Monday, August 26, 2013

Am Improbable Heritage

     100,000 years ago humans as well as the mighty herds of animals grazing on the endless savannahs of this planet were familiar with lightning. They grew up with it occurring around them all of their lives. Neither the humans nor the animals understood the cause or purpose of lightning. Today, the animals of the savannahs still do not understand the lightning; they just tolerate and bear it. Ancient humans, on the other hand, with no more knowledge of the cause or purpose of lightning than the animals around them developed a theory that lightning was a mysterious force caused by the will of the Gods.[1] Any destructive natural phenomena was probably regarded as an act of anger in retaliation of someone or something that has displeased the Gods, as they had witnessed the result of lightning strikes upon people, animals and trees.

     Today, we know what lightning is and how it is produced and how to avoid it. We have even seen it on some of our sister planets. We know how rain, hurricanes, tsunamis, tornados, earthquakes, etc., are produced. We know how to read and understand trends of weather patterns and how droughts or floods occur. Yet we still cling to ancient explanations for these natural phenomena as if it were the results of a manipulating Deity.

     An ancient text was read from the pulpit recently exhorting natural events as retribution by the hand of God for the iniquities of man (Psalm 107: 33-43), He (God) turned rivers into a desert, flowing springs into thirsty ground, and fruitful land into a salt waste, because of the wickedness of those who lived there. He turned the desert into pools of water and the parched ground into flowing springs; there he brought the hungry to live, and they founded a city where they could settle. They sowed fields and planted vineyards that yielded a fruitful harvest; he blessed them, and their numbers greatly increased, and he did not let their herds diminish."

     We have a very mixed heritage that has been passed down to us by our ancestors. We have inherited minds capable of discerning, and an inquisitiveness to search for information and truth in the world around us. Yet we remain chained to ancient fears and superstitions that have no basis in fact or reason.

     The religions listed below by no means represent unified groups; Christianity alone has over 3500 different divisions and sects. Each of the other major religions today is also comprised of multiple divisions, sects, groups and beliefs, influenced primarily by their geographical location. Almost all religion are able to trace their origins to a single person, including Christianity. Exceptions are the Primal-Indigenous and the African Traditional & Diasporic religions which are practices and rituals of oral traditions without much if any written sources. Religions did not begin spontaneously. They were begun by someone with an idea, yet each religion claims to possess the truth of God and our universe.

Followers of Major Religions of Today:                              Approximate Date of Origin:
1.     Christianity: ................ 2.1 billion                1.  primal-indigenous                    5000 BCE
2.     Islam: ..........................1.5 billion                2. African Traditional & Diaspori 5000 BCE
3.     Agnostic/Atheist:          1.1 billion                3. Hinduism                         3228–3102 BCE
4.     Hinduism:....................900 million               4. Judaism                       2000–1850 BCE
5.     Chinese traditional: .... 394 million                5. Zoroastrianism                         1700 BCE
6.     Buddhism: ..................376 million                6. Chinese traditional religion   600–500 BCE
7.     primal-indigenous: .......300 million                7. Buddhism                                  563 BCE
8.     African Traditional  ..   100 million                 8. Jainism                                      550 BCE
9.     Sikhism: .......................23 million                  9. Christianity                    7 BCE–36 CE
10.  Juche: ..........................19 million                10. Islam                               570–632 CE
11.  Spiritism: ................... ..15 million                11. Shinto                                       712 CE
12.  Judaism: .......................14 million                12. Sikhism                          1469–1539 CE
13.  Baha'i: ............................7 million                13. Tenrikyo                        1801–1900 CE
14.  Jainism: ........................4.2 million               14. Baha'i                             1817–1892 CE
15.  Shinto: ............................4 million                15. Spiritism                                1856 CE
16.  Cao Dai: .........................4 million                16. Cao Dai                                1926 CE
17.  Zoroastrianism: .............2.6 million                17. Rastafarianism                      1933 CE
18.  Tenrikyo: .........................2 million                18. Scientology                           1952 CE
19.  Neo-Paganism: ................1 million                19. Juche                                    1955 CE
20.  Unitarian-Universalism: ..800 thousand           20. Unitarian-Universalism           1961 CE
21.  Rastafarianism: ...............600 thousand
22.  Scientology: ....................500 thousand
This adds up to roughly 6.97 billion of the world’s more than 7.1 billion people.

