The One True Heaven

The One True Heaven

Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth. “But the LORD came down to see the city and the tower that the men were building. The LORD said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them.  Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”  So the LORD scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. That is why it was called Babel–because there the LORD confused the language of the whole world. Gen 11:3-9

The intellectuals of the Renaissance were made up basically of  two groups of thinkers, those which were atheists who rejected the idea of God and organized religion and those that maintain their faith in God and yet rejected the corrupted forms of religion.  The former evolved into what we call the enlightenment and the latter evolved into the Reformation movement.  Looking back on these developments, we see these two movements traveling along through time side-by-side yet with an increasingly greater gulf growing between them.

In the beginning of the Renaissance, there was an emphasis placed on a return to reason and freedom. In order to accomplish this goal the old authorities of dogma, tradition and church had to be overthrown and replaced with the concepts of reason and freedom.  However, the two different branches of the Renaissance, the enlightenment and Reformation would develop these two concepts of reason and freedom differently.  The enlightenment side would enshrine reason and human knowledge as the ultimate authority, reason and science would become God and bring heaven down to earth.  Man would be free from all authority and be self-directed.  Out of this, thinking came the later systems of  philosophies known as humanism, liberalism and communism.

The other branch of the Renaissance, the Reformation, believed that there were limits to reason and knowledge and that in order for man to be truly human he must live within those limits. They believed, without limits mans freedom would generate into chaos and the loss of freedom to his uncontrolled passions and his own finiteness.  They believe that those limits were set forth in the revelation of God in Christ.  The Reformation, therefore, believed that there were limits to the development of culture and that any attempts to bring heaven to earth would only end in misery.  They were skeptical about the enlightenment’s blind faith in progress and in human goodness.  In this, they rejected the twin myths of unlimited progress and the innate goodness of humanity; myths that still shape the vision of liberals and progressives to this very day.

After hundreds of years, we can clearly see the movement of both  groups. The reformation group has lost its hold on Europe, symbolized by the French revolution that had its slogan “No God No king” which could be interpreted as no authority other than the individual.  The failure of the Reformation in Europe could be largely contributed to its association with the ruling class and its failure to follow through on its attempt to reform organized religion and the culture.  Its failures allowed the men of the enlightenment to hold out a secular hope to the people and actually create a brand-new faith, a faith in progress (heaven on earth) and human knowledge (science).  The populace which had already lost their faith in religion were eager to accept this new faith even though there was no historical grounds or empirical evidence for it.

The question arises, How did the enlightenment thinkers believe they would  accomplish bringing heaven down to earth?  Well, it’s not a hard question, they simply had to bring God down to earth. That is exactly what the thinkers of the enlightenment did. They created the modern state.  As one of them said,” the state is God walking on the earth.”  This idea was set forth in varying degrees by a number of enlightenment thinkers and perfected in the writings of Karl Marx.  In Marx, you see the state exalted to the place of God and the animosity of the enlightenment towards religion and any moral authority other than the state (human authority).  For in the new heaven, no other authority can exist but that of the state which is nothing more than a human oligarch of authority.  Of course, that authority should be based on reason alone and science, the two demon gods of the enlightenment.  However, we also see in this system of unbelief a denial of free will and of human dignity.  Man is nothing more than an animal predetermined by biological forces; life is not scared but is expendable for the higher good. Of course, the state is the higher good.

We now know that reason is never alone, and that science is limited and controlled by many things other than reason, such as money and the ideological taint.   We also know from experience that the state never really promotes individual freedom, but rather it oppresses freedom.  Though history has shown us the failure of the secular movement; those that have placed their faith in it continually are on the same course today, just as their ancestors of the enlightenment did. How do you explain this blind faith?  I personally believe that it all comes back to their first presupposition of unbelief.  Once you get on the road of unbelief, there is nowhere to go other than statism (God walking on the earth).

It only takes a glimpse of the last century to see what this new heaven on earth looks like.  It looks like Russia and communist China.  Where 100,000,000 people have been killed, and untold numbers persecuted for not bowing down to the new God of the state.  Could it be that the materialist of the enlightenment promised one thing (heaven) and created the very opposite on earth?  If we are the heirs of the enlightenment, what do we have to look forward to?  It seems, if we continue on the same course of the enlightenment, there can only be one end; the ultimate state, a one-world government and George Orwell’s 1984.

