Graham

009 The Meaning of Life and Other Tall Tales

In Meaning of Life on November 27, 2009 at 1:07 pm

IN SEARCH OF GOD

We have pretty much exhausted this avenue of consideration for the meaning of life, for how can an inconsistent god provide direction on what is expected of us? If a loving god is still in the picture, then perhaps it is also a god who is not all powerful, for a loving god would not set up the earth to be a place where fear of death is constant and omnipresent. I will ignore the long list of inconsistencies because I am sure you are familiar with them, from incest to murder.

To say that god works in mysterious ways is to say nothing meaningful. There is nothing mysterious about creating a place of death, sacrificing your own son to die in that place, and threatening to destroy the planet if we don’t figure out what he wants from us. Furthermore, god can only act in mysterious ways if he exists, and I am at a loss to prove it either way.

Additionally, if you consider what he is selling and what we are buying, it is nothing short of loss of autonomy for you and me. If I do what god (or his highly placed priests) want from me, the price is my eternal, unquestioning obedience and my continual singing of his praises (starting now!). The word for that is “slavery.” On the other hand, I could have as many as 100 years of total freedom, before I am punished for exercising free will. If this is the only choice, why would I choose immediate incarciration?

My god would be a loving god

Most Christians don’t feel they need to prove this step because the only unforgivable sin in Christianity is disbelief. No matter how the proof comes out, there is only one answer. My bias says to that bias, how can you be sure you haven’t backed the wrong god? (Remember, as discussed earlier, at the same time and place that Jesus was vying for the title of messiah, there were more than 200 other “messiahs” laying claim to the throne.)

A true believer would perhaps also be concerned that they have not inadvertently selected the devil to worship because they didn’t make the effort to verify this god that claims to be the one, true god.

My god would be a tolerant god

An extension of a loving god, called out separately because I cannot believe that any god worth his salt would be so petty that he tortures his creations for an eternity for failing to measure up. Mistakes are bound to happen, particularly with so much in the way of imperfection in the world. I believe that if there is a god, he forgives mistakes much more readily than man forgives, and seeks no revenge, but teaches non-violence in its place. If we prefer the violence we can easily find it everywhere on earth.

My god would be nothing like man

My god would be a force for positive unification of the power that is the universe, that has no anthropomorphic resemblance to man. A life force that I would liken to Carl Jung’s collective unconscious, or Ralph Waldo Emerson’s transcendental oversoul, or even Stephen Spielberg’s the force. Or perhaps all three, and still more, which serve to remind us that one man is a pathetic wretch, but six billion, properly educated, are a formidable force in the universe.

FINDING MEANING WITHOUT GOD

It is clear that we are going in circles. Whatever god is, he is not our guardian in any sense of the word, and there is nothing we can do for him that he cannot do for himself. The traditional way of painting him makes him the Dictator, the King, the Emperor, the Warrior, or any other dictatorial figure in our history. What we need is a President, a Prime Minister, or any other open-minded individual who is also truly interested in his fellow man.

We need to act on facts, not on fictions. So unless one of you out there steps into my life and says he thinks differently, I think it is time to write-off the silver-tongued individuals who wish to manipulate and control us. Even if we are wrong, creating a life where we are taking care of each other for 80 or more years is much more important than singing the praises of a tyrant for an eternity. And if I am wrong, then this is not the place I want to be, anyway. Next week we look at alternative meanings.

Copyright © 2009-2010 by Tad Laury Graham

“The Meaning of Life and Other Tall Tales”

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  1. This is the finest example of a meaningful review of an important book that I have ever read. You should be working for the NY Times Book Review Section. My hat is off to you. Thanks for taking the time and making a difference. And for those of you who missed it, all I can say is go back and read it. You won’t regret it.

  2. I have just completed my second book by Bart D. Ehrman, “Jesus Interrupted”. Whether a Believer, Agnostic or Atheist, the skilled and painstaking attention to detail in Ehrman’s research is certain to augment and enhance one’s understanding of the Bible; a number of other “sacred” text; and man’s myriad of social and religious histories which influence our lives today.

