On morality

This is actually a response to another persons blog (http://hessianwithteeth.wordpress.com/2014/10/24/being-a-christian-does-not-make-you-moral)  but I thought it would be of value here too.

 

You don’t have to be Christian to be moral, and just because you claim to be a Christian does not mean that you are moral. This may fly in the face of some people’s beliefs, but it is perfectly reasonable.

That is because “morality” is not defined just one way. The actual definition is:

Morality (from the Latin moralitas “manner, character, proper behavior”) is the differentiation of intentions, decisions, and actions between those that are “good” (or right) and those that are “bad” (or wrong).

That is pretty clear at first glance, but the problems are caused by the words “good, bad, right and wrong”. When it comes right down to it, everybody has a slightly different view (a few wildly different, many different only in a few details).  And, of course, each person often thinks that their view is the only correct view. Thus, if a person follows “my” view, they obviously are moral, and if they do not follow that view, obviously they are immoral.

A general view (of good/bad/right/wrong) is usually “built into” each culture based on the specifics of that culture, and again, people from that culture consider those who follow that morality to be moral, and those who do not follow it (particularly those darned outsiders), to be immoral.

Another problem with morality is that the obvious benefits of (popular/common) morality are all for others, not yourself. Since the natural inclination of all life is to do for itself, this creates conflict. Some people realize (or at least hope) that the “hidden” benefits of being moral outweigh the obvious benefits of immorality. Some don’t see any benefits to themselves from popular/common morality and follow a “different” morality or even no morality (amorality).

The conflict between morality and personal benefit can be eased somewhat if the morality being followed is “natural” to the person (self-generated), as opposed to a morality which was “imposed” on them. Thus, a person who did not have any interest in a “Christian” morality would have a much harder time following it after becoming a Christian than someone to whom it seemed correct even before they came to believe “Jesus said it was”.

Note that morality includes intentions, decisions AND ACTIONS. It is entirely possible (and even likely) that a person may INTEND to behave in a manner which is moral to them, but when it comes time for the rubber to meet the road, have actions which are contrary to their intentions. This is a problem for some Christians, as the moral code they are instructed to follow is rather more restrictive and even less self-serving than some other moralities, and often conflicts with the “natural” morality they had previous to becoming a Christian.

Since intentions and decisions tend to be difficult to reliably determine, generally a person’s morality is evaluated based on their actions.  The negative results of being perceived as being “immoral” can be severe.  At the low end, people might tend to avoid others with conflicting morals, while at the high end, when the behavior is significantly harmful to others, it is likely that there will be legal consequences.

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Prayer

Prayer is the way you communicate to God.  Some people claim that God does not answer prayer, but this is not correct.  God answers every single prayer, just not always in the way the person wanted the prayer answered.  The answer can be “yes”, but often it is “no” or “not now”.

How does He choose which answer?  God only knows.  Literally.  If your prayer is in tune with his wishes, and it would be good for Him and/or good for you without being harmful to Him, then the odds of “yes” can be fairly good.  Otherwise, the chances of “yes” would be pretty slim.

Prayer can be efficient in times of need; “Help!” might be a very good prayer as your car crashes through the guardrail hundreds of feet in the air.  However, usually you will want to approach your communication with a fair degree of formality, particularly if you are asking for something.

First of all, “address” your prayer.  Who are you talking to?  Use the name or title or relationship you most admire, or which the entity you are talking to is claimed to prefer.  “Hey, you” probably would usually not be one of the better choices.

Next, don’t just list your wants.  This is COMMUNICATION, not a spiritual Home Shopping Network.  Comment on the good stuff you have experienced.  If you are asking for something, be polite about it and try to keep it aligned with the views which it is claimed the one you are praying to holds.

And if you get a “no” or “not now” answer, don’t freak out.  Expect it, so the “yes” answers are special.

Again, you are conversing, as part of a relationship.  How often?  As often as your relationship expects, plus any time you just need to chat.  How long?  As long as it takes and no longer.

Is Islam A Religion of Peace?

This is a claim which is commonly made.  Let us consider its correctness.

