Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Yes or No

Without our permission or our input, we are dropped into this world in whatever state it happens to be in at the time of our birth. Life, with all of it's grandeur, misery, harshness, and absurdity, is now thrust upon us despite whatever we may will. We, however, have an advantage over the beasts. We grow and one day we may realize we have the choice to say 'Yes' or 'No.'

A thinking man must make judgments on fundamental questions, that is a duty of a philosopher, isn't it? We have an opportunity to make such a judgment when we mature and look at life; we get to choose whether or not we say 'Yes' to life or 'No.' Saying 'Yes' means accepting life, accepting what it is and agreeing to play it. Saying 'No' indicates that you have no interest in life and you reject it.

Is one better than the other? Is there an objective choice? A matter of taste? Questions for another time.

What do these choices mean? What are their implications?

To say 'Yes' is to say that I find life worth living, and I wholeheartedly desire to live. It says that I accept life even with its horrors and harshnesses. Faced between a hard life and an easy death I will choose life, not because of a fear of death, but because I have chosen to live.

To say 'No' is to say that I will not live life, for whatever reason.

What is more fundamental than this? The question of what is good means nothing if you reject life, the question of the meaning of life is one reserved for those who have chosen life. All things come back to this question; this question is the foundation for all other questions because this question determines whether or not other questions are worth pursuing.

If a man says 'No' what does he do? I suppose this can manifest in different ways. The purest and most obvious way would be a shotgun in the mouth, a slash of the wrist or something of that sort. Still, a man may say 'No' without having the courage to actually exit life. In which case he would be a man trying to escape life while existing within life. His life will consist of mostly of pastimes, because his goal is simply to pass the time. He does not embrace life, he tolerates it, and tries to keep his mind off of it.

What about the man who says 'Yes?' He will be the man who attempts to excel at life because life, to him, is worth excelling at. He will be the man who considers the way he lives his life and asks himself the important questions about life, because to him life is worth examining.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

On the Will to Stupidity

To close your ears to even the best counter-argument once the decision has been taken: sign of a strong character. Thus an occasional will to stupidity.

-Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil

I have always found fascinating the will to stupidity, from the examples I found when I first became interested in internet debate to the examples I find around me in that world outside of the monitor. Those men who are of such strong (stubborn?) character that nothing can shake their foundations.

I have chosen Nietzsche's aphorism because thinking about the aphorism brought my mind to this topic; I do not doubt that there may be people far more familiar with Nietzsche than I who might have a more accurate view of what Nietzsche meant, but this is where it led me so that's what I'll write about.

First I want to talk about the will to stupidity as found in men of "strong" character. These men are not hard to find, they are the ones who are not particularly concerned with whether or not a thing is true, even to the extent of dismissing any opposing argument or evidence to the contrary of whatever it is that they believe. Perhaps a pious man who says science is only good in so far as it confirms his particular religion, perhaps a liberal man who insists that all who do not share his politics should be dismissed as greedy warmongers? We can find all sorts of examples in all camps.

There is great pleasure to be had in dismissing doubt and reclining with the notion that you are correct in all your beliefs that matter; disregard pleasure and consider the fact that doubt leads to an inability to act. Consider James' insight on this matter:

. . . the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind.

James 1:6

Are there any objections to this insight? You may doubt that James had a good thing for us to put our faith in, but I find it very easy to believe that he was right when he said the doubting man is "driven and tossed by the wind." Doubt restrains us, keeps us from moving; the will to stupidity is the thing that keeps us marching forward, but the will to stupidity may blind us to the fact that we're marching toward something that we ought not march toward.

Doubt is paralyzing, but isn't that occasionally beneficial? If we're marching toward a pit we would want to be paralyzed, if we're marching toward streets of gold we would want to keep moving with as much vigor as possible. The problem is that we cannot always determine what we're heading toward. This is why doubt is valuable, and we should choose self-inspection over a will to stupidity. Doubt paralyzes us and in order to proceed we must examine ourselves and our surroundings.

Is faith then to be done away with, or does it have a place.

Faith, in it's purest sense, would be acting or believing without any regard for evidence one way or the other. Doubt, in it's purest sense, would be refusing to act or believe without any regard for evidence one way or the other. Naturally, no one deals with these things in their purest senses, we deal with mixtures of them. We must have a little faith to say, perhaps, that we can reasonably trust our eyes to get us through the day. We need doubt otherwise we are merely the disciples of whatever charismatic leader we happen to bump into.

Without faith we cannot move forward, without doubt we march to our deaths.

What of the strong man who does not consider anything opposing him? Well, fortunately for him he'll probably turn out alright. Chances are that he will cling to whatever morality he was given by those around him (he is not known for innovation) and chances are that he will be able to operate well in society with the morality he was given, pity if he was raised by Westboro Baptist or a suicide bomber, though.

