Or perhaps, how many roads must a man walk down? Yes Emily, I did ask and I’m glad you chose to respond so fully. It may be helpful to clarify my position here, rather than making vague statements in my general writing (It doesn’t do to be blinded by one’s own hubris which is one reason I encourage active disagreement). I believe, unequivocally, in the search for personal knowledge from within the Light cast by the concept of Absolute Peace. From my experience, God wants us, both individually and as a species, to fully understand the concept of Absolute Peace. That is the one TRUE directive of God and cannot be denied by any existing religion for they all agree on this one basic concept.
Yes, I am aware that various forms of scripture often conflict with each other, even when they share the same pages of a singular holy book. Because each line of scripture can be interpreted differently by the educated reader, by itself scripture cannot be used as a sole source for support during the spiritual debate, not to mention that scripture was, though many choose to deny it, authored by the hand of humanity.
The use of scripture to form a basic position is of course made even more difficult by mankind’s corruption of said writings over a long period of time. Christian scripture in particular falls prey to this difficulty as in the beginning, early Christians passed on the teachings of Joshua via oral transmission. This practice continued for as long as two centuries after Joshua’s crucifixion before the church leaders decided to finally write something down. By this time, it is unlikely that the original teachings of Joshua were preserved whole or in correct form.
Perhaps if archaeologists could find the so called ‘Q’ source, or a document written by Joshua himself, the conflicts within Christian scripture would resolve themselves. In any case, it is clear that the majority of existing Christian writing talks about the establishment of peace: Judge not lest ye be judged. Love thy enemy. Turn the other cheek. Etc. I suspect the full specifics of Joshua’s ministry were muddled almost beyond recognition through a sixty year or so spiritual version of the telephone game, but that’s just supposition on my part, of course.
When looking at why individual people perceive the nature of God differently, I find the following parable from the Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna to be most appropriate:
“Listen to a story. Once a man entered a wood and saw a small animal on a tree. He came back and told another man that he had seen a creature of a beautiful red color on a certain tree. The second man replied: ‘When I went into the wood, I also saw that animal. But why do you call it red? It is green.’ Another man who was present contradicted them both and insisted that it was yellow.
Presently others arrived and contended that it was grey, violet, blue, and so forth and so on. At last they started quarrelling among themselves. To settle the dispute they all went to the tree. They saw a man sitting under it. On being asked, he replied: ‘Yes, I live under this tree and I know the animal very well. All your descriptions are true.
Sometimes it appears red, sometimes yellow, and at other times blue, violet, grey, and so forth. It is a chameleon. And sometimes it has no color at all. Now it has a color, and now it has none.’ “In like manner, one who constantly thinks of God can know His real nature; he alone knows that God reveals Himself to seekers in various forms and aspects.
God has attributes; then again He has none. Only the man who lives under the tree knows that the chameleon can appear in various colors, and he knows, further, that the animal at times has no color at all. It is the others who suffer from the agony of futile argument.
“Kabir used to say, ‘The formless Absolute is my Father, and God with form is my Mother.’ “God reveals Himself in the form which His devotee loves most. His love for the devotee knows no bounds. It is written in the Purana that God assumed the form of Rama for His heroic devotee, Hanuman”.
Every single religion talks about Peace in some form or another. Yes Emily, even those who worship a war deity such as Ares recognize the necessity for peace, although that may be hard for many people to understand. War, which I personally despise, can easily be interpreted as another example of the human need for peace. Military aggression is simply another method of expressing this. Consider this: One country desires to subjugate another – their goal is to envelope the defending country and assimilate them into one greater, larger population at peace with itself (assuming they win). The defending country is bound to see its defense as a means by which it can retain it own individual authority but still reside in ultimate peace with its neighbors. This is the true reason we defend ourselves for we seek to regain peace. A third country may get involved to try to help their ally achieve peace. And so on.
This is no different than two people having a fight on the street and a third person stepping in to try to diffuse the situation. Others nearby may also be drawn in to the disagreement and sometimes if the situation is interesting enough, everybody near watches the spectacle unfold with concern. It is human nature to desire peace. We actively seek it through every action we take, from the best intentions to the worst; peace is our one motivating goal. We may, by nature, be drawn toward the observance of conflict but I feel that even without the process of acknowledging the necessity of religion, humans attempt to follow the directive of God. Free will is not truly a part of the equation.