Now I know some Muslims, and they are among the nicest people I know.  Based on the Muslims I know, the claim has potential.  But wait.  Every time the news comes out, it seems like it has some people claiming (or claimed) to be Muslims killing innocent non-Muslims and even other Muslims, for reasons which seem to be religiously motivated.  This throws doubt on the claim, to the point where it becomes questionable to state that Islam is a religion of peace.  Yet there are all those Muslims who seem to be peaceful.  What is the disconnect?

One option is that there are actually two separate religions: Muslims (peaceful) and Radical Muslims (not peaceful).  In order to be separate religions, wouldn’t they pretty much need to have differing scriptures?  No, they both claim to be based on the Qur’an.  OK, another option is perhaps one group is misinterpreting or outright disobeying the scriptures.

From  http://quranexplorer.com/

“Prophet Muhammad (saw) was the final Messenger of Allah to humanity, and therefore the Qur’an is the last Message which Allah (swt) has sent to us. Its predecessors such as the Torah, Psalms, and Gospels have all been superseded. It is an obligation – and blessing – for all who hear of the Qur’an and Islam to investigate it and evaluate it for themselves. Allah (swt) has guaranteed that He will protect the Qur’an from human tampering, and today’s readers can find exact copies of it all over the world. The Qur’an of today is the same as the Qur’an revealed to Muhammad (saw) 1400 years ago.”

Thus, there is only one valid Qur’an source, and it appears that if we pick up a Qur’an, we can trust that it is complete and accurate.  So, let us do that.  Certainly, Allah is not fond of “infidels”, claiming He will punish them, but does He say it is ok for Muslims to kill infidels or otherwise commit violence against them?

From Surah 2 Al-Baqara, verses 190-191;  “Fight in the way of Allah against those who fight you, and do not transgress. Verily, Allah does not like the transgressors. (190) Kill them wherever you find them, and drive them out from where they drove you out, as Fitnah (to create disorder) is more severe than killing. However, do not fight them near Al-Masjid-ul-Haram (the Sacred Mosque in Makkah) unless they fight you there. However, if they fight you (there) you may kill them. Such is the reward of the disbelievers. (191) ”  

Fighting and killing does not sound peaceful except in the case of self defense.  This is not looking good for Islam, peace-wise.

From Surah 4 An-Nisa, verse 140:  “And it hath been revealed to you in the Book that when ye hear Allahs revelations being disbelieved in and mocked at, sit not down with them until they plunge in a discourse other than that; for, then, ye would surely become like unto them. Verily Allah is about to gather hypocrites and infidels in Hell together. (140)”

On the other hand, this sounds pretty peaceful.  If someone mocks Allah’s revelations, don’t hang out with them until the subject is changed.  Allah will take care of them.  This does not seem to say anything about going into their building and killing a bunch of people (as just happened in France).  This could be a case of the “Radical Muslim” misinterpreting or ignoring that which they call scripture.

There are many other instances in the scripture which seem to be violent and many which seem to be peaceful, at least as far as how the followers should be.  It seems, like most every religion, it is subject to selective adherence.  Basically, Radical Muslims may or may not be religious, but are provably not at all peaceful.  This form of Islam is NOT peaceful, and anyone who says it is, really is kind of a moron.   What about the rest of the Muslims?  Is their version of Islam one of peace?

Let us consider what “defines” a Radical Muslim, at least when compared with a peaceful Muslim.  Obviously, if one searches out and kills innocent children, women and men, that is the most obvious facet of the Radical.  Even a person who would not kill an innocent person themselves, but agree that killing such an innocent is acceptable would be a Radical.  The Radical believes that the entire world should be governed by “Sharia law”, which means the only law considered is that which it is claimed Allah specified.

