Monday, 27 February 2012

Conversations with a Fundamentalist Christian - Seven and Final

It is probably appropriate that this conversation comes to a close on the number Seven, given that this has been about biblical issues and in Hebrew Seven means complete or full! And there are heaps of meaningful references to the Number Seven in regard to biblical teaching.

When man began to analyze and combine numbers, he developed other interesting symbols. He took the perfect world number FOUR and added to it the perfect divine number, THREE, and got SEVEN, the most sacred number to the Hebrews. It was earth crowned with heaven -- the four-square earth plus the divine COMPLETENESS OF GOD. So we have SEVEN expressing COMPLETENESS through union of earth with heaven. This number is used more than all other numbers in the Word of God, save the number ONE.

In the Book of Revelation the number SEVEN is used throughout. There are SEVEN churches, SEVEN Spirits, SEVEN stars, SEVEN seals, SEVEN trumpets, SEVEN vials, SEVEN personages, SEVEN dooms, and SEVEN new things. SEVEN symbolizes Spiritual Perfection. All of life revolves around this number. SEVEN is used over 700 times in the Bible. It is used 54 times in the Book of Revelation.

All of which is interesting - didn't God rest on the Seventh Day?  And we too have come to a rest, or perhaps for me a pause in the general as opposed to the particular, because the journey and the questions and the learning never stops.

In symbolic meaning - Sevens, like Threes, deal with magical forces. Sevens deal with esoteric, scholarly aspects of magic. Representative of scholarly activities, mystery, and the focused search for esoteric meanings. Which is what this discussion has been about for me.

Seven deals with the activation of imagination and manifesting results in our lives through the use of conscious thought and awareness - so in responding to the literal imaginatively - metaphor and symbol, I find my spiritual path. Ruled by Saturn,  and I have Saturn sitting beside my Sun astrologically, Seven can represent impractical dreaming, but with the chance to go deeper, which is what I have been trying to do.

And so, for what it is worth here is how and where we ended up:

As a matter of courtesy I will reply to your final posts but like you, I am happy to leave things where they stand.

You said: This statement, plus several others in this conversation, allude to the idea that truth and the meaning of a text are in the reader’s mind, that the meaning of a conversation is in the hearer’s mind.  Rather, what the Bible says is not up for vote, it is not depedent on one person’s perspective. What it says is what it says, and I’m sorry, but whatever it says is fixed into the text, and not changed by us.

But this is patently not true because I can read a quote from the Bible and come up with one interpretation and you can come up with another and no doubt four other people could come up with differing interpretations to lesser and greater degrees.

The Bible is a collection of words, offered in the structure of sentences and paragraphs and many of those words have been translated more than once ... and as scholars know, with resulting errors ...and many of the sentences and paragraphs have been edited .... as scholars know, with resulting errors ... and anyone who takes this 'error factor' into account is going to come up with a different interpretation than someone like yourself who does not.

Given that the Bible has been translated and edited numerous times in its history then the text is not as fixed as you might suggest. And there are more than one version of the Bible so clearly it is not as fixed as you might suggest. The only 'text' which is fixed is the text you have selected as the one that you and your religion believes is the correct one. That is however merely belief and the veracity of that belief could never be empirically proven nor demonstrated - except to other believers.

So patently the Bible text is not as fixed as you would have it and that suggests that other interpretations are as valid as yours.

I said: “I believe someone is in love with me and has committed to me but I discover some time later that he does not love me and has not actually committed to me. My relationship then, while being very real, was an illusion. We could have a very rational conversation about my illusory relationship but the relationship, as later demonstrated, would remain an illusion.

The point I was trying to make is that you cannot know you are absolutely right and I cannot know I am absolutely right and much of which we believe, however rational we believe ourselves to be (as so many are when they marry) can be illusion.”

You said: The first paragraph you are correct, you seem to grasp that we cannot go through life believing illusions, because reality tends to creep in eventually. If what is in my mind does not line up with reality, I must change what I’m thinking.

That is right and wrong.  I changed what I was thinking in terms of how one could read the Bible and have it make sense - more than that - how one could read the Bible and have it approximate something which might be mostly sourced in what we could call God.

