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The Concept Of The Deity Or God Is A Choice

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OK, that was interesting. I just discovered that this Spong discussion forum is very nearly dead. Who knew. The most recent post about the concept of God is from January of this year. There are some good comments in there, but some "other" ones as well. The Spong 'group' seems to have a very wide umbrella, much wider than I would have thought. I will have to look at the rest of the forum.

 

So . . . to the point. The author of the last post in this forum raises a very good issue. What exactly are we talking about with this God or Deity thing?

 

I have some background in theology and scripture, but I am not sure that is at all relevant. Personally, I have found the deity or God or god to not be a very useful concept in today's world. I was an ardent believer at one point in my life, but I have matured, as it were.

 

I do not like the term "atheist" as it sounds like aggression against believers. "Non theist" sounds a bit better. I do not wish believers any harm at all. Almost ALL of my friends and family fall into that camp, and I would never want to upset them by attacking that belief. I have also discovered that it is a complete waste of time!

 

I really liked one of the comments in that prior discussion:

"When Marcus Borg visited our church several years ago, I recall him saying about someone who claims not to believe in God, "Describe for me the God that you think you don't believe in." Then, a response. And then "Well, I don't believe in that God either."

 

I like that - I will use it. I have yet to see the definition of the deity that I would agree with.

 

And I remain an ardent Christian. I like what the man said, what I can discern from the stories and tradition. I think it is a tremendous insight into where humans should be going. There is an excellent book by a Dominican monk called Jesus Before Christianity that pretty much summarizes my assessment of the New Testament and this man called Jesus of Nazareth. It is excellent exegesis in the historical understanding of Judaism.

 

One comment from that book has stayed with me. Belief is a choice. It is not a feeling, not a gift. it's a choice. And I choose to believe that life has meaning and purpose. I choose to believe that this man Jesus had a great insight into that meaning and purpose. I am personally committed to carrying that forward. If that works as a definition of the deity, fine. If not, it is not that important to me. I find ALL of life utterly amazing. And human life is the most amazing of all. This thing we call a brain, this collection of hormones, and emotions and ideas and values and accomplishments is the most amazing thing in the known universe. I choose to move that forward, and I think the Christian message, without much of the historic baggage, is the best known way to accomplish that. It also happens to be the one I grew up in. I don't wish any of the others ill - and I would hope that they could adopt the best parts of this one, but . . .

 

So . . . any life in this forum? What say you all?

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No belief is not a choice ... at least not in the usual sense of the word. That is the conclusion/opinion I have found myself at.

 

I can't help but believe the scientific method is a reasoned approach to life. I don't know how I could choose otherwise. While I am aware much of the time I actually am on some sort of autopilot. In the vernacular I might choose to put sugar in my tea. But is putting sugar in tea a belief in any meaningful sense of the phrase?

 

Regarding "Well I don't believe in that God either", I can juxtapose Campbell's "I don’t think you can call a person an atheist who believes in as many gods as I do.”

 

Me personally ... the only "god" that I so far don't disbelieve is a pantheistic one.

Edited by romansh

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Any life here? Well, I tend to post in fits and starts. Today I attended a funeral and once again found that my 15 1/2 inch ( well, surely inches not centimetres what with Brexit ) shirt collar was no longer adequate. Recently I have posted here about the growing trend of Humanist funerals. Today's was traditional, Christian, the cleric did his best by throwing in a few jokes to show us he was true man of the people. Perhaps he was.Who knows. Through the fog of the usual dirge of now meaningless words I did catch the reality of a human being who was now dead - that he had loved and had been loved. A few words from the OT I found still had relevance - "a time for everything under heaven".

 

I would still choose "Mr Tamborine Man" rather than any hymn, and have everyone walking out ( with heartfelt relief ) to Zappa playing "Watermelon in Easter Hay".

 

So I live the non-theist option, find that all "belief" stifles reality. What more is there to say?

 

Anyway, welcome to the Forum.