So, what percentage of Muslims are willing and able to go out and kill innocent people?  Probably not many, less than 10%.  If that was the end of it, then perhaps we could pretty much conclude that the statement under investigation was pretty much accurate.  However, this minority could not operate without support, and if a person supports Radicals, that person must be considered a Radical as well.  Unfortunately, the number of Muslims who can legitimately be considered Radical is much larger than just the obvious killers.  Surveys taken in 2009 in countries with a significant Muslim population indicate that the number of Muslims who approve of killing non-Muslims, and even Muslims in some cases, or believe that the leadership of their country should be under Sharia Law, is often over 50%.  In some countries, this number is over 75%; in the best case, the United States, about a third of Muslims indicated views which identify them as Radicals.  Based on the surveys, it is extrapolated that of the 1.6 billion Muslims on the Earth, slightly over half of them are Radicals.  Not a minority, then.

The “minority” Muslims don’t seem to be able to, or in some cases, willing to, point out how they are following the scriptures and the Radicals are not.   Some do decry the extreme acts.  But none of this makes them “the religion of peace”.

At the current point of time, it appears that Islam is NOT a religion of peace.  Even though many Muslims are themselves peaceful, the religion itself does not preach peace and there are those who use it, seemingly validly, to encourage violence.

Finding God, Part 7

There are many ways to find God, and each person will respond to different ones.  Here is what I like to call the “Incremental Evaluation Approach”.

All journeys start with a first step, and this one has a doozy.

1) Change the way you think about what you “know”.

You probably know a lot of things, and the tendency of Man is to consider that if you “know” something, it must be true.  But consider that most, if not everything, you know came about via some “process”.  Some processes are quite reliable and some are quite unreliable.  Thus it is helpful to make the decision that it is possible that some of what you know may not be correct.  In general, it is good to consider how you came to know something, and how risky it is if it turns out you are wrong.  Why bother?  Because this gives you some guidance on how strongly to “hold on” to each thing you know.  Not only will this make it easier to find God, but it will likely make you rather more pleasant to be around (because no one likes someone who takes a position and refuses to even listen to a different one), and reduce the overall risk level in your life (by alerting you to risky areas which would benefit from some further investigation).

For instance, you probably “know” your birth date.  How do you know this?  Likely, you were told this by your parents, and being told is a low to medium reliable way to know something.  How reliable  were your parents?  How often did something they tell you turn out not to be so (besides “normal” untruths like Santa Clause)?  Were any untruths deliberate or accidental?  Perhaps you saw a certified copy your birth certificate.  Government documentation can be a fairly reliable source (unless they have been “fiddled with”).  Do you know anyone who could corroborate your birth; a family friend, relative or attending medical personnel?  This can raise the reliability of what you were told.  How does what you know relate to what you can experience?  Do you “appear” to be the age you think you are?

In general, most people can be fairly sure that the birth date they know is correct.  And what is the risk if it is not correct?  Fairly low in most cases.  There are some things which are legally based on exact age, but as long as you appear to be the age you claim, the odds of it being a problem for you is minimal if you turn out to be wrong about your age.  The risk goes up if you get involved in something which invites serious scrutiny (such as a run for president) and there is significant penalty if your age is not as claimed.

Obviously, following this line of thought for everything you know, all at once, would be paralyzing.  Just be prepared to apply it to any piece of knowledge which comes into question as you live your life or which the risk for being wrong is intolerably high.

There is one thing you should apply this process to “now”, and that is what you know about God.  This is because most of the sources of of knowledge about God are inherently unreliable (with the obvious exception of personal experiences), and the risk for being wrong could possibly be quite high.

2) Come to grips with the concept of “belief”.

By definition, this is deciding or growing to “know” that something is so without conclusive proof, as long as there is no conclusive proof showing it is not so.  Why?  Because there are just some things which you have to take on faith.  This does not require you to “believe” everything or even anything (new) now; it just means that you are able to  allow in an appropriate new belief when you find it.  Conversely, it means that you can give up a held belief if it ever is adequately proven to be incorrect.

3) No matter what you “know”, accept the possibility that a Supernatural World exists.

“Acceptance” does not require that you believe a “possibility” to be so; just that you do not believe it cannot be so.

4) Accept the possibility that if a Supernatural World exists, that one or more Gods exist in that world.

