NIV

Day 5

Five days into this project and I’m already having a crisis of faith. Yesterday when I decided to make coffee in the morning I chose an oversized mug with a drawing of the Buddha. It felt so weird.

I have a copy of the Bible (maybe two or three), a copy of the Quran, a copy of the Book of Mormon, and, somewhere around here, a copy of the Bhagavad Gita. I also have my medicine cards and my own spiritual experiences, both intense and mundane.

I feel strange delving so deeply into the Christian faith. This is a faith that I for many years, rejected, and in many ways I still do. I understand that God is, I have felt that presence and as far as I can tell, spoken with Him. I have prayed to God in the name of Jesus Christ.

But I usually append that, and while I pray to no one but God, I often pray “in the name” of various wise, intelligent, and spiritual people the world over. I have added people such as Carl Sagan, Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Mother Teresa, the Dalai Lama, and others which I cannot at this time remember. It has been a while since I have formally prayed. I have even prayed in the name of all of humanity.

One thing I do not enjoy which seems to be a part of modern American life is that faith tends to be equated with scientific ignorance as a necessity. I don’t get it, and I don’t see why this is often the case. In my opinion, if one’s faith crumbles at the presence of observable, objective facts (as much as such a thing is possible, anyway), then it is my opinion that a person with such a problem would need to do some praying and reconciling of their faith.

Take, for example, the Cosmic Microwave Background radiation. Detectable with powerful telescopes, it seems that all throughout the universe there is a small “static,” if you will, of faint radiation that comes from no discernible source. It is almost uniform, and it can be found even where an optical telescope would find “black” or empty sky between stars or galaxies.

The CMB is everywhere. When variations that are observed within the CMB are modeled, the only explanation that matches up with observed data is the “Big Bang” model of cosmic expansion and universal creation. Does this mean that an unmeasurable, spiritual-bodied God had no hand in the universe? Not at all. My explanation or interpretation (back on Day 1) allows for the idea that God sparked the universe and all of existence into being.

Now, a hypothetical person might say, “You said observable fact. CMB is observable from microwave detectors and radio telescopes. How does this mean anything to me?” So, maybe bad choice on my part. But the fact is that when you turn on a TV or a radio to a channel with nothing but static, a very tiny amount of that static is indeed coming from the CMB. It exists.

The other thing I do not enjoy about (I was going to say Christianity but ideas don’t do anything in and of themselves so let’s say) some Christians specifically, although I’m sure practitioners of other religions do this as well, is their tendency to focus on differences rather than similarities. Basically, the main tenet of Christianity, especially Protestant Christianity which removes a lot of the details and rituals of Catholicism, is that the man named Jesus from the town of Nazareth was indeed the Son of God, that He performed miracles in his lifetime, that He died upon the cross to redeem all of humanity’s sins, and that by accepting Him as your Lord and savior, you allow yourself a path to Heaven. Yes, there are other important details, like the resurrection of Jesus from the dead and the Second Coming and all that, but the reason John 3:16 is probably the most famous verse of the New Testament is because Christ’s death is the crux (no pun intended, I promise) of the Christian faith. Jehovah’s Witnesses celebrate no holidays other than the anniversary of the day Christ died, because it was on that day that he offered salvation for all humanity.

(Jesus, a page and a half and I haven’t even started on today’s chapter.)

Anyway, the thing that gets me is that literally any faith in the whole wide world that doesn’t focus on Jesus Christ and his role as savior is immediately wrong. And that’s pretty much all there is to it! Religions that had been established for hundreds if not thousands of years are all wrong if they do not include the acceptance of Jesus Christ as their savior.

This has never made sense to me.

I don’t understand how God could create the world, scatter humanity all over the globe, allow us different cultures and languages (discussion on the Tower of Babel will come later), and somehow expect everyone to rally behind one Jew from the Middle East!

Maybe it is something that will come with time. But from what I know about people and about psychology, conversion via condemnation seems like a terrible f***ing strategy to me, and that’s the only word I can use to describe how opposed I am to it.

If you want people to understand, accept, and love God and Jesus Christ, then you need to show them the parallels, not the differences. People are not just going to wake up one day and abandon the faith of their fathers and grandfathers or mothers and grandmothers or whatever and suddenly switch over. I’m not saying such sudden “miraculous” conversion is impossible, just that it is highly unlikely.