 

The Making of an Fundamentalist Atheist

The Making of a Fundamentalist Atheist

Mark Twain once said ” there are reasons, good reasons and the real reason.” What is the real reason for your faith or lack of it?

I have noticed lately, that there seems to be an increase in the number of atheists I run across.  Most of whom are white educated males.  To be honest, for the life of me, I cannot understand why anyone would want to be an atheist. In fact, I’m always asking them the why question.  In reply, I usually get something along these lines; it is the reasonable position. In reply, I generally respond with another why question. Their answer is often; science has proven it.  My reply is how?   I seldom get any answer, and if I do it is usually an appeal to a pseudoscience. The truth is that there are no scientific arguments against the existence of God.  Science does not make arguments against Gods existence. The question of Gods existence is outside of the realm of scientific inquiry.[1]

I had a few atheists tell me that scientists don’t believe in God, therefore this is proof  it’s  not reasonable to believe in God. This statement is absolutely false.  Einstein is one of the foremost scientists of the last century, and he was a believer in a deity[2], though he did not seem to like organized religion. Still another great modern scientist who is a believer is Francis Collins lead scientist for the human Genome project. The truth is that as far as the hard sciences go, it is about a 50-50 split.[3]  Even if 95% of scientists did not believe in God it would not prove that God did not exist. 95% of scientists believed the sun rotated around the earth before Galileo, they were wrong. In fact, they were the ones that convinced church leaders to censor Galileo. At one time 95% of scientists believed that the empty space in the universe was filled with a substance they called ether, they were wrong. We should be cautious about counting the noses of scientist in determining the truth.

Still other atheists have said they’re “just trying to follow the truth.” Of course, following the truth is a noble undertaking if there is such a thing as truth. However, without a cosmic order can there be any real truth?[4]  If our thoughts and actions are nothing more than the interplay of atoms in our brain, how can there be any truth in the traditional sense? The best that one could hope for is a pragmatic utilitarian view of truth, i.e. whatever works. If this is the case, belief is superior to unbelief because people of faith are happier than unbelievers. Note the book “The Happiness Hypothesis” by Jonathan Haidt.

When everything is said, thought-through atheism is simply a negative faith that cannot be proven.  It is based on suppositions that cannot be proven or disproved.  Atheism can only raise questions about the existence of God, but it can never prove its negative position. When you look at its evidence for its suppositions, they just do not exist.

In view of this, I decide that there must be some other reasons besides ‘reason’ for people embracing this negative faith, so I began to look for an answer.  The following is what I came up with.  Some of my answers border on science and some on psychology. I freely admit that I am biased for faith in a deity. One reason being I believe faith is healthier for the individual and sociality as a whole. I have given evidence to this in previous writings.

Some may feel that it is not ethical to analyze someone’s beliefs, looking for a psychological basis for them.  However, atheists have been doing this for hundreds of years declaring that the believer’s faith came from an emotional need to have a father figure, which believer’s then projected into heaven to watch over them. Note that in Fauerbach’s, “The Essence of Christianity” it is actually when atheists analyze people’s faith in God, that they are simply attempting to look at faith scientifically. They are analyzing it by using the law of cause and effect. I have no problem with that, as long as they apply the same principles to their non-belief, which they seldom do. Of course, this lack of self-examination is an indication that their faith is  based more on dogma than reason.

Before looking at what I believe causes people to become atheists. I would like to say that in many ways I do respect the negative faith of many atheists.  Many atheists have more convictions in their world view than many believers have in theirs, and many unbelievers are men of integrity and excellent moral character.  I have a number of friends who are atheists and find them to be good friends. Of course, all this does not prove that atheism is true

What is the root of Atheism?  I do not have all the answers to this question but there is one thing I know atheists are made and not born.[5]  Children by their very nature are mystical and multi-dimensional.  So, what causes people to lose their sense of wonder and of the spiritual?  What causes men to suppress their spiritual nature?

The Christian Factor

One of the main roots of unbelief is Christianity itself, for it teaches that God is a good God.  This is fine for adults; however, as some children grow up, they begin to see that the world is filled with suffering and evil. This causes confusion in the child’s mind which cannot be reconciled with the ideal of a good God and a world fill with suffering and evil. For the immature mind the only way to reconcile the apparent contradiction is by renouncing reality or to deny God. The majority of people do a little of both however, there are some children who choose to deny God.   Of course, the problem of evil and suffering are subjects that much ink has been spent on by theologians and philosophers with less than satisfactory answers.

