Mystery II

Washed in the darkness
With the thick night pushing me
Clouds of unknowing

‘Cross the starry field
Mirrored in the deep blue sea
Disturbed by passion

Buffeted by winds
The ocean swells and threatens
Down, I will not go

Reaching for the truth
A life-line of certitude
A raft of reason

Watch beauty ascend
Her halo burning brightly
Slip the solar disk

Seeking out the good
Journey into mystery
Take the cup of fire

The world falls away
And I fall with it, bonded
Sleeping with the dead

Separate from God
These elusive mysteries
I have no answers

Meaningless riddles
Static, in the flow of time
Self dissolution

Burned

I stood on the edge of a great mountain
I bathed in streams of snowmelt, cold and clear
My lungs like a bellows, pumping my heart
I lived in a world of little oxygen
I contemplated deep philosophies
There were no mysteries to challenge me
I spoke to God, and god spoke back to me
The divine word, resounding in the light
I looked down on the people with despair
I despised them, the unworthy masses

I cut my leg on a sharp stone, and fell
A pathogen set in, and I grew ill
My wound became discolored, infected
It crawled up my veins in jagged red streaks
I needed antibiotics. doctors
Despite my constitution, I would die
I was afraid for my life, mortified
By the ease with which I was struck down
I lost the mastery of my ego
My self-satisfaction turned to loathing

I was afraid, now, of death and darkness
Fever and pneumonia nearly took me
My powerful lungs, turned to feeble sacks
My muscles became flaccid, I was lost
I lived in a wheelchair, I could not work
I had no skills, I became dependent
I stewed in contempt, bewailing my fate
My lost holiness, my former station
I waited for the god I once walked with
To lift me from this world, to transform me

I became obsequious and grateful
For the few coins that were dropped in my cup
For the small sum of funds given to me
Deposited each month in my mailbox
I discovered the vice of alcohol
I measured a new form of endurance
How many days and nights could I stay drunk
I lost the bet, and died in an alley
I fell from my wheelchair with the garbage
Face down in my filth and my excrement

My spirit rose, lifting from the valley
I saw my mountain tall and forbidding
I cringed as I ascended, fearing God
Soiled as I was, and miserable
Broken as I was, unwashed, unshriven
I rose past the cold peak of my mountain
Rising higher than I had ever dreamed
The bright sun touched me with its tongues of fire
I was burned…burned alive, I was burned clean
By the brilliance of the spirit, love

Drifting

Consider existence
Consider the river of life
I question in my ignorance
The coming of a god

What a being that must be
To achieve the dominion of
Worship, wield the scepter of law
The center of all things

I stood on the mountain
A dust mote in the whipping wind
Chaos robbed me of my reason
In the eye of the storm

The infinite and I
The world appears beneath my feet
As I birthed the endless event
The path of eternity

Though I crossed the heavens
Yet still, I lacked the sight of god
Swimming in the endless ocean
My mountain, become sand

Consider the rivers
That shaped my world, and carried me
I searched, but I did not find God
In the flowing current

Only the evidence
Of the divine passing, that has
Reduced my world to dust, drifting
Between the constant stars

Chained

Ask for a miracle, give everything for nothing

Obsequious and fawning, call on the gods, the ancestors serving with the empty hand

Make yourself holy, prepare the way, mask your desire and cover your fear with ritual intention

Cast yourself to the wind, perform with great flourish, and discover that god has abandoned you

The ancestors are dead, your inheritance is only a faint impression inscribed in the cell

Their hunger is your hunger, made real by your fear, your worship will not satiate it

Little gods of wood and stone, silent idols like false memories of forebears we never knew

Pietas is the enslavement of the heart and mind, bound by the iron ring of symbol and tradition

Do you hear them speaking?

Listen closely, it is your own voice you are hearing, justifying the path you set yourself on

Obeisance to religion, is fealty to a fiction, a false piety that burns in bright colors on the altar

Listen, the way is one of humility, the relationships before you are the entire world, let go

The past holds people in its rigid-grip, with violence and a lust for life that will not be quelled

We cannot stay bound to it, led about by phantom chains, bolted to the heart, break them apart

Benediction

 

Peace from the Divine

 

Blessings hang in the thick air

 

With a static crack

 

 

 

Over the TV

 

The radio signals peace

 

From the all-mighty

 

 

 

Pouring through my flesh

 

Waves penetrate every cell

 

Attenuated

 

 

 

Peace from the Divine

 

Preachers-preaching for war, death

 

God loves the victor

 

 

 

God favors the dead

 

Open the gates, Valhalla

 

Heaven is waiting

 

 

 

Green Elysium

 

Honor the sacrifice, eat

 

Pray for each victim

 

 

 

We spent them cheaply

 

On the altar, the battlefield

 

Pouring out their blood

 

 

 

The cheapest of wines

 

Hot and tainted, filthy lees

 

Sour as vinegar

 

Faith Seeking Understanding

Belief Beyond Knowing

Does God exist?

