A Stream in the Desert:

"May Adonai bless you and protect you! May Adonai deal kindly and graciously with you! May Adonai lift up his countenance upon you and grant you peace!" (Torah, Numbers 6:24-26) And Jesus said, "Allow the little children to come unto me. Forbid them not, for of such is the Kingdom of God. Truly, I say unto you, unless you receive the Kingdom of God as a little child does, you shall not enter therein." (New Testament, Mark 10:14-16)

Sojourning at an Oasis Paradise

My purpose for living this life, and for writing this blog, is to understand the faith that links us to God. I wish to explore and discuss the reality at the heart of all of the world's religions. This is an immense task, but I know that God also has faith in us, trusting that we do desire the truth, as well as freedom, love and wisdom. Thus, as always, He meets us halfway. Even as God has given us individual souls, so we must each of us trace out an individual pathway to God. Whether we reside in the cities of orthodox religion, or wend our solitary ways through the barren wastelands, God watches over us and offers us guidance and sustenance for the journey.

Most of what you will see here is the result of extensive personal study, combined with some careful speculation. Occasionally, I may simply offer some Scripture or an inspirational text. I am a wide reader, and the connection of some topics and ideas to matters of faith and religion may not seem immediately obvious, but perhaps I may spell it out in the end... or maybe, you will decide that it was just a tangent. Anyway, I hope that you will find my meanderings to be spiritually enlightening, intellectually stimulating, or at least somewhat entertaining.

In the coming weeks and months, I intend to transcribe a series of essays that I wrote about 20 years ago in the hope that I might get them published. They represent the nucleus of my spiritual life and the focal point around which my wanderings revolve like an electron in an atom. I hope that they might eventually serve as a springboard for discussions about the common spiritual heritage of humanity. May we come together and embrace each other in peace.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Sacred Questions: Is this your God?

True Religion begins with Sacred Questions.

Do you follow the One God who visits you in your own heart, who teaches us the ideals of Truth, Freedom, Love and Wisdom, and plants morality and conscience within us? Does He always value the trust, character and potential of each of us, and forgive our flaws as we forgive the flaws of others?

Does your God seek to build all of humanity into the best that we can become, so that we may eventually be transformed and welcomed into the company of angels? Does He promise to vindicate those who refuse to do harm, reserving the use of violence to the last possible resort and only to preserve lives and limit harm? It is only by loving even our enemies that we shall ever know peace.

Does He teach the value of an exemplary life and self-sacrifice for the greater good, ... and of empathy and compassion for the down-trodden and marginalized, to offer kindness and opportunities for growth so that all may flourish? Does He give credit for effort to those who try their best to do and be what they think they should?

Does your God stand for justice that requires less of stern punishment than reform, restitution, healing and reconciliation? Does He see that the burden of guilt and separation from fellowship, or service until the debt is paid is often hard enough punishment? Does He offer the choice between them, seeking to understand the discontent that led to such unacceptable behavior, so that it might be fixed?

Does your God feel responsible for us, recognizing that the universe exists because He asked it to be, and organized it? Didn't He use a spark of his own divine essence to create Life? We are the children of that universe who live from that request and creation, and who in return desire to know Him and all of the possibilities for good that He thus made.

Does He teach you to value and respect all life, for every creature has its place and all are woven together? Does He tell you to care for the earth's ecology, conserving and replenishing its fertility, to keep it in balance and not poison it with waste? We do not own the earth, but hold it in trust for generations to come, and we are accountable for it. The web of life of this world provides the foundations for our homes, and shall continue to do so even in the heavens. He gave us Nature as a sacred refuge, a place to find peace in our hearts.

Does your God refuse to play favorites among the peoples of the world, desiring only that all may come to meet Him, to ask for their needs and desires? Does He choose those willing to listen and follow, with hearts large enough to welcome a stranger, to carry his task and bear his message? And then does He care to know how they live, their joys and trials, thus to understand their hearts and know of their ultimate concerns? Does He then speak to each people of their own fears, needs and hopes offering to protect, to help and fulfill them, sending his messages forth so that all who share the same concerns may hear what they need to hear?

In each message, He reveals aspects of Himself that would be otherwise difficult for us to discern, thus showing how much He cares for us. No matter the details, can you imagine any better faith than one holding out for such a God? One definition of God is "that than which no greater can be conceived," so can you think of one who would be better? He believes in you.

If this God sets before you the choice between good and life, or evil and death, and begs you to choose life ... How can you do any less than to choose life, and allow others to do the same? And if your God is not this good, then your faith needs to grow, to listen more and learn how great He really is.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Humanity's Natural Morality

The ideals of Love, Truth, Freedom and Wisdom are actually inborn to human minds. We do not have the articulated principles, which must be taught by culture, but the inclinations and tendencies exist from the time of our infancy. It is the task of parents, teachers, preachers and writers to help us grow into their full potential. And their success enhances our own maturity and that of our civilization as a whole.

