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Monthly Archives: December 2011

I talk to Atheists…a lot. On issues religious and political. And while this is not true of all Atheists (most certainly) I do get the sense sometimes that the reason why most Atheists are not religious is that they want God to be Government. Or at least their version of what they think a Government should be.

You see a lot of people think that Government should take care of them. Provide them with their food, clothing, internet, healthcare, jobs, houses. That everything should be provided for you even if you have to ‘balance the scales’ by taking it from someone else.

To make sure that the scales are balanced and if someone has more than you or just more than someone else in general, and their ‘needs aren’t met’ then that is bad of them and something should be done about it.

This is all wrapped up in class envy, or class scorn, or class warfare. This is all a symptom of the same cause.

But since naturally God is perfect they assume God to be the same way as they are. To automatically have the same world view.

That how can a perfect, loving, God allow suffering in the world? Why must some people have more and some have less? Why can’t everything be heaven and all of our needs are provided for? Or even why do we have needs?

Why do some people have to die and some people live?

I do not have a good answer.

All I do know is that our free will and our own actions play some part in this. What exactly and how exactly the formula of life works I have no idea. I do not even really want to know either.

I just know that He does indeed exist.

But people look at the world and see evil and suffering and assume that God does not. That this is all truly a random crap shoot and nothing has any long-term meaning behind it at all.

I know its hard. And this is actually one area where I do sympathize with Atheist thought. That sometimes the evils in our lives do seem to contradict with a perfect and loving God. That it is hard to watch the universe suffer and think that there is some caring and loving hand behind it all. Or any kind of force at all really. Let alone the loving ones.

But in my opinion He did, and He does exist. That He did set up this universe.

We just have no idea on the why or the how.

But in the end I am glad God does not provide for our every whim. Because that is the only way that we can understand the darkness and the light and learn to appreciate things about our very existence.

Which is why I do not expect a God to be a Government.

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Charity. Its one of the things that defines Civilizations, our civilization, our roots, and our religion. It defines the boundaries between good and evil. Enabling people to help the poor or take care of one another each in their own way. But for something that is so important we really do not have any idea what it is.

It is a concept that despite being so central and so core to our very being is one that does not seem itself to be easily defined. There is a lot of debate, and always will be on who should help, who shouldn’t, how you should give, where you should give, how much you should give, even if you should give at all. Whether or not it is your individual responsibility or if an organization or Government should force you to give…to it…so then they can put that money to use on…whatever they want. Trying in their minds, I’m sure, to help.

But lets stick with generalities here. What does Charity usually mean in the modern context? Well giving money to soup kitchens. Your favorite non-profit cause. Helping a granny cross the street or giving five dollars to someone on the side of the road so they can build a sandwich.

Helping each other, assisting one another, being there to offer a bed, or clothing, or food, or money or even sage counsel.

Charity, today, is about investing your resources, usually time and money, to do an altruistic and selfless thing, with little to no personal gain, in order to provide for someone else. Usually out of religious obligation or a sense to be kind.

But that is not all Charity is, it is not all Charity can be.

It is the ability to not only give help, a place to sleep, or a warm meal. But it is the ability to get someone going, to get them out of their current situation and try to make them a better person to where they do not need your charity.

According to the Jewish thought that I have read there are eight levels of Charity. (source). All the way from ‘giving begrudgingly,’ to allowing a person to become self-reliant, to make it on their own.

It’s not a matter between good or evil, or good or bad types of charity. All of these charities are good, just that the highest level of charity is to provide so that the other person can move off your assistance and become a benefit to others.

To teach a man to fish, in other words.

To teach a man to work and to be educated while you are providing for their basic needs. Or doing that without providing for their basic needs.

So in a sense scholarships are the purest form of charity.

But also, dare I say it, jobs. The rich providing work and working conditions for employees and giving them a pay check so they can make money and be self-reliant and hopefully improve their lot in life.

That is what Charity is. It’s not just to give to give and to give without end hoping that the band aid can magically sprout wings and they can take off. But it is charity, with a purpose.

That is the highest level of charity. To move forward and teach, and allow them to get to a point where they can make their own charities, and then from there the cycle continues.

This is what charity has to be, otherwise it’s not worth it.

Once again Christmas and the Holiday have passed, or are wrapping up. Those that follow the Jewish faith are looking forward to the end of Hanukkah, those of the Christian have celebrated the birth of their savior, and we still have the New Year to ring in. So it is time, once again, for another holiday blog. To reflect on the ‘true meaning of Christmas’, and the season. It does seem to me that the season has become just about the celebrations, its become about the rush and the material…rather then the Spirit.

I think we need to talk about the spirit and get back to it.