And even if God wants the whole world to accept Jesus Christ as their savior, a) there must have been a reason for all these other cultures and stories and myths and faiths in the grand scheme of things, and b) I don’t see how God would expect them to accept Jesus without being able to relate to or understand the stories and the principles and everything else!

I got into a long debate with my partner late one night about this very issue. It was her belief that God speaks to all of us, which I agree with, but then we differ on the idea that people always recognize that voice as God. She says that people choose not to accept God. I explained to her that I didn’t accept God until I truly felt God, what people call the Holy Spirit. In the course of one evening, my life changed. I felt the Holy Spirit and I understood why there was suffering and despair in the world, which previously had been an obstacle toward my acceptance of God.

Over the course of one evening, I was overcome with both joy and despair before settling on acceptance. It was a three-step process. I overcame the philosophical “problem of evil” by realizing that human beings a) have “free will” (going to leave a “sort of” here; this is another thing I won’t get into right now) and that b) human beings grow with a certain amount of stress or suffering. By not having a perfect life, we look for ways to grow or to solve problems, thus expanding ourselves and making our lives and the lives of others better.

For humans and humanity to achieve their full potential, there has to be suffering. One story of Satan, which at some point I will be able to confirm or deny as Biblical, one story that I have heard is that Satan wanted to make the world a perfect place where all of humanity was forced to accept God. The Good Lord said “No” because apparently that’s not how the plan is supposed to work.

So humanity as represented by all the individual humans has the “choice” to accept or reject God. And if that choice is dependent on a human being’s experiences and life up to that point… and that life has been nothing but terrible… then I just don’t see that it’s likely (although I do accept that it is possible) for that person to accept or love God.

During this discussion I brought up the song “Hasa Diga Ebowai,” from the award-winning Broadway musical, The Book of Mormon. The song is sung mostly by members of a village in Uganda in Africa, and they say that having a saying, the titular “hasa diga ebowai,” that helps them make it through all their terrible circumstances, which include “war, poverty, famine” and the fact that “eighty percent of [them] have AIDS.” This is all put to an upbeat and sprightly tune, which makes it all the more shocking for the Mormon missionaries when they learn that “hasa diga ebowai” means “F*** you, God.”

My point in explaining this (hilarious and well-written, if blasphemous) song both to my partner and here as part of this post is that it serves as a good example for what became my overall point: If people don’t understand God or have never felt that love or peace, how can they be expected to accept God? And if they don’t accept or believe in God, then how can they see His presence in their lives? And if they don’t see His presence and the little “coincidences” (which are anything but) for what they are, then how can they be expected to understand Him? And so on and so forth.

My partner didn’t have an answer. But to me it is a clear cycle that can be broken with new experiences or information presented in an appropriate, understandable way. You can’t just tell a Hindu or Muslim family or whatever to accept Jesus. They simply don’t have enough understandable information to make that decision.

I don’t really believe in Hell, personally, not really as a physical realm. One person I met in college who had been studying to be a Christian (or Catholic, I don’t recall which) priest before coming out and accepting his homosexuality, this person told me about Christian Universalism. The main tenet that separates them from traditional Christianity is the belief in “universal reconciliation,” which states that “all will eventually be reconciled to God without exception, the penalty for sin is not everlasting” (Wikipedia.org, Christian Universalism). This means that Universalists do not believe in Hell. The argument this person put forth to me was “The life of a human being is finite, and a loving God would not make someone suffer infinite punishment for finite sin.” Yes, the wages of sin trickle down and down from person to person, but still. I think this makes sense. I shall analyze this view in light of scripture as I proceed through the Bible.

This seems like a good point to bring up, once again, The Four Agreements, by Don Miguel Ruiz. You might as well get used to it, dear reader, because it’s going to come up a lot. Anyway, in TFA, Ruiz writes, in short, that Hell is a state of mind, a state of mind in which we suffer the “fire” of our own negative emotions. The burning sensations of anger, envy, and jealousy are the “fires” of Hell. The idea of Hell as punishment exists in this state of mind as well, because we punish ourselves and beat ourselves up endlessly for things we do and don’t do, or say or don’t say. We live in this state of fire and punishment. We live in a state of Hell.