Many people do go through life believing in illusions and they do so quite happily. You would argue my position is an illusion and I could argue that yours is but we are both living full, productive and functional lives so the illusion works for each of us and reality will only creep in if the illusion becomes non-functional.

And our realities change as we mature and experience more of life and depending on our circumstances. Someone with your views might go along quite happily until confronted with a personal situation which puts them at odds with the beliefs. For instance, one reason I began to question orthodox Christian teachings in regard to Heaven and Hell was because I grew up with dysfunctional parents - a mentally ill mother and often violent and angry father - and when he died I was old enough, at the age of 30, to look at him and his life and be cognizant of the 'wrongs' he had done but to know with absolute utter certainty that he did not deserve to be punished and neither did my mother.

By your reasoning they would be punished simply for not believing what your religion teaches which is even worse but in other versions of Christianity there is still this venal and vindictive teaching that we are punished for wrongs we commit even if we are so wounded or damaged there is no way we could have been other than what we were or are. Such mean-spiritedness and cruelty, could not, I decided at that point, be about God. So I set out to find out just what God might be and to make sense of why any religion should teach such evil things.... for they are evil... they are the opposite of the life force, of live.

 You said: However, the next paragraph makes this statement: “You cannot know you are absolutely right and I cannot know I am absolutely right.” This statement is given as if you are sure you are right about it.

Context is important here. Life is not simple and the application of a perspective to one thing, in this case the reading and interpreting of the Bible, does not necessarily apply to all things. The statement was made about the topic we are discussing here.

You said:  Logically, this statement is either right or not; if it is right, it is self-refuting since you know you are right about something. If it is wrong, it says nothing about how we can know we are right.

The nature of the statement when applied to interpreting the Bible and what God might be says neither of us can be sure in any absolute sense that we are right. If you want to discuss the sentence itself and what it could mean in terms of being self-refuting then those materialistic mindset contortions are possible but probably of little value. I made the comment in the context of the topic and you are taking it as a general which means we are both in very different places in regard to both its meaning and its application.

It would be interesting of course, to 'hold' the comment in thought, like a Zen Koan - which is something it could be - in order to open one's mind to all possibilities and I may well do that now that you have displayed it in that light. But it is a digression from the topic.

You said: In reality, what is usually meant by such statements is that the Christian can’t be sure, but other people can. This is illogical.

Of course it is illogical and that is not what I am saying. I meant exactly what I said. I am struck, as I write, by the thought that you, who takes such a literal and material view of the Bible and its teachings should take such a metaphorical and symbolic view of what I said when I meant it quite literally.  You know, I think you would enjoy Zen Koans if you have not been exposed to them.

I said:  “Looking at the evidence reveals to me that there is substantial ‘proof’ for what I believe but that ‘proof’, just like your ‘proof’ is not absolute and cannot be. In fact it will not be until we die and either confront oblivion, in which case we will not know anyway, or your world or my world.”

You said: You are correct that we do not have “absolute proof” in a philosophical sense, for this level of proof does not exist for anything. In a philosophical, mental problem, we cannot be sure that 2+2=4 will be true tomorrow, since it might change. However, it is not reasonable to go through life like this, claiming that we cannot be sure of such things; to do so is unreasonable. If you have read very many posts on this blog, you’ll see that we have tremendous proof for the essentials of Christianity. We simply cannot wave away all this mountain of evidence with a wave of the magic wand of “we can’t be sure.”

Of course you cannot because your version of Christianity does not allow maybes. Your version of Christianity and religion, from what I can see, is about absolutes and about defending those absolutes. The 'proofs' that you have is in your version of Christianity, not all versions of Christianity and certainly not all religions.

That suggests to me that you have a part of the story but not all of it but clearly it suggests to you that you have all of the story and everyone else is wrong. I prefer to go through life accepting its illusory nature and lack of absolutes than to try to force my head around a concept that one version of one religion in this amazingly complex world can be the only one which has it right. But I do understand why my position seems nonsensical to others, if not terrifying, and why the need to believe one is right and has certainty and appeal.