Christmas is not just about the tree or the copies of Call of Duty Modern warfare 3 or copies of Star Wars the Old Republic and Ace Combat. Nor is it about the food.

But it is about celebrating the birth of one of the greatest humans to have ever lived. (blog link).

Hanukkah is not about the presents or the coins, or heck it’s not even about the Menorah. But celebrating a miracle and giving thanks to God.

We have lost our way. We have turned these celebrations about our heritage and our values into a giant rush. A rush to go out and get the newest fad or the greatest prize. To go out and do a million things in preparation for dozens of parties. To rush through it all and lose the meaning in the hustle and bustle.

It is something that I think we all struggle with. At least many of the people I talk to on a daily basis. Feeling sick and worn out but also feeling obligated to do this or get that. Or to get lost in the wanting of a thing so badly that we forget the meaning. I know I do, I know it is a struggle for me.

So instead of doing this, instead of just going mad in one mad dash at the end to go to this party or schedule this present opening, maybe we should spread things out? Instead of opening it on one day (or eight) give it some time and get into a ‘Christmas season’ where we are exchanging things here and there all along. And then on Christmas we can exchange simpler gifts and getting back to worshiping the baby Jesus? (Or at least celebrating his birth)

But I got no rush. I know this change may be slow. Heck it may even be impossible or unnecessary. I am still trying to toy with this idea in my own life and it has been…pretty mixed. But I don’t know if we try simplifying things and enjoying them, maybe this can work out? Without all the hustle. Just a thought.

But in the meantime I hope everyone had a Merry Christmas.

Another one of those all important religious questions. Just how much does our own will have to do with anything? Just how much control do we have in our own lives? This is a question that I often get asked during religious debates. How can free will exist with an all-powerful, omnipresent, all-knowing God?

How does free will exist if God knows what you are going to do before you do it?!

Well this focus on the nature of God, which I have dealt with in a previous blog (link), but this is more of a question of the nature of man. This is a question for man to answer, about man. And the point is that freedom of will, of choice, of expression, is really all we got in the long run, makes this whole ball of wax meaningful.

‘Pray like everything depends on God, act like everything depends on you.’ That is what Pat Gray says.

Because God may know what you know, know what you are going to do, how you were born, how you will die, and everything in between. But you don’t.

We still have to act, we still have to make decisions. We still have to go on and lead our lives to the best of our ability. Because we simply have no other choice.

Because we have to assume that we have free will. We are not all-encompassing. We do not know. All we can do is try to make rational decisions based on our intuition and our love. We only exist in the here and now.

So we have the Free Will to try to lead the lives in the manner that makes the most moral sense to us. So that we can try to explore the universe, creation, God, the supernatural, each in our own way.

And I personally do not think God would have it any other way.

This is one of the most fundamental issues for religion, for our times, for our personal belief systems. How we view the world around us. Government, God, our role in helping or hurting, how we can best help or hurt. Its how we relate to each other, who we expect to bail us out or offer a hand out. This issue is as almost as fundamental as the one relating to whether or not there is a God.

But yet its one that a lot of religions do not seem to have a definitive answer. I mean all religions have their answers and their interpretations but in each of the religions that I have studied…basically the Abrahamic ones…you can get an answer that says no…and yes. There are people who says yes yes, the bible preaches Social Justice and Collective Salvation and there are others that go…whaaattt you’re crazy man.

I do not really know what it teaches. I cannot speak with authority on that is up for you to decide. I can just say what I have learned and what I have observed and what I believe.

In short I do not believe in Collective Salvation. I lean, heavily, to the individual responsibility.

I lean so heavily in fact that I do not think it is up for anyone else in years past to be responsible for my sin, my corruption, or my salvation. I do not want or expect anyone to die for my sins, or to die so that I can be saved. I do not think that one man’s actions can be held against the entire human race for now since the end of time, that we inherited a fallen nature.

I just do not believe in these things.

Because I believe that this flies in the face of everything I believe, about the universe, religion, how God set it up, why He set it up. I mean maybe this part is arrogant and over reaching.

But I believe in free will, I believe in the divine spark, I believe that God has given us the ability to make free choices.

Does this not fly in the face of that? Of everything?

That our damnation or salvation is because a few select individuals did things throughout human history.

I think as long as we have our, God-given, free will, or our God given divine spark that it is up to us to use them. And then to be judged on how we have used such gifts from now to eternity.

Because this is about taking responsibility for our actions, for our inaction, for what we have done in this life.

This is not arrogance or chutzpah. This is mere curiosity on how I have lived my life and just what I have done. This is the wanting to do good. And to take responsibility.

And to get from the Father the knowledge that, hey kid, not bad.