Ruiz writes that if Hell is a state of mind, then so is Heaven. To Christians or whoever: I’m not opposed to the idea of Heaven being a place, but even in the Bible, I think Heaven is also a state of mind. Look to Luke 17, verses 20 and 21. In the NKJV, Jesus tells the people,

“The kingdom of God does not come with observation; nor will they say, ‘See here!’ or ‘See there!’ For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you.”

— Jesus Christ, Luke 17:20-21

In the NIV, He says that “the kingdom of God is in your midst.” In his famous speech at the end of The Great Dictator, Charlie Chaplin cites this with such vibrant passion that I am almost overcome with emotion every single time I hear it.

“In the seventeenth chapter of Saint Luke it is written, ‘the kingdom of God is within man’ — not one man, nor a group of men, but in all men, in you, you the people have the power, the power to create machines, the power to create happiness. You the people have the power to make this life free and beautiful, to make this life a wonderful adventure.”

— Charlie Chaplin, The Great Dictator

My God, even now, just writing it and hearing it in my mind it gives me chills. Don Miguel Ruiz writes that human beings, living as we do in a dream-like state, have the power to dream Hell or Heaven. Ruiz says, poignantly, “My choice is to dream Heaven. What’s yours?”

Genesis 5

That seems as good a spot as any to end on. If I were to keep going, I’d never get to today’s chapter. Which would defeat the whole objective of this project. So let me flip back from Luke (page 500-something in my Bible) to Genesis 5 (page 3). Oh, my aching head.

We have another few examples here of the non-literality of the word “day,” but I’m so tired of swinging this stick to beat that dead horse, so I’m going to just leave it. The other thing we have here is a ton of genealogy stuff. So much begetting.

Back to the line of Adam, we have Seth, Adam’s new son, we have Seth’s son Enosh, Enosh’s son Cainan, then Mahalalel, Jared, Enoch (more on him in a minute), Methuselah, Lamech, and finally Noah. Well, not finally, because in closing, Genesis 5 tells us that Noah had three sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth.

Methuselah is famous because according to the Bible he was the oldest man who ever lived: nine hundred and sixty-nine years of age. And he and everyone else died.

…Except Enoch. Enoch is the only person whose tabulation of years is not immediately followed by “and he died.” Enoch, interestingly enough, is described twice as having “walked with God” (Gen 5:22 and 5:24) and his part of the story ends with “and he was not, for God took him.” The NIV translates it thusly: “Enoch walked faithfully with God; then he was no more, because God took him away” (Gen 5:24, NIV).

Either case, Enoch is not described as having died. There are different beliefs all across the Abrahamic spectrum (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) regarding Enoch and his fate. The apocryphal (and totally bad-ass) Book of Enoch basically describes him being brought alive into Heaven, perhaps the only human being to have done so. Another interpretation is that he possessed such purity that he was taken or killed before his time so that he might not be corrupted. Yet another is that he was granted immortality in some form or another, but not taken to Heaven.

I like to think that Enoch was taken up to Heaven to serve as scribe and as the Metatron who sometimes serves as the voice of God. This idea is not based on anything in particular save for esoteric Jewish texts and a brief section in the Talmud where Elisha ben Abuyah, a rabbi, entered Heaven/Paradise and saw the Metatron sitting next to God.

As an aside, I always thought Metatron sounded very sci-fi, or like the name of a Transformer (™ Hasbro), but finding out what it actually means is near impossible. I will direct interested readers to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metatron, where an analysis of possible etymologies can be found.

Anyway, I like this idea not because it is based on anything but simply because it is awesome and very mystical in an old-world sense. It probably helps that society and literature have used allusions to such concepts since time immemorial, but I am absolutely fascinated with esoteric aspects of Judeo-Christian mythology. And that’s all I have to say about that.

But today we are concerned about scripture. Canonical scripture. I couldn’t tell you why all the people in Genesis 5 lived so long. I have read before that this was taken as an example of the dwindling purity of mankind that trickled down from Adam, that had Adam not been removed from Eden he would have lived forever. This is possible, but in Genesis 2 it seems to be implied that only by eating of the tree of life would Adam and Eve have lived forever. But maybe that wasn’t even a concern until after they had eaten of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Like I said before, God didn’t say they’d die immediately.

