an intelligent and compassionate person. However, that is itself a weak argument based on a lack of knowledge and understanding of the problem of evil.|| Care to explain? Or have you attempted to cover this in your other arguments? Sorry, but I don't think there is an effective counterargument. If we grant an omnipotent creator God, then that God is responsible for the results. "The buck stops here." It is surely possible for an omnipotent and omniscient being to leave room for freedom and even conflict for the sake of learning and growth without the level of intense suffering to be found on this planet. I think this is largely covered in my other comments. The crux of the matter is whether God truly gives us freedom, so that we can have a distinct will either in harmony with or opposed to God's will. If we humans are truly free, and can truly choose to act against God's will, then it is not true that God is responsible for evil results that come from human actions. Here's another way of putting it: Is there a point at which we humans become actual, self-responsible adults? Or are we eternal children, whose parent (God) and not us, is legally responsible for all of our actions? In the U.S. the age of legal majority is 18. Once someone reaches that age, parents are no longer legally responsible for his or her actions. Saying that God is responsible for all our actions is saying that we are not really adult, human beings. It is saying that God never cuts the apron strings, and never lets us live our own life, on our own terms, taking responsibility for our own actions. As I see it, God is not a helicopter parent. Rather, God is a parent who cuts the apron strings and lets us become grown adults. It then becomes our own choice whether we wish to do things God's way or our own way. And if we do it our own way contrary to God's way, it's our own fault, not God's, that the result is a lot of pain and suffering both for ourselves and for our fellow human beings. As for the level of intense suffering on this planet, that's really a judgment call. Is there some line we can draw to say, "This much suffering is excusable, but if it gets any worse, then it's not excusable, and God is a sadist"? If we blame all evil and suffering on God, then even the slightest backache would be sufficient to convict God of being cruel and unmerciful. If God can simply eliminate all pain and suffering without any negative effects, then anything short of eliminating all pain and suffering is intolerable. The atheist argument is weak because it assumes that God is an big ol' nanny in the sky, responsible for every little bump and boo-boo that we humans suffer. God is a grown-up, and expects us to be grown-ups, too. God expects us take responsibility for our own actions, and for the pain and suffering they cause when we act from selfishness and greed rather than from love for our fellow human beings, and for God.
Hi Matt, You say: God supposedly makes us free, but God also creates in us our tendencies, our predilections. And these make us *not* free. For example, sociopaths born without empathy, people born with various antisocial sexual tendencies, people born with mental illnesses or tendencies toward addictions, and so on. Humans did not choose human nature, and we do not choose our individual riffs on human nature. So the idea that we are born free and that evil is totally our fault is incorrect. If God wanted a better world it would be easy to make: just make human nature a lot more loving, peaceful, harmonious, etc. It's true that we do not choose the hand that we're dealt. We just have to play with it. But how we play with that hand is our choice. We can give up and fold round after round, or we can look at the cards, identify their strong points, discard some and aim for better cards, and then wager or bluff our way to the big win. It's true that we are not radically free. There are many things in our life over which we have little or no control. But we do have an area of freedom in which we can make choices that influence the overall direction of our life. To use a human example, in earlier ages a man who grew up in a family of shepherds, whose father, grandfather, and great-grandfather were all shepherds, would almost certainly become a shepherd himself. But within the life of a shepherd, he could choose whether to be an honest or dishonest shepherd. He could choose whether to treat his animals well or badly. When it comes to our eternal life, what counts is not what we were given, but what we did with what we were given. About sociopaths, if a particular sociopath truly does not come equipped with the ability to feel empathy, then that lack will not figure into the evaluation of whether he or she will end out in heaven or hell in the afterlife. Only what we consciously choose within the area of our freedom and capability counts. Further, if a sociopath truly does not have the ability to empathize, and acts in instinctual, animal-like fashion pursuant to the drives he or she does come equipped with, then his or her actions cannot really be called "evil" in a spiritual sense, any more than the actions of animals can be called "evil." When animal predators rip up and eat their prey, they are not engaging in evil, and they are certainly not engaging in sin. They are merely expressing their nature and playing their part in the predator/prey relationship that is a fundamental facet of the operation of the ecosystem. To the extent that we humans are animal-like through no choice of our own, the actions we engage in based on that animal nature are not moral or immoral. They are amoral. We may still have to put a sociopath in jail to protect future victims. But if the label of "sociopath" is an accurate one, and not just an excuse on the part of a particular criminal, then those actions will not be held against him or her spiritually.