I would also add I do not wave a 'magic wand' to make what you call proof disappear. I have used extensive reading across a very broad spectrum of knowledge to sift through what might be logically possible and what might be symbolically and metaphorically meaningful. If in my reading of other religions, spirituality and physics and science for instance I had found connections with your literal interpretations of the Bible then we would not be having this conversation now - I would believe as you do - because when I began this journey, my understanding, while not as fundamentalist as yours, was sourced in a literal reading of Christian teaching.

But I did not find those connections. Instead I found that the only way to make sense of the Biblical teachings in terms of what we know of this material world and of more ancient spiritual beliefs, was to approach them metaphorically and symbolically. There was nothing 'magic' about it, except the magic I found in the world when I could make sense of vast areas of disparate knowledge. A 'wand' makes things happen in an instant - my beliefs have been formed over forty years and are still in a process of becoming.

I said:  “Having said that I would add that a spiritual teaching which makes sense to me is that just as we create our own reality in this world, so we create our own reality when we cross over. You probably will see what you expect to see for that is your reality and I will see what I expect to see. In time no doubt, there will be guidance as to which represents the greater ‘truth.”

You said: We simply cannot create our own reality. If we could, then I’ll do it now: My reality is that you’ve just become a traditional Christian. See you in church.

Very droll. What I meant of course is that we create our own reality not the reality of others. We can change ourselves and our own life but do not have the right to try to change others. In truth, when we change then others change. Your task in this life is you, not me and my task is me, not you.

It is the tricky thing with prayer. We don't know what someone else's spiritual needs are in this world and so praying for specifics is not necessarily in their best interests. Keeping it general - sending light and love, praying that they find guidance or that they will become who and what they need to be - is to my mind a safer bet.

And that is why I would never seek to create another reality for someone else - in all truth we cannot but we can confuse them given the power that thought has, particularly on those who are close to us. I neither need or want you to believe as I do: as I have said many times before your way is right for you and mine is right for me. This exchange is no more than a connection to offer insights into why we are who and what we are.

I don't wish anything for you other than fulfillment in the paths you choose as you live your life in your own way.

You said: I submit that there is a lot of popular misconceptions about what quantum physics actually teaches. While I am not an expert, the lectures I’ve heard from people that actually understand quantum physics is that it only works in the sub-atomic world, not in our common level of perception, and even when it does, the main point is that we cannot predict the location of a particle and the direction it is traveling at the same time. It does NOT claim that particles appear from no where, nor do the gaggle of atheist physicists say that material emanates from spiritual. (for proof, see here: )
Perhaps you can find a qualified source for what you believe? I submit that you can’t.

What you submit is possible is purely sourced in your own prejudice and amounts to egregious conjecture. I could post a heap of links or list dozens of books written by scientists and physicists but I don't see the point. If you are interested it is easy enough to do the research. I am no expert either. I have read and continue to read books on the topic but I doubt I have the ability to put forward any sort of coherent explanation, nor do I have the interest. I leave that to the experts. Just do a search on any question you would put to me, or what you have said here, and the information will be there as will hundreds of books on the topic.

But yes, it is tricky. For one thing there is the views of traditional physics in which I suspect your understanding is sourced - Newtonian/Descartesian material in approach - and then there is quantum physics which is in essence the new physics and which takes, or rather has been forced to take, a view beyond the material. Quantum physicists are now discovering that the physics of the subatomic world apply everywhere and that in fact the phenomena which traditional physics and materialist science would call paranormal are in fact normal and consistent with what is known about the laws of science today.

The traditional physics takes the view of a separated world, just as your religion does of God. This doesn't fit with Quantum or New Physics and it doesn't fit with ancient spiritual teaching - 'all is one' - 'as above, so below' etc. The fascinating thing about Quantum Physics is that it is discovering, or re-membering, the connectedness of all things and the one source of all that is. And the belief that particles cannot appear from nowhere is being challenged as we speak.

You said: I have already commented on how God cannot be all, for he cannot be good and evil at the same time, and cannot be matter since all mater had a beginning. As for “cosmic consciousness” this is a meaningless term. Rocks are not self aware.

No term is meaningless. You may not comprehend or be prepared to accept a term but that does not make it meaningless. As Sir James Jeans, English physicist, astronomer and mathematician said: 'The universe looks more like a great thought than a great machine.'