Again, this does not require belief now, just acceptance of the possibility.   Once you get past this point, the next step does require a belief, but fortunately a conditional one.

5) Believe that IF a Supernatural World exists AND is inhabited by God, THEN you do not have the capability to comprehend most of God’s environment, needs, desires and goals.

This is not because there is anything wrong with you; just that you (and all other Humans) don’t have the necessary frame of reference.  Note that acquiring a new belief is usually non-trivial because enough support for it has to be assembled in order to make up for the lack of actual proof.  In this case, though, if the conditionals are so, then the conclusion is fairly self evident based on the definitions and very concepts of the Supernatural World and Gods.

Necessary?  Yes, since from Man’s point of view, God is “weird”.  Some of the things which God is reputed to have said or requires of us, or seems to do, are “bad” or “silly” or “inefficient” or “ineffectual” from Man’s point of reference.  In order for us to take Him seriously, we must discard our judgement of His sayings and requirements, and the best way to do this is to realize that they are, at least mostly,  beyond our comprehension.  An obvious example of this is, why, if God wants us to interact with Him or at least obey Him, has He made it impossible to prove His existence?  He is alleged to have the capability to do “anything”, but has not done this, or at least has done so only to certain individuals.  Thus, us not being able to prove His existence would seem to indicate that He does not want us to prove his existence, which seems to us to be ridiculous but might be important to Him.

6) Accept the possibility that God, for reasons of his own, created or guided the creation of the Natural world and everything in it.

7) Accept the possibility that God has some degree of interest in and control over, that Natural world, today.

8) Accept the possibility that God had some degree of interest in and control over, your existence.

9) Accept the possibility that God included some amount of the Supernatural in your existence.

10) Accept the possibility that any Supernatural part(s) of you does, or at least can, continue on after the death of your body.

Sadly, the steps so far have been the “easy” part, since all we really had to do was accept possibilities of things which have not been (and probably cannot be) proven or disproved.  Aside from preparing ourselves to meet God, the biggest accomplishment so far is to alert us to the possibility that we are living in a way which might cause us extreme grief.

Following this path is very wise; we might find God and become saved from disaster.  We tend to know how to “get along” in the Natural World, but if a person finds themself in the Supernatural world, and their condition there is at all dependent on how they lived in the Natural World, they could find themself royally screwed.  Thus it behooves us to do everything we can to figure out the most advantageous way to live in the Natural world so that both our existence in the Natural World and any possible existence in the Supernatural World is optimized.

11) Research the common viewpoints about God.  Pay particular attention to the Western religions and any Eastern religions which are culturally relevant to you.

This is not where you dive into one view of God; the goal here is to get an overview of each.  Note what each says about God, what they base their claims on (their scriptures), what the view of God requires from you, and what you are claimed to receive in return.  Because there is no proof that any of these are correct, be wary of any which say that you cannot leave that faith except through death or other serious damage.  Not to say that such a religion is definitely incorrect, but you don’t want to be “forced” to stay in a religion which when experienced, shows itself to be a serious problem to either of your Natural or Supernatural lives.  Focus on the “documentation” behind each viewpoint, not on one particular group of people who claim that viewpoint.  Although, if a viewpoint has majority of the people who behave in ways different than they claim they believe, this could be a warning sign.

12) Once you have prepared yourself to accept God, and “loaded” yourself with knowledge about possible Hims, pray.

Ask God to show Himself to you and illuminate which Human view of Him is closest to his heart.

It is hard to imagine that if you follow these steps thoroughly, that you will not (eventually) find God if He exists.  But be aware that many people and most other religions (particularly atheists) will do all they can to throw roadblocks into the way of any viewpoint which varies from their own.  Once you find God, then it will be helpful to find a group of people who have found the same view of God and who behave in a manner which is compatible with you.  You will need to figure out what God wants from you in the Natural World to best position yourself in the Supernatural world, and this can be helped by like-minded people with the same view of God.