Does the universe, and do we human beings as a part of it, have a purpose beyond the fulfillment of our immediate desires?

Is the entire construct we call reality just an accident, a random sequence of events that are completely unnecessary, un-called for, and as meaningful as the void?

Listen to Aristotle: one moment instantiates another, there is a cause behind every event (no matter how small), but there cannot be an infinite chain of causality.

There must be a first cause, a first source and center to all that is, a prime mover we call God.

God exists!

This is more than a statement of faith.

We human beings are not merely organic machines.

The existence of the universe is not an accident.

We are not gears spinning in a wind-up toy.

The universe is not a random event, an unnecessary phenomena. It is not the product of chance.

The universe did not emerge from nothing, because nothing is nothing, and from nothing, nothing comes.

Saint Augustine was wrong when he penned his doctrine creation ex nihilo, for ex nihilo nihil fit.

In nothingness there is not even the chance for something, not even the possibility of something.

Nothing is not, it does not exist.

As human beings we have been given the cognitive capacity to comprehend the notion of the infinite, but we cannot imagine it in its particularities.

The universe itself is the existential infinite, the eternal thing/being, that/who beneficently confers the reality of existence on every other thing and being.

While I cannot know it, while I cannot grasp it in its entirety, I can imagine the universe without end, imagine the unbound material order, a limitless electromagnetic field, with every galaxy, every star, every world, and every person in it, conscious and aware.

I can imagine it, and believe in it, though I cannot know it in the same way that I know my name, or yours, the name of our world, the star we orbit, or the spinning milky-galaxy we were born into.

In science, God is the first cause.

In philosophy, God is the one being who exists sui generis, by its own self, independent of any other being, while beneficently conferring the reality of existence on everything that is.

In religion, God is the universal and loving Parent.

My personhood, my sentience, my consciousness, as well as that of every other person on Earth, is a construct of tissues and neurons, of fibers and cells.

We are an electromagnetic phenomena.

My own consciousness is a minor part, a miniscule subset of the broader electromagnetic field that envelopes the world I was born to, Earth.

Planet Earth, our mother, is alive, she is sentient as well. Her sentience is different than mine, but nonetheless real, Demeter, Ceres, Gaea…you have so many names.

Like us, the field of her electromagnetic consciousness is but a subset of a broader field, with our bright yellow star Sol Invictus, at its center…and so on, and so on, ad infinitum.

The entire universe is one vast electromagnetic field, a field that carries within it each and every person, planet, star, thinking and alive, as a subset of it.

If it makes me a pantheist to call this thing, this field, this structure God, so be it, this being is God. As a twenty-first century Christian, not bogged down by the neo-platonic dualism that provided the intellectual framework of Christian thought, I am untroubled by that heresy.

Pantheism, pan-entheism, these systems of belief are not contrary to the teaching of Jesus, at all.

Logic tells me that these claims are true, my faith is ratified by my understanding of science, and ratified directly through my own experience.

Knowing, is a tangible force. Certainty is a feeling.

What a person believes they know is what drives them.

This is true to the extent that our constructs of knowledge are always the controlling factor in the decision making processes we are engaged in. This is true whether or not the knowledge we possess, the things and categories that we imagine to be true, are objectively true and accurate.

Truth does not motivate us, only what we believe to be true about the things we believe we know, whether or not our knowledge is real, only that motivates us.

The truth beyond all knowing is this; while lies are counterfactual, which is to say, they does not represent what is real, the lies we tell ourselves are real, regardless of the their factuality.

A lie is a lie, and that is true, I know it.

When it comes to our discussion of God, the infinite and eternal creator, the source of all things and beings, the navigation of objective realities amid the hidden currents of relativism becomes tricky.

How do we test our assumptions?

How do we come to understand the veracity of our faith?