You might find Bernard Haisch interesting. He has written a couple of books discussing the physics/spiritual perspectives. Bernard Haisch, Ph.D., is an astrophysicist and author of over 130 scientific publications. He served as a scientific editor of the Astrophysical Journal for ten years, and was Principal Investigator on several NASA research projects. After earning his Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin in Madison, Haisch did postdoctoral research at the Joint Institute for Laboratory Astrophysics, University of Colorado at Boulder and the University of Utrecht, the Netherlands.

You said: Not sure how much longer I’m going to spend time going down through this alice-in-wonderland line of thinking. My time is limited and you are not basing your beliefs in anything except your own speculations. I respectfully submit that instead of talking to me, your time would be better spent reading the bible.

That's fine. I am happy to call it quits. I would not submit, respectfully or otherwise, how your time should be spent. I would simply wish you well on the path.

You said: Perhaps you can tell me which goddess religion claims that there is only one God, and only one way to that God?

There was only one goddess religion in that the Great Goddess was seen as the source of all, giving birth to this world and everything in it. There were variations on the theme as there are with God as Father but the gist of it was the way was through the Great Mother - as in our spiritual selves. When God became a man, and there's a very good book with pretty much that title you might like to read, they cherry-picked useful bits of the Goddess religion to work into their theologies just as the Christian church cherry-picked beliefs from what it called 'pagan' religions - what was left of the Goddess religion - when it took power. The belief in the devil, another wonderful invention of the Christians, had more to do with demonising the Old Religion than any actual Devil - however, on the basis that 'you create your own reality' the belief in Satan took hold and many people today now actually believe there is a Devil. No doubt, given the power and length of time the belief has been held I have no doubt there is a Devil 'thought-form' - just no real Devil as the religion would have it.

You said:  Then proves their message by rising from the dead? (don’t claim Egyptian, for I”ve already dealt with their entire system, and it is NOTHING like Jesus. See here: )

No, there are parallels with Osiris and other saviour/redeemer figures but as a quick answer I would opt for Dionysus -

Dionysus was born of a virgin on December 25 and, as the Holy Child, was placed in a manger. He was a traveling teacher who performed miracles. He “rode in a triumphal procession on an ass.” He was a sacred king killed and eaten in an eucharistic ritual for fecundity and purification. Dionysus rose from the dead on March 25. He was the God of the Vine, and turned water into wine. He was called “King of Kings” and “God of Gods.” He was considered the “Only Begotten Son,” Savior,” “Redeemer,” “Sin Bearer,” Anointed One,” and the “Alpha and Omega.” He was identified with the Ram or Lamb. Known as the Young Man of the Tree indicates possible crucifixion - metaphoric no doubt like Odin.

You said: As for being “flavored by patriarchal language” whether or not this is true has nothing to do with whether it is true or false. Further, as I”ve already shown, the bible is clear in that it lifted women out of and protected them from an abusive society.

Ah but it does. We all know, I am sure even you, how much patriarchy distorted, demonised and debased the feminine in the particular and the general and the power of patriarchy within and throughout religions in the patriarchal age is clear to see.

Studying Hinduism for instance, as I did living in India, there is a clear point when the patriarchal age impacted on the religion and the writings and teachings began to be directed at women in the most poisonous way. Ditto for Buddhism. Such beliefs were not present prior to the patriarchal age - and Hinduism is one of the most ancient of religions - which makes it clear that as men took over religion they also took over theological dogma and they wrote it into spiritual teachings in ways it had never existed before.

There is no reason to believe that Judaism and Christianity were exempt from this and given the misogyny throughout the Bible it is pretty clear that the minds of Christian men were as poisoned by misogyny as the minds of Hindu men.

I said: Reading the Bible one needs to bear in mind the level of propaganda at work in it and errors made purposefully and unconsciously by translations. Symbolically, ignoring the patriarchal tone it simply means that the only way to ‘salvation’ is through one’s spiritual nature. In other words, to be ‘saved’ from a purely material existence, one needs to follow one’s spiritual truth.”

You said: No, this is absolutely, categorically NOT what this is saying. You have made up what you want it to believe, and inserted the meaning in the text.