Hi Luciano, You ask: What about people who claim to have accesed this place where Love is all that is (we know it’s no the spiritual level because in that level there are also ‘bad energies’) and they claim to have experienced the totality of God from a state superior to our everyday consciousness? Why does God deprive us from accesing that level, the best level of all? Does he want perfection for himself? I don't doubt the reality of such experiences. However, I also don't think people who have had that experience actually experienced the consciousness, let alone the totality, of God. The level of love, enlightenment, and power that exists even at the lower levels of heaven is so far beyond anything we can experience with our natural mind here on earth that it could easily be experienced as "place where Love is all that is." And each higher level of heaven is whole orders of magnitude beyond the heaven below it. Yes, there are also "bad energies" in the spiritual world. But outside of the intermediate "world of spirits," where people first come after death, good and evil are kept strictly separated from one another. So someone who experiences heaven--especially its higher levels--would not find that experience tinged with evil. It would be sensed as pure love and light. It's not that God wants to keep the totality of God's experience from us. It's that it is not possible to experience that without actually being the mind of God--which is infinite and divine. That means it's beyond the finite, spiritual and physical levels on which we humans exist and operate. God gives us as much of the experience of God's love and wisdom as we are able and willing to accept, experience, and express at whatever spiritual level we attain. And sometimes God gives us brief flashes of deeper levels than we have attained as a foreshadowing of what we might experience on an ongoing basis if we continue on our spiritual path. The mind can fly above where the heart and hands currently are; but those brief experiences of enlightenment will not truly become our own until the heart and hands catch up with the head. And that takes a lot more work on our part. Not to put too fine a point on it, but when I read about someone who claims to have experienced the totality of the mind of God, I sense just a wee bit of human ego projecting itself onto an experience that, while certainly mind-blowing compared to what we ordinarily experience here on earth, falls far short of the full infinity and eternity of the mind of God. Having read (some years ago) the autobiography of one guru who experienced great things, then let it go to his head and ran amok in the ashram-type community he had gathered around himself, and having read about others who for some reason require multiple Porsches, Rolls Royces, and beautiful women to properly pursue their spiritual path, I tend to be just a bit skeptical of spiritual "sages" who toot their own horn make great claims about their own godlike enlightenment. I tend to think that real enlightenment is characterized by great humility, and a dedication to serving one's fellow human beings in practical and spiritual ways.
Matt said, quoting me at first: ||The existence of pain and suffering is not due to imperfection, but due to evil.|| I don't agree. The nature and structure of the Universe sets up the vast majority of our pain and suffering: sickness, aging, injury, death, unrequited love, and so on. Even if people were perfectly nice to each other on this planet, we would have a lot of pain and suffering to deal with. Beyond that, a lot of evil on Earth is due to imperfection: mental illness, ignorance, fighting over limited resources, etc. Finally, you have outright evil in the form of cruelty, sadism, etc., which I believe accounts for a significant amount of pain and suffering, but by no means the majority. The issue of human free will goes far deeper than simple, temporal cause-and-effect matters of "we humans did this wrong thing, and it caused that pain and suffering." Free will is not just an incidental property that God slapped onto human beings as an add-on after creating the rest of the universe. It is a fundamental quality of humanity that God took into account in designing the universe. Keep in mind that from God's perspective, there is no such thing as time or space. Everything that we think of as extended in time or space, God interacts with from an infinite and eternal state that exists outside of time and space. God didn't wake up one day and create a universe that didn't exist before. Rather, God creates the universe at all points of space and time from within--from above time and space. So for God there is no sequence of events in which there is a specific point at which human beings come into existence and begin to influence the universe, whereas before there was no such influence from human beings. Rather, the entire universe, past, present and future--from the Big Bang to the Big Crunch (or whatever comes at the other end)--is influenced by the existence of humans with free will even though we exist in only some of the time and some of the space of the material universe. Saying that humans didn't cause floods or earthquakes or viruses or any number of other things that cause pain and suffering but don't have any direct, causal relationship that we can see to any evil that any human being committed is an example of looking at the universe from a flat, time-bound perspective--which is not the full reality of the universe we live in. There are also other factors in relation to God's purpose in creating the universe that affect the fact that its design includes many natural phenomena that cause pain and suffering for human beings. I like Art's comment that "Life ain't supposed to be a bowl of cherries." I question--in fact, I reject--the idea that the physical universe would be better if there were no pain and suffering in it. This idea is, I think, based on narrow view of humanity and of our reason for being here on earth. We're not here on earth for pleasure, fun, and games. We're here to develop into beings with depths of love, understanding, and compassion that do not develop when life is easy and everything is handed to us on a silver platter. Of course, these are huge questions. The article I linked previously is only one of several I've written to tackle these issues. One of my readers kept asking more of these tough questions, so I wrote what ended out being a four-part article to delve deeper into it. The part most relevant to what I've been talking about here is Part 2. Here it is, if you want a fuller explanation of what I'm talking about in this comment than I can give here: How can we have Faith when So Many Bad Things happen to So Many Good People? Part 2
no one said: Leewolf, I am highly sympathetic to your outlook on the role of free will in all of this. I used to comment a lot about that, but nobody really thought much of it. Maybe you can make a more convincing argument than I did. Good luck. Thanks for that. People will believe what they want to believe. I don't really have to convince anyone of anything. Just present my understanding of things as clearly as I can, for those who might find this view of the universe congenial and helpful. Still, I'll take another crack at it in response to one of the other recent comments here.