First we first believe it, we must act as if the things we believe are true, we must trust in the propositions that we have put forward, and we must do it without reservation.

Again, we must act as if our beliefs are true. If we are able to, the world itself will provide us feedback regarding the integrity and coherence of our faith, and we must be sensitive to it.

We must operate under the pretense that the beliefs we hold are true, we must do this without reservation, and then incorporate those beliefs into our daily lives, and then we are able to generate feedback from the world around us, which is evidence concerning the value of those beliefs.

Were your beliefs helpful or hurtful, kind or mean?

The community you live in will let you know, it will tell you in thousands of little ways.

Did your beliefs promote justice or injustice, violence or peace, did they harm or heal?

Be mindful and you will see.

By the fruits of our actions we will be known.

With certain knowledge we may determine how good it is to believe what we believe, what good it promotes in our lives, and in the lives of others, whether our beliefs illuminate, edify and harmonize with the world.

We will see if they do not.

A Homily – Matthew 25:14 – 30 ©

The Gospel According to Matthew – 2017.11.19

 

 

God is not a King, or a Banker, the Betrayal of the Church

 

It is heartbreaking to see the teaching of Jesus betrayed so completely by the writers of the Gospels.

 

The authors of Matthew, writing a hundred years or so after the death of Jesus, were more concerned with building up and retaining church property than they were with teaching the good news, that Christ has risen, that God loves the sinner, even the worst of them.

 

It is impossible to know how the way came to be betrayed in such a fulsome and complete manner, but I am thinking it has to do with the fact that over the course of a hundred years, after the destruction of Jerusalem, the leadership of Christian communities throughout the Empire fell to wealthy, bishops were selected from among leading merchants and tradespeople, landowners and people of status.

 

It is not surprising that in this time the way, that Jesus preached about came to be imagined as a kingdom, while abba, the father, became a king.

 

This parable views God or Jesus as a merchant, and a banker, instead of a fisherman, or a farmer.

 

The parable begins with the idea that God will distribute challenges and tasks to the people according their ability, that God knows both the powers and liabilities of God’s children, and consequently God knows what to expect from them.

 

Therefore, it is out of Character for the loving and knowing God to punish the servant who buried his one talent. God knew that this is what this servant would do.

 

According to the way of Jesus, the servant who buried the talent should be the recipient of mercy, and ministry, not cast out into the dark.

 

One hundred years after the death of Jesus, the leaders of the church had forgotten this.

 

The servant who hid the talent was not lazy, as “master” said, but was fearful because he knew that the man he was beholden to was a hard person, who took what he had not worked for and robbing from others the fruit of their labor.

 

This servant did not multiply his talent as the others had done because he did not want to emulate the corrupt practices of his master as the others were willing to do.

 

Again, the master, who represents either God or Jesus in this parable, does not deny being hard of heart, and does not deny the charge of being a thief, reaping what he had not sewn, and gathering what he had not scattered.

 

He is proud of it, and that is the type of behavior he intended to promote.

 

He charges the frightened servant with laziness, and neglect and stupidity, call him a good-for-nothing and has him thrown out into the dark, into the place of wailing and gnashing of teeth, into hell, the place of death.

 

Through this twist in the narrative the authors of this parable up-end Jesus’ teaching that the last will be first, and the first shall be last.

 

The true reading of this parable is this:

 

The man who was thrown out represents the figure of Christ. Like Christ he refused to emulate the wicked practices of the rulers, he refused to profit from the suffering of others, he knew that he would be punished, and he accepted the consequences. He was proven right, and he was killed for his convictions.

 

 

You have been faithful in small things: come and join in your master’s happiness

 

Jesus spoke this parable to his disciples: ‘The kingdom of Heaven is like a man on his way abroad who summoned his servants and entrusted his property to them. To one he gave five talents, to another two, to a third one; each in proportion to his ability. Then he set out.

 

‘The man who had received the five talents promptly went and traded with them and made five more. The man who had received two made two more in the same way. But the man who had received one went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.

 

‘Now a long time after, the master of those servants came back and went through his accounts with them. The man who had received the five talents came forward bringing five more. “Sir,” he said “you entrusted me with five talents; here are five more that I have made.”

 

‘His master said to him, “Well done, good and faithful servant; you have shown you can be faithful in small things, I will trust you with greater; come and join in your master’s happiness.”

