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The one thing that I have learned from life thus far is that life is to complicated not to have complications.

 

I read through all previous entries and we have a remarkable group of people here. We have much to learn from each others journeys.

 

I started out with a fundamentalist view of the Bible. I read it from front to back in multiple translations both Catholic and Protestant. My view was that if it was not the infallible word of God then it was just another book and should not have much a bearing on anything.

 

As I have stated elsewhere, I no longer believe in God. I don't believe in the Trinity. I don't believe that Jesus is God. I don't believe in heaven or hell, original sin or most of the concepts that normally are required if one is to profess themselves as being a Christian.

 

My belief in God as all-knowing and omnipotent fell by the wayside when I could no accept that such a God could accept the suffering of children. As Michael Lerner stated in the Left Hand of God, more than 30,000 children die every day due to hunger and diseases caused by malnutrition. Add to this the thousands who die each day of curable diseases because of the lack of medical care, immunizations and medication. Any all powerful God that would allow this to happen does not deserve my loyalty.

 

My belief system has moved all over the spectrum. From Christian to Atheist to Buddhist to Wiccan and back again.

 

I follow the Jesus who preached the Jewish tradition of caring for those people who are voiceless.

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Hi jsawyer,

 

Thanks for sharing that with us. Many of us on the forum can identify with your fundamentalist background. One of the themes that has kept me, personally, connected with Christianity is the incarnation. It's not necessarily unique to Christianity, I know, but nonetheless it has held a lot of meaning for me, even if not taken literally. I've explored other paths as well and find a good deal of unity-in-diversity between the more contemplative and liberal schools of any religious tradition, and I currently draw a lot from Mahayana Buddhist philosophy.

 

We're in agreement with the problems of theodicy. Gratuitous suffering refutes a literal anthropomorphic God, to me.

 

I follow the Jesus who preached the Jewish tradition of caring for those people who are voiceless.

 

That's a great tradition to follow. The renewed interest in the historical Jesus can only be positive in my opinion. It sounds like you've come full circle back to the Christianity, though obviously a vastly different kind of Christianity than you began with. Is there anything particular that has attracted you to the historical Jesus and what he might embody?

 

Thanks, and peace,

Mike

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I am not sure that there is a historical Jesus. I am quite able to follow a mythical Jesus that spoke for voiceless people. Many of the prophets in the Old Testament spoke for these same voiceless people.

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Good Morning, jsawyer...

 

Thanks again for sharing about your Journey so far of which I can really identify with. A difficulty that we find with Christianity is the way that it has been fused with the Bible. I feel that Christianity must be identified completely seperate from the New Testament in order to view Jesus as a historical figure whose teachings helped shape the world that we know today. It is helpful to read authors such as Bart Ehrman to understand the context of the Gospel writings in the NT and how they had been edited over the centuries and how Jesus was elevated to Divinity status. This raises, in my mind, questions such as:

 

Does being a Christian mean that one must accept the doctrine that Jesus = God?

Does being a Christian mean that we must define Christianity according to what is written in the New testament?

 

To me, the answer is no. Jesus was more than that and to reduce Jesus to a mythical figure capable of performing magic tricks designed to puntuate his teaching misses the meaning of his teaching altogether. The net effect of such reduction is that we are told to simply 'believe in' Jesus as God who did all of these things 2000 years ago and if we don't it's game end for us big time. I reject such blind acceptance as being hand-me-down faith. George Fox, one of the founders of the Religious Society of Friends, addressed such second-hand faith when wrote 'You will say, Christ saith this, and the apostles say this: but what canst thou say? Art thou a child of Light and hast thou walked in the Light, and what thou speakest, is it inwardly from God?'

 

My point is that we must clear away all of the human constructs, attempts to define God, all of the endless interpretations of Jesus' teachings, and discover our own understanding, do our own research, and follow our own path. We then begin to have something of our own to say about God, about Jesus, and about the Mystery that draws us closer when all of the noise quiets and all of the teachers and preachers have left us. Perhaps a Light Within...Perhaps a Voice we hear.