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One comment from that book has stayed with me. Belief is a choice. It is not a feeling, not a gift. it's a choice. And I choose to believe that life has meaning and purpose. I choose to believe that this man Jesus had a great insight into that meaning and purpose. I am personally committed to carrying that forward. If that works as a definition of the deity, fine. If not, it is not that important to me. I find ALL of life utterly amazing. And human life is the most amazing of all. This thing we call a brain, this collection of hormones, and emotions and ideas and values and accomplishments is the most amazing thing in the known universe. I choose to move that forward, and I think the Christian message, without much of the historic baggage, is the best known way to accomplish that. It also happens to be the one I grew up in. I don't wish any of the others ill - and I would hope that they could adopt the best parts of this one, but . . .

 

I don't think belief is a choice. Essentially, you can't make yourself believe in something or not, you simply either do believe or you don't. You experience the case for and experience the case against (and all the other bits in between) and you come away with a certain belief. I don't think that is a choice.

 

My interpretation of what you are saying is that in your experience you feel that life has meaning and purpose, that this man Jesus had a great insight into that meaning and purpose, and that you are personally committed to carrying that forward. I don't think believing that is a choice but rather a conclusion you have come to and thus now your belief. You couldn't have stopped it if you tried because that's not how our brain's work.

 

As for the Christian message being the best way to move humanity forward - well I think elements contribute but I don't think it is or has been a lone voice. Humanity has known since we were monkeys in the trees that cooperation and working together works the best for our species. That caring for others in our group is much better for the group than the alternative. We have broadened outside of our tribes and groups as we have evolved and developed. Buddhism was experiencing similar beliefs of empathy and consideration of others long before Christianity.

 

However if one's way of contributing to society is by practising a Christian message, and they cause no harm to others in doing so, then I see no problem with it. Whatever works for you I say.

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As for the Christian message being the best way to move humanity forward - well I think elements contribute but I don't think it is or has been a lone voice. Humanity has known since we were monkeys in the trees that cooperation and working together works the best for our species. That caring for others in our group is much better for the group than the alternative. We have broadened outside of our tribes and groups as we have evolved and developed. Buddhism was experiencing similar beliefs of empathy and consideration of others long before Christianity.

 

I agree with you here Paul (more or less, you know me :) ). The question, for me becomes, then how do we interpret the religious texts. How do we calibrate our interpretations? Do we calibrate between other so called Christian interpretations, do we look over the fence at the other tribes beliefs and interpretations?

 

Or do we do something courageous? Armed with some rudimentary guidelines, do we step out into this world, put reason to work and find our own way? Adjusting our guidelines as reason and experience might be want to inform us?

 

Sure we will make mistakes ... but that is OK.

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I agree with you here Paul (more or less, you know me :) ). The question, for me becomes, then how do we interpret the religious texts. How do we calibrate our interpretations? Do we calibrate between other so called Christian interpretations, do we look over the fence at the other tribes beliefs and interpretations?

 

Or do we do something courageous? Armed with some rudimentary guidelines, do we step out into this world, put reason to work and find our own way? Adjusting our guidelines as reason and experience might be want to inform us?

 

Sure we will make mistakes ... but that is OK.

 

I think we should interpret them how we want to, Rom. I don't think there is any one right way and differences may apply in a multitude of situations. Look over the fence by all means and take what works or note what doesn't work.

 

And by all means be courageous and step into the world putting your reason to work and finding your own way. I don't think there is any one right answer and I'm confident there is nobody watching or judging you in how you act. The ultimate judge is our species and if you contribute to it's well being then kudos. If you contribute to making it harder for anyone then I'd suggest don't do it.

 

I guess what I'm trying to say is that there is no right or wrong answer other than whether we contribute well to our species and planet, or not. Whether it is ultimately important or not who knows, but I just think in the interests of our species' and planet's self interest, it would pay to be mindful of our species and planet.

 

But I'm not sure I've answered your question. Have I?

