Graham

Archive for October, 2009|Monthly archive page

005 The Meaning of Life and Other Tall Tales

In Meaning of Life on October 29, 2009 at 10:05 pm

THE AUTHOR DISCLOSES HIS BIAS

If I talk about God as though he exists, it isn’t because I have proven (or disproven) his existence, nor does it mean that I accept any of the commonly held views of God. It’s because I don’t have enough information that I am comfortable in either camp. I none-the-less reject that the Earth is evil, that God is inconsistent or that God discriminates. I reject the inconsistencies in the Bible, eternal damnation, torture, favoritism, claims of being chosen (for anything) over others or their beliefs, mass murder by any name (e.g., the Rapture / the Apocalypse ) or any other fear-based approach to proselytizing unquestioning believers.

All roads lead to death, whether we are gone forever, reincarnated from time-to-time, off to another universe or chosen for any variation on this theme. I do not believe that any of the paths we take were meant to discriminate against anyone, to treat others as inferior, or to define who will be turned away—using religion, race, sex, or any other god-given-attribute during creation, whether or not his method of creation involved evolution, rebirth or rubbing two match sticks together. Nobody has the definitive truth, and if we have even a snails chance of learning the truth, it won’t likely happen before we die.

Why An Agnostic?  Why Not A Believer With an Explanation?

“God may not play dice with the universe, but he seemingly does so with the lives of its inhabitants; either that, or he has no interest in outcomes.” It was Albert Einstein who said, “I shall never believe that God plays dice with the world.” [Einstein, His Life and Times, 1947] It was I who added the observation that god doesn’t appear to care one way or the other. A believer would say, “God works in mysterious ways,” and ask no further questions. An atheist would say, “the whole universe operates on mathematical probabilities” and think he answered the question. An agnostic never stops asking the question.

We are taught by religious leaders that god is love. This makes more sense than many of the alternatives. If true, then god asks nothing from me, not even belief in his existence. My creation was a gift not unlike the gift of life that I participated in when my children were born. I understand this god. This is the god that expects me to take ownership of my life and for my mistakes. I reject the god that put us on earth to live our lives in constant fear of his wrath. The god that works in mysterious ways. There is nothing mysterious about getting the razor strap off the top shelf and showing us who is boss. This isn’t my god; this is the god of our forefathers, the god who makes us winners and everybody else losers.

If god exists, and if god created everything, then god forgives our mistakes because to do otherwise would make us god’s mistake. I reject the notion that god creates weaklings so he can punish them for an eternity for their mistakes (or for failing to beg for forgiveness). I reject most interpretations that present god as judge or warrior spewing fire and damnation. If god made me in his image, then it makes even less sense to torture me for my mistakes.

If we are all sinners, and god punishes us for doing what is in our nature, then god has created a perverse universe. This would be the god we curse when we lose our temper and expose our short comings, for he created us with our imperfections. But I do not believe this is anymore than a false god. I do not exclude the notion that we have some responsibility for our actions. For whatever reason, we have been given the awesome responsibility of choice. We must be expected to use it. And we will make mistakes, and we will get up, dust ourselves off and try again.

But the hardest idea to accept in this discussion is that nobody, not even god, waits 2,000 years to punish a child. If you truly believe in god, then forget the rapture. There will be no Judgement Day. God doesn’t need revenge. (Did Jesus seek revenge?) It is man who seems to need revenge. Neither does god take sides. It is man who takes sides. It is man who wrote the Bible and man who interprets the Bible (or its equivalent) to prove that he is on the right side. And it is man who picks his version of God based on his current needs, and who doesn’t recognize that his choices are inconsistent with a single god, a god of love.

If I still haven’t made clear why I am an agnostic, let me say this: it’s as much to associate more with those who are still looking (agnostics), and less with those who gave up years ago (believers and non-believers). “Faith in a holy cause is to a considerable extent a substitute for the lost faith in ourselves” [The True Believer; thoughts on the nature of mass movements, Eric Hoffer, © 1951, reprint 2002] I do insist, however, that before I accept the one true god, somebody must prove that I am not being seduced by a cheap imitation.

A final note before closing out this week’s installment: I recently read an excellent new book [Jesus Interrupted; revealing the hidden contradictions in the bible (and why we don’t know about them), Bart D Ehrman, 2009]. The author is a well-qualified expert in bible studies and expresses his findings with the care and sensitivity you would expect from a man of his experience. I think everyone over the age of 21 should read this book and listen to his story. Whether or not you are believer, agnostic or even atheist, it’s a good read, well worth your time.

Copyright © 2009-2010 by Tad Laury Graham

“The Meaning of Life and Other Tall Tales”

004 The Meaning of Life and Other Tall Tales

In Meaning of Life on October 27, 2009 at 3:19 pm

THE ROLE OF RELIGION

At first, I thought we could avoid the issue of religion with regard to the meaning of life, and I hoped we could simplify our approach in so doing. But religion is clearly at the center of this question because religious leaders have altered the original meaning of life by removing the sting of death. We will begin our examination of the role of religion by discussing the three traditional relationships man is said to have with God. These relationships are believer, agnostic, and atheist.

