God’s Wrath

A way’s back, I wrote a review for Jennifer Fulwiler’s Book, Something Other Than God: How I Passionately Sought Happiness and Accidentally Found It. As I said, I liked the book and found it very interesting. One of the items of note was the discussion, or competing theories, of God’s Wrath versus God’s Love. Let us discuss this in more detail here.

In ancient times, believers in God were exhorted to “fear the Lord.” God was sometimes described as a wrathful Deity who must be placated. “Evidence” to support such a view of God could be found in the common beliefs about hell as a place of suffering and eternal torture of the damned. Likewise, unfortunate events such as the destruction of a nation could be attributed to the actions of an angry Deity who, because of the failings of that nation’s people, must see to their just destruction.

Then along came Jesus who described God as a loving Father, and all of that began to change. Jesus’ emphasis on love and forgiveness has deeply impacted religious thought all over the world. Now, it seems, many people have abandoned the notion that God stands in judgment of sinners, meting out punishment as he sees fit. Discussions of hell, purgatory, and even sin seem passe.

Is this view warranted?

In my view: to a certain degree, yes; to a certain degree, no.

Jesus described God as the Father; in other words, He is a parent. We are His children. A parent has the right and the obligation to punish a child when that child does wrong. In my view, we can gain some insight from this notion. Although a loving father must sometimes punish, he will never destroy, nor will he torture, nor will he murder his own offspring for a wrong that child commits. Such is excessive punishment and completely anathema to love. As a result of that, I find ancient notions of hell and purgatory to be dubious. God is responsible for our discipline, not our torture. He takes no pleasure in reprimanding us, but it is something He must do. Such discipline may come in life, or it may come in the after-life. If it comes in life, all the better; we can discuss it properly. If it comes in the after-life, its nature or even its existence is hidden from us. Regardless, hell, in particular, seems to be such an aberration from the concept of a loving, merciful God, I find it impossible to accept; as a result, I think the concept should be removed from doctrine; and purgatory is hardly any better.

Can and will God discipline us as appropriate? I’m sure He will. I just … I just can’t respect a Deity that claims to be a loving power and yet would be willing to punish one of His children with eternal internment in hell.

Of course, I’m also the antichrist (yes, I lost another reader), and I’m quite familiar with being punished in life for twenty years or so, but what I did was excessively stupid. Also, since I’m the antichrist, you probably shouldn’t believe me; make up your own mind.

Ritual, Relativism, and Absolutism

In the discussion between Absolutism and Relativism, it may prove to be particularly revealing to discuss the nature of religious ritual. Indeed, in my view an inappropriate understanding of ritual is very much at the heart of the Absolutism/Relativism conflict.

Let us suppose a religion for a people called the Boogees. In one of their many practices, the priest must wash his hands before handling the Sacred Bowl. It has been their practice for the past fifteen hundred years. Needless to say, they are not prepared to change it. However, the recent invention of hand-sanitizer (which we will assume is more effective than water alone) brings exactly this point up for debate. Although water has been used for hundreds of years, if it is a question of cleanliness, hand-sanitizer offers a more robust option. Although, since it is a religious ritual, the replacement of water with hand-sanitizer faces resistance, most especially from longer term members of the faith. Yet, eventually, the reformers prevail and the water is replaced with hand-sanitizer. What does this mean?

At this point, I agree with the relativist to a certain extent. Clearly, since the water was replaced, it was not sacred in itself. The ritual can still go on while using hand-sanitizer. The sacredness of the ritual does not change in spite of this difference. How can this be? Only if the sacredness of the ritual is dependent upon something other than just the elements themselves. What is this something? I put it to you that it is the piety of the individuals involved in the ritual. It is this spiritual devotion to a higher power that is important, not the nitty-gritty details of the ritual that expresses this devotion.

Does this hand the relativist victory?

No. Emphatically, no.

Although many different rituals exist across the spectrum of human religion, it is the piety that transcends and unifies them all. And it is piety that stands as the absolute value of most common concern when one is discussing ritual. Perhaps, one might object that since rituals allow for a nearly limitless spectrum of possible expressions of piety, any and all such expressions are equally valid. Hence, there is no discernible moral difference between religious rituals. Rituals are relativistic things, all of which equally express the concept of piety.

If that is true, then there is no discernible difference between the Aztec ritual of human sacrifice and the Catholic ritual of Communion.