    Ehrman shares his philosophical doctrine that absolute knowledge is impossible and that inquiry must be a process of doubting in order to acquire approximate or relative certainty. Further, that doubt or disbelief of religious tenets is not sacrilegious, but rather intelligent, healthy and constructive in educating ourselves regardless of our religious proclivities.

    The “historical-critical” method of investigation Ehrman employs is best described as a “horizontal” cross-referencing…a comparison of Gospel to Gospel, to either confirm consistencies, or as it happens, to vet out the hundreds of significant discrepancies, inconsistencies, and contradictions that exist. His lifetime of scholarly study truly impresses when he deconstructs the conflicting issues and traces them back to the idiosyncrasies of the authors, presenting both possible and probable explainations for them.

    The subject Ehrman is specifically focused on is religion ofcourse, but perhaps of equal value to our everyday lives is the realization that when people articulate positions on any subject, whether they are aware of it or not, they make assumptions. In other words, one’s world view is strongly influenced by that which is below one’s level of awareness.

    If I may use Plato as an example, he argues that death is the separation of the soul from the body. In doing so he assumes that first of all there is such a thing as a soul, and that the soul is a seperate entity. Why not? This notion was common to Greek culture. Plato was not questioned by friend or foe on the matter because it was part of the cultural belief-system of fourth century BC Athenians. The Ka, by contrast, is the ancient Egyptian version of the soul. It was not viewed as separate or separable from the body. That is why the pharaohs were embalmed. To preserve their bodies was to preserve their souls and continue their lives. Plato’s assumption of a separable soul was Greek, not Egyptian. It was a cultural assumption, though he apparently was unaware of it.

    There are so many assumptions we all make because of our socialization or adaption to our families and society. We have all known people who assume religious, ethical, and political positions as a direct out growth of our cultural submersion and life experiences. I also think that we view the world in certain ways simply because we are human. We share certain physical limitations, including the limitations on our mental processes, which certainly narrow our perception of the world. Indeed a growing number of geneticist believe that we carry into life a defining genetic heritage which contributes to some of our beliefs. They postulate that world views, may in part, stem from these chromosomal differences unique to specific racial origins.

    Truly, it’s a mind expanding experience to opine on just what it is that lies below our own individual level of awareness and to consider just how it is influencing our perceptions and being reflected in the arguments we make about our view of the world and the universe. In the end, dispite collective efforts to draw a universal picture of reality, each of us lives in a private world which yeilds its own distinctive view.

    I’ve always believed a book worth my time to read cover to cover is one I want at arms length for future reference…this will be one of them. Thank you for your patience and indulgence with my tendancy to drift and I would greatly appreciate hearing your thoughts and perspectives.

  3. I have just finished reading “God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question – Why We Suffer” by Bart D. Ehrman. Thank you for the reference, it is a huge hit with me! What I recognized in Ehrman’s work is what German scholars call sachkritik…a critical appraisal of the essence of our assumptions. His book attempts a critical appraisal of the assumptions, premises and conclusions of some of the most recognized names and supple minds to ever reflect upon the issues of religion. In other words, a forensic examination of the arguements and the resulting rational probabilities. Without revealing too much, so as to ruin the read for others, my own conclusion, which is and should be of no significance to any other, is that the existence of a Divine Being cannot be intellectually defended (quite the contrary) and thus is highly improbable. Accepting this “truth”, I believe that individuals can choose their own history (within the constraints of tangible circumstance). They therefore must also accept full responsibility for it, and clearly for their own personal life story. That by accepting this “truth”, one accepts life (all of its joys and rewards, as well as, its challenges, burdens and hardships) with integrity. And that accepting life with integrity leads to the contentedness of authentic living and the respect it is due.