What about his opposite? The man so open minded that he has no real beliefs? He is worse off. He may never march to his doom, but that will only be because he does not march anywhere. He makes no progress because every new objection or new idea sends him right back to the ground, paralyzed.

The strong man doubts all but himself, in whom he places all of his faith. The weak man has faith in all but himself, in whom he places all of his doubt.

Once again the golden mean between these two paths is the ideal. Have faith in yourself so that you may progress, but doubt yourself so that you understand when it's best to go in a different direction. The proper balance of faith and doubt in relation to outside influences would be to consider their claims and give them enough consideration that you can confidently reject, accept, or respect them.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Our Purpose

What is the meaning of life? If we were created, for what purpose were we created? Why are we here, what are our responsibilities? What is 'good?'

These questions have puzzled men for as long as men have been puzzled. What is our purpose? To what end were we created? These questions have been answered many times by many people in many ways. The meaning of life is to serve the Lord and to work for His kingdom, the Christian may say. The meaning of life is to create our own meaning, the Atheist may say. Perhaps our purpose is submission unto Allah? The answers are usually only satisfying to a certain group of people, and that is why people continue to search for their purpose.

At one time I had an answer to this question. My answer was that a thing was meaningful only so long as it was existent. I envisioned meaning in this way: when a man is alive his life has meaning so long as he influences the people or the environment around him. Once he dies his influence on the world lives on, though it quickly fades and unless he was a remarkable man he will slowly become more meaningless with every generation. Eventually, a meteor or the death of the sun will ensure that his entire life is meaningless. The only way to escape this would be by serving G-d, because G-d is eternal anything you do in service to Him will be forever meaningful.

Service unto G-d was the only escape from the essential meaninglessness of life and our realm. Not only was this the only way one's actions and life could be eternal, this was our purpose. G-d created us to serve Him and to love Him. However I find that it is time to update my views on this topic, for I am no longer certain that G-d created us for the purpose of loving and serving Him.

Certainly I believe that G-d continues to be involved in our lives and expects a relationship with us, however this is merely a factor in why he created us. The reason he created us is that we may live. Living, and living well, is the end in and of itself. We were given our lives that we may live, I am no longer certain that there is a higher reason than this.

Living well is something that all men can do and all men can not do. Not all men have equal grounds for believing the proper doctrines of Christianity. G-d never seemed to even attempt spreading Judaism, and the Jews do not feel a need for converts anyway. All men, however, are given life and the goal seems to be that men live well.

Living well means living a ethical life and doing what one ought to do with what they are given. We have our responsibilities in life, and then there are things we must leave to G-d. The meaning of life is to live and to live well. That is my now my conclusion, G-d cares about our behavior, but we we created simply to be what we are.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Finding Where the Way Points

I have decided that it is finally time to write this blog, it is finally time to write a blog about renouncing my Christianity. My recent blogs have taken on (I hope) a more Jewish tone, that is because I have left the faith I've held precious for so long. Here is what I have to say on this topic.

I'm not sure where it started, though I can speculate. Even though I had read some posts on some forums written by Jews-posts that begot a few questions in my mind-for the most part I think the thing that started it was a class I took at California Baptist. I was a Christian Studies major so I took some Christian Studies classes: Paul & the Early Church and Latter Prophets and Writings.

I've been complimented on my intelligence before, but I don't think I've ever been complimented for my work ethic. Latter Prophets and Writings was a class that demanded a strong effort from the student, the class was designed to obliterate the lazy. Regardless of the fact that my grade reveals my laziness, that class was one of the most interesting classes. The Old Testament finally began to seem important to me, it finally seemed interesting, I began to gain a deeper appreciation for the Old Testament and it's record of G-d's chosen people.

Earlier in the year I had come to the realization that most of the arguments for the existence of god were less valuable than I had previously thought. Finely tuned? By what standard? Uncaused cause? How can we derive a Trinity from that? It is here that two things developed in me: 1) an appreciation for first hand accounts of religious experiences (most of which are useless, though) 2) a deep resentment for Christianity's claim that our salvation is dependent upon our belief in Jesus. I resented it because Christianity is not obvious; if you are not raised in Christianity or a country with strong Christian beliefs then there is a high probability that you will not be saved.

At CBU I am surrounded by Calvinists, a system I have never bought into. It always troubled me, but personal study began to make it seem almost appealing. Mostly because my thought process was this:
Belief is out of human control, Salvation is dependent upon belief, therefore salvation is out of human control. I only saw two options here, either salvation was only given to those fortunate enough to believe the proper doctrines or G-d was in control of it and salvation was dependent upon his will. Neither appealed to me too much, but I would much rather believe that G-d was behind it than chance, besides I found much more evidence for this in Paul's letters and Acts.