     Judaism, Christianity, and Islam have many common denominators, primarily stories on which their origins are based, as the Old Testament (with some variations) is held, in part, as a common origin by all three cultures. Two isolated story events, which have no corroborating evidence, is all it took to initiate the Jewish culture, and the birth of one supernatural person to begin Christianity. Stories that read more like fairy tales or legends than reality when measured against the yardstick of probability or fact. When compared to other major religions of the world, they possess no more integrity or validity than does any other religion.

     The malleable mind of man[2]  is capable of being shaped to believe and accept anything, especially when applied in weekly doses from church pulpits over a lifetime. Information based on ancient knowledge gained through fears and superstitions has been the only message repeated by almost all religions, whose success is often measured by the size and income of the church. By these standards, the more members and money you can collect, the truer the tenets of your religion.

1800 BCE[3]   (Estimated world population at the time was 30 million.)
According to Jewish tradition, Abraham was born under the name Abram in the city of Ur in Babylonia in the year 1948 from Creation. He was the son of Terach, an idol merchant, but from his early childhood, he questioned the faith of his father and sought the truth. He came to believe that the entire universe was the work of a single Creator, and he began to teach this belief to others. Eventually, the one true Creator that Abram had worshipped called to him, and made him an offer: if Abram would leave his home and his family, then God would make him a great nation and bless him. Abram accepted this offer, and the b'rit (covenant) between God and the Jewish people was established. 
     At a time when there were 30 million people living around the world, a middle eastern merchant’s son announces that he has had a meeting with God to receive a gift. God did not appear to anyone else to verify or make this announcement; only Abram makes the announcement public. No other people in the entire world were made aware of this special covenant. The common belief at this time in history was that only Shaman, Witch Doctors, Medicine Men, Priests, Kings, Rulers, etc., the pinnacle of elite, were capable of  personal communication with Deities of the day. The question is, “how credible can this story possibly be?”

1391--1271 BCE[4]  (Estimated world population at the time was 38 million.)
According to Jewish tradition, Moses is born during the Jewish enslavement in Egypt, during a terrible period when Pharaoh decrees that all male Hebrew infants are to be drowned at birth. His mother, Yocheved, desperate to prolong his life, floats him in a basket in the Nile. Hearing the crying child as she walks by, Pharaoh's daughter pities the crying infant and adopts. It surely is no coincidence that the Jews' future liberator is raised as an Egyptian prince. Had Moses grown up in slavery with his fellow Hebrews, he probably would not have developed the pride, vision, and courage to lead a revolt.
     The story of a Jewish boy born into slavery, is saved by a princess, raised as an Egyptian prince and lives in royalty, is banished from the kingdom after committing a crime against a royal guard, eventually returns to liberate the slaves and lead them to a land promised by God to Abraham and his descendants. Not only did Moses liberate the Jews from Egyptian slavery, he wrote the law and commandments describing how they must live. The story describes how Moses led the slaves for 40 years through the desert of the Arabian Peninsula, while the distance from Cairo to Jerusalem can be completed by a very slow donkey in 3 weeks. When they finally reach the “promised” land, an army of slave warriors is sent to slaughter the men, women, children and all their animals, currently inhabiting the land “promised” to people who claimed to be descendants of Abraham. Again, the question is, “how credible can this story possibly be?”

1000–900 BCE[5]  (Estimated world population at the time was 50 million.)
Solomon succeeds King David, builds Jerusalem temple. After Solomon's death, kingdom divided into Israel and Judah. Hebrew elders begin to write Old Testament books of Bible. Phoenicians colonize Spain with settlement at Cadiz.
     While in captivity in Babylon, Hebrew elders begin a written record of oral stories and traditions, 800 years after the Abraham event, and approximately 300 years after Moses and the Exodus legend. They included stories which describe the creation of the earth, an ark and a destructive flood, etc. The source of many of these stories came from much earlier periods and cultures during the Sumerian and Gilgamesh Epic. The intention of these writings was to establish credible roots of Jewish heritage by including stories of Adam and Eve, Noah, Abraham, Moses the Prince of the Egyptian Slaves and editor of Jewish law,  and feats of their most beloved king, David, all legends and heroes of the culture. Ancient, 800 year old, oral traditions have a way of embellishing themselves with each telling and retelling. After 300 to 800 years of aging, there is very little left of the original tale.

