Friday, July 13, 2012

God, is that You?

This was my response (I decided not to post) on a TED forum asking whether you believed in God or not.  It was sad to see how many people decided to just pick a side and criticize the other, but I decided to give it a shot.  My (lengthy) answer is as follows.

To answer the initial question, yes, I do believe in a God. However, I would not go as far as to say I subscribe to a projected image of God that our culture often paints.  We tend to perceive God “in our image” as opposed to “His image,” and we do not stop to think what His or our image really even means. The problem is we're stuck attempting to describe God with what limited perceptions we have with which to work. I believe life and expression can be owed to a non-corporeal and infinite idea or consciousness. Very metaphysical and new-agey, I know, but I believe it circumvents the many trappings of the more mythological deity we perceive God to be in traditional religious terms. Still, I believe that God’s existence does have implication on our lives, and we should respond accordingly (assuming there are assumed responses). To delve into what those responses might be would digress from the purpose of this response.
I don’t believe a belief in God rests on the acceptance of a religious doctrine or system.  There is much discussion about how science and religion clash, but, as others have mentioned, this is a matter of perspective and interpretation of data.  There are plenty of scientists (i.e. astrophysicists, molecular biologists, etc.) that have a strong belief in a creator, often coming directly through their observations within their fields.  What it really comes down to is how one defines God.  If we think in a traditional sense of person, we are likely to come up shorthanded.  Others identify God not through a character, but through idea or concept (i.e. love, spirit, force, nature, consciousness, creation/expression).  Some would say our mere existence is proof of “design” or God because we express life and consciousness.  Science is still exploring the origins of life, and evolution provides some amount of data to project conclusions, but science has also struggled with the idea that either something was created from nothing, or that something has always been there. Science doesn’t like either of these answers, even if it can accept the idea of a perpetual cosmic system.  At any rate, science tends to concern itself with experience, facts, and data while faith or religion concerns itself with purpose on an expressive and moral scale. 
Joseph Campbell spent a great deal of time studying mythology and religion of different cultures.  A major criticism of religious people today about Campbell is that he threaded so many religious patterns between mythologies (especially Christianity).  In his mind, this did not debunk any particular view, but instead reinforced a global acknowledgement of creative and expressive purpose.  Much like Stephen Hawking, Campbell seemed to view any sort of God that may exist as much more fluid and conceptual than the concrete perception we often perceive in our culture today.  Campbell also felt that humanity was a fundamental ingredient to God’s existence.
From the standpoint of logic, I view the question through an expressive lens.  Why have we even conjured a God?  Because we don’t have answers to forces and natural phenomenon?  Perhaps, but isn’t that what science is for?  Sure, but science hasn’t been able to answer all the questions like WHY are we here (and no particular reason is not an acceptable answer).  So we attribute it to a higher power, a creator, and artist, who simply wishes to have a relationship with us or use us as physical manifestations of his own expression and existence.  Or something like that.  Pascal claimed we are better off believing in God (Pascal’s Wager), and although others have already argued a belief in God does not a good person make, it is often more incentive to act with purpose or moral guidelines than without it.
Whatever the case, I think we’re far better off discussing what (or who) God is/might be than whether he/she/it is there or not.  This would likely bear more fruit than a futile discussion a yes or no question.  Let’s see who’s willing to rub these two cents together for a while :o)

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Can you hear that?