In one sense, that is true: the Aztec priest and the Catholic priest both perform their rituals with (probably) equal levels of piety.

But the comparison is still ridiculous.

The reply to the relativist is that he is confusing morality with piety. Morality has a much larger scope, of which piety is but a small part. There are more virtues to the human person than mere piety: mercy, love, compassion, respect for life, etc…. And in my view, respect for life is of greater moral significance than piety. Piously killing people is a grave error.

Of final interest is what I call the ritual hard-liner. Basically, these are the people who will probably take comfort in the relativistic stance. They don’t want to change the water to hand-sanitizer. Indeed, they refuse. Because it is their sacred ritual that they have been performing the exact same way for the past fifteen hundred years. And no one else has the right to tell them to perform it any other way.

To them, in the case of the water/hand-sanitizer issue, I’d make my case once, then leave them alone. They aren’t hurting anyone.

But in the case of Aztec human sacrifice, a different response is required. Historically, the different response was war, and it resulted in the destruction of the entire Aztec culture. Perhaps such is regrettable; but given our current struggles with Isis and Islamic extremism, perhaps not. I do not mean to impugn or threaten all Muslims, just the idiots who think strapping on a suicide vest is a good thing.

Anyway, prior to war (which is too late now), morality insists that we try to argue with them. Yes, I know it is their beliefs and they have the right to decide what they believe and don’t believe; but if they endorse suicide bombing I will not choose to remain silent.

Book Review: After the Darkness by Rev. Joseph M. Esper (3 ½ *’s)

I recently finished reading After the Darkness by Rev. Joseph M. Esper. It is a fictional novel about the, as he puts it, “The coming of the antichrist and the end of the world.” The copyright is 1997, so, giving about a year or so for the final organization of the book, everything in it after 1996 or 1995 or so is completely speculative. And he admits that fact in the Introduction saying that his work is NOT an attempt to predict the future. I think he merely intends to give his fictional account as a means to stress the seriousness of the topic and to exhort us to a deeper spirituality. Or something.

There are three parts to the book. The first is a fictional history of events written in “2061” about the preceding 65 years. Part II consists of journal entries from the life of a mystic and seer covering another twenty years. Part III consists of diary entries from the False Prophet; the antichrist’s right hand man.

For myself, I found the book an interesting read because he bases a good portion of the events in the book on actual prophecies of seers and prophets who have lived. And it’s all footnoted. He’s got stuff from the Bible, of course, as well as Marian prophecies, Nostradamus, and many others. I used to be a prophecy buff. As these prophecies all relate to the end of the world and the antichrist—an issue, as readers of my blog are aware, I struggle with—I’ve found it an excellent resource for such. And, having read the book including all those prophecies, I can safely conclude that many of them do not apply to me. Most specifically, I can quite emphatically state that the prophecies concerning the political career of the antichrist do not apply to me at all. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it), this may be the result of my choice. There was a brief period of time where I considered pursuing a political career. Only God knows what would have happened, if I had. For myself, I’m inclined to think the prophecies noted above describe the political career I would have had, if I had entered politics. So, I can’t use these prophecies to argue with myself that I am not the antichrist (hence, the descriptor of ‘unfortunately’). However, as I now have no intention of entering politics (partly because I think I’m the antichrist), I can declare those prophecies avoided. Hah! A victory for the good guys.

Anyway, back to the book. Overall, it was okay, but not great. If you’re interested in prophecies, it’s a great resource. However, as a story, it was nothing spectacular and at times even seemed a little cheesy. The writing was fine; there were only a few typos here and there; and, overall, the presentation was original and good, it was just a little lackluster. Ultimately, I’ll give the book three and a half stars out of five.

Alien Leaders Are Schmucks Too!

One of my favorite programs on TV is Ancient Aliens. For those who aren’t familiar with the program, it explores the hypothesis that extra-terrestrials have been visiting Earth and interfering in the affairs of humanity for thousands of years. They go through the evidence, examine the theories, and generally turn alien intrigue into entertainment.

Anyway, the other night I watched several episodes. According to the program, sometime in the 1950’s, an alien being named “Valiant Thor” landed on planet Earth and had a meeting with the President of the United States. Basically, the alien wanted to convey extra-terrestrial concern over the development of and use of nuclear weapons. Watching the program was the first I’ve ever heard of “Valiant Thor.”