Edited by PaulS

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But I'm not sure I've answered your question. Have I?

 

Oh dear, is that the idea? To keep on topic and answer the question? Now I see just where I have been going wrong. Anyway, my own reactive mind must be improving as I missed the bit about the Christian message being the best known way to accomplish "moving forward" (in a good way) "Best known"......"best" or just "known of".........or "best known"? Not sure.Those who have known of it have certainly been active throughout history, with some awful results.

 

I still think that all thought of "moving forward" simply because of our own "choice for the good" (best known or not) is a non-starter. All that is truly valuable is a pure gift, to know it is more a case of stripping away than of choosing or building up. As Joseph said, of seeing the strings. ​Does that culminate in a true freedom? Lets not come to conclusions.

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I don't think belief is a choice. Essentially, you can't make yourself believe in something or not, you simply either do believe or you don't. You experience the case for and experience the case against (and all the other bits in between) and you come away with a certain belief. I don't think that is a choice.

 

My interpretation of what you are saying is that in your experience you feel that life has meaning and purpose, that this man Jesus had a great insight into that meaning and purpose, and that you are personally committed to carrying that forward. I don't think believing that is a choice but rather a conclusion you have come to and thus now your belief. You couldn't have stopped it if you tried because that's not how our brain's work.

 

I think it is a bit of both: that belief or better, faith, is both choice and no choice. And your first sentence seems to speak to that when you mention the for and against and then come away with or without belief. However, I recognize that most/many of us are born into a belief system, so we are predisposed to some degree. However as we grow and our knowledge/experience expands, some of us find ourselves in a position where we look and 'choose' again, one way of the other. And as evident on this site, although predisposed, ultimately there are different choices that have been made: buddhism, science, Christianity - some more progressive, others more traditional, atheism and for some a combo of these.

 

So, on one hand, with learning, experience and maturity, there does seem to be a weighing of 'things' and decision. However, within this, I also think that a particular faith or understanding of existence, 'speaks' to us or resonates with us and thus a connection is made. The living of it is a decision. I guess the same could be said of love, there is a 'falling in love' but there is also a choosing.

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“Remain strong in your faith, as you were in former years. In this faith, in its close-knit unity of our people to-day goes straight forward on its way and no power on earth will avail to stop it.” (Adolf Hitler)

A weak person has indecision before the decision of faith while it takes a strong person to doubt after he has chosen a faith because doubt is not opposed to faith it is a building block that makes us stronger. I am a Christian and it is sad that many Christians would choose the statement by Hitler as strength and history has shown that Christians and Germans were manipulated to do horrible things with their superiority complex.

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I'm not very good at remembering details - I often say of myself that "I miss the trees for the forest" instead of the more common way of saying that. Some of the preferences I have which I will mention are a knee-jerk reaction to the working definition of these words within the fundamentalist circles I came out of. For instance, I don't like to use the following words "God" I prefer Source/Other/Creator almost anything other than "God," I don't often refer to myself as a "Christian" I typically do not give my path a label.

I believe Other has revealed his/her/itself in many ways to different people, cultures, etc as he/she/it knew was needed which is one of the reasons why I love the Spong quote I have as part of my signature. The one significant failure I see among faith traditions is the belief that what has been revealed to them by Source is all there is to know and is, therefore, the definition of "God." I've come to believe if we combined what has been revealed to various faith traditions and people around the world we still will not have the definition of "God" as I believe Source still transcends all we combined together will ever know of him/her/it. So I don't believe there is the best anything with regard to "God" when it comes to human understanding. I believe all faith traditions and all people have some truth in this regard and a whole lot of misunderstanding.

When it comes to Yeshua Bar-Yosef and his being the Son of God. In that time and place, I believe he was the child of "God" with the greatest understanding of his "Father" and his "Father's" love for "his" children. I'm not convinced, that his paternal relation to Source was different than anyone else, but that his understanding of it was. I also do not know that he was Other from you or me.