It has been far too long since I've put some thoughts down on this blog, and since a muse seems to have struck me, I'll ramble on a bit.  In my recent studies between my upcoming mythology class I'm teaching and a few books I'm wandering through, I've come to a rather chafing conclusion.  While I do not cast any judgment on the New Testament of the Bible, I am fairly convinced that there are some major errors of historical fact in the Old Testament.  This is not to say that certain, if not all, of the events chronicled did not happen, but there are certain anachronisms and archeological details that bring some issues to light.  In truth, the specifics do not matter to me.  I find the Old Testament just as interesting (and bazaar) as the next Christian.  But what I then must deal with is whether I take issue with the idea that the Bible is not "infallible," or that there can be mistakes in the "inspired word" of God.  A great deal of non-believers use such evidence today to refute the Bibles claims altogether.  I suppose I can see why.  How can we really hold much weight with the story of the Israelites when we can't even validate the date of the exodus, or even prove that Jerico was inhabited when Joshua was around?  In light of the extensive time frame, how could we possibly expect the Bible to have remained accurate to the assumed true story?  For some time I have not known what to do with this information.  I've been looking at the evidence, I've been reading up on these things.  I hardly know what I'm talking about, but it bugs me still.
I have, however, come to a revelation.  It doesn't matter.
I could go into a massive theology vs. science debate right now, or bloviate about how we either accept science, which gives a cold meaningless explanation for our existence, or accept God, which requires a leap of faith not to be truly validated (or refuted) until our expiration dates.  I could even talk about Pascal's Wager, and how it is in our best interest simply to accept God, because it is the only path of potential.  Science provides no salvation, but God promises something. 
I once had a very interesting conversation with a devout Catholic.  She claimed that Catholicism is still God's Religion, but since it is run by Man, who is of course sinning and broken, the state of the church is reflected in this issue.  I suppose I could make the same claim to the Bible, but I don't think I'd make a lot of friends (but I'd sure get some comments).  The truth is, if we nit-pick the details, we miss the point anyway.  We could read through the Bible and be moved to faith or disgusted with its agenda.  Either way, it is trying to say something, and the general consensus, even among the staunchest of atheists who know how to think, is that the message is good.  The Bible calls us to be like the God it tries desperately to describe.  I don't think this is a bad goal.  How to do this, well, that's another question.  If we truly mean to attempt such a feat, I don't think it can simply come down to reading what the Bible says.  Lord knows we've found a galaxy's worth of ways to interpret it.  Which leads me to my next conclusion.

We must listen.

We all are taught to talk to God, to prey to Him, to ask for things, to praise Him.  But rare is the time that we emphasize listening.  And I think He talks to us constantly.  Consider the involuntary actions of your body.  Breath, heartbeat, blinks, emotions, thought, inspirations.  The Bible even calls it "the still small voice" as if it knows we really must strain to hear it.  We don't really, though.  It's a conscious choice to listen or ignore.  We are just more often than not trained to listen to our own thoughts, even though we know we’ll get it wrong.  
I've often been told that we are "broken," that because of original sin we are all stuck in a state of imperfection.  I have never liked this idea.  I don't think it sounds right.  Call me an optimist, but I think we aren't broken so much as we are incomplete.  When God was in the Garden with Adam and Eve, He walked with them, He was with them in harmony.  When they chose to disobey Him, they were "kicked out" of Eden.  They didn't listen to him, and ever since we've been screwing up on our own.  Whether the story of Eden is a parable or not, I think it does well, at least on a spiritual level, explaining what we can feel to be true.  We are more than flesh and blood and we express something beautiful and powerful that we rarely live up to.  This is where I think the Bible is irrefutable.  I think Jesus was the model for this expression, because we simply had no conception of this relationship before him.  Jesus made many claims about his divinity, but I think it was ultimately his acts and character that gave us a guide to our own lives.  
So while we can read the Bible or other religious works and hope to find some comfort, we can only will ourselves so far along the path of salvation before we will lose our way.  We have to listen.  This has only gotten harder as the centuries have past.  As it is, today we are surrounded by millions of lost voices, and it’s up to each of us to hear the one that really matters before we all go completely deaf.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Anyone up for Pi?

