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An Old Story From Seminary Days


Ashoka the Great

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Some of you will know that my relationship with my Christian faith is a bit, well, complex.

Several years after finishing my Bachelor's degree in Journalism, I attended an Anglican seminary. A few years after that I went to live in a monastery in New Mexico. (I came back after a few months because I made the 'mistake' of falling in love before I left. Every now and then my wife will say, "If you're ever a widower, I know where you're going after the estate is settled." And she's right.)

In both seminary and the monastery I attended services very often. In the case of the latter, several times per day.

And now?

I don't go at all.

Parish life holds no interest for me. It clashes with my personality. There are those who are comfortable in that kind of environment. I am not one of them. (Which is funny, considering how 'intense' one is involved in a monastic community.)

Similarly, I have no prayer life to speak of. I have an interior life, but that's a somewhat different thing. My 'prayers' are usually uttered at especially bad times, and tend to consist of my looking skyward and muttering, "Really?"

This is all background, btw.

Today I found a YouTube video which purports to ask '

'.

The purpose of the video is transparent enough. Its creator wants Christians, especially educated ones, to feel a little bit stupid about their faith. In this it's not particularly different from Richard Dawkins' atheistic crusade. He posits questions and then places limits on how one can answer. (Watch it for a minute or so and you'll see what I mean.) It's a very old debate tactic, although not a particularly good one.

But his first question did remind me of a story told to me by a rabbi, which I would now like to share.

A good man, but not a particularly 'religious' one, dies and goes to Heaven.

Upon arriving, he is told that he can have one wish granted unconditionally, provided that granting it will not harm someone else.

"No problem," he says. "I just want to ask God a question. That's it."

Ushered into God's presence, he gets to the point, his voice getting louder and louder with each phrase he speaks until finally he's yelling.

"The fact that I'm here means that you're real. It also means you have more power than I can possibly imagine. But God, look down on Earth. People are dying from starvation and disease. They are killed for believing in you and for not believing in you. Their own leaders kill them for pleasure or power. Across the world, people cry out for help. They beg for you to do something, anything. Why do you just sit there? Why haven't you sent someone to help us?"

God smiles, perhaps a bit sadly, and answers softly. "But I did send someone. I sent you."

Take from it what you will. I just felt like sharing.

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I used to be a much stronger Christian than I am now. I was very religous and now find myself lapsing more and more. I still go to Church every Sunday, but a part of me thinks it's just due to the community more than anything. With all these things hurting me, I start to realize how crappy my life is. I'm starting to really self-destruct in my classes, I don't know if I'm going to be able to meet graduating standards or not. On top of it, I'm having a hard life. Thinking back being raised without a father and so many expecting me to be something when I feel like I can't amount to what they want me to be.

Often I'm left asking, "God where are you?" "God, I need you!" And sometimes I feel like he's not there. As if he's not hearing me. And the more I grow up the more I feel this way. Like when God led the Israelis out of Egypt for them to say, "Why did you bring us out of Egypt? To kill us?"

Whenever I ask my father of confession what to do, he gives me the same two bland answers. "Read the Bible. Pray. Confess." I've done it and its never worked before. It's tough. The path I'm going on I don't know what to do. However the more I feel that God ignores me, the more I feel like I want to ignore him.

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I've heard that story before, but it's a good one.

I had a similar experience a few years ago when I began searching out esoteric truths, examined various religions (various Hindu branches, Buddhism, other philosophies), from the mundane to the occult (not as in the more popular meaning, though I did study some hermetical stuff, but more of hidden teachings, Sufism, Kabbalah, mystery schools, ect. ect) which after much searching eventually all culminated in becoming a Freemason and joining another different sort of order.

Gradually, though, I lost the connection, and after so long of parting through so many illusions to find some ultimate reality, I lost the drive. It just stopped being interesting. Enter nihilism at it's finest.

Frankly, though, I'm fine with a little cynicism and world weariness, there are still millions of things to gaze in wonder at and hope to carry human progress along.

I rarely even mention that I was Freemason anymore. I wouldn't have even mentioned it here except it seems we both experienced a similar thing.

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Kzoppistan:

First, thank you.

If compelled to define myself, I would probably say that I have created my own syncretic belief system. (Truth be told, I think we all do this. Most of us don't admit it, though, for one reason or another.)

If I had to pick some of the key points I've stolen along the way, they would be:

Lutheran - Regardless of the good we do, it's never enough to justify the evil we commit far more often.

Buddhism - Focus on what you are doing. Be 'present'. Learn what is real and what is not.

Judaism - Our ultimate fate is not in our hands. Or, as a Jewish friend of mine put it when I asked what Jews believe about life after death: "Beats me."

This does make me come across as nihilistic at times. I don't share in the fascination with occasional tragedies because I see it all as part of one big disaster that is our everyday existence. I don't mourn when some celebrity dies, because if I did then I would feel compelled to mourn for the 150,000+ other people who died that day. (An example: To the complete horror of my then co-workers, when the space shuttle blew up in 1986 my first comment was, "Wow, billions of dollars to kill one teacher? Good deal.")