Surprised?

One of the more common theories concerning aliens is that the U.S. government knows far more about aliens than they are letting on. Theories abound—and the occasional rebel official validates—about how the government has numerous contacts with multiple alien species. But they are keeping it secret from us. Because, well, they’re a bunch of jerks. Complete and utter schmucks.

If aliens are out there, and they’re visiting Earth, and our government knows about it; we, the population of the United States, have a right to know. We’re big boys and girls. We can handle it. There is no good reason for the government to keep such information from us.

Now what about the aliens?

Can’t they settle this mystery and just land a spaceship on the White House Lawn in broad daylight? I mean, all things considered, our tech is getting pretty advanced. We’re almost at the point of the commercial exploration of space. Well, maybe our super advanced fighter jets scare the alien spaceships away … but I’m not buying that, as their tech probably blows ours away in spades. Regardless, at the very least, don’t you think that the aliens could hijack a TV signal or something similar and announce their presence to our population? Why wouldn’t they?

The only reason I can think of is that the aliens, too, want their existence and identity to remain hidden from us. In which case, I am forced to conclude that the alien leaders, too, are schmucks.

I Have A Mathematical Mind

I have a mathematical mind. It is the curse of being a philosopher, or rather, having a philosophical bent. I studied mathematics and philosophy in college. Then, I went back and studied computer science. I’ve had more logic than I know what to do with. And sometimes that is a severe disadvantage. Because a mathematical mind is often an inflexible mind.

In my case, I look at things as either true or false. In mathematics, for example, most problems have definitive answers. If you do the work and follow it, you can establish the truthfulness or falsity of an assertion with certainty. When the answer to a mathematical question is found, it is established and irrefutable. Math is the only science like that; math is the only science in which the term “proof” has its truest meaning. Unfortunately, it is an open question whether or not the field of mathematics actually applies to the world. Back when I was studying philosophy, there were basically three (or was it five?) theories on what mathematics actual is. There was Plato’s view of mathematics; that is, it is about the eternal relationships between real properties (Plato’s Theory of Forms). There was Kant’s view of mathematics; that is, it is really the result of the structure of the human mind. And there were three other theories, I think, although I remember only one: that mathematics is just a game. In my view, the solution is either Kant or Plato. Either two plus two equals four because the property of twoness always leads to four when it is doubled (Plato), or because we can’t see the relationship any other way, because our minds are structured that way and limited. As far as math being a game … that never satisfied me. I’ve gone off on a tangent here; let me try to get back. The original point was: How does math apply to the world? If Plato is right, it is a part of the world. If Kant is right, it’s a part of our minds. If the game theory is right, it is an invention of our own making.

Once I was in a stock room trying to put together a shelf. The shelves didn’t quite fit right. I could tell by looking at the shelf that the angle was off slightly, and that geometrically, the shelves would never fit. Hence, it was no use trying to make them fit and I gave up the cause as hopeless. Whereupon, my boss and another individual promptly forced the shelf into place through brute force and completed the shelf. As rigid as metal is, it does bend; it is not as rigid as a perfect geometrical line. Metal can be distorted. Errors can be forced. So what was the geometry of the situation? It could describe the shelf effectively, but in a manner that led one to believe the problem had no solution. In such a situation, it doesn’t seem that the mathematics was “real.” Brute force could conquer it. The real world could resolve the problem where math indicated there was no solution. Upon reflection it appears that geometry, my Euclidean understanding of it, anyway, was derived from the real world; that pure math exists only in the  human mind. That said, if pushed, I can give you a few examples from Number Theory where the opposite is true; situations that absolutely can’t be forced, where a mathematical determination of “the solution is impossible” guarantees that the solution is, in fact, impossible. So, what is mathematics? I don’t know. All I know is that I tend to think along mathematical lines.

It’s great to have an analytical mathematical mind, but it also stinks like a rotten egg; I have the common sense of a stone. I’ve spent most of my life proving that last and it’s something I don’t think I can change.

Book Review: The City of God by St. Augustine (4 *’s)

I’ve been wanting to read St. Augustine’s City of God for quite some time. At the same time, I’ve been dreading it as well. I was expecting a book in philosopher-speak. Those who have studied philosophy, or those who have tried to read a philosophy book without having studied philosophy will know what I mean. Normally, a philosophy book is a pretty tough slog. I earned a B.A. in philosophy when I went to college, but that was years ago. These days, my philosophy brain has pretty much gone to rot.

