Mar 10

A possible key to moral living…

Over the past couple of months, I’ve taken a good look at myself, and realized that I’m not too thrilled with what I see. I’ve become discouraged with the blatant fact that I cannot become a more moral person by mere effort. If I look hard enough at my motivations for doing good things, I begin to see I have partial selfish reasons for doing nearly all of them.

More recently, I think I’ve discovered something that has really helped me, and I thought I’d share it with everyone out there who struggles with being a moral person and has decided to devote their life to doing what is right. You know who you are, and you know what I mean by being “moral.” To put others first in your priorities, to love without expecting to be loved in return, to not steal, lie, wish harm to others, or to talk badly about them, etc. We have a desire to leave our spheres of influences in better shape then if we were never around to influence them. In fact, we have decided that being moral and following a moral code is more important than anything else – it is a cause that drives our lives as we sit in the passenger seat.

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Jan 17

Transposition

Martin’s comment got me thinking… Do animals “get emotional?” I have argued with others that animals operate under a system of cause and effect – try something: if it works, do it again, otherwise, operate under instinct. There is no getting depressed about the meaning of life, to wonder about our purpose and be eager to fulfill it, to wonder about our origins, etc. There is simply survival, and stoically going about a life ensuring that it continues. I am not entirely sure this is true, and would like to see more research done on the subject. However, even Harris seems unsure of what goes on in the mind of animals in the area of conscious, and he’s close to a Ph.D in neurobiology, so I’ll take his word for it.

However, something tells me that the experience of emotions is one area that separates us from the animal kingdom. We are not merely acting for survival only, although life can be reduced to that way of living in some cases. I can understand emotions as a tool to spur one to action in order to survive, but I believe it is not their only purpose. I cannot understand why a person can cry over a beautiful painting or being moved by music with only a natural understanding of them.

Here’s my guess – That animalistic/naturalistic emotions are akin to an alphabet with only 4 letters. If we were to translate English into this limited language, we would have to re-use those letters a lot. Within our being, I believe there exists a higher, non-natural conscious which must express itself in its rich detail to our natural bodies via a more limited vocabulary – “feelings” – which manifest themselves physically as our adrenaline and endorphins acting. C.S. Lewis called this spiritual->natural translation “transposition.” Emotions serve many distinctly different purposes, but we see their differences in the richness of the higher, but cannot see such distinction in observing the lower. All we see there are endorphins and a release of adrenaline.

All this is to say that emotions, which can be used for survival in the natural world, have a far richer usage that we are all aware of, but make no sense from that perspective. We cannot interpret higher from the perspective of the lower. The richness of its nearly unlimited variety of experience originates in the higher language that far exceeds the utility of survival. It is one tiny part of something that exists outside of the natural universe: the enormously complex, beautiful, and mysterious entity called the “spiritual” being.

Jan 15

“Free will” and atheism…

One of the “unconvincing arguments” for God set out by the Minnesota Atheists has piqued my interest. It is argument # 26: Free will is proof that God exists. Whether or not its existing proves God or not is besides the point here. Here is the text quoted:

(26) Free Will – Some people argue that without a god there would be no free will, that we would live in a deterministic universe of cause and effect and that we would be mere “robots.”

Actually, there is far less free will than most people think there is. Our conditioning (our biological desire to survive and prosper, combined with our experiences) makes certain “choices” far more likely than others. How else can we explain our ability, in many cases, to predict human behavior?

Experiments have shown that our brain makes a “decision” to take action before we become conscious of it!

Some believe that the only free will we have is to exercise a conscious veto over actions suggested by our thoughts.

Most atheists have no problem admitting that free will may be an illusion.

This issue also brings up a conundrum: If a god who created us knows the future, how can we have free will?

In the end, if we are enjoying our lives, does it matter if free will is real or an illusion? Isn’t it only our ego – our healthy self-esteem that is beneficial for survival – that has been conditioned to believe that real free will is somehow better than imaginary free will?

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Dec 12

34 Unconvincing Proofs for God…

The folks at Minnesota Atheists have released a rebuttal to 34 typical arguments that Christians use to prove God exists from either a philosophical or scientific standpoint. P.Z. Myers posted the list and its detailed argument for each point in HTML form on his site. For those of you who enjoy hearing all sides of the debate on the existence of God, it’s worth checking out. Thank you to xJane over at MindOnFire for the link. This is one of the better pieces of work I’ve read that keeps the Christian-bashing to a minimum so that non-opinionated good logic and thinking are the main points, an aspect of logical debate that makes me smile no matter which side is presenting.