When it comes to "sacred" texts I believe they contain more Bologna Sandwiches than the truth about the character and nature of Source or Jesus. For instance, I believe Moses was the ancient Hebrew version of Donald Trump. I do believe that "sacred" texts have some usefulness, but I do not believe useful translates to necessary. I believe they reveal more about character and nature of writers than Source or Jesus. I was recently asked how do you take a specific biblical verse (I don't remember which one) my reply was "With a grain of salt" which sums up my take on the entire Bible.

Edited by TomAllyn
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Tom,

I really like the Spong quote in your signature. Joseph

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Tom, you expressed it well. The source includes all and the echos in the all is not complete so a lot of noise is made by richochette.

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I believe that our beliefs are an intentional expression of how we understand how things work. They are the result of processing and reflection on information and experience. I tend to think of a choice as something that relates to behavior. 

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The process of belief, for me, is an unconscious process which I rationalize after the fact.

 

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The concept of the deity? As for God, I no longer hold to a theistic concept. Spong doesn't either. I don’t believe in a Man in the Sky who controls everything, who demands worship, who determines if people go to heaven or hell. Rather, God is a symbol for me. A symbol for what? For Community. To me, being spiritual has nothing to do with “other-worldliness” i.e. some kind of ethereal higher plane. It is, rather, Connectedness. God is, for me, how we are connected to ourselves, to others, and to our world. This Connectedness, IMO, must be based in compassion if it is to be experienced and transformative. It shouldn’t be based in fear, as much of theism usually is. Because I think of and experience God as Connectedness, we can’t “love God” without loving others, as the apostle John said. Though it may not have been Jesus’ understanding, I think it supports the Two Commandments that he taught – love God, love others, even enemies. This understanding is quite different from many religious understandings that posit God as “separateness” and focus on creating divisive denominations and sects that think only they love God and that God loves only them. In this sense, I’m very much a heretic that is building his own theology, a theology that works for me, regardless of whether it is orthodox or not. And I’m not afraid to do so. But it is a strange path, because while it is not atheism, it is outside of the box that Christianity usually puts God in.

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34 minutes ago, BillM said:

The concept of the deity? As for God, I no longer hold to a theistic concept. Spong doesn't either. I don’t believe in a Man in the Sky who controls everything, who demands worship, who determines if people go to heaven or hell. Rather, God is a symbol for me. A symbol for what? For Community. To me, being spiritual has nothing to do with “other-worldliness” i.e. some kind of ethereal higher plane. It is, rather, Connectedness. God is, for me, how we are connected to ourselves, to others, and to our world. This Connectedness, IMO, must be based in compassion if it is to be experienced and transformative. It shouldn’t be based in fear, as much of theism usually is. Because I think of and experience God as Connectedness, we can’t “love God” without loving others, as the apostle John said. Though it may not have been Jesus’ understanding, I think it supports the Two Commandments that he taught – love God, love others, even enemies. This understanding is quite different from many religious understandings that posit God as “separateness” and focus on creating divisive denominations and sects that think only they love God and that God loves only them. In this sense, I’m very much a heretic that is building his own theology, a theology that works for me, regardless of whether it is orthodox or not. And I’m not afraid to do so. But it is a strange path, because while it is not atheism, it is outside of the box that Christianity usually puts God in.

Two commandments - love God; love others - is not reasonable if God is community.  If God was not seperate from humanity two commandments would be unnecessary.  This conception of God seems based on conventionally Christianity, but cuts out anything that requires serious contemplation or deeper thought.

Reminds me of a kid who only wants to eat the beef in the beef stew and picks everything else out without realizing those bits he rejects are what gave the meat the flavor he enjoys.

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On August 8, 2017 at 7:22 PM, irreverance said:

I believe that our beliefs are an intentional expression of how we understand how things work. They are the result of processing and reflection on information and experience. I tend to think of a choice as something that relates to behavior. 

Yes.  I would describe it as a method of organization that includes a way to organize things which unexpected or unknowable.  