Yet, as far as philosophy books go, Augustine’s City of God was pretty mild. I didn’t have to work too hard to understand what he was saying most of the time. Mine was an abridged edition so it was largely cohesive in nature; I understand that the unabridged version has numerous “discursions” into ancillary topics—a common practice at the time Augustine was writing.

Anyway, the book is a defense of the Catholic faith. More specifically, the stated purpose of the book is to describe two different types of humanity/lifestyles or, as he calls it, cities. On the one hand, is the City of Men. This basically describes the lives of those who are attached to earthly affairs. The other city is, of course, the City of God which describes the lives of those who are focused on spirituality and the divinely sanctioned life. Naturally, he lauds the latter of these two cities while condemning the former.

Was it well argued and supported? I guess so. I sometimes have difficulty concentrating when I’m reading stuff these days—especially philosophy—so, I may have not absorbed as much as I should have.

The things in the book that struck me as the most interesting, though, were the details he gave concerning pagan deities (Jupiter, Mars, etc…); more specifically, how it is the Church’s position that these “deities” are really demons in disguise, as evidenced by the depraved practices involved in their worship. I just found that curious. I also liked his commentary later in the book about the various mysteries of the world, mysteries we, 1700 years later, have explained or disproved. It’s just interesting to contemplate his wonder … and his errors. For example, at one point he claims that goat’s blood can dissolve diamonds. I mean, that’s kind of a curious myth (I assume it’s a myth—actually my antichrist stuff might have something to say about that, but I’ll leave that discussion to another day) and I wonder where it came from. He also claims that peacock meat does not decompose like human flesh does. He claims that he even verified this with an experiment, and that even after several months the peacock meat only dried out—it did not decompose. Very curious. If that truly did happen, how does one explain it? I can … but only with a theory that has earned me a number of psychiatric meds.

Anyway, I found the book to be decent overall, but not fantabulous. I’ll give it four stars out of five.

Killing in the Name of God, and Satan

Let us begin this brief discussion with a fact: Members of different religious sects have killed each other in the past using the justification of moral or religious superiority. It is my contention that this blunt fact pleases Satan far more than any other. Indeed, according to me, Satan wrote the religions for the express purpose of watching zealots slaughter each other (Yes, I just offended pretty much every person on the planet. Sorry. But that is what I believe).

Any time men kill other men, the devil is pleased, but his delight is greatly amplified when such killing is performed in the name of God. God is Love. Acts of Love please God. Acts of Hate, He understands, but does not condone. Some might claim that God is merciful to everyone except the infidel, or the pagan, or the heathen, or whatever other unbeliever there may be. I find such discrimination on God’s part to be odd and out-of-character.

To further the point, let us consider what kinds of things might please the devil, but not God. Blasphemy, impiety, cruelty, murder, fornication (although most in the West no longer agree with that), lying, theft, etc… Are such things listed above uniquely Christian standards (As I, the author of this post, claim to be a Christian—roughly Catholic to be more precise)? I’m inclined to say no, but others may disagree. Of the infractions listed above, to my mind, the worst is murder. However, combinations may yet be even worse. Consider the possibility of impious murder or blasphemous murder. Is this not killing in the name of God?

Does God value Life? Or Death?

What is an impious murder? Does the term not suggest that there is a pious manner for committing murder? Are we that far divorced from morality? In other words, are we now going to justify human sacrifice because it is murder committed in a pious manner? I hope not. So, what do we make of blasphemous murder? Is it murder done in direct contravention to God’s will? Anything else? Murder done with the specific intent to violate God’s spirit, will, and commands—that seems to sum up the meaning. To me, the clearest example is killing in the name of God. Also, human sacrifice fits the bill as well.

In my view, the ultimate blasphemy is the ending of another’s life, so killing in the name of God is a blasphemy heaped upon a blasphemy. Satan rejoices when man kills man for any reason. Satan rejoices in death and killing, most especially, as I said, killing in the name of God. Although there may be such a thing as a “just war,” which, regardless of its justice, is regrettable, there is no such thing as a “holy war.” Creeds which endorse such are tragically mistaken.

Yes, I’m talking to you, you followers of Isis … not that I expect you to give my words a moment’s thought. You should. But you probably won’t.