No I haven't. I took the words and applied metaphoric, symbolic and literal interpretation - you took the words and pretty much stuck to literal.

You said:  I happen to know a bit about the original languages and the translations, and can state categorically that you are wrong.

Being categorically wrong according to your definition, sources and interpretation does not make me wrong per se: It is established fact that there is controversy over some translations from the Aramaic. Given that the original writer, let alone the original oral creator, cannot be asked, it is conjecture and perhaps common sense as to which translation may be right but there is no way of knowing with any certainty which one it is. Translators are also human and many translators were and are employed by Christianity and therefore are highly subjective - they have an agenda.

You said:  If you’d like to quote a source that can speak to the Hebrew and Greek, I’d be glad to respond.

I doubt there is any point. I am sure you know there are scholars who disagree with your position but you give them no credence. My taking the time to quote sources would achieve nothing. If you were really interested you would know of them anyway and have an answer which refutes their theories.

You said: Otherwise, your beliefs are your own false illusions.

Now that is an impressive generalisation. If my beliefs might be my own false illusions, as they might, then so might yours be. We could agree on that one.

You said: The text says nothing about “our own spiritual nature” but rather of Jesus.

Perhaps you do not understand what I mean by reading and interpreting metaphorically and symbolically and that is why you cannot understand what I am saying. There is no need for you to really but if you did you would know what I am saying.

Just as an example: The woman walked into the house which stood behind the church. Literal interpretation is a woman walks into a house which is behind a church. Metaphorical and symbolic interpretation is a woman, or the feminine, enters a house, symbolising the Self, which has been built behind the spiritual.

Next: “But this interpretation is because you believe words in The Bible are absolute, without fault and meant to be interpreted literally and I don’t. I could easily, an do, interpret the writings in metaphorical and symbolic terms but you would not accept that. I can see the literal interpretation which you use as well but it does not make sense to me – hence thinking outside the square.”

You said - Response: With this, you are correct. I do indeed say that the language means what the words mean, the same as what the dictionary says they mean, and that I do not accept that we can make up the meaning as we go along, as you do.

And would you admit that dictionary definitions usually show a variety of meaning and uses and that the same word in different dictionaries in the same language mean different things? i am sure you would as you must. A definition of Liberal in an American dictionary is not the same as that in an English or Australian dictionary although Australians pretty much use the 'mother language', English, dictionary. Neither would 'biscuit' be the same in an American or English dictionary and these are just two examples. So clearly dictionary definitions are not absolute and depend on which culture produces the dictionary, which 'meaning' you choose and then how you interpret it.

You said:  I already tried humorously to show how you cannot do this.

Yes, but it did not work.

You said:  For example, you do not want me to take your statements and pour new meaning into your words.

Oh but you do, we both do, we all do, we interpret words according to our knowledge, our belief and our needs. We often misunderstand each other because we 'pour new meaning' into the words.

 You said: Nowhere in life to do we do this, we cannot do it at the bank, with the police, or in doing business.

Well, we do, but some areas, like banks, it is easier to be literal and to clarify. With the police it is a different matter which is why the law is so incredibly convoluted and complex - tying itself in knots, going around in circles trying to establish with some legal accuracy just what was meant by what was said.

You said:  But when we come to spiritual teachings with which you disagree, you change the meanings of the words.

No, I read all words from a perspective which embraces literality, metaphor and symbol and all situations in the same way. I just happen to feel it is particularly important to do so with spirituality.

You said:  I submit that you are disingenuous.

That is a judgement and a condemnation. The word is defined as 'not candid or sincere' which implies I am lying or being dishonest and I can only say I am not being anything other than completely candid and honest. And it means 'pretending one knows less about something than one does' which is not a meaning I would have thought you would apply to me. Quite the opposite in fact.. It can also mean 'insincere'  or 'cynical and calculating' or it can mean 'naieve' ... or it can mean 'unaware or uninformed.'  Quite a mix of meaning in one word.

Next, “Much in the Bible simply does not make sense if read literally – more to the point it is mean-spirited, cruel, racist, sexist, misogynistic, primitive, lacking in compassion and unenlightened. So it seemed to me that what was wrong was not necessarily the Bible but how it was read and how it was interpreted.”