Hi Matt, You said: I'd be willing to hear the nutshell version of Swedenborg's argument, however. Wow! How do I distill a book of 150k words (Swedenborg's Divine Providence) into a nutshell? Oops . . . my wife just called me to dinner. (Yes, I know. It's 2:00 in the afternoon. Just try to tell her that!) Guess you'll just have to read the book! ;-) Short of that, there's the previously referenced article: If God is Love, Why all the Pain and Suffering? I know it's not a full answer. But it's a start.
Hi Matt, You said: I think the very wrong track that Christian theodicy takes turns it into a huge topic. I think the atheist argument from evil is sufficient: God is either unable or unwilling to eliminate evil. That's one big reason why I don't believe in the paternalistic God of Western religion. That atheist argument is an argument that God cannot exist because given the existence of evil, God would have to be either weak or evil, neither of which would be a God worthy of belief by an intelligent and compassionate person. However, that is itself a weak argument based on a lack of knowledge and understanding of the problem of evil. Still, I can't really blame atheists for that. Most religious approaches to the problem of evil are unsatisfactory from a rational perspective--not to mention from the perspective of human love and compassion. I've come to the conclusion that the atheism and agnosticism of a certain segment of the population today is a necessary step in the spiritual development of humankind. Why? Because before a new spiritual paradigm can take hold in society, the old one must be rejected. Rational and ethical atheism as it exists today is the rejection of old, false doctrines and dogmas that must be cleared out before a new and better understanding of God and the universe can take their place. I've come to believe that it is necessary for the Christian church that has existed for almost two thousand years now to die before a new spiritual era can take its place. The New Atheists are making their contribution to humankind's spiritual development by being agents of the rejection of old beliefs that must die before new ones can take their place. I happen to believe that that new spiritual era now dawning will also be Christian in essence. But it will be so different from the previous version that it will not be recognized as the same religion--because it won't be the same religion.
Hi Matt, You said: Yet in beings as limited as we are, what value is our autonomy compared to God's? I should think not very much. I'm not sure there is such a thing as a lack of coercion in a world in which we are so vulnerable. If God wanted to create true "others," I don't think he would create us in such a position of powerlessness and ignorance. I have a somewhat different estimation of the human condition. Yes, compared to God we are relatively powerless and ignorant. However, compared to anything else in creation, humans are magnificently powerful and intelligent. We have the capability to be these things. If we do not use those capabilities well, is that really God's fault? I interpret the Biblical statement that God created humanity "in the image and likeness of God" (Genesis 1:26) as meaning that we humans are constructed according to the pattern of God, and have the general capabilities that God has, only in finite rather than infinite measure. That means especially that we humans have: The ability to love in a way that is not merely instinct or desire to gain satisfaction and pleasure for ourselves, but is motivated by wanting to give others happiness from ourselves, The ability to understand the physical and spiritual worlds in which we live, and to grow endlessly in that understanding, and The ability to act freely from the love that motivates us, as guided by our understanding of the universe. These are God-like qualities that are uniquely human because they have been infused into us by God. And in that sense, I do believe that God is human, which is the reason why we are human.