The best answer that I’ve found is that suffering in itself is not evil but rather it’s a part of a perfect environment to serve God’s purpose of building, growing up and maturing people.  Suffering in the form of pain serves to warn us when our body is in danger of being permanently hurt or injured. It also warns us that things may be out of order or out of balance biologically and even socially. Therefore, it gives us the opportunity to change and grow.  If you think of suffering in this light, it’s hard to look upon all suffering as evil.  It only becomes evil when you add the human will to the equation. When a human inflicts suffering and pain on another human unnecessarily, it then can become evil.  Even if one continues to look upon suffering as evil this view in itself is not evidence that God does not exist.  It would simply imply that God is not all good and that the God of the Bible is not the true God.

The Environment Factor

 Family environment can also contribute to the loss of faith.  If one is brought up in a home of unbelief or in one of little spirituality, where sacred things are seldom spoken about or totally disregarded, your chances of being an unbeliever are higher than if you were raised in a spiritual atmosphere.  If your early experience of religion is negative for instance, having parents who are religious, but hypocritical, may have a negative impact on you or having a clergyman whom you didn’t like may also contribute to unbelief.  There is some strong evidence that an overbearing father or an abusive father may have a cynical impact on people’s faith.  This seems to be especially true for males. The hostile and negative feelings they have for their father are transferred to their heavenly father.  It’s interesting to note that the apostle Paul tells fathers not to provoke their children to wrath. Could it be that an over bearing father could be the source of much unbelief ? In science this is called psychological transfer.

Many others may lose their faith when they attend a college and fall prey to an atheist professor and a hedonistic environment. Young people are impressionable, and a highly educated professor can surely put doubts in their youthful minds.  However, if they do lose their faith, it will most likely not be the reasoning power or the knowledge of the professor but rather the indoctrination of the environment created by the materialistic university atmosphere. Being spiritual is not cool on most college campuses.  Intellectual ability seems to have little to do with people’s faith position.  Emotions and environment are the biggest players in whether or not one has faith.  After they make a choice of belief’s, then reason is used and intellectual information is compiled to support and justify a position, which is accepted by faith, whether negative or positive.

The worst college environment for making atheists is a religious school where the professors and the majority of student body live like the devil, but teach morality and religion. This kind of environment creates an emotional doubt which is deadlier to faith than intellectual doubt.  It was in this kind of environment where I began to question my childhood faith. However, in my case, I did not lose my faith in God, but in the institution which claimed to represent Him.  I am thankful for a good friend who pointed out to me the difference between faith in the Great Spirit and human religion. As faith is often misplace, so it is with doubt. When religion does evil, it should raise doubt in the religion not God.

The problem that often surfaces during the college years is one of wrong presuppositions. Young people growing up in semi-religious and even very religious homes often have a naïve supposition that religion has all the answers, or at least it ought to. When they attend college, they suddenly realize that it does not and in some cases their faith is shattered. Of course, the truth is that all human knowledge has what I call brackets. Brackets are question marks and contradictions that cannot be understood, at least at this time.  In religion, we call them mysteries, in science they’re called anomies and in philosophy they’re paradoxes. Young people of faith need to be taught that faith has its brackets.

In the college environment, there are certain fields of study like psychology, which are still being deeply influenced by Sigmund Freud’s atheism. Atheism seems to be a prerequisite for becoming a psychologist or a psychiatrist in many people’s thinking.  If you elect these fields of study it will become harder to maintain your religion; not for intellectual reasons but rather because of the environment which the people in the field create. They create a world without God, and it is difficult to live in their fictional world for very long without damaging your faith.  If you think )  you are immune to this kind of environmental influence stop kidding yourself.  You are living a delusional life. It has been shown repeatedly that many people who are taken hostage in time will  begin to sympathize and even convert to their captor’s ideology. When you give yourself over to a materialistic world view, you have been taken captive and most likely, will convert. If you are a College student, my advice to you is to watch out what kind of world you choose to live in. The apostle Paul said, “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ. (Col 2:8)

On a larger-scale, it is obvious that if you are born in a culture like Russia where atheism is the state philosophy, it is more likely that you will be an atheist. However, even after 70 years of the state trying to eradicate religion, faith still remains strong in Russia.  It has been estimated that as  many as 80% of the Russian population  believe in God.  This strengthens the position that man by his nature is homo-religious, i.e. by his very nature he is religious.