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Here is something I wrote a few months ago on another site:

 

Why I am a Christian Atheist

 

“For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me…Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me …”

 

When I was a teenager, I had a very strong fundamentalist faith in God and the Bible. If the Bible said it, it had to be true. I felt that I had a calling.

 

I would go off to myself in the country side and talk to God. I’d ask him questions about the suffering in the world that I saw everyday. I begged him to talk to me in the way that he talked to others in the Bible stories that I had read. My conversations were always one-sided. He never answered.

 

One day, I decided that he did not answer because he was not there. If I believed so strongly in the social gospel, I would have to find the answers myself and to live my life in such a way to address these issues. From that day, I became a human rights/social justice advocate.

 

The roots of my beliefs in human rights/social justice came from my reading of the Bible. These Christian ideals were the very basis for most of my beliefs. So while I no longer believe in God or that Jesus was God, I do hold the social gospel in high esteem.

 

Since I am no longer beholden to a faith that requires that I believe in superstitions, I am free to live a life that promotes the social teachings of Jesus.

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I would go off to myself in the country side and talk to God. I’d ask him questions about the suffering in the world that I saw everyday. I begged him to talk to me in the way that he talked to others in the Bible stories that I had read. My conversations were always one-sided. He never answered.

One day, I decided that he did not answer because he was not there.

 

Good Evening, jsawyer...

 

I understand exactly what you mean by trying to understand suffering within the context of believing in a loving, compassionate God. I struggled with this myself for years and used it as a reason to not going deeper into my searchWas it that God never answered or that you didn't hear it or understand it? God doesn't always communicate with us in ways that we always recognize; sometimes the answer is an understanding that is slowly revealed to us...perhaps over a period of a lifetime. I know that in my life my own understanding of God is a continuing project. :rolleyes: I'm a US Navy Vietnam combat veteran responsible for helping to kill people and have seen my share of suffering and poverty in my travels. In the case of human suffering and misery, is God responsible for starvation when the planet's resources can be harnessed by us to feed all? Is God responsible for homelessness when all industrial societies are capable of creating housing for all? God has given us the gift of a planet full of resources that we have squandered, a planet we have polluted, and are constantly killing each other with senseless wars based on greed and silly territorial squabbles. Are WE doing all that WE can to eliminate poverty, war, and misery? Perhaps we need to think of ourselves as being ungrateful and spiritually ignorant as to our own true nature. When we begin to understand that we are ALL Children of God, that God lives within each and every one of us, rignt now, regardless of who or what or where we are, when we understand this simple Truth, then we will then understand that it is We, not God, who are to blame. Unfortunately, mainstream churches want us to believe in a religion that is based on a controlled, formulated doctrine. When we come to consider that perhaps, just perhaps, that religion flows from within and does not originate from the outside, perhaps then, too, we will understand the work that we have to do to earn our keep here upon God's gift to us.

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name='Quaker Way' timestamp='1308358659' post='25560']

In the case of human suffering and misery, is God responsible for starvation when the planet's resources can be harnessed by us to feed all? Is God responsible for homelessness when all industrial societies are capable of creating housing for all? God has given us the gift of a planet full of resources that we have squandered, a planet we have polluted, and are constantly killing each other with senseless wars based on greed and silly territorial squabbles. Are WE doing all that WE can to eliminate poverty, war, and misery? Perhaps we need to think of ourselves as being ungrateful and spiritually ignorant as to our own true nature.

 

The God that just sits back and watches is not a God that I can worship or believe in. The 30,000 plus children who die every day is unacceptable collateral damage if that is God's plan.

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jsawyer, you are on a point that I think everyone struggles with, some come to a more accepting resolution that others.

 

For myself, I've come to think of it as our having been given this opportunity, called 'life', to experience. This Earth, this world, is the setting in which we expereince. The setting, this Earth and our mortal existance, has certain set conditions of this exisitence, what we might call natural laws. But the same capacities that allow us to experience pleasure, enjoyment, also mean we can experience inpleasantness, pain.