 

‘Next the man with the two talents came forward. “Sir,” he said “you entrusted me with two talents; here are two more that I have made.” His master said to him, “Well done, good and faithful servant; you have shown you can be faithful in small things, I will trust you with greater; come and join in your master’s happiness.”

 

‘Last came forward the man who had the one talent. “Sir,” said he “I had heard you were a hard man, reaping where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered; so I was afraid, and I went off and hid your talent in the ground. Here it is; it was yours, you have it back.” But his master answered him, “You wicked and lazy servant! So you knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered? Well then, you should have deposited my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have recovered my capital with interest. So now, take the talent from him and give it to the man who has the five talents. For to everyone who has will be given more, and he will have more than enough; but from the man who has not, even what he has will be taken away. As for this good-for-nothing servant, throw him out into the dark, where there will be weeping and grinding of teeth.”’

 

 

33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

God, Atheism and the Problem of Evil – Collected Parts

An experience is good which heightens the appreciation of beauty, augments the moral will, enhances the discernment of truth, enlarges the capacity to love and serve one’s fellows, exalts the spiritual ideals, and unifies the supreme human motives of time with the eternal plans of the indwelling spirit, all of which lead to an increased desire…to find God and be more like God.

 

The possibility of evil is necessary to moral choosing, but not the actuality thereof. A shadow is only relatively real. Actual evil is not necessary as a personal experience. Potential evil acts equally well as a decision making stimulus in the realms of moral progress and spiritual development. Evil becomes a reality of personal experience only when a moral mind makes evil its choice.

 

~ The Urantia Book

 

Part I

 

Let us talk for a moment about evil, let us talk about it so that we may understand it.

 

Let us talk about the nature of evil, about its ontology, its “being” or lack of it (as some philosophers and Doctors of the Church would have us believe).

 

Let us talk about the role of evil in the universe as conceptualized by different groups of people, in different times, in different places, in their many different ways.

 

Let us talk about its relativity and its objectivity.

 

Let us set aside for a moment the notion that we understand what evil is, or that our understanding of evil coheres to our view of the universe as a whole.

 

The primary definition for evil, according to Webster:

 

Evil a) morally bad or wrong; wicked; depraved; b) resulting from or based on conduct that is regarded as immoral.

 

Webster’s secondary definition: causing pain or trouble; harmful; injurious.

 

In light of these definitions, which represent the most common understanding of the nature of evil in the western world, the questions that I am forced to consider are: which definition of evil is appealed to when the existence of evil is used as an evidentiary claim against the existence of God, the creator of the universe?

 

Christian philosophers and theologians have stumbled for centuries over these questions, employing grand distortions of logic, and oblique attacks on common sense to “litigate” the issue, while at the same time failing to convince those who are not already “true believers,” that they grasp the nature of the problem.

 

Many of the problems associated with the classical understanding of evil have to do with the meaning ascribed to the term.

 

Different cultures around the world give many different explanations for the existence of evil. They give to evil a great variety of roles in the framework of their cosmogonic and teleological mythologies.

 

Within the ontological structure of evil, different cultures posit a wide variety of powers and liabilities, in a range of categories for which there are both significant areas of agreement and disagreement.

 

Atheists from ostensibly Christian cultures, frequently make the claim that the existence of evil counts against the existence of God, as if the existence of one precludes the existence of the other, as if they were co-equal powers playing a zero sum game, and while this is a commonly held view regarding the nature of reality, it is out of synch with the basic philosophical commitments of the Christian faith.

 

Atheistic arguments of this sort often appeal to the definitions provided by Webster as evidence in support of their claims. Though it should be noted that their arguments depend just as much on what their understanding of who and what God is, as it does their understanding of the nature of evil.

 

Part II

 

What is evil, and who is God in relation to evil, within these questions lies the fundamental disjunction this essay is concerned with.

 

What is evil? This is the question I wish to address first.

 

If the atheist is to cite the existence of evil as a claim against the existence of God, then atheist must begin by establishing a criterion for the evaluation of evil, and what evil entails in a universe that is not the product of a creator God, a divine agent in whom the following qualities are said to exist:

 

  1. perfect goodness
  2. eternal existence
  3. perfect knowledge concerning the sum of all persons, things, and events in time and space (omniscience/omnipresence)
  4. the perfect ability to accomplish the divine will (omnipotence)

 

If the atheist is unable to provide example of genuine evil, either natural evil, or moral evil without first positing the existence of a divinity, then we must assume that what we think of as evil does not in fact exist (which would then remove evil as an impediment toward a rational belief in God), either that or we must posit a universe in which God and evil exist simultaneously, and that their mutual existence does not represent a cosmological conflict.