Biological Factor

Even in the realm of the spiritual minded there will be varying degrees of God-consciousness.  Case in point is the scholar and the mystic.  The religious scholar may have a hard time understanding the mystic, and the latter may even question the faith of the scholar. Here within the confines of faith you have the same experience that you see between the atheist and believer. Could the problem be genetic?

I brought this subject up at meeting of ministers and their wives and as expected I was met with some resistance… So I proposed a little experiment to test my idea. I asked each person to think about their earliest awareness of their God-consciousness and then asked them if theirs was stronger than their siblings.  Without exception, they said theirs  was  stronger than their siblings. Though the sampling is small about 20 people, it does give some credence to the belief in spiritual intelligence. Of course, like all forms of intelligence, it can be increased or diminished by its use or its lack of use. The lack of use could lead to atheism.

Therefore, it is quite reasonable to believe that some people who are born with the right-brain  structure have an advantage in sensing the deity.  This also explains why some believers experience God in different ways and to various degrees.  Does this mean that a person born with small antennas (metaphor) cannot believe in God?  No, it simply means that those folks need to work harder at it or learn to trust other men’s experience of God.  This kind of trust is need and used in every area of life, why not in the area of faith.   The reason this is hard for the atheist is that people blessed with a high degree of intellectual knowledge seems to believe that it is superior to all other forms of intelligence. In other words, their ego blinds them to the truth.    This seems to be confirmed by Scripture. ” knowledge puffs up and love builds up.”

The Pride Factor

The source of much atheism is human pride.  Many atheists use their atheism as a badge of their intellectual superiority.  This is very similar to the way some religious people use their religiosity to boost their self-esteem. Their religion allows them to think that they are more moral than others. Like the religious person, the atheist’s self-esteem begins to depend on their identification with unbelief and the sense of intellectual superiority it gives them.  In essence, they cling to their unbelief in order to save their souls for without their unbelief; they would be soulless. They would just be a part of the herd without an identity.  They refuse to call themselves agnostic for there is no glory or superiority in saying I don’t know and there are no arguments to be made to show their superiority.  What else can explain their choice of atheism over agnosticism, which is far more reasonable position than atheism.  This may explain why so many atheists are white, mid-class college educated males.  A group that is known for their pride, large egos and loss of identity.

Misunderstanding of the Difference Between Faith and Religion

I have also found that many atheists have a very narrow view of faith and religion. Their view is very  similar to the religious fundamentalist, both seem to have a hard time separating faith from religion.  This may be caused by a simple blind spot in the unbelievers thinking, but it seems to be dominant in much of their arguments against the existence of God.  I cannot help  however, to notice in their conversations and writings that most of their criticism of belief in God is really a criticism of religion. They fail to see that the hypocrisy of religion does not in itself offer proof that there is no God. It simply proves that there are hypocrites in religion.  Hypocrites play golf, but that does not mean that golf is a bad game, or it’s  only terrible when hypocrites play.  The bias of many unbelievers toward religion seems to blind them to the fact that religion is like every other endeavor of mankind; it can be good or evil depending on the nature of the men who are playing the game.

My experience has been that if the person is brought up in a cult or has a fundamentalist view of religion (like most young people), if they lose their faith in their religion or church, they may also become skeptical about God as well. The reason for this is that their faith was in their religion and not in God.  This confusion between God and religion is prevalent in churches that teach they are the one true church.  In these organizations, the church becomes an idol who veils the real God.  I have meant hundreds of individuals that have left these organizations.  Some became atheists,  although they never lose the belief that their former organization totally represents the Christian religion.  So, they believe  that if they can show the errors of the church or religion, then they have discredited belief in God.

However, misconduct of some churches and clergy now as in the past confirms that the bible is true.  For the scripture in fact teach that such organization would arise and bear bad fruit turning people always from Christ and real faith. The apostle Paul warns the church in Acts 20:29-31 “I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock.  Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them.” And again in 1 Tim 4:1-3, “The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars.  Whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron.”  If one is going to judge the Christian faith, it would seem logical to judge it based on the life and teaching of Jesus and not on a group’s behaviors that may or may not be truly following Jesus.