• Care vs Harm (helpless)
   - nurture, guide & support
• Compassion vs Cruelty (broken)
   - rescue, heal & release
• Gratitude vs Contempt (friend)
   - reciprocate, help & propagate
* Welcome vs Hostility (stranger)
   - respect, share & invite

• Trust vs Deception (knowledge)
   - honest, useful & unbiased
• Loyalty vs Betrayal (perspective)
   - tribalism, teamwork & aims
• Authority vs Anarchy (utopia)
   - teachers, traditions & ideals
* Investigation vs Mythos (nature)
   - observation, factual & testable

• Fairness vs Cheating (family)
   - sharing, deserving & need
• Equality vs Privilege (society)
   - rights, opportunity & merit
• Liberty vs Oppression (government)
   - reactance, unity & resistance
* Thought vs Indoctrination (mind)
   - reason, understanding & ideas

• Holiness vs Defilement (personal)
   - cleanliness, diet & speech
• Prudence vs Disregard (destiny)
   - consider, prepare & navigate
* Moderation vs Perturbment (culture)
   - forethought, reason & harmony
• Sacredness vs Destruction (respect)
   - protect, restore & preserve

1). All of our morality is based on these basic principles, even our religions. But even so, morality evolves and improves. It doesn't go backwards. The development of society from its primal roots to towns, then states, and eventually to civilised empires necessitated the growth of moral attitudes, as it became more inclusive. Our responsibilities grow ever wider as we encounter people from around the world, and must treat them as we wish to be treated.

The world cannot support hostile prejudices or ideologies bent on conquest. Rather, we must have tolerance and cooperation if we are going to face the challenges before us, and survive to achieve our dreams. Good moral standards guide our responses toward the acceptance of our neighbors as friends, and eventually extended family. We then understand that friction is inevitable but does not need to lead to conflict, and that will allow us to seek reconciliation.

2). Nowhere is there any moral authority for violence, although it is allowed in defense of one's self or of those who are unable to make defense. However, there is support for nonviolence and noncooperative interference with the status quo, gradually increasing the pressure to recognize and solve the problems that are causing the discontent.

Civil disobedience is not a crime. It is a patriotic act in defense of the state, reasserting the morality and well-being which it is supposed to protect. If the state has enacted laws contrary to righteousness, it is the responsibility of its citizens to speak up and seek redress, and to change the law. Being jailed for civil disobedience is an opportunity for discussion about the future of civil society, particularly any effective improvements as may be agreed upon, so as to avoid oppression and further discord.

3). Governments must also learn to behave in a moral fashion. They are not above the law. Even if they are the source of legislation, that is only culture, not divinity. As always, the "golden rule" applies. Individual states must treat each other as neighbors, since we all live on a single small planet. Nations do not exist as islands, but as members of a global society.

We do not have the right to impose our own culture or laws on other nations, any more than we have the right to invade their territory. But neither do we have any obligation to allow others to impose their ways upon us. Until such time as the world has a lasting peace, we shall all have to remember how to "walk softly, and carry a big stick." But at the same time "speak clearly, and don't swing the stick." No one can be expected to "turn the other cheek." That is for saints, not for politics.

4). Punishment for crimes should be compassionately measured out through education, psychological treatment and reorientation (that is "non-violent respectful coercion"). And yet, true justice is not only about prevention and punishment. It must include healing, reparations and restoration of community.

Paying a fine to the government is not justice; it does nothing to rehabilitate the offender's moral character, nor does it help to compensate the victim. It is nothing but a tax imposed to pay for the police to reestablish order and control.

Equally, the imprisonment of " bad" criminals only emphasizes the rupture of community. It fails to try to repair and strengthen the offender's moral character. To corral prisoners together only causes a net experience of evil, compounding inappropriate response patterns. If the only way to repair a broken morality is via "brainwashing" and therapeutic intervention, then such actions would be justified, with the long-term expectation of eventual reintegration into productive civil society. The aim is penitence and reform, not disposal.

Prisons are only a temporary expedient, a brief holding pattern awaiting adequate treatment, and should not be harsh in either circumstances or interactions. Criminals are there to be "helped" to  regain their moral humanity, and eventually their civil rights, and these changes in expectations should work toward an amelioration of antagonisms throughout the justice system.

I would like to reference an important book which put me on the track to develop these ideas more fully:

The Righteous Mind
- Why good people are divided by politics and religion
by Jonathan Haidt
Vintage Books, New York, 2013
ISBN: 978-0-307-45577-2

This book can fill out ideas I have skimmed over lightly, and point in the direction I have gone further.

Thanks, Jonathan.