We all reach for peace in our own way. Whether we disagree with other’s methods to achieve peace, the disagreement itself is immaterial. It is my interpretation that the search for ultimate peace is behind every human action since we evolved beyond basic instinct. Nations are simply groups of individuals and respond in like manner to individuals on the street. Three people or Three billion, how they interact with each other individually and in groups is all the same on a basic level. There really is no need to complicate the philosophy past that understanding.
You are quite correct in that many theists believe in limited forms of deity. Everyone is capable of seeing God differently than the next person and they will naturally settle on a definition that most resonates with their spiritual comfort level. I take the position that all forms of God flow from the same infinite source, if that helps to explain my writing for you. You are also correct in that God must consist of discord as well as harmony; naturally so. Everything conceivable by man exists within God… so does that which man has yet to conceive. The process of conflict that you refer to however is a physical condition, not a spiritual one. Spiritual conflict is wholly internal and takes place on an intellectual level as a byproduct of the learning process.
I would not agree that I am being overly optimistic. Actually, it seems to me that many people say one thing and do another entirely. In fact, this attitude seems to become more prevalent as time marches on through the ages of humanity, if you will but I do not feel this merits such overwhelming cynicism on our parts. It is something I feel needs to change if we are to succeed in making continued progress toward the next stage of our evolution. I disagree with Ayn Rand’s vision of the future and tend to envision a scenario more like Heinlein proposed, ie: a politically fascist society is in our future if we do not enact change now – see Starship Troopers, the book, not the movie (shudder). Yes, the exploitation of the poor has been an oft used method by which people in a position of authority exercise and maintain their power and in fact it is this very exploitation that has fueled in large part the growth of our largest religions to date.
One thing I should like to mention is that when I say our species is the only thing that matters, I am referring directly to humanity vis-a-vis the peace process. You of all people should know by now Em, that I do not condone the harm of any living creature for personal gain and frankly my dear, the isolation of a concept and subsequent use of it outside of its intended context is perhaps a witty method of making a political statement but such clandestine methods of persuation are not necessary for you to make your point. You are far too intelligent to rely on such methods – please leave such statements to those running for office.
It is not of course possible for me to give evidence of the will of God or to prove the existence of God outside of my own experience unless I lie and manufacture proof or make something up that is perhaps more believable to the general public than the truth seems to be but I refuse to be dishonest with anyone about God. Please consider this scenario – I open my front door one day and see a deer on my front porch. I call you and tell you about the deer but you refuse to believe me unless I provide proof. When I go back with my camera the animal is gone. It is therefore your assumption that I must have been mistaken about the existence of a deer on my porch because I cannot provide you with proof that it was there in the first place.
This is the only problem I have with using reason as your only source of truth – by default if a statement does not seem reasonable to you it cannot therefore be true and the speaker must either be mistaken or mentally ill. I agree that blind faith in anything is unwise but I also think that the denial of personal knowledge based on individual experience is equally unwise. True faith is not free, it is earned through trial and by introspection. Those who claim to have faith in God based on their church attendance or the words of their pastor often find themselves scared and alone at the moment of death. As an interfaith minister I have attended dying people of all faiths and watched as, at that last moment of great uncertainty, their faith abandons them at last, they who never truly believed, and I weep for them that they suffer so when they have nothing to fear but their own assumptions.
I have never been into end of the world prophecy, judgment day, hellfire and damnation, etc. It simply doesn’t make much sense to me to hold an apocalyptic view of reality let alone of God. I would rather focus on promoting the goal of peaceful co-existence as the key factor in my ministry rather than using humanity’s innate fear of death as a means of spreading my philosophy. One thing the bible does appear to get right – those who live by the sword usually seem to die from it. I choose to live by the concept of peace and it is to that peace I shall go when I die. Perhaps, my friend, you cannot exist inside a concept until you allow the concept to actively define your existence.