I do not want to save myself. Note it says individual responsibility. Not individual salvation. I do not think I can save myself. I am not sure I need to be saved but that is a theological issue for another time and one I am still working on.

It is our collective individual responsibility. Lets be as strong as we can so that we can be the best servants of God, all I ask.

As I have stated in the past I believe that we have a Divine Spark in us. But what does that mean?

Well I believe it is that little bit of us that separates us from the animals. That little bit of God, and the nature of God. Just like we have a little bit of the ‘lower life form’ in us we also have that little bit of the nature of the Divine.

Simply put the Divine Spark is knowledge, and wisdom. It is the ‘knowledge of good and evil’. It is the ability of us to go out into the universe and check things.

It is our own private morality checker, that voice that says, hey wait a minute, this could be wrong. And then to go out and test it.

No matter where it is from, whether it is a shop owner, or the Government, or the scripture, or school, we have the ability to say, hey wait a minute that does not make a lot of sense. Which is why, I believe, a lot of people try to suppress this divine reasoning skill.

Obviously it is imperfect, and based on our own experiences, or how often we exercise it. We can and do make wrong judgements and improper conclusions. We are small and weak, and can never see the full picture around us. We do not have all the data to properly make a judgement call.

But since we do have the Divine Spark, and since there is a God to model it on, we can try to come up with these solutions.

Last week President Obama gave a speech, in the same Kansas town, that Teddy Roosevelt gave a speech in, about new nationalism. (link)

In it he talked about the promise of America, the transition that we had to make, and a curious line about the morality of Capitalism.

In his speech he made the claim that Teddy Roosevelt

… also knew that the free market has never been a free license to take whatever you want from whoever you can.

I think that is called stealing. Something the bible, the ten commandments, and most modern religions consider to be a sin…something we should not do…maybe even illegal.

Stealing is immoral. It is wrong. It is currently illegal in this country and many others. If you take ‘whatever you want from wherever you want’ you will get thrown in jail for it. So if someone is stealing, in Washington, or Wall Street, or anywhere else, charge them with a crime and have them be judged in a court of law by a jury of their peers.

Stealing is not a reflection of the Capitalist system which requires the rule of law to even work.

But more than that it requires the rule of morality. If we want to be a capitalist country and continue to enjoy our freedoms to trade, buy, or sell, with whoever we wish (within reason and other laws) then we have to be a moral people. Otherwise it will be taken away from us.

You see much of Obama’s speech might have been ignorant and even a little dangerous in its tenor and implications he was right about one small thing. I am not sure he even realizes it himself.

We let the people in Washington, and our businesses, get away with a lot in our current day and age.

From borderline theft, yes the same problem that we are talking about here, to coveting, cheating, lying, or using their positions of power to have an advantage over the rest of us. How many more things do I need to list?

If we are going to restore ourselves we need to get back to basic principles.

Be they the Torah, the law of God.

Or the bible.

Or just a clear sense of knowing right from wrong.

And then a clear sense of doing right and striving to do right and correct our mistakes even when we should fall and make mistakes or be corrupted.

After all Mahatma Gandhi said that there would be 7 things that would destroy us:

Wealth without Work
Pleasure without Conscience.
Knowledge without Character.
Business without Ethics.
Science without Humanity.
Religion without Sacrifice.
Politics without Principle.

Isn’t this what is happening? To us? Right now as a people we seem to be falling into this trap, from where I sit.

Wealth without work. Too many people today are feeling like they can just get money now now rather than constantly work for it and continue to improve themselves. Or that they have worked most of their lives and have been educated but expect a free hand out as some kind of award for all their troubles.

And is it not the people who have just been ‘given’ wealth to them by virtue of their birth something that continues to plague and worry society? Is that not part of some of the one percent, the income gap?

Pleasure without Conscience. OK. Pleasing yourself without really being couscous or thinking about it…got that one covered I think without saying.

Business without ethics. Simple. Not engaging in business without a sense of right and wrong and doing anything you can to make a profit. Again…stealing?

Religion without sacrifice. Having a belief in God or the universe but not willing to do anything when the pedal meets the metal.

Politics without Principle. I think we can all understand these dangers of politicians without any moral character or any principles to keep them in check and to keep themselves honest.

Faith without good works is dead. But so is good works without faith. And a connection to morality and a strong moral code.

Otherwise we risk falling into greed or corruption.

That is what has happened to our society. All of it, every single bit are major problems and not some isolated incident here or there.

But the answer does not lie with Washington, it lies with you and me. We can be the change we wish to see in the world if we actually start and begin the process.

I do not like wondering about the nature of God. Sure I have theories, but it’s not my thing. But this seems to be the central issue, one of them, in religion. Especially the Monotheistic ones…is God a personal God?