All the while I tried to maintain a skeptical mind, I never wanted to shut down my ability to question Christianity. But is that what G-d wanted? Maybe G-d wanted me to shut down my ability to question. I've always been told that he doesn't, but so many people teach so many things, maybe I was supposed to just be faithful. Maybe I needed to retake my leap of faith? I would go to the mandatory church services and hear about things like a missionary who saw an angel when he was young and was miraculously healed from the effects of a poison that should have killed him. I began to think that this could be my proof. My proof was the voice that told Augustine to read, my proof was Brother Lawrence's great faith that allowed him to say “to one Brother that he almost no longer believed in the presence of [G-d] in his soul, but by this luminous faith, he already saw something of [G-d's] intimate presence,” and the spiritual experiences that I had in my own life that pale in comparison to these.

So, I loved the Old Testament all the more. It was full of men who were close to G-d, it was full of men who spoke to the Almighty and men who experienced his love, his wrath, his interaction. Philosophy, which I loved, could only get someone so far, they really had to experience G-d I began to believe.

Then I was presented with a devastating problem in my Basic Reasoning (how appropriate) class. Since I'm at a Baptist school I'm surrounded by missionaries and street preachers. I don't remember what the topic was, but a girl volunteered a story about an argument she had with a Buddhist girl. She told the Buddhist that she should convert to Christianity, the Buddhist responded that Buddhism had helped her through some tough times and she had no reason to leave it. This troubled me, and I had to come to terms with the fact that Christianity did not have a monopoly on changing lives.

Where could I go from here? The only way to defeat the Buddhist would be by engaging her in a battle of logic, however, I no longer believed that logic alone would lead to Christianity. I was stuck, personal experience does not just lead to Christianity, nothing leads just to Christianity, if belief was necessary for salvation then plenty of perfectly reasonable individuals would be going to hell.

I don't remember what happened from there, the semester ended and I was just ecstatic to be done. I came home, hopped on World of Warcraft and let my mind deteriorate. I decided I would deal with everything later, for now it was time to let my mind relax. Then it began to slowly happen. My mind began to whisper “Judaism.”

It was strange, I don't remember ever really considering Judaism too much. I knew a man online who is a studying convert and I enjoyed reading what he had to say, but would I really want to become a Jew? I told myself I would deal with it later, I would look at all of the evidence later, right now I just wanted to let my mind relax. In that time something very strange happened. In the past I had been faced with concepts and issues I had to deal with, and I would always defend my faith with passion! Suddenly, I did not want to defend it anymore.

I barely knew anything about Judaism, but something in me wanted to learn more. I didn't know why, but my faith in Jesus no longer seemed worth fighting for. That's when I realized something: the only ones who defeat Christianity are the Jews. The Jews have the prophecies that Jesus claimed to fulfill, the Jews are what Christianity is built upon, I have to look at Judaism if I am to continue being a Christian.

I looked, and I laughed, I have fought so hard for a faith that does not stand up. The prophecies were a joke. One that stood out was the prophecy that Matthew claims was fulfilled in Matt 1:23; the prophecy, so far as I can tell, was not messianic, and was not pointed to a far off savior it was pointing to the immediate future. Beyond that, I began to realize that the Jews were right to reject Jesus. It was the only reasonable thing to do, he claimed to be G-d and that is not was the Jews were looking for. The Jews had no reason to expect the G-d-Man, they were perfectly right in rejecting Christ.

Yeshua did not accomplish what they expected the Messiah to accomplish, and rejecting him was the right thing to do. I now joined them in rejecting him. I would have fought hard to keep my faith, but I did not feel I was losing it. I felt as though G-d were calling me out of Christianity. I felt as though he were telling me “Yes, you have spent your time on the Way, but where does the Way lead? Jesus is the Way, but he is not the destination. Your time with Jesus is through, now it is time to go further.” Where does Jesus point? Jesus was a Jew, he claimed to be the Jewish Messiah, why is he worshiped so dearly by me and my fellow gentiles? Maybe he points to Judaism?

So, that is where I am. Once I was a Christian Studies major who read C. S. Lewis and Saint Augustine. Now I am below a layman. I am almost completely ignorant of the new path I am on, yet, I could not be an honest man and continue to follow Christianity now that it's interpretation of prophecies seemed false. So, with my JPS Tanakh and with Rabbi Telushkin's Jewish Literacy, I begin taking the early steps in a new path.

Will I convert? I don't know. I have let G-d lead me here, but considering I wanted to excel in Christianity should I now give up once I have found something truer? For now, I shall try to be a Child of Noah, while learning what I can.