 

If we take the position of the atheist and assume that there is no God, no divine agent behind the created order, then we assume that the origin of the universe was a totally random occurrence, and that the existence of the universe and everything in it, that the entirety of time and space is completely arbitrary and utterly unnecessary.

 

According to the dictates of the atheist, we must assume that the universe is unplanned, and that it can most adequately be described as a cosmic accident. If we believe that this is so, and if we accept the law of cause and effect, which states that one thing is necessarily caused by another, then we must hold the deterministic view which states that all events are nothing more than the perfectly natural results of perfectly ordinary processes.

 

Having established these conditions, let us return to the beginning, to our working definition of evil:

 

  1. An event may be characterized as evil if it causes harm to a person.

 

  1. An individual action may be regarded as evil if it is willfully intended, and if it is contrary to the morality of the society that it occurs in.

 

  1. Finally, an action is evil if the action is genuinely immoral according to an absolute standard.

 

Now. Imagine for a moment that a tornado has blown through your city.

 

The tornado destroys the home, and it kills most of the family living there, leaving the survivors grieving and injured. They have experienced great pain caused by the tornado, therefore it could be considered evil.

 

Given these circumstances the atheist can provide the following explanatory rationale for why the existence of the tornado counts against the existence of God, by saying that God, because God is omniscient and omnipotent, should have been able to create a universe in which people do not experience injury or harm from natural events, such as the tornado.

 

This argument is predicated upon the idea that God, the creator of the universe, being omniscient, had foreknowledge of the event and that because of this foreknowledge, the inaction of God indicates that God allowed the tornado to occur, intending for the event to destroy the home, killing and injuring members of the family living there.

 

This would be evil, according to the atheist.

 

Such an argument counts against multiple theistic claim (in the Christian context), it may provide the groundwork for establishing a claim against God’s omniscience, or God’s omnipotence, both of which are central components of a Christian conception of God, but they are not necessary components of theism per se. While this argument establishes the groundwork against claims as to God’s omniscience and omnipotence, it does not settle the argument, not without further deliberation. What these arguments mainly do is count against the claim that God is perfectly good, by suggesting that a being who allows evil (who could have prevented it) intends the evil that was allowed, and therefore that being must in fact be evil.

 

The claim is this; if evil then not good, if not good then not God.

 

This claim would hold in a Christian context, if it were true.

 

However, the atheist makes this claim not realizing the fundamental error in their logic, which is this:

 

Without positing the existence of a God then any natural event which causes harm is merely a random event and therefore not evil at all.

 

If a traumatic event, no matter how much pain and suffering it causes is not evil when there is not God, the event in itself, the experience of trauma in itself cannot be considered evil if there is a god.

 

This is the paradox of the atheistic position.

 

There must be intention behind the pain and suffering for the pain and suffering to be considered evil. There must be divine agency behind the structure of the natural world in order for natural events to be considered evil.

 

The atheist must concede, there is no such thing as natural evil.

 

There is only moral evil

 

The secondary definition of evil, according to Webster, must be discarded.

 

Part III

 

Let us consider the concerns of the atheist regarding  the reality of pain and the nature of evil:

 

The atheist will argue that a god, or divine agent, one who allows people to suffer pain, even caused by natural events, could not be considered to be good.

 

This argument is predicated on the assumption that the experience of pain per se is analogous to the experience of evil. However, there are many events common to the experience of every person, events in which pain plays an essential role in forming experiences that we do not consider to be evil.

 

I contend that the capacity to experience pain is not evil. Creatures having been formed with these capacities cannot be hold this against the notion of God’s goodness, or the goodness of the natural world.

 

For instance, if I stub my toe, or smash my thumb with a hammer, I do not claim that God is evil!

 

That would be absurd.

 

The experience of pain is not evil, it is merely painful! Like evil, pain has both a beginning and end in time. It is temporary, and has no eternal value.

 

When I was a child, I burned my hand on the stove. I did not conclude that my mother was evil for cooking a pot of beans, the heated element of which was the primary instrument of my pain.

 

Though it was my mother’s activity, cooking beans, that created the possibility for my being burned, it was my action to touch the hot metal that led to my experience of pain.