A lot of their criticisms of the Bible are very good, probably because they are drawing on the resources of Dan Barker, a vocal skeptic who is an intelligent ex-pastor and seems to know his stuff, a person whose resources the atheist community should draw heavily upon if they want to make better headway debating intellectual Christianity regarding Biblical criticism.

I was intrigued to see some new items I wasn’t used to reading, such as their approach on free will and morality. I was pleasantly surprised to see some humility in some points (such as they cannot prove atheism ontologically any better than Christians can to prove God.)

Now that the semester is over and my finals are almost finished, I can begin more critical writing again, and I would like to discuss my thoughts on some of their points. Also, I am currently working on a piece illustrating how God handle’s man’s free-will in practical examples of the current picture of the Church and in bible translations. Stay tuned! Sorry I can’t write more – My nights are filled with moonlighting web design and school paperwork.

Nov 25

A study of Psalm 23

One of the things we are doing in class is closely studying individual passages in the Psalms. Our process includes background research, a structural analysis, a verse-by-verse examination highlighting confusing parts, a section on theological insights, and then a concluding practical application. Believe it or not, most of the good scholarly exegetical work is done by atheists!

Anyway, here is the psalm according to the TNIV translation. Following this will be my analysis.  Hope you guys enjoy it.

A psalm of David.

1 The LORD is my shepherd, I lack nothing. 2 He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,

3 he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
for his name’s sake.

4 Even though I walk through the darkest valley, [a]
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.

5 You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.

6 Surely your goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the LORD
forever.

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Oct 30

Admission Essay

If anyone is interested, this is my admission essay I wrote for acceptance into seminary for my Masters of Arts and Religion degree. I ended up being accepted. Hope you enjoy it!

I began my walk as a Christian later then my childhood friends growing up. Most of them had dedicated their lives to the Lord when they were between 3-5 years old; something that to this day I am suspicious of. At the time, I remember thinking that such spiritual experiences would be impossible for a very young child – for it takes a serious amount of understanding to fathom the complexity of hearing God’s invitation. For me, the time when I encountered God was much later.

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Oct 17

Another dream

I had another one of those dreams.

This time I was in the South – probably during the Civil rights era. In my dream, I had grown up in this mid-sized town somewhere, and it appeared that I was somewhere in my 60s or 70s. There was a big scandal that had just happened in town – an African American boy of about 15 or so had been caught dating a white girl. It was the talk of the town. Nothing seemed to have been done by the law in the town, but the poor boy was the object of scorn anytime he showed his face in public. Unfortunately, it was a small enough town that everyone knew each other, so it was hard for him to hide.

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Oct 17

Faith & Atheism

I recently read a great post by John Remy at MindOnFire.com regarding the criticism about atheists also having “faith” as a fundamental tenant of their world view. I can see why this criticism is annoying – the atheist (loose or strict) relies on evidence and rationality for their world view, and to be told their fundamental beliefs are (surprise!) just based on blind faith, will see this as an insult.
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Oct 12

Accountability & Authority

Hierachy vs. Network

*updated on Oct. 15th*

I wanted to speak about a thought I closed my last post series with: accountability. This religious term has a lot of baggage for me, and I am assuming it may to my readers as well. But understanding what it really is, or at least defining a healthy version of it, is important for formulating a final idea I am trying to reach – what a good working spiritual authority structure looks like. I have concluded in my past post that current religious power structures don’t take into account the fallibility of human moral corruption. Human leaders + power = inevitable corruption. Just because people are Christian and are expected to be moral doesn’t protect them from moral decline that people in all other spheres of power are susceptible to. To temper this unfortunate truth, I believe a leadership structure overhaul is needed. In the closing thoughts of my last post, I mentioned that the glue to hold a better structure together is – you guessed it – spiritual accountability, a feature that is hopelessly broken due to the way traditional structures are designed.

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Sep 17

On Authority – Part 3

This is part 3 of a 3 part series on my thinking about the subject of spiritual authority. If you are just beginning to read on the subject and are interested, check out part 1 and part 2. In the final installment of this series, I will attempt to determine what ideal spiritual authority is.