Today I accessed the Matthew Henry Commentary  via the website

http://www.biblestudytools.com/commentaries/matthew-henry-complete/genesis/5.html

and ho-ho-holy crap. This is way more information than I would ever think to include! I’m already tired from all this writing. The interested reader will direct their attention to the above link and read what is there written. I’m not about to go that far in depth.

But the interesting point that this site makes is that these particular names and this genealogy exists so that an interested party could track the lineage of the man who would be Jesus Christ. Supposedly, this accounts for the capitalization of “Seed” in Genesis 3:15, to which I had previously paid little attention.

I will end today’s tiring essay with the observation of Genesis 5:29.

“And he called his name Noah, saying, ‘This one will comfort us concerning our work and the toil of our hands, because of the ground which the Lord has cursed.”

— Genesis 5:29

Lamech seems to realize that life is miserable and full of toil because of the sins of their forefathers and the punishment for those sins that came from the Lord. Lamech either wishes or knows that Noah will in some way comfort or perhaps deliver humanity from this suffering. And then after almost 600 more years, Lamech dies, never having witnessed Noah fulfill his destiny.

But fulfill and deliver he shall.

Have a good day, everyone. I hope this is as interesting and thought-provoking for you as it is for me.

Farewell, and peace be upon you.

Advertisements

Day 2

After reflecting on this project yesterday I started to realize what an immense undertaking it is. I realized that at this rate, it’s going to be approximately 2 ½ YEARS before I get to the New Testament! I’m probably going to read ahead….

I wish I had this other book in front of me right now. It’s called Contagious by Jonah Berger and it’s about how ideas catch on. I have it on audiobook and I just listened to this big part about how humans love narratives, and specifically how the lessons related to the fall of Troy (“Beware of Greeks bearing gifts,” or beware when your enemy seems friendly) would have had less of an impact had they not come within a story!

In the book Hannibal and Me by Andreas Kluth, he tells of Mahatma Gandhi’s interpretation of the Bhagavad Gita. This holy book tells a story about a grand war, and Gandhi is a pacifist. His interpretation is that the narrative describes a spiritual battle and the spiritual challenges that mankind faces, but by framing it as an actual war, it makes the lessons more interesting and exciting. A story gives us names of people, places, and things that we can actually care about. By attaching emotion to the story, the lessons are better understood, and stand out more vividly in our minds.

So, in front of me, I have a book that accounts for creation and also teaches lessons. It happens to be a narrative, not a textbook. Interpret that as you will, but it seems like the good Lord knows what He’s doing.

Genesis 2

(Oh Lord, this is such a long book…)

Let’s take this one from the top. So first we get the 7th day. The entire universe is done, finito. And so the Lord rests. So God in short blesses his weekend and sanctifies it. Seems fair! Even the Lord should get to kick back once in a while.

But now we get to the fun stuff, starting with Genesis 2:4, we have what skepticsannotatedbible.com calls the second contradictory account of creation. A difference here between NKJV and NIV is that NKJV says that this history is “in the day (emphasis added) that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens.” NIV omits the bit about “in the day.”

So here we have an instance where the word day probably doesn’t mean an actual day. Because the “day” that God made the heavens and earth was Day 1, according to Genesis 1. And not much else happened that “day”! Well, the light thing, but you get it. So again, here we have a piece of evidence that would seem to support the JW assertion that unless otherwise specified, a “day” in the Bible does not necessarily have to refer to a 24-hour period. I haven’t read the whole Bible yet, but this might come up later.

Genesis 2:5 says that this is before there were plants, there was not yet rain and there was “no one to till [work NIV] the ground.” But, Genesis 2:6, either a “mist” (NKJV) or “streams” (NIV) came up and “watered the whole face of the ground.”

We’re already up to Genesis 1:10 as far as the original account goes. We have land separate from the water. And now… Genesis 1 says the next step is plants. But Genesis 2:7…

I have to stop quoting every verse or I’m never going to get this done. Here’s the deal: God creates man from the dust and breathes life into his nostrils. Tada! Man is alive. Sounds like God had to turn on the brain!