You may be surprised that I am thankful for the atheistic criticism of religion. In many ways, it reflects the Spirit of prophecy as seen in the Scriptures. Jesus and all the prophets criticized religion for its hypocrisy’s and its empty rituals and traditions.  However, when the critics fail to see the difference between religion and God, they have stepped out on some very dangerous ground. Ground that cannot be defended by reason or science.

Moreover, as demonstrated by the Russian experiment, you cannot get rid of religion much less faith by atheistic education or even force.  If you suppress it in one place, it will break out in another.  You are just simply wasting your time and energy.  However, wasting one’s time is a matter of choice but destroying a person’s faith is a sad undertaking.

An honest unbeliever, Dr. E. Wengraf  once confessed,  “Every piece of anti-religious propaganda seems to me a crime.  I surely do not wish it to be prosecuted as a crime, but I consider it immoral and loathsome.  This not because of zeal for my convictions, but because of the simple knowledge,  acquired through long experience, that,  given the same circumstances, a religious man is happier than the irreligious.  In my indifference and skeptical attitude toward all positive faith,  I have often envied other men to whom deep religiosity has given a strong support in all the storms of life.  To uproot the souls of such men is an abject deed.  I abhor any proselytizing.  But still,  I can understand why one who believes firmly in a saving faith tries to convert others.  But I cannot understand a propaganda of unbelief.  We do not have the right to take away from a person his protecting shelter, be it even a shabby hut,  if we are not sure we can offer him a better,  more beautiful house.  But to lure men from the inherited home of their souls, to make them err afterward in the wilderness of hypotheses and philosophical question marks, is either criminal fatalisms or criminal mindlessness.”

The Factor of Evil

Often evil men use religion to cover up their evil, you might say they dress it up with religion. However, evil men also sometimes deny their evil by renouncing God.  In the last century atheists like Stalin and Mao, under the banner of atheistic communism have murdered over 100 million people. I am pointing this out not to count noses but to demonstrate that religion doesn’t kill people and atheism doesn’t kill people; evil people kill people. Immoral people will use any religion or ideology that will justify their evil. However, it is evident that some belief systems, including atheism are  more likely to be used to justify killing, than others. Evil people will also avoid and reject anyone or anything that might bring their evil to light.  The teacher said, ” This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. However, whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.”  This helps us to understand why some men choose atheism, though this would represent a small minority.

The Factor of Human Nature

One of the basic causes of atheism is simple rebellion. Some men by their very nature are rebellious. You could say they were born doubters, doubting all authority.  Their doubting is not grounded in a superior intellect but rather in a rebellious nature and a strong appetite to do their own thing without any outside limitations; this included any limits imposed by a deity. In fact, some men are so rebellious they rebel against the limit placed on them by nature. In many ways the whole folly the human race is in rebelling against God and nature. The atheist wants to expel God and his law from the universe and many in science want to overcome nature as though it was our enemy.

On a more basic level, many men choose atheism simply because they are too lazy and indifferent towards spending the time and energy to seek the truth.  I have found this to be the  prevalent cause of what you might call shallow atheism. Of course, the same thing could be said of believers that inherited their faith from the culture without putting it  through the test of reason.  However, if the truth about God is to be found one would have to expect it to be difficult, since learning physics is difficult and knowing an infinite God would even be harder if he did not simplify it somehow.  Of course, he did simplify it by revealing Himself in and through Jesus Christ.

Conclusion

Many of the ideas in this article are the same arguments used by unbelievers to criticize believers. All I have done is to simply reversed them.  This demonstrates that atheism is just a faith very similar to any religious belief.  Any psychological argument used to explain away a belief in God can be used to explain atheism. Both atheism and faith in God are based on faith. Both are metaphysical in their nature.  The atheist in many cases is actually more religious than the believer in God.  In any case, the new atheists are organized and are as committed to their non-belief as any fundamentalist religious people.  In the end, the debate is really who’s religion is right.

[1] The US National Academy of Sciences has gone on record with the following statement: ‘Science is a way of knowing about the natural world. It is limited to explaining the natural world through natural causes. Science can say nothing about the supernatural. Whether God exists or not is a question about which science is neutral.” Taken from “Who made God?, Searching For A Theory Of Everything” by  Edgar Andrews.