 

Even though I had no prior knowledge concerning the conductivity of heat through metal, my decision to touch the metal was the decision that initiated the contact and so the responsibility for the incident was mine alone.

 

There is no one else to blame for this.

 

Set aside for a moment that the experience of pain is not intrinsically evil. One being cannot be held responsible for the pain another being experiences, simply because they established the conditions for that experience.

 

My mother established the conditions for the burn I endured, but she is not responsible for the fact that I touched the pot on the stove, not the first time I did it, nor the second.

 

My mother gave birth to me, without her I would not exist, regardless of that fact she is not responsible for any of the feelings that I endure, for which she is not herself the direct agent.

 

What is true in regards to the relationship between the agency of a parent and the agency of their offspring is true in regard to the agency of God, the creator of the universe and the creature.

 

The universe we live in was created in such a way that it produces planets teeming with organic life.

 

The theist will say that God is the creator of the universe.

 

The type of life our planet possesses can only be brought about in a very narrow range of circumstances.

 

For instance: without heat being generated in the core of our planet, and without the immense dispersion of molten rock from our volcanoes, life on Earth would not have evolved.

 

It is our planet’s molten core, and the heat trapped deep within that are responsible for earthquakes, and volcanic eruptions, but without which we would not exist at all.

 

Animals are dependent on oxygen for their existence. The type of atmosphere that is capable of trapping oxygen also produces violent and magnificent storms.

 

People build their homes in places that are struck by natural disasters, the potential for these disasters are necessary conditions for the existence of life on Earth. It is not God that destroys the homes that are in the paths of tornadoes, nor is it God’s will made manifest in the area-of-effect of an earthquake.

 

These natural forces are the result of inevitable natural process, they are not the result of divine intention, neither are they the result of divine neglect.

 

The creator of the universe is in some sense responsible for establishing such conditions for the possibility of life. City planners, zoning commissions, and homebuilders bear a similar responsibility for where communities are developed.

 

The decisions that individual people make concerning where to live and how, are at work in a universe with many complex, chaotic and random systems, such as; weather, plate tectonics, bacterial biology, organic life, and even such institutions as economics, to name a few.

 

The creator of the universe cannot be held accountable for the decisions that free creatures make within these random systems, even if those decisions result in the experience of pain and suffering.

 

Forty-five years after the incident I endured with the pot on the stove, I no longer consciously remember the sensation of pain associated with that event

 

The pain is gone, and the experience led to my having an awareness of my environment whenever I am near sources of heat.

 

The experience of pain is not intrinsically evil.

 

Pain as a neurological process has many positive features for a biological creature.

 

The experience of pain programs our behavior, it teaches us to avoid potentially life-threatening situations, lending itself to our survivability, both as individuals and as a species.

 

Even if the experience of pain is so traumatic for the individual that it leaves that person permanently damaged. There are remedies available, responses to mitigate that pain. Oftentimes the wounds that are associated with extreme or prolonged exposure to pain can be healed through religious devotion, faith, psychotherapy, chemotherapy, and hypnosis.

 

Part IV

 

The accounts of personal and cultural pain that have been transmitted by individual people throughout history, whether the pain they experienced was physical, emotional or spiritual, have produced experiences that been invaluable tools for interpersonal and intercultural dialogue.

 

We understand that the experience of grief and sorrow may be an essential component in the development of the moral consciousness, because of the way in which the recognition of pain in others develops empathy and compassion, while at the same time fostering an environment of caring.

 

Communities, societies, cultures that develop with the virtue of compassion at their center, communities that promote caring and mutual responsibility, are communities that have come to the understanding that people are not objects, but are in fact other persons, co-equal sharers of the lived experience. Without this basic understanding there is no foundation for moral choosing.

 

While the experience of pain, of trauma, of suffering is terrible, and while the intentional infliction of pain by one free agent onto another may be immoral (and possibly evil), it is impossible for us to conclude that the experience of pain in itself, is intrinsically evil.

 

If the experience of pain is not intrinsically evil, merely allowing for the possibility of the experience of pain cannot be considered to be intrinsically evil either.

 

We struggle with a deep cultural bias concerning the nature of pain, resulting in a significant misconception concerning its relative value, allowing for the common conflation of pain with evil. This arises from a structural bias in our language, a linguistic bias that associates discomfort and misfortune with what is “bad,” and “evil.”