 

 

Finding God, Part 6

All of the (common) Western religions started with the Jewish people.  Thus Judaism is the “source” or at least precursor of these religions.  It’s scripture is the Old Testament of the Bible, particularly the first five books or the “Pentateuch”.  As mentioned in an earlier blog, this tends to be one of the better supported scriptures (about as well as scriptures CAN be supported).  It provides a history of how the world came to be and includes a guide for “righteous” living, as well as some insights into God.

The guide for living was called “The Law (of Moses)”.  Note that it was a guide for RIGHTEOUSNESS, not “salvation”.  The Old Testament seems to only describe life “immediately” after death, per the story where a poor righteous man was in “Abraham’s Bosom” and a rich unrighteous man was across a chasm suffering from thirst.  Furthermore, there was a mechanism to atone for unrighteous behavior, involving the sacrifice of a “perfect” animal.  The belief was, that by putting the “sin” on the animal, then killing it, the sin would be “covered” by the animal’s blood, and thus no longer be counted against the sinner.

Still, seems a simple enough system.  Memorize a number of rules (613, I think, with the “10 commandments” as the “Cliff Notes” version), follow them, and when you screw up, (as is almost guaranteed), perform the required sacrifice.  Oh, there is a couple of problems.  First of all, you think PETA is going to let you get away with animal sacrifice?  Even if you can avoid them, the Temple where the sacrifice is to be held was destroyed in 73 AD, and the alter (the Arc of the Covenant) lost.  And where are you going to find the required “priest from the line of Levi”?  We are not talking about someone wearing jeans…   So it appears that Judaism may not have been the road to salvation, and probably is not a reliable path even to righteousness today.

The Old Testament prophecies a “new covenant” (the Law of Moses was the “old covenant”).  This is Christianity, and its scripture is the New Testament, with the Old Testament as backup.  Christianity is clear that the goal is “salvation” for all eternity, not righteousness, and provides an indication on how salvation is to be acquired.  Basically, “sin” includes thoughts as well as actions, and it is made clear that God does not tolerate any sin in his presence (sort of like an allergy).  Since no person can pay the penalty for all of their sins (and everyone has at least some), no person can enter the presence of  God on their own.

The theory is that God caused part of Himself to be born and live as a human, and lived a life without sin, annoying the Jewish leadership to the point where they had Him killed.  Being perfect, this sacrifice was sufficient to pay the price for every sin ever committed or yet to be committed by every person who was, is and will be.  This part is pretty clear; how each of us can accept this gift is less clear.  It is clear that repentance (not only being sorry for every sin committed, but doing one’s best not to repeat any of them or add new ones) and a set of beliefs about God and Jesus is a key part.  But what “else”, if anything, is needed has various interpretations.

Several hundred years later, Muhammad, peace be upon him, was inspired to a new view of a monotheistic God, built on ideas and history from the Old Testament and New Testament.  This is Islam; the scripture is the Qur’an.  As opposed to the Testaments, which are generally considered to have been “inspired” by God, the Qur’an is generally thought to have been “dictated by God to Man (Muhammed)”.  In the highest view, it appears that the primary purpose of man is to worship God (Allah).  In the beginning, Islam tended to be spread by conquest, but left Jews and Christians alone as long as they did not fight the Muslims (adherents of Islam).  Eventually this changed to where violence against non-Muslims was not only allowed, but even required.

Unlike most other religions, which generally attempt to educate non-believers and then if they don’t “see the light”, leave them to their fates, Islam often attempts to “force” belief.  The problem is, although you can “force” behavior, you cannot force belief.  As a result, Islam often supports just killing off the non-believer.  Also, another primary goal of Islam is the creation of the “Caliphate” super state which imposes Sharia Law on everyone, Muslim or not.  It is a problem when you attempt to have God control people who do not believe in that God, not to mention how full of corruption Sharia law is and how destructive to those not at the top, particularly all women.

Like Judaism, Islam has a number of “rules” to follow which mostly seem doable, but it does not seem to be clear how one can “guarantee” they will go to paradise.  Other than dying while killing non-Muslims, of course.

Now we have come to the point where hopefully there is a path which allows you to “find God”.  We will look at this path in the next, final part.