[2] Einstein did not believe in the traditional view of God held by Jews or Christians. He had a mystical view of God in which he had said more than once; he had a religion of one.

[3] According to the poll, just over half of scientists (51%) believe in some form of deity or higher power; specifically, 33% of scientists say they believe in God, while 18% believe in a universal spirit or higher power. By contrast, 95% of Americans believe in some form of deity or higher power, according to a survey of the general public conducted by the Pew Research Center in July 2006. Specifically, more than eight-in-ten Americans (83%) say they believe in God and 12% believe in a universal spirit or higher power. Finally, the poll of scientists finds that four-in-ten scientists (41%) say they do not believe in God or a higher power, while the poll of the public finds that only 4% of Americans share this view. Pew Research Center for the People & the Press survey, conducted in May and June 2009

[4] Atheism has been pushed into a corner where they are obligated not only to deny the existence of God but also any other ordering principle in the universe, which might infer a deity. However from this position it is impossible to confirm in any reasonable way the concept of truth.

[5] Infants are hard-wired to believe in God, and atheism has to be learned, according to an Oxford University psychologist.  Dr Olivera Petrovich told a University of Western Sydney conference on the psychology of religion that even preschool children constructed theological concepts as part of their understanding of the physical world. Psychologists have debated whether belief in God or atheism was the natural human state…. Dr Petrovich said her findings were based on several studies, particularly one of Japanese children aged four to six, and another of 400 British children aged five to seven from seven different faiths. “Atheism is definitely an acquired position”, she said. The Age, July 2008 by Barnet Zwartz. www theage.com.

The Jefferson-Hemings Controversy The Report of Scholars Commission

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Book Report

The Jefferson-Hemings Controversy

The Report of Scholars Commission

The Jefferson-Hemings Controversy was just released in September and is a book that everyone who loves truth and history should read.  Written by 13 Jefferson scholars it sets the record straight about Jefferson’s so called sexual relationship with Sally Hemings and his fathering a child with her.

My interest was sparked when I mentioned the subject to a retired college professor who in turn sent me an article claiming that the issue was closed and commenced to give some sorted details about Jefferson’s affair with the young African-American girl.  I responded by pointing out that the article was not documented nor had I ever read many of the so called details anywhere else.  Upon my reply, the old professor got quite angry that I was questioning his facts and inferred he was more intelligent than I, and that I should accept his facts for he was educated and graduated from Stanford.  It is this kind of exchange that goads you into digging deeper.

Needless to say, when I saw the “The Jefferson-Hemings Controversy” I was delighted.  I found the book on Amazon and down loaded it for $10 and read the majority of it the first night.  It confirmed what I already believed, that it was quite unlikely that the stories, gossip, and slander about Jefferson’s so-called affair was true.

The book also gives us some insight into how easily academia is deceived by pseudo scholars when the deception fits their preconceived ideas and ideology.  The book also documents the outright dishonesty of some of the historians who have written about Jefferson.  Obviously, these were some of the books my professor friend had read at Stanford.

The book is published by Carolina Academic Press, 700 Kent Street, Durham, NC 27701.  The hard back version is expensive $45.00, the Kindle version is less than $10.00.

Lyle Duell

The Symbolism of The Christmas Tree

The Symbolism of The Christmas Tree

What is Christmas all about?  Well,  it’s about what you want it to be about.  It can be all about stress and anxiety but remember if it is, it is because you make it so.  You may have allowed the spirit of materialism to cloud your vision.  To me, Christmas is all about giving and children.  I can still remember the excitement, mystery and wonder of those early Christmases.  I remember knelling at the upstairs window with my sister looking for Santa Clause and his reindeer.  I remember the expectation of the coming morning and the excitement of opening the gifts.  I still love to see the grand kids faces as they open their gifts.  I especially enjoy watching the little ones playing with the Christmas paper.  They seem to be more excited about the paper than all the commotion around.

Of course, Christmas is also about the family.  It is one of those sacred days we in America have set aside for family and friends; a day in which we celebrate our families and our friendships.  Christmas is the last wall which separates us from being a total secular culture where nothing is sacred and all is profane.  I often wonder what our culture will look like when the desacralization is completed and there is nothing left of the sacred or the mystery and wonder that went with it.  When was the last time that you experienced some awe and wonder?