 

This bias is at the root of the ideational difficulty that we are now faced with, it is hyperbolic, and not rooted in reality.

 

Many cultures (including our own) have conflicting, paradoxical, and even diametrically opposing views on the subject of pain.

 

Some cultures, including the Christian culture, will proclaim that the experience of pain is evil, that our ability to experience pain is evidence of our fallen nature, and that our experience of pain is a manifestation of divine justice.

 

Christian philosophers and theologians will make those proclamations from one side of their mouths, unequivocally, while from the other side of their mouths they will blithely state that the experience of pain is at times Holy, especially the experience of pain on another’s behalf.

 

The concept that a person must endure some kind of agony in order to achieve a divine blessing has its origins in the very earliest human religious traditions. Even though most modern religious traditions no longer advocate self-inflicted pain as a valid practice, some ecstatic and mystic traditions still do, the veneration of people who have endured great agony with patience, courage and strength persists in well recognized and deeply reverenced currents in our society.

 

A more ordinary example of the way in which our culture assimilates the experience of pain can be understood simply by being cognizant of certain facts, such as the fact that, before the turn of the twentieth century, one out of three Americans died from a dental related disease. Dental pain was common to everyone. They simply endured it, as billions of people living in the developed world do today, they endure. It does not prevent them from being happy, or from experiencing joy.

 

People have an enormous capacity to put off the ill effects of pain. Individual people have the capacity to undergo excruciating agony, and a day later be relatively unaffected and trouble free. Which is to say that cultural and personal biases have absolute priority concerning the way in which we evaluate and internalize the pain we experience.

 

The value of pain is relative to cultural conditioning and individual perception. Therefore, it cannot be given an absolute or universal value.

 

Pain is a condition of living, from birth to death all animals experience it.

 

Part V

 

Having dealt with the notion that there is a “necessary” equivalence between the experience of pain and the experience of evil, and having dispensed with it, we are left with the understanding that evil exists in only one sphere of our lives, in the dimension of morality.

 

Morality is a cognitive dimension, requiring free agents and choice, knowledge and understanding regarding the choices they are considering and make.

 

The process by which the discernment of morality is developed, and moral values are promulgated varies greatly from culture to culture. While the interpretation of moral values within a given culture, varies greatly from individual to individual.

 

People commonly confuse their personal, individual, cultural values (mores), for universal moral norms. We must be mindful of this at all times.

 

Let me assert my bias from the outset: the atheistic argument against the existence of God, from the existence of moral evil is weak. The weakness of this argument lies in the fact that it is bound by secular and utilitarian principles.

 

Theories of utility and the distribution of happiness, which are at the root of this argument have more to do with economics than with the interpersonal dynamics of human activity, which makes up the moral dimension of our lives.

 

Demonstrating that one cultural definition of God does not meet the standard of another culture’s definition of a moral being, does not prove that God does not exist, it merely demonstrates a conflict in the presupposition of who and what God is, in relation to other presuppositions about the nature of good and evil.

 

Let us also establish this bar: atheism must do more than challenge our particular notion of God, it must also establish a coherent understanding of the nature of reality in which there is no God.

 

Let us begins with the assumption that there is no God.

 

I assert: if God does not exist, then no absolute moral standard exists.

 

If there is no law giver, there is no law.

 

If no absolute moral standard exists, then all moral values are determined by individuals (individual people, individual communities, individual cultures), and all such moral standards are relative.

 

If the atheist intends to posit an absolute moral standard that exists independent of God, the atheist must explain how it holds together, what its force of governance is, how did it come to hold sway over the universe, what brought it about, and what its dependent conditions are.

 

The atheist must explain how individuals are able to come to know the law, and how they are compelled to follow it, finally they must define what classes of beings are governed by the law, and what classes of beings are not.

 

As it is the case that no such moral theory has ever been elucidated, we may conclude that it does such a theory does not exist.

 

In a universe without God, adherence to moral standards are a matter of choice, and there is no good or evil apart from the relative evaluations of individuals.

 

Whether we are speaking about morality from a theistic perspective or an atheistic perspective, what defines moral activity is this:

 

A free agent makes a choice to perform a specific action, the action must involve at least one other person, either directly or indirectly. There must be cognizance that there is a right and wrong dimension to the intended action.

 

The existence of morality is dependent upon the existence of free agents. If there is no freedom, there is no moral agency.