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2 hours ago, Burl said:

Two commandments - love God; love others - is not reasonable if God is community.  If God was not seperate from humanity two commandments would be unnecessary.

I don't find this to be the case, Burl. One of the concepts of early Christianity is that when people encountered "God" (the Divine), they did so in Jesus of Nazareth (the human). God wasn't found in a book or in a building. God (the Sacred, the Divine, the Transcendent) was found in humanity. The doctrine of the Incarnation points to this truth, but, as I've said, it puts God in a box and says that God can only be encountered in Jesus. So it limits God's presence to one person in one place and one time. Some forms of Christianity have held onto this ancient truth, that each of us has the Divine Spark or the image of God or the Inner Light. If Christ was indeed God's presence manifested in a human being, then, as the apostle Paul says, we carry on that legacy as the Body of Christ. I suspect that this may be why Jesus said, "Where two or more are gathered in my name, I am there in the midst." Jesus (or Christ) is no longer found as a physical being. But the same spirit which indwelt him indwells us and we can recognize "God" in the other. Namaste.

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On 05/10/2017 at 12:23 AM, Burl said:

Two commandments - love God; love others - is not reasonable if God is community.  If God was not seperate from humanity two commandments would be unnecessary.  This conception of God seems based on conventionally Christianity, but cuts out anything that requires serious contemplation or deeper thought.

Reminds me of a kid who only wants to eat the beef in the beef stew and picks everything else out without realizing those bits he rejects are what gave the meat the flavor he enjoys.

I think you make a good point Burl - indeed perhaps those two commandments were unnecessary.  Well, obviously the author or translator thought they were necessary when they wrote them, but of course a couple of thousand plus years on and such commandments may indeed require questioning.  Along with a few of the others I would say that many Christians are stuck on insisting are commands from God and not man.  It's even possible the lack of serious contemplation or deeper thought is actually the error of the one who states proudly that they know these are God's commandments.  A bit like a beef stew that does seem to have flavour, it's just that the flavour is artificial - not that that bothers the consumer of course.

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I get the idea that God can be a symbol for community: a symbol points to and makes something present so God/Love as symbol (if taken seriously) makes community present.

I do not agree that God is separate. Even theism, though it emphasizes the transcendence of God, also speaks to his immanence. However, panentheism does not hold that God is either separate or identified with creation. Rather God is always with/in creation, yet always 'more' - but never separate. And I do agree that the two great commandments are one. One figure in the history of Christianity (blank on who it was right now) said: "love......and do what you will." Once you love others (for who else does one love?) - all else is commentary. Spong talks about God as a verb and thus the commandment is not to love God, it is to love!

If one loves, if one is doing love, they are doing what God is - there is no other worship worthy of the name. 

The commandments are one: you cannot love God if you do not love (not humanity but) individual men and women throughout your life. And if you love others, you are the embodiment of the commandment.

Edited by thormas

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4 hours ago, thormas said:

I get the idea that God can be a symbol for community: a symbol points to and makes something present so God/Love as symbol (if taken seriously) makes community present.

I do not agree that God is separate. Even theism, though it emphasizes the transcendence of God, also speaks to his immanence. However, panentheism does not hold that God is either separate or identified with creation. Rather God is always with/in creation, yet always 'more' - but never separate. And I do agree that the two great commandments are one. One figure in the history of Christianity (blank on who it was right now) said: "love......and do what you will." Once you love others (for who else does one love?) - all else is commentary. Spong talks about God as a verb and thus the commandment is not to love God, it is to love!

If one loves, if one is doing love, they are doing what God is - there is no other worship worthy of the name. 

The commandments are one: you cannot love God if you do not love (not humanity but) individual men and women throughout your life. And if you love others, you are the embodiment of the commandment.

Past and future communities?  Animals, planets and magnetism?  I think panentheism posits community exists within God, but community is not God.  To say community is God is like saying birds are air or fish are water or a kitchen is a house.