You know there is something else I like about Christmas.  I love the music.  It is so positive and up- lifting.  It speaks of hope, love and joy.  One of the main radio channels in our area plays nothing but Christmas music from Thanksgiving to Christmas.  I love the guy who thought that one up.  I’m sure the teens hate him and it must grind on the skeptics among us.  Even they must concede that it’s a welcome change from the noise and the depressing lyrics of modern music.

I guess I should get back to the title of this article “The symbolism of the Christmas tree.”  The pine tree is not a unique symbol to Christianity.  It was used by numerous religious groups as a symbol of eternal life.  Many of these groups might have borrowed the imagery of the tree of life found in the Paradise of God in the book of Genesis.  Unlike other trees, the pine tree does not depend on the seasons of the year for it to produce life.  It appears to be alive when everything around it seems dead.  It is shaped like a cone and points to the heavens and reminds us that life comes from above and is eternal.

Let’s take a look at the ornaments from top to bottom.  On the top of the tree we usually find an angel or a star.  Both are fitting symbols.  The angel represents the messengers that announced the birth of the Messiah to the shepherds in the field “they brought a message of good news and great joy.”  If you use a star, it symbolizes the star of David which symbolizes the Messiah to be born into David’s family.  It is not surprising; therefore, that Jesus is referred to as the bright and Morningstar.  The star, therefore, is the symbol of Jesus. As the Morningstar rules over the night, so does Jesus’s rule over his people.

Then we have the lights, (they used to be real candles) which stands for all of God’s people that are called by the Messiah to be the light of the world.  They are to take the message of giving and hope given by the angles to the entire world and be about the business of punching holes in the darkness of this world.  How is your light shining this Christmas?

It has been our custom to hang on the tree little symbols of our family members and family events that have taken place during the years.  It is a great way sharing and remembering our family history.  But it also symbolizes how our story and the story of all mankind hangs on the same tree of life.  Did you know that the tree of life in the opening story in the Book of Genius is a symbol that points toward Jesus? “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched-this we proclaim concerning the Word of life.  The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us” (1 John 1:1-3).

Final, when we unwrap the meaning of the gifts under the tree we will see that they point to the great gift giver.  “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” (James 1;17)  This Christmas let’s learn the power of a thankful spirit.  Count the real gifts that God has given to you, your mate, your children and your friends.   Did you know that God blesses those that have a thankful spirit?

Have a merry Christmas and a great new year.

Grateful redeemed.

Lyle Duell

 

 

What is Religion?

What is Religion?

  In my conversation with people about religion I have found that the term itself is difficult to define with any degree of concreteness. Some have attempted to define the word by limiting it to what people call organized religion but in doing this, they are inferring that there are other meanings. If there is an organized version of religion there must be an unorganized version. I believe if we attempt to define the concept too narrowly we will end up limiting its usage to an unwarranted degree and may subvert some usages of the word. Of course, for some subversion might be their intention.

Let’s begin with how the word is used. It is used to denote a person’s behavior or belief that they are intensely committed to. “John exercises religiously or John’s religion is exercising.” Both expressions work well to relay the idea  that John is extremely committed to exercise; to the point of being fanatical. In this context the word is used to denote excess in something, which it does not deserve it. Exercise is good, but it should not be made your ultimate concern.

Religion can also denote a commitment to an  organization as “John belongs to the Roman Catholic religion” or Dick is  a follower of the Moslem religion. This commitment can go beyond a commitment to an organized religion.  It can be a devotion or commitment to a belief, behavior or lifestyle.  The stoic religious was to practice virtue. This seems to be the way that is used in the Bible. When James says, “Pure religion and undefiled before our God and Father is this, to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world” (James 1;27).

From the above, we can gather that the word has various shades of meaning, which is determined by context. Can a non-belief or a negative belief be a person’s religion? Yes, if one is committed to it intensely. e.g. .if one spends an inordinate amount time on it. It could be said to be one’s religion[1]. “John’s religion is playing video games or debunking theism.” The latter is the religion of many of the new atheists.