    I have so enjoyed the exchange of ideas and it has really inspired me to “brush off the cobwebs”…I can only hope it provides others the same opportunity. Pat

  4. By golly Graham, You have guided me thru the minutiae and to the nucellus. I am humbled! In St. Augustine’s time ofcourse the predominate thought was that all things are cyclical. Ofcourse a fouth century man, even a scholar, would argue on the basis of observation the idea that the earth circles the sun? Certainly we observe that the sun rises from east to west each day? Such issues of good and evil were considered similarly to the passage from hot to cold and back to hot the same kind of operation as night to day and back to night. The intellectual assupmtion of the time was that careful observations absolutely and necessarily yeilded factual and even “obvious” answers; but,as you have pointed out, in today’s sophisticated world, cyclical is simply another questionable premise. Thank you for the Ehrman reference, I look forward to checking him out. Please keep writing, I so enjoy the exercise. Pat

  5. I have just been introduced to “The World According to Graham” and although I admittedly find myself intimidated, I am also thrilled with the gray matter stimulation and opportunity to grow! In between my daily chores, and the peace of sleep, I often ponder questions whose answers may be unobtainable, or if at all, are obtainable only after death. This presumes ofcourse, and I am thoughtful of the presumption, that one can “know” anything outside of their own five senses. Simply stated, for me, the God conflict has always come down to the question of why there is so much evil in the world. As classically defined, God is omnipotent; omniscient; and wholly good. Yet few would disagree that evil exists…that pain and suffering, with no positive effect, is everywhere and there is no morally sufficient reason for it! It is a dilemna for which I am led to the probability that God either does not exist, or does not exist as defined. What do you think?

    • I think you have presented a reasonable position on the nature of god, while recognizing that we can only speculate on what is truth and what is fiction. Meanwhile, it gives us something to explore, something to think and talk about. Drop by anytime; I enjoy reading other peoples ideas. Sometimes a truth pops out that changes the whole ball game, and that’s kind of exciting when you stop and think abut it.

      • Your March 30th response is absolutely dead on with regard to speculation. The universal truth is that the entire subject matter is speculation. Some years ago, out of boredom more than anything, I attended a religious “education” class held at our local San Diego Catholic diocese office. A Monsignor conducting the course and discussions, proposed St. Augustine’s theory, that good cannot exist without evil. In other words, things are known because their opposites are known; and things are appreciated because their opposites have been or are experienced. This theory was new to me, yet with little thought I argued it as conflicting with God’s omnipotent status. If omnipotent, as the premise goes, there are no limits to what He can do….He is perfectly capable of displaying His goodness without contrast!
        I never really got a comprehensible response…we simply moved on. Omnipotence aside, however, there is something to be said about gaining appreciation, or a lack there of, by comparisons don’t you think?

      • Let’s start by looking at what seems to be central to your comment: the assertion attributed to Saint Augustine (354-430 AD) ” … that good cannot exist without evil.” What if he got it backwards? What if evil cannot exist without goodness? Either statement by itself implies causality. If both statements are always true, however, then you can’t assume what causes what. I suspect that Augustine was able to breech this concern by dragging in Dualism, a way of looking at religion (good and evil), philosophy (mind and body), and others, that always involve the right way and the opposite way, but never admits of a third way. This is a short version of how to put this subject into perspective.

        If you want the more comprehensive version, you might consider reading “God’s Problem; how the bible fails to answer our most important question- why we suffer”, by Bart D. Ehrman. Ehrman is a “leading authority on the early church and the life of Jesus.” He has written more than 20 books, and teaches Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

  6. may the great spirit smile upon you, keep searching. im trying to understand. Ilike the god you invision. the great spirit has made himself known to the people. i do not fear him,but i do fear man without conscience! im amazed at your ability to write,sometime i just dont understand how your life has molded your opinlons.but all and all i certainly respect you!!! oops i think i just step into your life.

    • I am still looking for answers and do not feel I have found the absolute truth. I appreciate your attempts to understand what I write because your comments help me to clarify my understanding. Nobody has the full truth but all of us have something to contribute. And nobody has the answer on what god is like.

      I sometimes write with sarcasm, sometimes use logic, but never close the door and call it finished. I almost never write with the “literal” voice because it would be a distortion. There is a lot that I don’t know. But like you, I distrust people who have turned the whole subject into self-serving pablum.

    • If I didn’t want people in my life, I would not have started a blog. By definition, blogging is about sharing our lives and perspectives. No
      need to apologize for something I invited into my life, anyway. I hope you are as happy as you can be in spite of illness. Take care.

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