Now on the one hand you have the idea that God is a puppeteer, he pulls the strings of the universe and everything is His Will. On the other you have the idea that God is some kind of ‘clock maker’ who just ‘created the universe’ X number of years ago but that is the only concern he has with creation. He just lets things run its course.

Now the flaws in both these ideas should be apparent. And they both lead to the same question. What would be the point? If you had a God who pulled your strings and who you fell in love with, whether or not you joined the army, or whether or not you were going to sit down in a chair…or write a blog…all that would be His Will. But on the other if you had a God that…well was just bored one day and decided to create a universe just for the heck of it…what would be the point in our lives if he just left it like that, went on to other things…maybe take a nap?

I do not think either of these ideologies bears having much economy with the truth.

God, I contend, is a parent.

This should be quite obvious to anyone who is religious. You hear it all the time.

The Father the son and the holy ghost? Our Father who art in heaven? Heavenly father?

But yet people, at least in my experience, do not make the connection. Or at the very least do not delve deeper and fully explore what God being a parent means. Being a perfect parent even.

He lets us go out and do things in our lives. We stumble, we fall, we get hurt. He comes and guides us, and helps us, and offers us advice.

But since he is a Perfect Parent he does not do everything for us.

He does not go and do all of our homework for us, or shield us from the world, or constantly be there to catch us fall. He lets us experience things. And learn. And grow. And be more appreciative of the world around us.

He makes decisions that any other human parent would balk at, but often wonder how they can help when we are suffering, or cold and alone in the dark.

That is what God is. Something this is personal when He needs to be, and aloof when He must.

I was on…well my online watering cooler…and the subject of inequality came up. In the work place. And then a little while later I was on FB and the subject came up again, this time someone was distributing a survey about what gender mascots were on brand name foods, what do you think the gender would be when someone is at a restaurant, or a bakery, or the gender of the person who cooks your home meals. Needless to say, I found this quite difficult to take, and I did not take it. But it did get me thinking. (Haven’t said that in a while :D)

Now whenever I talk about this issue I feel a bit cheap, because I feel like I am having to seemingly ‘defend’ a position that I do not actually have. A position of bigotry and supporting evil, kind of end up sounding like a bigoted jerk.

Which often leaves me wondering the right way to get this message off.

So what does this have to do with religion? One might ask.

Well, to be honest I am not sure. This might just be an excuse to rant about a political issue resulting in something that I read on Facebook. Something that has been bothering me.

But what I do know is that religion has often been used as an excuse for…well bigotry. And has religion not been subjected to vile forms of discrimination itself?

Whether you are Christian, or Muslim, or Jewish, we all know the sting of persecution based on our deeply held beliefs.

But beyond that I believe that religion ultimately holds the key to ending this sort of abuse. On the individual level anyways.

But at the least my religious and political beliefs. The individual following God. Not relying on groups and not dealing in groups and only treating each other how we would like to be treated, and with respect, and love.

Following God as an individual living His commandments and doing what is right.

Is not Christianity a religion who preaches the love of God through Jesus Christ?

Does Judaism not command one to ‘love the stranger’? Or your neighbors?

Not to judge, not to demean, and not degrade. And then to share that message, in your own way, with others.

This is all that I can do, this is all that I can demand. People doing their best to live righteous lives and following their God-given sense of morality. To try to lead the best lives you can. And to encourage and be a beacon to others to do the same.

Or as Gandhi would say, “Be the Change you Wish to See in the rest of the world”

Thanksgiving has passed, the holiday season is fully underway and I am sure that many people are asking themselves what is there to be thankful of?

Sure I imagine that people are thankful for their cars, their Ipods or their families.

Or maybe even for their tax havens and their Government health care.

But again I wonder if we should not simplify these things. If it’s not time to get to the base needs of what we should be thankful for. To cut everything else out and yes family is very important.

So what should we be thankful for? What is the base ideal that we should be thankful for?

Our lives. Yes.

Who gave us our lives?

I am going to take a leaf out of Lincoln’s book and be thankful to what he was thankful towards. God.

But why should we be thankful to God? What does some magical sky being have to give us?

Well I am thankful to God for my:

Life.

My intelligence and my sentience.

For the ability to have free will and to freely reason.

I am thankful for the Torah, the Tanakh, the bible, and the Koran. And for God sharing them with us so we can better appreciate His law and His commandments and the way to best approach Him.

For my rights and my freedoms so I best may express myself, and live freely with God and His commandments.

For living in a corrupted world so I may better appreciate the divine.

All of these I believe are God-given. And thus we may and must be thankful to Him for providing us with the opportunities, to live our lives. And move on from there.