I recently read a novel called The Life of Pi by Yann Martel. It took me a while to get to because it seemed like the typical Old Man and the Sea/Castaway sort of story. And it was. Sorta. The protagonist Pi, is lost at sea when the merchant ship he, his family, and most of their zoo livestock is traveling on very suddenly sinks. Pi is left in a 24 foot lifeboat with a Bengal tiger that manages to survive with him. What follows is a story of the boy’s struggles and attempt to tame the tiger enough to survive, and his faith enough to persist. I will not give the end of the story, but suffice it to say his tale of survival breeds a number of skeptics.
The conversation then goes on as to what the true difference is between what he claims and what people are willing to believe. In Pi's mind, the "better story" is the only one worth hearing anyway because our skepticism of God (caused by the “dry, yeastless story”) strips any possible value from the experience in the first place. Now Pi is a pan-religious sort of person, accepting Hinduism, Islam, and Christianity as far as they can all go without overt contradictions. Essentially, he claims they all make an attempt at and contribute to explaining who God is and how all things are connected through him. He loves the inclusion of Hinduism, the discipline and focus of Islam, and the humanity and compassion of Christianity. I can see how many can turn this story into some attempt to thread religions together, and with this I take some issue; however, as I finished the story something very telling occurred to me about Christianity today.
As many have started noting, there has been a sort of pacification and accommodation epidemic that has swept through Christianity. As the world at large has assaulted Christianity's ways and words, Christians have taken to toning things down, to keeping the peace in fear of offending others. One of the things I did get out of Life of Pi was this short conversation about the difference between how an atheist would react on his death bed to how an agnostic would respond. Pi argues that the atheist is more likely to make the "leap of Faith" when seeing the warm blanket of light, while the agnostic, who has never committed would search for an explanation, but is never really sure. The point the book seems to be making here is that those who fail to make a choice, still make a choice. Christianity has, from it inception, been an active faith. One cannot just avoid doing evil and call themselves good as a result. Good is active. Good is purposeful.
I have, as of late, seen Christianity moving more towards a generic religious identity than a true cultural and spiritual foundation. It's sort of like cultural Judism in that sense. Christians may live by a code, may choose not to steal, swear, tell dirty jokes, cheat, abuse, murder, or whatever the Bible discourages, but these things are just the basics. To say you are a Christian nowadays is much like voicing a rather unpopular political affiliation. I believe Jesus fully revealed God's character so that we may emulate it, not just know and admire it. It is heart-wrenching to see the passivity that our culture tolerates among its members. Such simple actions of kindness nowadays seem to cause such shocked looks as if the person performing the act is a bit crazy for making the effort. Somehow we seem to feel that we will be left alone to carry on in limbo if we make no effort to reveal our supposed convictions. Even Ghandi, in all his passiveness, knew that it took action to get his point across. So... what's our point?

I am convinced we are fighting a war. It is a war of moral versus intellectual, of passive versus active, of tolerance versus love. It has raged on for a while and we have slowly backed down, lost ground, and lost blood. So I ask, when will we pick up our weapons? When will we actively demonstrate the spirit of Christ that was placed in our hands? It seems a greater tragedy to have the weapons, not fight, and slowly be assimilated into the enemy than to raise our voices and arms and be cast down by the enemy's hands. I hope that soon our members will be held to account, and that they will begin to march upon the plague of passivity, and make it so before the trumpet sounds.

On a last note, I understand that I, myself, while seeing these issues, do also stand accused. It is, as I’ve heard it described, my struggle. Why this topic probably gets to me so much is that I fully understand the fear that accompanies these actions. I am still afraid of approaching the edge, so to speak. I am also afraid of outwardly affirming my theological discrepancies in the face of those with more biblical background. I don’t want to be wrong, and I also don’t want to lose hope in light of conflicting views of God’s nature. Ultimately, the very core of this topic is sacrifice, and the understanding of the proportionality of sacrifice to reward/redemption. This will likely be a lifelong lesson, but even the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Just as in science, the most energy needed spiritually is that which is used to get the ball rolling.

Friday, July 10, 2009


This is pure and simple procrastination. In the face of an overwhelming task of building a curriculum from scratch, I'm finding myself mentally shutting down. I'm one week into a new career and finding myself already doubting my qualifications for the task. It really is not a matter of success or failure, as, in my mind, failure is not an option. But I am not approaching this career with a natural talent, or even disposition, for the work. I'm a friggin' introvert. With that said, as I continue attempting to put a proverbial square peg in a round hole, I realize that my personal approach to my job cannot affect my obligation to teach my students something of value. I see every one of them and their apathy, their angst, their brokenness, and wonder how, in God's name, I am ever going to make an impact. I'm also keenly aware that I really don't understand this profession yet. My goal has nothing to do with my obligation in a "standards" sense. I want them to think, not pass a test. But they don't think. They process and perform routines based on their programming. The values of our society have every one of us trained to respond to information in a certain way. Media has made us desensitized and passive thinkers. There is a groupthink even I seem to be breaking under, and I am. I gave into it probably in sixth grade, when I decided to follow the straight and narrow path to... success. Right. I worked hard, got a job when I turned 16, and haven't taken a breath since. In the mean time, the world shrank to the size of a paycheck.
I keep waiting for the thing to stop spinning. It reminds me of Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged. John Galt created this machine that can actually stop the world from spinning. Well, it's a perpetual motion motor actually. In the book the "powers that be" were screwing things up in such a fashion that the only way to salvage was to basically let the resources die and cultivate the land from scratch. I almost feel like what I need is a memory dump in the same way, like reformatting a computer drive.
Everything nowadays seems like such a chore. To me, this means I'm not approaching things correctly. Instead of being excited about the job, I'm overwhelmed and very resistant. I can't get organized because I'm too busy looking at the entire mountain. I've suddenly exposed the fact that although I have a goal and desired outcome, I, even personally, have no clue how to reach them. How do I teach others how to think when I'm shutting down like this? I'm just as susceptible to the habit of wanting to do anything else but the task at hand (as is demonstrated by this blog).
I guess there's nothing more to do in the mean time than to do my best and try to involve some faith in the situation. Faith seems to be a critical element that has been lacking for far too long, but I don't suppose I have time to delve into that topic. There is work to do.