Believers

Most believers in the United States are faith-based, which is to say that they believe in God because the Bible says he exists. In Christianity, disbelief is the only unforgivable sin. I would speculate that the reason for this stipulation is that it shuts off arguments that cannot be proved. The problem with blind acceptance is that you may have backed the wrong God. In the time period that Jesus was claiming to be the Messiah, more than 200 other would-be “Messiah’s” were traveling around the Middle East in an effort to fulfill the prophesy.

Agnostics

Because neither the existence of God nor the absence of God can be proved with any degree of certainty, some of us—the author included—take a wait and see approach. From the data available, the question of the existence of God remains a question. But with or without proof, I believe with absolute certainty, at the same level of conviction that we find in the faith-based believer, that a “fair and just God” does not hide from his creations for more than 2,000 years, only to come out of hiding to bring down the apocalypse. And then what? Rewind and do it again?

Atheists

The atheist is satisfied that if he cannot prove God’s existence, then God does not exist. He ignores the fact that he cannot disprove God’s existence, so at best we have a stalemate.

CHOOSING YOUR RELATIONSHIP

It is not my intent to convert anyone to a different category than you have already chosen. It is my intent to get you to know why you made the choice you did. I recommend that you avoid pat answers, that you understand what you believe and why you believe it when you profess it. Until we have better answers, to do otherwise is a crap shoot.

Copyright © 2009-2010 by Tad Laury Graham

“The Meaning of Life and Other Tall Tales”

003 The Meaning of Life and Other Tall Tales

In Meaning of Life on October 26, 2009 at 10:42 pm

THE AUTHOR EXPLORES AN ALTERNATIVE MEANING

While I was working on an opening statement to share my thoughts on the meaning of life, I suddenly had one of those eureka experiences that change our thinking. It began with an assumption that the only way I can know the meaning of life is to understand its opposite, the meaning of death. My life (my existence in the universe) defines a system, and one cannot study part of a system and expect to get the whole answer. But that is exactly what we do when we only ask part of the question.

So how do we justify excluding death? The Neanderthals are believed to be the first race on earth to bury their dead in a ritualistic ceremony, beginning about 50,000 years ago. Their graves were not a final resting place, however, for they were given the tools required to keep doing what they did in life. The practice of ritualistic burial quickly caught the attention of almost every religion from primitive times to the present day, and they went one better. They formalized the concept of life after death.

If it were the case that we are able to live forever, to talk about the meaning of death would itself be meaningless, i.e., if there is no death, then our language would have no word for death, and there would be no concept of death in our culture. But death is part of every life form known to man, so presumably God must intervene to make man the exception, the only animal that has a means to escape death. This is what religion does. It removes the side that grapples with the meaning of death by promising that believers will never die.

By removal of death from the meaning of life, we distort the outcome. If I were able to live forever, to talk about the meaning of life becomes less urgent, less meaningful in fact, and therefore less relevant). What gives life meaning is the urgency of death. We will categorize the complete answer as a theory, which is the scientific way of saying an opinion. The significance of this will be discussed later. For now, we capture the theory that life has no meaning without death [Theory 1a] and death has no meaning without life [Theory 1b].

And we make the following observation: the idea that I might live beyond my death exaggerates my importance in the universe. Man is the only species that studies itself. It is difficult for man to be objective in this role. It has only been a few hundred years that we have understood this. But we have had nearly 150,000 years to convince ourselves that we really are that important.



Copyright © 2009-2010 by Tad Laury Graham

“The Meaning of Life and Other Tall Tales”

002 The Meaning of Life and Other Tall Tales

In Meaning of Life on October 26, 2009 at 8:47 pm

THE MOST COMMON ANSWERS

Probably the answer most often given in response to the question, What is the Meaning of Life? is that we are here to complete something, and this “something” has the status of what we might call our mission in life. The task itself might be simple, but the achievement is apparently important in the grand scheme of things.

Another fairly common answer is that we are here to learn something, although for me it is difficult to understand what I might learn in a physical plane (which we occupy for a few short years) that also applies to a spiritual plane (which we occupy for an eternity). The other concern I have is the school that teaches this lesson is Hard Knocks. Hard Knocks often distort the lesson plans to fit the neurosis of the moment.

For many of us, our interest in asking the question centers around the idea of getting clarity regarding our mission, whether it’s a task to be performed or a lesson to be learned. For the religious minded, how they recognize their mission from all of the other choices is not of great concern because it is believed that sooner or later the answer pops into mind and the riddle is immediately understood. They say they are called to service. And this revelation is the means to be called.

Still another common answer is that we are here to give meaning to life. Life wouldn’t mean anything if it didn’t include a witness, perhaps. I have even heard it said that we create reality through our actions, which define the meaning. Either way seems like an invitation to chaos: too many visionaries and not enough work horses.