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The Hebrews' concept of the deity was very anthropomorphic. God was, for them, a man-like being. Therefore god had eyes, ears, nostrils, arms, legs, all the rest. And this deity sat on a literal throne above the clouds, from whence he ruled and judged over the earth. As Jack Spong says, "If horses had gods, their gods would be horses." As humans, we tend to create god in our image. I doubt we can help it. But many in our day realize that this Hebrew concept of god, while functioning well for them in their day and time, no longer works for us. There will most likely always be some fundamentalists who insist that the bible's revelation of god is god's revelation of god and that the Hebrew deity, failing to show himself when we went into space, has now relocated even more "separate" to Alpha Centauri or another dimension where we will never find him. But it is this very lack of evidence, this demand for "faith alone" which makes the deity seem very unreal to modern people. Many of us know that this concept of a deity -- a supernatural being who protects us, demands our worship, and who will dole out heaven or hell upon our death -- is leftover superstition from the past. So many of us are working on ways to speak of and experience this Reality or What Is or Sacredness or Divine apart from the anthropomorphic concept that the Hebrews passed down to us. It is not so much that that concept was wrong (for all concepts of the deity are, by definition, human) as it is dated. I no longer play records or 8-track tapes or even cassettes. These carried music well in their day. But better things have come along that carry the music today. These will, no doubt, some day be obsolete. But the music will remain.  

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4 hours ago, Burl said:

Past and future communities?  Animals, planets and magnetism?  I think panentheism posits community exists within God, but community is not God.  To say community is God is like saying birds are air or fish are water or a kitchen is a house.

Say what? Lions and tigers and bears...............and magnetism??

Anyway, the emphasis is on other not separate.

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3 hours ago, thormas said:

Say what? Lions and tigers and bears...............and magnetism??

Anyway, the emphasis is on other not separate.

 

3 hours ago, thormas said:

Say what? Lions and tigers and bears...............and magnetism??

Anyway, the emphasis is on other not separate.

 

3 hours ago, thormas said:

Say what? Lions and tigers and bears...............and magnetism??

Anyway, the emphasis is on other not separate.

Yes, God created magnetism, the earth, moon and sun.  All physics and biology and natural laws long before there were people to even have a community so God = community seems to be a non-starter.

In Exodus there is a phrase translated as "God filled the tabernacle".  In other places, the bible uses the same verb to describe a soldier enlisting as "filling a shield" and another use which escapes me right now (see notes on the Shöcken Bible, an interesting translation of the Pentateuch which concentrates on retaining the poetic aspects of the Hebrew).

Instead of reading this as container language, the phrase may be better translated as God taking up the Israelites for His purpose.  God taking up community as a functioning tool to effect salvation.

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3 hours ago, Burl said:

 

 

Yes, God created magnetism, the earth, moon and sun.  All physics and biology and natural laws long before there were people to even have a community so God = community seems to be a non-starter.

I think that is an excellent example of how some people think that God is all about 'them'!  Hence why we have such an anthropomorphic version of God in many different religious texts (albeit entirely different Gods, of course).

Community may be a non-starter if one holds this anthropomorphic outlook about God, but if one were to think broader, say ecology-wise, then community also applies to "interdependent plants or animals growing or living together in natural conditions or occupying a specified habitat".  I haven't looked it up, but I think the laws of gravity holding the solar system together are another example of community.

Community is not just about 'people'.  That said, what are people other than another type of animal, so I guess we are still in the same boat as our amoebic ancestors.  There was community when the planet first formed and started to grow and evolve.  We are still the same community but just at a different stage of evolution.

Whilst people continue to look at the bible as though it is somehow the dictated word of God, it is hard to move past such a small view.  But once one starts seeing the bible for what it is -  human thoughts and writings striving to capture the essence and ideas of how they view things at that time.  For me, it's quite alright for bible authors to be wrong, mistaken, taking a different path or whatever.  I still sometimes enjoy their thoughts and sometimes they are useful.

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