You said - Response: Perhaps if you have a specific passage that is in question, we can have a discussion. Otherwise you are simply broad-brushing the entire bible without any supporting facts.

Well, beyond most of the teachings of Jesus there is a great deal of that to which I referred. But I understand where you are at.

 Next, “When I read Bible teachings, any spiritual and religious teachings actually, metaphorically and symbolically they make much more sense and the God they display actually looks, sounds and feels like God should – not like some neurotic, vindictive, narrow-minded and intolerant parent.”

You said -Response: Perhaps you should align your beliefs to reality, instead of aligning your perceptions of reality with what you think ought to be there.

Now that is another impressive generalisation. I take it this 'reality' would be your 'reality?' I am content with my reality which is one which is shared by other biblical scholars - to me and them it makes the most sense. However, I respect that your reality is right for you.

You said:  Also, if you would actually read the bible, and do it with an open mind, instead of assuming what it says, you might find the love and tenderness, such as are in the Psalms. Have you read Psalms 30 to 33? Try it; they are quite beautiful.

Of course there are beautiful passages in the Bible but I find greater beauty in relating to them metaphorically and symbolically. I said at the very beginning, the Bible, like all religious 'books' is sourced in the same deep spirituality, it has just been translated, edited and re-written far too much and to suit human agendas.

I could equally say to you - Also, if you would actually read the bible, and do it with an open mind, instead of assuming what it says .... you might find different ways to interpret it.

Next, “Much of what I believe does not come from the Bible but that is only because I access all religious and spiritual writings and draw upon all of them. What I would say though is that what I believe can be found in the Bible – given that it pretty much says the same things, or offers the same spiritual teachings as all other religious writings.”

You said - Response: You are correct in that your beliefs do not come from the Bible.

I also said what I believe can be found in the Bible. But you overlooked that comment.

You said:  But you are flatly incorrect that what the Bible teaches is the same as what is in “all religious and spiritual writings” for most of them disagree with each other.

Interpretation is selective. I said 'at core.' Of course there are differences but the core spiritual teachings in the Bible can be found in most if not all other religions, both modern and ancient.

You said: The Koran says Jesus was not God, did not die on the cross, and did not rise from the dead, the Bible says all these things happened.

That is not what I consider a core spiritual teaching but I realise you do. Actually it is a religious teaching. I did use the word spiritual - very different thing to religious although it does not need to be.

You said: Your beliefs flatly disagree with the Bible, and I’m not sure whether you’ve ever even read it.

No they don't and yes I have. They disagree with your interpretation of the Bible, not the interpretation of some other versions of Christianity or mine.

The Bible, well, the Catholic version of it is getting some more re-writing -
Martyn Percy, a canon doctor at Sheffield university, welcomed the initiative but suggested the results may be less than dramatic. "There has never been a settled, definitive version of the Bible, it has been an evolving book which has gone through many translations. Only fundamentalists think it came in a fax from heaven."

You said: Your beliefs are not based in reality, but in your own wishful thinking.

Another impressive generalisation which is highly subjective if not prejudiced. There is nothing wishful about it. I don't need spiritual or religious writings to be anything in particular therefore no wishes involved. If all religious books disappeared tomorrow the world would lose little. Our spiritual nature can draw upon such things but does not need them. In fact one could argue they create more problems than they solve.

You said:  I did not always believe as I do now…

And neither did I and therein lies the difference. I began close to where you are although was never subjected to such fundamentalist christianity but I was exposed to a literalised version of the Bible through Anglicanism and Catholicism - Christianity 'lite' no doubt to those who espouse Christian Fundamentalism.

You said: .I had to adjust my thinking to reality,

I did not have to do anything or adjust anything. My thinking changed the more I read and the more things began to make sense - it was a process of becoming and not one which I see as particular to a 'reality' just the reality of the moment.

You said: and I suggest you do the same.

I suggest nothing for you and find it a little presumptuous that you suggest I should think like you because that is the only reality. But I can understand why you might find the need to say something like that.

You said: will not continue forever to go round and round this mythical mulberry bush here on the blog.

And that is fine. We can agree to disagree. Take care.

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