In the next few verses, Genesis 2:8-15, God creates a garden (Eden) and puts the man in it. The garden has the famed tree of life and the tree of knowledge of good and evil. The Bible also describes the “location” of the garden indirectly by explaining the rivers that come from it. Two of these are the Hiddekel (or Tigris, according to the NKJV), and the Euphrates.

Now if you’ve sat through any world history class, these will be familiar to you. The present area near these rivers is unfortunately a desert!

I really wish to launch into a great big rant about Göbekli Tepe, a site in present-day Turkey that appears to be the world’s oldest human construction… but I do not have time. I’ll give a quick and dirty description and provide links at some point so anyone interested can do review the research and literature on their own.

Göbekli Tepe

Long story short, Göbekli Tepe is a site constructed somewhere around 11,000 years ago. This is before  humans had discovered agriculture (Hey hey, man is created before the garden! Genesis 2:7-8). There are stone monoliths and carvings of animals that are as detailed as cave paintings if not more so. The level of organization and craftsmanship involved baffled archaeologists. One person said that it was like “finding that someone had built a 747 in a basement with an X-Acto knife” (National Geographic).

The marvel of it is that it suggests that people came together for a religious or spiritual purpose and then, once they got together, they had to figure out how to cultivate food to support such a large population! There are domesticated cereal grains found not far from the site, and they appear to be the earliest known. The thinking once was that growing crops was what spurred settlements and buildings, but it could be the other way around.

Anyway, I like to think personally that this site or those like it, because there are many rings of these stones, is what the Eden story is about. I’ll elaborate on this tomorrow in Genesis 3.

Fruits, Animals, and Woman

Starting back up at Genesis 2:16-17, we have God letting man know not to eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Can we get any more prepositions? It does have a good rhythm if you say it fast, though.

God tells Adam, who is at this point unnamed, that he will die if he eats of the tree. He can eat everything else, though! Oddly enough, God does not mention the tree of life, which seems to be a much bigger deal. (Come back tomorrow, true believers!)

Anyway, God sees that man should not be alone, “It is not good,” so sayeth the Lord. I actually read a blog once where a guy used this verse, Genesis 2:18, as a defense of gay marriage, because God never intended for his children to be alone in the world without a companion, but that is a big can of gay worms that I am not prepared to open. We haven’t even gotten to Leviticus!

Now God begins to create the animals. “Out of the ground,” God makes all the beasts and birds, and apparently the fish just show up at some point because Genesis 2 makes no mention of them. Then God brings them to Adam, who now in Genesis 2:19, has a name (NKJV). Adam is given the opportunity to name all the animals and birds and beasts and what have you. I had a friend in high school that said that “The oldest profession is not prostitution, but taxonomy.” Clever.

So Adam has all these animal friends, but nothing comparable to him. So God knocks him out (“cause[s] a deep sleep,” whatever), takes a rib, and genetically engineers a woman from the current tissue. God warps a Y chromosome into an X chromosome and tada! We have a woman. She won’t get her name til tomorrow.

Adam gives her a name too, in the general sense, and dubs her “Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” Now, one verse after that we have Genesis 2:24, that says:

“Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.”

Remember what I said earlier about narratives? Here is the lesson to be learned from this story, it would seem. Adam and his as-yet-unnamed wife are “of one flesh,” literally in this case but metaphorically in the case of marriage. Unless “becom[ing] of one flesh” is a double entendre….

Which, holy $#!& it might be, actually! In the book Survivor by Chuck Palahniuk, he has this whole part of the story that describes how sex is what separates us from our parents. When we grow up and can have sex, that’s what makes us true adults. We are no longer the child, but we are the ones who can now be parents.

In the Eden story, Man leaves his “father,” God, and his “mother,” the earth that bore him? And he leaves them to become his own man and take a wife. Oh man, I hope that’s a sex reference.

But, it would seem that they are thus far innocent. Adam has not yet “known” his wife, and they don’t seem to care about their nakedness. In this garden of Eden, man and woman are free, innocent, alive, and happy. I think we all know what happens next.

Peace be upon you.