Hi Bruce, You said (quoting me at first): "If the universe is pantheistic, then the whole thing is just God playing with himself." Exactly. I thought you agreed with me earlier that at the deepest level--what you call the level of love or non-created reality--there *is* no one else. Yes, at what I would call the divine level of reality, there is no one else. The divine level could also be called the level of love (and of wisdom) in the truest sense of the word, because that's the only place love is a self-existing reality. However, we humans don't exist on the divine level. We exist on the spiritual and material levels. Everything that makes us distinct from God is non-God. That's so even if we are also filled with God, and our substance is, at its deepest level, God's love. I think I posted this link here once before, but if you want a fuller statement of my views on this, it's in this article: Containers for God
Hi Matt, You also said: I think the term "God" is way too loaded with Abrahamic power relations and such. It is for many people who came out of traditional Jewish, Christian, and Muslim backgrounds. For others it is not so loaded. Personally, I grew up without any major negatives being attached to the character of God. So the word has positive connotations for me. I do understand that for others it may be a word that is difficult or impossible to rehabilitate. Unfortunately, the alternatives tend to be rather fuzzy and euphemistic. I like the specificity of "God." About the Abrahamic conception of God, that (like every other human conception of God) is an accommodation to the particular social and spiritual state of the people who existed when and where those ideas were formulated and written down. In my religious tradition we use the term "appearances of truth" to describe ideas that, while not actually true in themselves, function as truths for those who accept them. (We commonly say the sun rises and sets even though we know it does no such thing.) People of that day and age needed to think of God as a super-powerful arbitrary monarch because that was the level at which their culture and their minds functioned. If God couldn't zap you with a lighting bolt for disobeying him or cause the earth to open up and swallow his enemies, then he was a weak God, and not worth following. Accommodating the reality of who God actually is to their (rather low) level of culture made it possible to bring at least some moral and ethical guidelines to bear on a culture that was very brutal and very materialistic. The task of later generations is to distill out a truer essence of God from the particular cultural clothing in which God was presented to cultures that existed two to four thousand years ago. Not everything about that conception of God was false. The part about being super-powerful (omnipotent), super-intelligent (omniscient), and super-loving (omnibenevolent) was not wrong. It just got wrapped in a rather dark set of clothing in order to make it intelligible to people who generally understood and were impressed with only raw wealth and power in human relations.
Hi Matt, You said (to Bruce): The argument reminds of what we learned from Catholic Doctrine: God is perfect, but since only God can be perfect, everything else can only be imperfect, hence the existence of imperfection and pain and suffering in the world. But this argument doesn't really work, since we don't need for things to be perfect in order to be much happier. We simply need pain and suffering eliminated. I agree that this is a specious argument. Things don't have to be evil in order to be imperfect. There can be lesser or greater good, in comparison to the greatest good, which would ordinarily be identified as God. The existence of pain and suffering is not due to imperfection, but due to evil. Which sends us back to the problem of evil that I mentioned earlier. You said: That response implies the "best of all possible worlds" argument of Leibniz, which I find wholly unconvincing. If the world *could* be better in any way, then God should make it better. But this assumes that God is the only being who has an influence on the quality of the world. In Christian theology, God has given humans freedom to accept or reject God as a quality necessary for our very humanity. That freedom makes it possible for us to reject God and thus create evil. So the evil in the world does not come from God, but from human beings. Yes, God could theoretically create a "better" world, but it would be at the cost of eliminating human freedom and rationality. Would that really be better? To have a blind world, blindly doing what it was designed to do?
Hi All, I got busy, and dropped out of the conversation for a few days. It seems to have wound down, but in case anyone is still listening, I'll respond to a few more points or questions that may or may not have been directed my way.
Hi no one, You say: I just wanted to say that I have really enjoyed leewolf's comments on this thread. Very thought provoking. Thank you. I enjoy the conversation here as well. Regardless of agreement or lack thereof on particular ideas and beliefs, it is good to exchange ideas with people who think deeply and take spiritual issues seriously, and who treat one another with respect. It causes me to think more deeply about my own views. So thanks also goes to Michael for hosting an uncommon conversation!