After surveying the disaster of spiritual authority that I saw all around me, I set about trying to understand what good authority might look like. I began at once to wonder if spiritual anarchy was the way to govern a religious movement. I quickly dismissed this after a small amount of thought – in my experience, it was a humble leader, whose authority came only from his/her adherence to a moral/scholarly standard external to themselves that got things moving. Any movement gains momentum though a charismatic champion devoted to some cause external to themselves. This seems true of a religious movement as well.

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Sep 10

On Authority – Part 2

Last week, I talked about the dangerous of a spiritual community with unaccountable authorities and blindly obedient followers. I also mentioned that I attended a church like this and had to wrangle with this problem. So in this second of a three part post, I will continue to discuss these issues and my responses.

After leaving the first of many churches with bad leadership, I remember facing the struggle of thinking of religion as an evil thing- a tool for corrupt men to control the emotional and relational lives of the people under them. But in the end, even though the pain of loosing friends and a time of intense anger, the only thing that I decided was hopelessly flawed was church, not God.

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Sep 4

On Authority

Two months ago, I decided to write on the topic of spiritual authority. As soon as I decided to do this, I realized that I have never talked to a single person who did not have a strong opinion about it in either a negative or positive sense. Because of this, I apologize in advance if this is something that has been beaten to death in the the course of your readings on the internet. My intention in this post is not to rant on about how much I dislike spiritual authority, or how badly it has been abused throughout history, but just to voice my honest attempt to understand it from my experiences. In addition to this warning, if you have never had problems with church or other religious authority, what I am going to say will probably not make sense, or worse make me sound like a person who hates authority because he is selfish. You would probably be better off not reading on because it will not be productive. But to everyone else, hopefully you’ll find my musings interesting, and if you are willing, to leave your own thoughts in the comments.

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Aug 29

Seminary right around the corner…

Well, tomorrow is orientation day for new students! I’ve decided to get an MAR (Masters of Art and Religion) and focus on Old Testament. I really enjoy theology, but I have this belief at the moment that there is no better way to develop an accurate theology than to learn about God from the Bible and become very proficient in the original languages. Knowing the language will help me overcome issues with bad translations (and the doctrinal errors that have grown up around them) and help me towards a more accurate picture of who God really is according to what we have available to us from the texts. Of course, its not my only source – a personal relationship with Him is what makes the old texts come alive.

I’m pretty excited to get started, but a little worried. Writing on this blog has helped me get used to writing a lot again, but I’m still rusty on doing really good writing on spiritual topics that would be appropriate for a masters degree level. But that will probably benefit everyone here who likes reading about deep stuff. Now I’ll have access to a huge library and will be able to quote stuff from legitimate authors and not just rest my arguments on my own opinions.  Good scholarship, like good science, seems to be a group effort.

Well, classes start next Tuesday. I’m starting out by taking one course a semester so I can figure out a balance in my life between seminary, freelance web-design/graphic design business, and my family (now wife and 2 kids!). My first class is: Psalms.

Wish me luck!

Aug 1

Aftermath of anger

After reading a similar post by John over at mindonfire.com, I thought I would capture my thoughts here in a post based on my comments there.

It is amazing how anger can spur action and give us endless amounts of energy and creativity. My anger caused me to leave bad churches, reevaluate bad theology and religion, and rethink a large part of my beliefs about the spiritual life that I had just believed without thinking. It caused me to create a weblog and join a community of other folks like me who were also reeling from similar bad experiences – people who were also trying to figure out the spiritual life in the aftermath of their bad experiences.

However, as I mentioned in an earlier post on forgiveness, my anger has run its course. It has now been 3-4 years or so since my encounters with bad religion occurred. It has been one year since I started truthandpurpose.com. I have wrangled with those bad experiences and come out at peace. Even though I have not answered all the questions that come pounding at one’s door when life becomes painful, I have been able to answer enough of them sufficiently to be in a place of peace.

For me, something unique in my experience is happening. I have become pulled very strongly towards a greater cause that I don’t understand yet. It is a very strong feeling – one that is driving me even more strongly than my anger did (which I didn’t think possible): an unselfish desire to prepare my life for something very big – much bigger than myself. It was so profound a change in who I am and what fundamentally motivates me that it drove me to redesign my weblog from scratch – images and recoding templates, pack up my family and move to another state, and enroll in a masters degree program at a seminary there. It is the greater motivator.