When the word is used for organized religion you run into another problem of defining the word “organized.” You could say that there is no universal definition of what constitutes an organized religion. For some, a group with a leader is an organization. To others, it may take a written Constitution  with a formal membership to be classified as an organization. You can organize around a man, a group, a belief or an idea. People can organize against a belief or an idea; in this, they organize around their commonly held un-belief, which could be any negative idea. The Protestant religion was formed around a group of non-beliefs. People can belong to certain movements, which are loosely organized and formed around  a set of ideas and led very informally by a group of charismatic  leaders. You see this kind of religion in the New-Age  movement and in the new atheist movement. Both could rightly be called religion but their followers viciously contend that their movements are not a religion. However, just recently the seventh court of appeals has ruled that atheism is a religion[2] and the Supreme Court has ruled prior that secular humanism is a religion for legal purposes[3].

I have found that when people begin to split hairs about what constituted religion, they usually have an agenda. It could be a religious group (usually a cult) that wants to set itself apart from a larger group or an atheists group or individual who does not want to be compared to a faith group. In their spitting of hairs, these groups and individuals actually demonstrate they are very must a part of a religion. If not, they would have no reason to be protesting. Protestantism is a religion when it demands your attention and especially if it is your ultimate concern or an all-consuming interest as some of the new atheist have done,  many of which have been taught  to hate what they call religion to the point they are allergic to the word itself. Get over it you guys, your movement is a religion.

After reading the article my wife said to me, ” you did not answer the question what is religion?” No, I did not. There have been books written on the subject and to some degree they have all failed to encompass the entirety of the subject. To me, the best concrete definition of religion was given by Paul Tillich when  he said religion was ones “ultimate concern.”[4]  So, what is your ultimate concern? When you answer that question, you have found your religion.

[1]  The Supreme Court has held that non-theistic viewpoints can qualify as religious when they “occupy the same place in [a person’s] life as the belief in a traditional deity holds United States v. Seeger, 380 U.S. 163, 187 (1965).

[2]  Note (Kaufman, James v. McCaughtry, Gary) “Without venturing too far into the realm of the philosophical, we have suggested in the past that when a person sincerely holds beliefs dealing with issues of ‘ultimate concern’ that for her occupy a ‘place parallel to that filled by . . . God in traditionally religious persons,’ those beliefs represent her religion.”

“We have already indicated that atheism may be considered, in this specialized sense, a religion. See Reed v. Great Lakes Cos., 330 F.3d 931, 934 (7th Cir. 2003) (‘If we think of religion as taking a position on divinity, then atheism is indeed a form of religion.’)”

[3] Torcaso v. Watkins, 367 U.S. 488 (1961)

[4] Paul Tillich, “What is Religion?” and his “Systematic Theology”.

A Parable for Atheists

A Parable for Atheists

In a mother’s womb were two babies. One asked the other: “Do you believe in life after delivery? “The other replied, “Why, of course. There has to be something after delivery. Maybe we are here to prepare ourselves for what we will be later.” “Nonsense” said the first. “There is no life after delivery. What kind of life would that be?” The second said, “I don’t know, but there will be more light than here. Maybe we will walk with our legs and eat from our mouths. Maybe we will have other senses that we can’t understand now.” The first replied, “That is absurd. Walking is impossible. And eating with our mouths? Ridiculous! The umbilical cord supplies nutrition and everything we need. But the umbilical cord is so short. Life after delivery is to be logically excluded.”

The second insisted, “Well I think there is something and maybe it’s different than it is here. Maybe we won’t need this physical cord anymore.” The first replied, “Nonsense. And moreover if there is life, then why has no one has ever come back from there? Delivery is the end of life, and in the after-delivery there is nothing but darkness and silence and oblivion. It takes us nowhere.”

“Well, I don’t know,” said the second, “but certainly we will meet Mother and she will take care of us.” The first replied “Mother? You actually believe in Mother? That’s laughable. If Mother exists then where is She now?” The second said, “She is all around us. We are surrounded by her. We are of Her. It is in Her that we live. Without Her this world would not and could not exist.” Said the first: “Well I don’t see Her, so it is only logical that She doesn’t exist.” To which the second replied, “Sometimes, when you’re in silence and you focus and listen, you can perceive Her presence, and you can hear Her loving voice, calling down from above.”

I saw this on the net and had to pass it on. It speaks of the final transformation in the birth of the sons of God into a new creation.”