 

Given free will to act within this setting, this life, we also experience consequences of our own and others' actions. As Quaker Way pointed out, many of these painful things you mention are the direct result of human actions. We brought them about. We, not God, caused the suffering. For myself, I've come to feel that is a major point of our experience here, to truly learn that, and how to cooperate with one another in bringing about a better world. You say you could mot accept a God that just stands back and lets 30,000 children die, yet we do stand back and let humans act in ways that cause that suffering. These are just my own ramblings on this point...I know you have a lot of inner work to do in coming to whatever reolution of this most difficult point.

 

Jenell

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jsawyer, you are on a point that I think everyone struggles with, some come to a more accepting resolution that others.

 

For myself, I've come to think of it as our having been given this opportunity, called 'life', to experience. This Earth, this world, is the setting in which we expereince. The setting, this Earth and our mortal existance, has certain set conditions of this exisitence, what we might call natural laws. But the same capacities that allow us to experience pleasure, enjoyment, also mean we can experience inpleasantness, pain.

 

Given free will to act within this setting, this life, we also experience consequences of our own and others' actions. As Quaker Way pointed out, many of these painful things you mention are the direct result of human actions. We brought them about. We, not God, caused the suffering. For myself, I've come to feel that is a major point of our experience here, to truly learn that, and how to cooperate with one another in bringing about a better world. You say you could mot accept a God that just stands back and lets 30,000 children die, yet we do stand back and let humans act in ways that cause that suffering. These are just my own ramblings on this point...I know you have a lot of inner work to do in coming to whatever reolution of this most difficult point.

 

Jenell

 

I do not wish anyone to think that I condone human inactivity that allows this suffering to continue. But these same 30,000 plus children who die each day do not have the freedom to change their fate. Like I said before if this is some sort of collateral damage that God accepts for his plan here on earth, then I want no part of that plan. Whatever "inner work" I need at my age, it does not include blind acceptance. I do not feel the need for any child anywhere to experience suffering and pain so that I can experience pleasure and enjoyment.

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I do not wish anyone to think that I condone human inactivity that allows this suffering to continue. But these same 30,000 plus children who die each day do not have the freedom to change their fate. Like I said before if this is some sort of collateral damage that God accepts for his plan here on earth, then I want no part of that plan. Whatever "inner work" I need at my age, it does not include blind acceptance. I do not feel the need for any child anywhere to experience suffering and pain so that I can experience pleasure and enjoyment.

 

Good Morning jsawyer...

 

First, I want to thank you again for your sharing with us...I find that such 'nut and bolt' discussions are far more enjoyable and thought provoking for me than abstract discussions based on long words. :D What we are talking about is really an age-old problem of how we 'image' God in our own minds. A great book on this subject is Borg's 'Meeting God Again for the First Time'. We can find ourselves mired down in cultural definitions and base our rejection of God on those same definitions! Is God really what we define God as being? Or is there something more to this thing that we call 'God' that is beyond our simple human intellect? I think there is more to what we call 'God' than simply the Biblical 'Good God/Bad God'. I believe that we are all Spiritual Beings having a human experience and the challenge put before us is to understand that fact. The result is two-fold for the purpose of our discussion.

 

First, if we are truely Spirtual in nature, can we access that of Spirit within? I believe that we can. The struggle over 'Good God/Bad God' is simply external; this is what the world says God is. But what do WE say God is based upon our OWN searching of our OWN Spiritual selves? God can not only be found within us, but can be experienced directly through prayer and meditation...inward reflection knowing that standing behind us is the entire Universe upon which our own inner Gateway opens. We need not do anything more than be quiet and wait upon God to draw near. God is there...are we?

 

Secondly, as Spiritual beings, we are challenged to do as Jesus suggests as best that we as individuals can do. We must reach out to each other in Peace, clothe each other, feed each other, house each other, heal each other...for we are all Brothers and Sisters as Spiritual beings of the same Source. We cannot simply sit by...our human culture is pre-historic. We certainly can seek out someone who needs our help be that person someone needs a meal or someone that needs a helping hand. Regardless, we must reach out to each other, Spirit to Spirit. This, of course, does not let society off of the hook. Yes, there are charities. Yes, there are shelters. And yes, there are 'programs'. At this point our understanding of our own Spiritual selves points to the paucity of our politics. From there let your conscience guide you.