In the aftermath of anger, there is something with more energy and creativity. Anger, like other things in life, was meant to lead us to a greater thing. It’s energy wanes – it was designed to have a greater thing take its place. It is not unlike how romantic love leads a person to embrace love in its fullest sense – unconditional true love.

So what replaces anger? What is greater? That’s what I want to explore here. Read the rest of this entry »

Jul 19

Eight things about me…

I was tagged by John Remy to post eight things about myself that my readers probably wouldn’t know. Unfortunately, I live a pretty boring life, so these probably won’t be too exciting.

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Jul 9

Site Update

I just finished a site overhaul. Whew. It took me about 15 hours from the drawing to the final upload to the server. Let me know if anyone sees some strange browser problems. I haven’t actually checked Internet Explorer 6.0 yet, but it should work in Safari, Internet Explorer 7, and Firefox.

I added a couple of new things:

  1. An extra sidebar with more stuff on it.

  2. On the inner sidebar, I added a more detailed discussion viewer so we can see where the discussion is going on.

  3. I updated the comments section so that your name appears to the left of your comment body, sort of similar to discussion forums.

  4. I rotating header image. I keep using an image of monkshood – a purple flower that seems to best represent spirituality. I wanted to use green and purple to represent life and mystery/mystical/spiritual.

  5. The email subscription mechanism has now been updated.

  6. I made little calendar day cards to show the current date in a more interesting way.

  7. I added topic descriptions.  When you click on a topic, you will be taken to a page that lists all the posts in the topic, and will also see a short paragraph describing what that topic is all about.

Let me know what you think. Be honest!

Jun 26

The “Lone Ranger” Spiritual Life – is it possible?

One essential element of living a thriving spiritual life is being part of a spiritual community. Being an independent-thinking kind of guy, I can’t say I really like this reality. When I was young, I was just part of a good community (which was composed of people from many, many churches) and didn’t think about things. When left home and went out on my own at college, I continued to go on autopilot – I attended a church regularly. Only when things went sour, after I had left college and started attending a bad church near where I worked, did I start to question the need for one. Can a person get along without a community of other spiritual people? Can a person live a thriving spiritual life by himself/herself?

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Jun 20

What kind of theologian are you?

I thought the theist crowd might enjoy this! This was inspired by mindonfire’s “What kind of atheist are you?” quiz, which I took and promptly flunked. Here is the link. I ended up being what I was hoping for – in line with Martin Luther! (this does not include his anti-semitism.) I have never read Finney, but I have always loved Luther and more recently, Anselm.

  You scored as Martin Luther, The daddy of the Reformation. You are opposed to any Catholic ideas of works-salvation and see the scriptures as being primarily authoritative.

Martin Luther
 
80%
Charles Finney
 
47%
Anselm
 
47%
John Calvin
 
40%
Karl Barth
 
33%
Augustine
 
33%
Friedrich Schleiermacher
 
27%
Jürgen Moltmann
 
27%
Paul Tillich
 
13%
Jonathan Edwards
 
0%

Which theologian are you?
created with QuizFarm.com

Jun 20

Forgiveness

About three years ago, I had a very bad church experience. It colored how I thought about church for a long time after – that it was corrupt and imperfect, an entity that detracts from a person’s thriving spiritual life. However, I realized the other day that I have completely recovered from my anger towards all churches.

What was the thing that helped me?

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Jun 13

Adding new weblog links

Its been too long in coming, but I’ve finally had a spare moment now that I’ve officially moved to update the website a bit. I’ve added more categories to my past posts for better category browsing, and I’ve added two sites to the blogroll that I should have added months ago!

Hieing to Kolob

This is the infamous Bored in Vernal’s weblog about the spiritual life, religion, politics, and Mormonism. She’s a women with a great heart for people, and always has great thoughts to post about on her site.

The Naked Soul

Mark’s weblog about everyday living, relationships, and the spiritual life. His posts are inspiring and thought provoking at the same time. When I get a chance, I want to piggyback on his post about failure, and its importance in our lives.

It has been great to get to know you both! Thanks again so much for pouring out your thoughts and ideas into the void, and thank you for stopping by for a bit and chatting here too. I really appreciate having both of you around, both on this site and the many others you frequent and comment on.