If I didn't laugh at all of it I'd probably blow my brains out. The day I stop laughing will probably coincide with the day I stop breathing.

Martin Luther was once asked what he would do if he learned that the world was ending tomorrow. I've always liked his answer, which was, "Plant a tree." It's an answer filled with hope for the future, and I can admire that even if I don't share the sentiment. I don't believe in human progress, but I'll be happy to do so when I see some evidence of it.

If I find out the world's ending, you'll see me sitting on the roof of my building in a lawn chair, watching people kill each other in a frenzy so that they can have the marvelous distinction of being the last one left. There may be beer involved. (Of that Luther would certainly approve.)

Oh, and for the record my Mother Lodge is Blue Mountain #182 in Port Coquitlam, British Columbia. I was initiated there on my twenty-seventh birthday in 1993. Haven't been to a Lodge at all since about 2001, however.

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To my great disappointment, I'm among the increasingly unrelgious Americans. I believe it, I know it (more than I believe it, le sigh), I really do my damnedest to live it. I think it boils down to two things: too intelligent, too broken. A couple CNers have been unfortunate enough to catch me diarrhea-mouthed, but stuff has happened in early and recent life to make it too hard.

At the end of the day, though, it's easier than I'm making it. I overthink everything.. Ditto on the "really?" prayers, but mine are more "seriously? fffffffffffffff"

It's so hard to understand all of it but-- goddamnit Zog for making a drunk guy cry.

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KingZog: Lexington Lodge #1, KY

Also, seems you cultivated some great points out of your various studies.

Shattenmann: I've always found drunken crying to be rather cathartic. Too bad it's usually in public. Heh.

.

o

O

Life is not a problem to be solved, but a reality to be experienced.

Soren Kierkegaard

O

o

.

As humans, we seek comfort in the knowing of things. When new truths rush in and cast our previous conceptions into doubt, it's only natural to lament the passing of those innocent, if not a bit simplistically naive, understandings. Especially when faced with the uncertainty the Great Unknown causes to our foundations of reality. Our only solace to the fact that the greatest questions won't be answered until long after our bones are dust, is that comfort in the face ambiguity must also contain wonderment at it's mysterious. For what ever that's worth.

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Speaking of Rabbis, I will say one of the most sad things I ever heard was my Jewish neighbor sort of falteringly say "well, God is . . . just community."

Jeebus, that is sad.

What do we remember on this day?

They tried to kill us all, they couldn't, let's eat.

Matter of fact, sounds like TPF

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Light can't exist without darkness; without darkness light would have no meaning.

Good can't exist without bad.

People were given freewill -- the opportunity to make choices.

To make a choice there must be opposing states of whatever is in question.

I choose good. If there were no bad then I would have no freewill to choose good and my 'choice' would be meaningless.

People have not been abandoned by their Creator. People are given the gift of freewill and the opportunity to choose good. If there were no opposing states then a person's choice to know our Creator would be meaningless because that would be the only choice.

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Light can't exist without darkness; without darkness light would have no meaning.

Good can't exist without bad.

People were given freewill -- the opportunity to make choices.

To make a choice there must be opposing states of whatever is in question.

I choose good. If there were no bad then I would have no freewill to choose good and my 'choice' would be meaningless.

People have not been abandoned by their Creator. People are given the gift of freewill and the opportunity to choose good. If there were no opposing states then a person's choice to know our Creator would be meaningless because that would be the only choice.

How do we have free will if God is all knowing? If God knows what we are going to do, then in what sense are we free?

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How do we have free will if God is all knowing? If God knows what we are going to do, then in what sense are we free?

If you are about to choose to marry person 1 or person 2, but I go into the future to see that you married person 2, do you still have that choice to marry person 1 or person 2 ?

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That's not the same thing. We're talking about an omniscient deity, not a time-traveler. It states in the Bible that God knows everything that is going to happen in your life, to include when you will die. If that's the case, what difference do my actions make in changing that outcome? The answer is it makes no difference at all. I can sit on the couch my entire life drinking alcohol and doing drugs, or I can live a healthy life with diet and exercise. It doesn't matter which path I choose because God has already plotted out when, where and how I'll die. I have no free will to change my destiny.

It makes no sense to me to say, "Oh you have the free will to choose which path you'll take in life, it's just that God already knows ahead of time which path you'll choose."

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Zog, I'm much more curious about what you take from the story.

As a moral tale, I suppose it has a little value. Who can argue with the idea that people are responsible for their own destiny? If you want something done, you should do it yourself. Amen to that. Then the paradox -- does God not want peace on earth? If so, then why doesn't he do it himself? Why the separate moral code for man and God?

I'm interested in how we would judge a man who was as cavalier about human suffering as is the God character in your story. Honestly, would we revere a man whose reaction to immeasurable evil was, "Hey man, I sent some dude to deal with it. What else do you want me to do?" We wouldn't revere or respect such an individual. Why do we tolerate an excuse from an omnipotent God that we wouldn't accept from a small child?

-Craig

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