400–300 BCE[5]  (Estimated world population at the time was 100 million.)
Pentateuch—first five books of the Old Testament evolve in final form. Philip of Macedon, who believed himself to be a descendant of the Greek people, assassinated (336 BCE) after subduing the Greek city-states; succeeded by son, Alexander the Great (356–323 BCE), who destroys Thebes (335 BCE), conquers Tyre and Jerusalem (332 BCE), occupies Babylon (330 BCE), invades India, and dies in Babylon. His empire is divided among his generals; one of them, Seleucis I, establishes Middle East empire with capitals at Antioch (Syria) and Seleucia (in Iraq). Trial and execution of Greek philosopher Socrates (399 BCE). Dialogues recorded by his student, Plato (c. 427–348 or 347 BCE). Euclid's work on geometry (323 BCE). Aristotle, Greek philosopher (384–322 BCE). Demosthenes, Greek orator (384–322 BCE).Praxiteles, Greek sculptor (400–330 BCE).
     The final form of the Pentateuch has now aged 1,400 years since the Abrahamic story, and 600 years since Moses and the Exodus event. With a world population of approximately 100 million, and perhaps a hundred different religions with their own stories and legends, it is difficult to accept these stories with any more validity or integrity than any of the religions of the rest of the world.

1–49 CE[5]  (Estimated world population at the time was 200 million.)
Birth of Jesus Christ (variously given from 4 B.C. to A.D. 7). After Augustus, Tiberius becomes emperor (dies, A.D. 37), succeeded by Caligula (assassinated, A.D. 41), who is followed by Claudius. Crucifixion of Jesus (probably A.D. 30). Han dynasty in China founded by Emperor Kuang Wu Ti. Buddhism introduced to China.
     It has now been approximately 4.5 billion years since the formation of the world, and after 200,000 years of human existence, which now numbers a worldwide population of approximately 200 million people. Why would there suddenly be a need to provide a human sacrifice for the atonement of “sins,” to a small group of Jewish peasants in place as obscure as Nazareth? The Old Testament was a script to establish an exclusive race of people who claim to be the “chosen people of God.” Now begins a legend to form a new religion from the roots of Judaism; a new branch of the tree.

300–349 CE[5]  (Estimated world population at the time was 250 million.)
Constantine the Great (rules A.D. 312–337) reunites eastern and western Roman empires, with new capital (Constantinople) on site of Byzantium (A.D. 330); issues Edict of Milan legalizing Christianity (A.D. 313); becomes a Christian on his deathbed (A.D. 337). Council of Nicaea (A.D. 325) defines orthodox Christian doctrine. First Gupta dynasty in India (c. A.D. 320).
     During the past 300 years, independent Christian sects of various kinds have proliferated throughout the Roman Empire. Each possesses its own written literature from dubious sources which they use to enlist and educate new converts into their sect. The friction between the various sects has grown and results in violent disputes over who possesses the true writings for Christianity. As these sects are independent from each other, there is no central agency to control or discipline their growing numbers. Most other sects of any kind tolerated in the Roman Empire, whether religious or secular, had a central agency to which they must answer; such as the Sanhedrin which rules over all Jewish activity in the Roman Empire.

     Constantine decides to convene a Council to organize all of the troublesome Christian sects under one central authority, which, to no one’s surprise, is located in Rome instead of Jerusalem. This new agency will become responsible for maintaining the peace among the various Christian sects, and is answerable to the Emperor of Rome, Constantine. This new Council collects copies of all of the written material used by the various churches and decides which ones will be retained for canonization to be used in all Christian churches, and which written materials will be destroyed.

     Since there is no way only one meeting of any Council can settle all disputes, a series of Council meetings is held over the next 400 years[6] to hone the tenets for all Christianity, as well as the undisputable authority of the Roman Church. [First Council of Nicaea (325); First Council of Constantinople (381); Council of Ephesus (431); Council of Chalcedon (451); Second Council of Constantinople (553); Third Council of Constantinople (680–681); Second Council of Nicaea (787)]

     A quasi religious empire within a political empire was created and is politically supported, sanctioned and enforced by the Emperor of the Roman Empire. The rest of the 250 million people in the world are left clueless and are not included in this alleged new Salvation.

     Meanwhile the world in search of a Deity, a religion, a unity with nature, etc. marches on, led by Shaman, Witchdoctors, Medicine Men, Priests, Preachers, Bishops, and Charlatans selling holy relics and indulgences while hawking the carrot of immortality in an afterlife. The religious tenets of obedience, chastity, charity, compassion, allegiance, etc., have not only been repeatedly broken by members of the various flocks, but by many of the Spiritual Leaders in gross dimensions.

     The common theme among all religions is, “Don’t ask questions, just believe what we tell you. We are your spiritual leaders. If you begin asking questions, you risk the loss of your soul on a slippery slope.” A fictitious descent from the side of an artificial hill religions have created.