 

Finding God, Part 5

Once the existence of the Supernatural and God is accepted, we need to turn our view inward.  If the Supernatural exists and God exists and caused us to exist, might not there also be a Supernatural part of us?

There is the body.  This is definitely Natural.  We know a great deal about it, and there is no doubt it is Natural.  When a person dies, the body is left behind, and begins to disintegrate.  It is just packaging to contain the real person.

The real person is a set of thoughts, memories, feelings, skills, prejudices, beliefs, opinions, habits and such things which are unclear how much of them are Natural and how much Supernatural.  And then there is the possibility that there is an “unknown” part of us which is completely Supernatural.  The Supernatural part or parts of us are usually referred to as the “soul” or “spirit” or even “ghost”.  These things all vanish from the Natural when the person dies.  Where do they go?  Ah, that is the question.

Possibly if there is a Supernatural world, and definitely if there is not, these parts of the person may just cease to exist.  How depressing, that this life is all there is.  And if there is a Supernatural and a God who made us, then it seems unlikely.  More likely is that for whatever reasons of His own, God “built in” a Supernatural aspect of each of us which continues on after our Natural death.

Now perhaps what we do in the Natural world is not a factor in what happens in the Supernatural world (the “all roads lead to God” concept).  This can be a pretty thought for those who prefer to behave “badly” in the Natural world or who are unwilling to “make a choice” from among the possible sets of “God approved” behavior.  But what if that is not the case?  What if what happens to “you” after death is completely dependent on what you did before death?

This is problematical, since there is no guaranteed set of instructions on how to behave.  There are many postulated sets of instructions, which not only differ from each other, but in many cases actually contradict each other.  This makes selecting the set of instructions to follow difficult and risky.  If you choose “wrong”, not only might your Natural life not be all it could be, but your Supernatural life could be totally trashed.

The various sets of instructions tend to be influenced by the cultures which were inspired to write them down (or generate them, in cases where “God” was invoked as a way of controlling the masses).  Thus, we can pretty much divide these sets of instructions on interaction with God (which we will call “religions” for convenience) into two classes, Eastern and Western.  Eastern religions have the sub-classes Indian  (such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism) and Asian (such as Taoism, Shinto and Confucianism) and can be polytheistic or even non-theistic, a confusing concept for a “religion”.  They often combine philosophy and metaphysics with the view of God or Gods.  The Western religions (such as Judaism, Christianity and Islam) are monotheistic.

If you want to know more about Eastern religions, Google awaits you.  In the next part, we will take a look at the Western religions.

 

Finding God, Part 4

Actually, I’m forgetting a step.

Where did you come from?  You might say “my parents”, or if you are a smartass, something like “Pittsburgh”.  And where did your parents come from?  “Their parents” and so on.  If this goes on long enough, eventually “their parents” will NOT be a valid answer.  There are two major theories and some minor ones which attempt to answer this.

One set of theories is that there was nothing and then suddenly something (the Big Bang Theory) and then this something eventually followed the laws of physics and became the physical universe.  Because this particular planet just happened to be “perfect” for our form of life, life eventually happened and evolved until eventually our immediate precursors happened to exist and generated the first set of parents (the Theory of Evolution).

The other major theory is that there was nothing and then God created everything (Creation Theory).  A sub-theory of this is that God “guided” physics and evolution to create the universe and us.  Basically, either “we” happened accidentally or as the result of some intelligence (Intelligent Design).

Note that any theory which postulates that we are the result of a non-God intelligence is not useful, since it just moves the question back a level.  “We were seeded here by aliens”.  “Really, well then, where did the aliens come from”?  And so on.  Oh, and don’t ask me where God came from, since most concepts of God requires that He has always existed (a difficult to grasp theoretical aspect of the Supernatural world).

If you believe that no God exists, then you are stuck with the Theory of Evolution, which is not contradicted by currently known facts, but is also not proven by them.  However, if there is the possibility that God does exist, then He could have made the original set of parents, and maybe even exerted some amount of control over your existence.

In the next part, we will consider the possibility that you have a Supernatural aspect.  Really.