Originally posted Monday, August 4, 2008

The Unexamined Life

So here I am, finding myself between the pages of what it definitively two very different chapters in my life. I'm foreclosing on a house, I just graduated college, I've just proposed to my girlfriend, and I just landed my first teaching position for a summer bridge program at Mountain Pointe. Looking back on the last oh, probably about six years of my life it's safe to say I worked veerrry hard to get where I'm at. The only true regret I suppose I can claim is that I really didn't enjoy the ride all that much. I was a bit too intense, a bit self-absorbed, and definitely a little too goal oriented. In Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom, Morrie quotes a man who once said "Love is the only rational act." If such a thing is true, I can't help but wonder why it is we all live so irrationally. The vast majority of my own actions over most of my life have not been love based. In fact, it is often sometimes difficult to understand what love really means when even love between two people is often selfish and sensual.
But to avoid that massive tangent, my point is that I hope this next chapter somehow reflects my learning from that lesson; that I won't make excuses for my rather grumpy attitude but will instead make decisions that avoid that path altogether.
If there is anything I am good at, it's probably "planning ahead." I mean this in the sense that I evaluate where I want to be so far down the line. Generally speaking, I give myself credit for making things happen too. Still, just because one follows a map doesn't mean they took the best route to the destination. Whether one takes life as an adventure or as a possession to be controlled, it still has an expiration date, and to know this, to actually be ready for this mentally, I think, implies that there is some sort of understanding of priorities in life. Morrie mostly discusses how we live so very trivially in terms of our priorities and vision. Inherently we all know what is good; we all know that our attitude and approaches make the difference. One man digging holes is miserable because it's hard manual labor; another sees it as his worthy contribution to the world's well being. He sees it as a job someone's got to do, and it's the job he's chosen to do. It tires him out, and it gives him strength. It lets him work with his hands and think about life. To him, it is no more or less worthy a task than the man who makes decisions at the highest tier of the corporate world because his perspective on priorities are different. The groupthink of our culture today can't really understand this approach to living because it doesn't promote its values. What is good is not necessarily important because the truth is our priorities lie on us, and no one is going to pay attention to me if I don't do it myself, right? I really hope having literally over a hundred students that I'm responsible for pulls me somewhat out of this mentality.
Teaching is one of those professions that as they say "you don't do for the money." I almost think I'm happier that way. Something about teaching forces you to find intrinsic value in your everyday job. You could go to Princeton or ASU and they'll start you at the same pay. If you can't learn to see the less tangible rewards you don't tend to stick around. Those who do usually end up pretty bitter. I like to think I've paid my dues in terms of fostering that attitude though. I don't want to be that way anymore. I'd rather work towards some sort of understanding and purpose on life. To do this I suspect is going to require an overhaul of my value system, which I can only hope comes with the pages ahead. In the mean time, there's not much left to do but read on.