Are there any other answers given? Have I left any out? If I am leaving anything out, or missing the point, please feel free to identify my shortcomings in the comments section of this post. I pretty much don’t have all the answers, so I enjoy hearing from people who have figured out a piece of the puzzle.

Copyright © 2009-2010 by Tad Laury Graham
“The Meaning of Life and Other Tall Tales”

001 The Meaning of Life and Other Tall Tales

In Meaning of Life on October 23, 2009 at 3:55 pm

I was amazed at how many people showed up for the post entitled “An Alternative View of God.” You have inspired me to push a little further into the nature of God and the meaning of life. There are so many places to start from, and by definition only one place to end up, that it would be easy to find ourselves bogged down in meaningless side journeys without guidelines, principles, or rules to keep us on track.

On the other hand, an excess of restrictions could just as likely have the same result, which is why we invite some serendipity to lighten the load (the Tall Tales). To make matters worse, however, some of what we are going to explore cannot be proven because we simply don’t have enough data to form a fact-based conclusion. We hereby rule out approaches that are 100% faith-based conclusions because we could write that book in 25 words or less, and we wouldn’t be any closer to resolution of our quandary.

Another factor in the decision to stay away from faith-based explanations is that there is a trend in modern religious studies to seek historical explanations for proofs of God (i.e., fact-based explanations), though this trend does not always trickle down to the layman. I don’t wish to mislead anyone. What I am proposing is not a new form of bible studies. I am certain that the church of your choice can do a better job with that task than I can. My focus is only on what it takes to get a better idea of what life is all about. With this in mind, we begin.

Methods of Inquiry

My approach to God is to discover what is reasonable to believe, based on observed facts rather than on wishful thinking, using the following definitions:  a fact can be proven to be true or false; opinions cannot be proven either way. It is important to note that anything that cannot be proven is, by definition, an opinion. More importantly if you cannot prove your facts, it’s because they are your opinions.

It is not at all unusual to think that we are talking about a fact, but learn halfway through the conversation that we were expressing a preference. We can have that discussion if we want, but we must always know if we are coming from fact-based information or from wishful thinking. It saves time, and it helps us to get closer to the truth. Having in general limited ourselves to this constraint, opinions presented as well-reasoned speculation are welcome for discussion. In this context, speculation means theory, and a theory is an opinion we are trying to prove to be a fact.

More to follow …


If you found this website of any interest, you may also want to follow this link:

The Problem of God

Copyright © 2009-2010 by Tad Laury Graham

The Meaning of Life and Other Tall Tales

Into the Scream of Life

In literature on October 10, 2009 at 2:27 pm


What is this gnawing, chewing, bones-breaking

In my inner ear?  Not words, but wailing,

Of a darkened animal past!  Welling up within,

Shrieking, reeking of a Murderous Emergence!

Born of Virgins!  When death, not man,

Is the measure of all things.

What is this emptiness called love?

Not love of God or life but death.

Raped upon a Lightning Plain,

Once upon a Pluvial Rain,

In a not so distant past,

In a not too distant gorge.

I am Risen from an Ape,

Wielding Murder in my gait;

Though my Life’s Nonviolent,

I may kill except in Lent.

Yea, as I walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death,

I fear all evil, for the light has gone out.

I drown in the abyss which is myself.

I cast around in darkness, driven, directionless, relentless.

Death is the answer to a thousand things:

Our hopes, our promises, and would-be dreams.

The things undone which I ought to have done;

The things that I’ve done which I ought not to have done.

Death, not man, Is the measure of all things.


Copyright 2009 © by Tad Laury Graham
Written for a Class Project in 1965

It Must Be Frustrating To Be President

In Politics on October 7, 2009 at 8:32 am

While I sit here trying to jump start my day, I begin to remember that George W Bush was a man of few words, for the most part because he thought his actions were none of our business. Imagine that … a democracy where the questionable actions of a few are none of our business. Bush was criticized for being the least open / most secretive president ever to serve, and for taking action where none was required.

Obama is one of the most open presidents in modern times, and conducts himself such that almost everything is our business. Yet he too is constantly criticized: for communicating too much and taking too little action. The difference seems to be that Obama understands the dangers of shooting from the hip, and the commitment that must be made for years following such actions.

Particularly offensive is the mantra that Obama must prove himself by taking us into war, in spite of the fact that he stated clearly during the campaign that he would talk first, shoot later (but only if we were under immediate threat). I wonder if some of us have trouble understanding the concept of leadership. Obama is not a manager, or a military professional. He is first and foremost a world leader.

Guess what a world leader does? They communicate, they talk, they guide. They only appear to act to satisfy those who don’t understand that leadership is primarily motivating others to act. Rest assured, the professionals who “manage” the people and resources assigned to our safety and protection make recommendations, but Obama makes the decision (unlike the Cheney / Bush method, where it wasn’t always clear who was in charge). Most of us don’t want that awesome power abused.

Copyright © 2009 by Tad Laury Graham