     I believe in man’s creativity, curiosity and search for knowledge and truth. We have evolved into a unique species more by accident than design. And in this state, have gained a knowledge never before attained. During the last 50 years, we have learned more of our planet and universe than at any time during the past 200,000 years. We know what we are made of and how we will end. All life forms, not only of this planet, but on any planet in the universe, both flora and fauna, share not only a common ancestry, but a common assortment of elemental building blocks.

     Animals live from day to day and do not anticipate or fret over death. On the other hand, humans have been groomed to fear death as if it were a horrible sentence pronounced on us by a vengeful God. Yet, at the same time, also believe that if we are obedient to this God, we will pass through death into immortality with rewards of mansions, streets of gold, jeweled crowns,72 dark eyed virgins, to join our ancestors and continue to live in eternal bliss. This is sometimes known as the ancient practice of fear mongering to sell snake oil.

     Death is a natural event and comes to everything in the universe including suns, stars, planets, galaxies, vegetation, insects and humans. When death comes, the material of which we are all made is released to be used in the reconstruction of new suns, stars, planets, galaxies, vegetation, insects and humans. The only afterlife experience is the use of our elemental building blocks (atoms) in the growth and formation of new life forms. The ancient fears and superstitions of death by our ancestors was fed by spiritual leaders (Shaman, Witchdoctors, Medicine men, Priests, etc.) to justify tales of immortality. Unfortunately for mankind, current spiritual leaders continue to promote the same ancient fears and superstitions of death over the mounting knowledge discovered everyday by our continued search for the nature of our universe.

     The conflict we have in this new age is whether to continue to live under the fears and superstitions of our ancient ancestors, or accept these myths and legends of our past as stepping stones into our future. I see churches (not the religions) of today as social organizations of “like minds.” Where personal interaction exists to facilitate a desire to support each other and corporately provide outreach charities that are not easily accomplished on an individual basis. I see the stories of ancient texts as models of inspiration for a noble lifestyle and charitable behavior as opposed to superstitions of salvation into an immortal afterlife in order to avoid the damnation of a netherworld.

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Saturday, August 24, 2013

Where Is God?

     The world's major religions developed during a period of transition between oral traditions of epic events and the development of written texts.

     Most, if not all, stories were embellished for purposes of persuasion and perpetuity. The duration of a story was dependent upon the memory and skills of the teller, as well as the interests of the hearer.

     By the time these stories were written into history, they had little resemblance to the original events and were shaped to meet the interests and understanding of the tellers and scribes who recorded them.

     Yet, religious adherents today easily approach the point of combat in defense of their understanding or belief in a particular theology.

     Today there are an estimated 38,000 Christian sects or denominations in the world. All of which base their "theological truth" on one or more versions of the same New Testament. Like wise, there are a number of varied interpretations and philosophies among adherents of Judaism or Islamic faiths based on their own common books of religious law.

     Most of these divisions in religious truths are attributable to geographical locations, whether it is by race, country, village, tribe, or part of town. A person raised in Alabama is more likely to be associated with a Western style Christianity; where as a person born in Iran will likely become an adherent of Islam. Their religious experiences are acquired by cultural influences, rather than conscious choices of truth.

      Today, millions of dollars and immeasurable energies are spent to evangelize or proselytize others to our beliefs. Multiple theologies that have been declared by the many sects and denominations as the "real" truth.
Eventually one has to ask, are these the results intended by a benevolent Creator? Or is this the result of human attempts to perpetuate a particular ideology?

     When you weigh the human desires for religious truths against the reality of our existence as a micro-dot in the space of billions of galaxies and even more planets, where is God? In the measure of time, our whole organic existence on this planet isn't even a tick's (or tock's) length or speck on the celestial clock.

     We and every living and non-living thing on and in this island planet is made of material produced by the death of stars. What and who we are has been shaped by the circumstances and events of this planet. This planet was not created to suit our life forms.

     As products of this planet, we possess the same basic physical traits and behavior as every other animal. Two eyes, 2 ears, 1 mouth, 4 limbs, oxygen dependent, experience hunger, seek safety, feel pain, procreated by male and female, mortality, etc. As humans, which are but one notch above the animals, we have developed additional philosophies that we have honed and perfected over hundreds of years; immortality in a reward based after life.

     In the time before there were any religions or gods, survival fears fostered superstitions to answer the unknown and uncontrolled events in our world and were attributed to mystical forces of good or evil. Today, although our well developed sciences have answered most questions about our past, present and future, there is still a significant element of our behavior that clings to many perpetuated superstitions.

Conclusion: God exists in the mind of man.