 

An absolute moral standard is dependent on the existence of an absolute, unvarying, perfect and universal agent; God. If there is no God, there is no moral law.

 

Let me reiterate, in a universe that does not posit the existence of God people would rely on their personal experience, on their individual cultural moral positions as the framework for their moral awareness.

 

It is impossible for human beings to determine whose cultural values are preeminent. Both individual people, and social organism have an inherent preference for their own moral outlook.

 

As such, all evaluations of morality in a system without an absolute standard are relative to the experience and biases of individuals.

 

If God does not exist, moral evil does not exist, neither does the good.

 

The argument that I am making asserts a claim about evil that appears to be unorthodox. It contradicts a long-standing set of assumptions in Western thought.

 

My argument suggests that the existence of moral evil, our ability to discern moral evil counts toward the existence of God, not against it.

 

The existence of evil, evidenced by our ability to discern it, may challenge our notion of who god is and how we relate to the divine, but it proves rather than disproves the existence of an absolute, universal standard, which could not exist without a sovereign standard bearer; God.

 

The fact that we are inclined to think of actions in terms of good and evil is evidence of the divine-will asserting its influence on us, calling us to responsible behavior, to morally good activity, and benevolent decision making.

 

In a universe without God there is no true evil, there is only a universe that does not care about us, a universe that is blind to our existence, and does not bear witness to our pain.

 

Such a universe would only contain people who lead their lives according to individual preferences, according to some distributive theory of economics, or some standard of utility.

 

It would be a relativistic universe where goodness is a matter of public opinion, and privation is going against the fashion of the times.

 

A Homily – 1 Corinthians 26 – 31 ©

2nd Reading – The Epistle – 2017.01.29

 

 

The Weak and the Foolish

 

Take yourselves for instance, brothers, at the time when you were called: how many of you were wise in the ordinary sense of the word, how many were influential people, or came from noble families? No, it was to shame the wise that God chose what is foolish by human reckoning, and to shame what is strong that he chose what is weak by human reckoning; those whom the world thinks common and contemptible are the ones that God has chosen – those who are nothing at all to show up those who are everything. The human race has nothing to boast about to God, but you, God has made members of Christ Jesus and by God’s doing he has become our wisdom, and our virtue, and our holiness, and our freedom. As scripture says: if anyone wants to boast, let him boast about the Lord.

 

The Art of Persuasion

Speak to the lowly, the outcast, the marginalized. Tell them they are great.

 

Tell the unloved they are loved. The lonely they are desired.

 

Tell the sick that they will be well, and the poor that they will be rich.

 

Speak to what is lacking; state unequivocally that it will be whole.

 

Reverse everything, it is the art of persuasion.

 

If you speak to strength as a weakness, you can convince the weak that they are strong.

 

Give the people something outside of themselves to believe in.

 

Let it lead them, something that they cannot see, or touch, or hear, as such it will be irrefutable, unassailable, and captivating.

 

The person who cannot boat of what is food or beautiful in themselves, will boast of their participation in the good and beauty of another, and defend it to the bitter end.

 

This is the art of persuasion.

 

The Apostle understood it.

 

4th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Martin Luther King Day 2017

Monday, January 16th

Today we celebrate the life and work of man who was fulfilled the role of our nation’s conscience. He was a prophet, not in the sense that he foretold the future, or that he had some unique channel to the Creator. He had no more, and no less access to supernatural powers than any of us, but he chose to listen to the voice of God that speaks to all us, from the hidden places in our hearts, he chose to listen, to cleave to that message, and share it with the world.

There are many memes circulating today, like the picture I have pasted in this essay. We are given countless opportunities to reflect on the likeness, and the words of the Reverend Doctor. We are wise to do so.

We are wise to remember the man, Martin Luther King Jr., a person who lived beyond their human flaws, a person who now dwells in our collective psyche, as if in a myth, a human being, a child of God, a person filled with grace and wisdom.

He spoke truth to power, and to the powerless. He was once considered to be the most dangerous man in America, and now he is our most beloved hero. He was beaten and arrested dozens of times, for the crime of seeking justice. His life was threatened daily. His reputation was smeared without regard for the truth, or his selfless works.

He was killed for his efforts, shot down, but not destroyed.

He was, and continues to be an example to us all. An American Saint, still pointing to the way, and the long journey we have left to make, before we come to the land he dreamed of.

mlk