Originally posted Thursday, May 22, 2008

The Compass

Today I took a little hike. Ok, I took a damn long hike up Superstition Mountain. In fact, it was probably a bit more than I could handle. As circumstance would have it, I ended up having the weekend free from what was supposed to be a climbing trip in Flagstaff. Given the free time and my determination not to have my whole weekend shot by the various events, I decided to stubbornly trek out on my own.
As I got about two-thirds the way to the top I really ran out of steam. I found myself pretty tired about every thirty feet of climbing. Granted I'd been literally stuck on a Stairmaster on steroids for the last hour, but I was too close to give up. So I ventured on, made it to the top, wandered around the flat iron (as they call that big massive piece that juts out on the south side) and eventually started my climb back down.
Now, my intentions weren't simply to climb the mountain. I was hoping to relax a little at the top, take some very valuable time to think as I sat literally miles away from civilization. Instead I rested, took in the view a little, got bored, and decided to head down. As I reached the bottom, it occurred to me that all that thinking I was hoping to do totally went out the window. It wasn't that I was hoping to contemplate the meaning of life or that sort of thing, but I wanted to simply take some time to think about things that are going on in my life and what they mean... where it's really all headed. Perspective, if you will. As the day went on and I felt the effects of fatigue, sunburn, and soreness, I started making some connections with what just happened and where my head really is.
I recently went to Yosemite. It's one of the most beautiful places I expect I will ever see. Yet, the whole time I was there, I simply couldn't take it all in. I could capture as much as I wanted with a camera, I could stare at it all till I was blue in the face, but I just couldn't make sense of the beauty. I had no gauge, no perspective. What did it really mean to me?
In the last few years I've really been struggling with my faith. Not that I've gone evil or anything, but I haven't taken any real time to "talk to God" or think about my salvation. What this hike taught me is that sometimes we need to slow down, sacrifice our desire to see things accomplished, in order to really even admire or benefit from those accomplishments already made. I've been living life way too fast in the last three or four years to pay any attention to the scenery flying by me. I was so damn tired from my hike I had no juice left in me to consider the sight that lay before me. The same goes for pretty much most of what I've accomplished lately, right down to my friendships.
Considering all this, it's easy to say (and I have used this excuse before) that it's just where I'm at in life. Sorta "the age of not believing" if ya want a vintage quote from Bed Knobs and Broomsticks. But the truth is I'll have to shift gears here eventually... and soon. I think I have a habit of working, of productivity. I can't just sit there and watch television, I can't just let a day go by without at least thinking I should be cleaning up something or running errands or paying bills. Perhaps this is me just coping with what life really is. That'd really suck.
I don't think so though, and I think that's where faith comes into play. I guess I consider it a compass so to speak. It doesn't actually guide you anywhere, but it gives you a sense of bearing. You may not always be headed north, but it always lets you know in which direction it is. I've been having a lot of trouble really figuring out where my mind is headed. Sure I've got my whole life planned out before me, but most of that has nothing to do with how I live, or whom I live it for.
Although the hike was a good one, I probably would have been just as happy with Telegraph Pass in South Mountain. I would have taken maybe an hour or so to do it and I would have been back down and in the pool by twelve. Perhaps I would have slept the rest of the day away. Perhaps taking it easier would have helped me pick up that rather new looking book I keep in the top drawer of my nightstand. Hopefully this lesson has some sticking power. In the mean time, I think I'll take this rare occasion of enlightenment to get to bed at a decent hour.
Cheers folks.

Originally posted Sunday, June 17, 2007

A Psalm of Life

A PSALM OF LIFE - Henry Wadsworth Longfellow


TELL me not, in mournful numbers,
Life is but an empty dream ! —
For the soul is dead that slumbers,
And things are not what they seem.

Life is real ! Life is earnest!
And the grave is not its goal ;
Dust thou art, to dust returnest,
Was not spoken of the soul.

Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,
Is our destined end or way ;
But to act, that each to-morrow
Find us farther than to-day.

Art is long, and Time is fleeting,
And our hearts, though stout and brave,
Still, like muffled drums, are beating
Funeral marches to the grave.

In the world's broad field of battle,
In the bivouac of Life,
Be not like dumb, driven cattle !
Be a hero in the strife !

Trust no Future, howe'er pleasant !
Let the dead Past bury its dead !
Act,— act in the living Present !
Heart within, and God o'erhead !

Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time ;

Footprints, that perhaps another,
Sailing o'er life's solemn main,
A forlorn and shipwrecked brother,
Seeing, shall take heart again.

Let us, then, be up and doing,
With a heart for any fate ;
Still achieving, still pursuing,
Learn to labor and to wait.

Originally posted Tuesday, April 17, 2007