Hi Bruce, Wow! I just realized that there's a second page of comments! I've got to stop and get some actual work done. I'm having way too much fun here! But just one more . . . . You say: We really seem to be on the same page, Leewoof, which surprises me. I rarely find someone on this forum who sees things as I do. Correct me if I'm wrong, but your worldview seems closer to mine than to Matt's. Since I'm still learning both what your viewpoint is and what Matt's viewpoint is, I would hesitate to make any comparisons. About your viewpoint and mine, I would say that we may be close, but no cigar. My sense so far is that your view of the universe is a form of pantheism, whereas mine is a form of panentheism. We're close in that we see love as primary, and God as pervading and filling the universe and everything in it. We're not so close in that you (I think) see everything as being a part of God--so that, for example, all of our love for one another is God loving himself--whereas I see a distinction between what is God and what is not God in the universe--so that when God loves us, we love God, and we love one another, it is mutual love among distinct beings, which is not the same as self-love. I recognize that my view of the universe involves a certain amount of paradox. I see everything in the universe as both continually filled with God, so much so that it could even be said that the substance of everything is God, and as being distinct from God as created rather than self-existing beings, and therefore as being non-God. As I've said in earlier comments, from my perspective, this is the polarity and interchange between love and truth. Love makes all things one. Truth distinguishes all things from one another. Reality exists in the relationship between the two. The title of Swedenborg's book, previously referred to, "Divine Love and Wisdom," is a compact expression of this view of the universe ("wisdom" being used as a higher form of "truth"). The whole book can be read as an exploration of that polarity and relationship, which is God, and in which everything else in the universe exists. My view of God, the universe, and everything flows from that fundamental relationship and paradox of divine love and wisdom, and its highly varied expressions in all created things. And the third thing that flows from the relationship, or marriage, between love and wisdom is action. Everything in my understanding and philosophy of the universe can be traced to that basic "trinity" in God of love, wisdom, and action, and its many expressions in almost infinitely varied forms throughout both the physical universe that scientists study and the spiritual universe of human existence and interaction that mystics and spiritual teachers study.
Hi Matt, You say: Here we find ourselves in some interesting territory for debate. A lot of Eastern and therefore New Age (which combines East and West) practice is concerned with self-transformation and development. I can do things for other human beings out of love without transforming myself. Indeed, Christianity pretty much says that's what we should do. Be good to others and maybe God will give one "grace" to facilitate our goodness. But "will to power" "or will to some badass Zen-like tranquility" has no place in the enterprise. I suspect that we in the West have a skewed and partial picture of the various Eastern religions that have landed on our shores in the past century or two. What made it to the U.S., anyway, was largely the philosophical and mystical end of those religions. The way they are practiced by ordinary working people in their countries of origin is very different from the philosophical versions that many in the West have adopted. As a result of that, and of not being particularly adept in those religions in general, I mostly avoid making any sweeping generalizations about their view of the universe and our place in it. But I do suspect that for ordinary Hindus, Buddhists, and so on in areas of the world where those religions are dominant, there is a much more practical, everyday focus to the religion. To put it simply, I suspect that most ordinary Hindus, Buddhists, and so on think of their religion as requiring a basic moral and ethical code in their behavior toward their fellow human beings, along with the practice of various required rituals in honor of their God or gods. In that way, they function for the masses of people in those areas of the world much as ordinary Christianity does in the majority Christian areas of the world. My view of Christianity probably bears the same relation to the ordinary Christianity practiced by the masses of Christians that philosophical and mystical Hinduism and Buddhism bear to the ordinary Hinduism and Buddhism practiced by the masses of people in areas of the world where those religions are dominant. But to respond to your point, I think of Christianity as involving both doing things for other human beings out of love and transforming ourselves in the process. I agree that it's possible to do things for other human beings, and even do them out of love, without transforming the self. But it is a shallow form of doing, and the love that it comes from is often a murky and even self-centered love. To truly do things for others out of love requires developing real, spiritual love within oneself. And that does not happen without transforming oneself from the inside out. On the general issue of developing oneself, I see it as being for the purpose of making oneself more useful to others. I reject any teaching that says that the purpose of our existence is to become enlightened and powerful so that we can enter into nirvana and enjoy bliss. No matter what fancy trappings it's dressed up in, that is a low-level, self-centered view of religion and spirituality. That form of primarily self-developing spirituality may be fine to get our spiritual engines going. We humans do start out as a self-centered, pleasure-seeking lot, and if we're not motivated toward spiritual development by a desire to be greater, happier, and more powerful, we may never get motivated at all. However, sooner or later, for real spiritual development and growth to continue, that primary goal of self-development for our own power and pleasure must be replaced by a desire for growth and development of the self in order to render ourselves more capable of truly loving and serving our fellow human beings--and of loving and serving God, who is behind them.