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Guest billmc

Welcome to the forum, JSawyer. Nice to meet you, my friend. Your posts have touched my heart. I, too, have struggled greatly with some of the issues of theodicy that you're concerned about. And I certainly won't say that I have found the one "silver bullet" answer that makes this question go away. As you have wisely said, life is complicated. Religion more so. :D

 

But I do agree with Russ that religion, especially Institutional Christianity, has co-opted God and tried to tell us exactly who God is and what God will and will not do. There are many, many images of God found in the Bible, but IC has "reduced" God down to an external-from-us-and-the-world Being who is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent. It then insists, and I think rightly so, that God is love, and this sets up the problem of suffering and why God causes or allows it. As you probably know, Bart Ehrmann "deconverted" from Christianity because he felt that the Bible's answers to "God's Problem" are unsatisfactory. And I'd agree with him if I still held to IC's image of God.

 

IMO, the Jews of Jesus' day did hold to this IC image of God...and Jesus challenged that notion. The Jews expected God to intervene into human affairs through a God-anointed warrior/king they called the messiah. He would rule with a rod of iron. He would "burn up the chaff" (kill the Gentiles) and "gather the wheat into the barn" (re-establish Israel and Jerusalem as the kingdom on earth). Jesus' disciples wanted to call down fire from heaven to consume those they considered to be "the sinners" and to rid the world from evil once and for all. Jesus, IMO, rejected this role.

 

While the gospels do portray Jesus as doing "the miracles" (healings, exorcisms, feedings, walking on water, etc.), Jesus himself said that these were signs. Signs of what? Signs of God's kingdom. But, said Jesus, this kingdom is *not* like the kingdoms of this world where the top guy intervenes and "fixes things" the way he wants them to be through his power (which usually involved putting dissenters to death).

 

Jesus taught that God's kingdom is different. He taught that God's kingdom does *not* come from the divine intervention of an external-from-us-and-the-world Being who is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent, but from the power of love present in people of compassion. In other words, God's kingdom comes, not from external divine intervention (the hand of God fixing the world apart from us), but from internal divine empowerment (the heart of God present in human beings).

 

The real world caveat in all of this is that there is only so much that we, as God-empowered people, can do. We can't eliminate all human suffering. But we could, if we chose to, reduce our military spending by 50% and put that money into feeding the world. We could, if we chose to, ensure that all of our children had medical care. We could, if we chose to, stop defining ourselves as consumers and start "tending the garden" again. We could, if we chose to, make our world, if not perfect, certainly better. But many of us, frankly, chose not to. We either live hedonistic lifestyles or, as is the case in IC, let the world go to hell because we still believe in the traditional view of messiah that says that Jesus will come back and use his Star Wars Power to fix the world.

 

Someone once said, "Without God, we cannot. Without us, God will not." No, we cannot, even with God's empowerment (which is compassion), rid the world of all suffering. But we could certainly make it better. *WE* could do something about all the kids who die each day from hunger and the lack of clean water and medical care. But we are more concerned about our new Lexuses (Lexi?) and Return-On-Investment and stock portfolios. Yes, the Bible speaks of the world belonging to God. But it also speaks of God caring for the world through human beings as his icons. As you've referenced, when we give the cup of cold water or feed the poor or clothe the naked, it is God-in-us (not God apart from us) doing it. We wonder why God won't fix human suffering. Perhaps, just perhaps, God wonders why we won't. We couldn't eliminate all suffering, but we've got the technology and know-how to make great strides against it. But will we?

 

Thanks for sharing this part of your journey with us. I look forward to hearing more.

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It seems to me that the whole concept of theodicy represents a very anthropocentric point of view.

 

A number of people, such as Bart Ehrman, challenge the concept of God because of the suffering that we experience in the world. This, I think, is reasoned based on the idea that God should be good (just, fair, loving), and if this is not supported by evidence, then God cannot (or maybe should not) exist.

 

I would point out that the idea of 'good' is from a human perspective. We generally are not bothered by the suffering of fleas or roaches. We will humanely rush to save an endangered carnivore and allow it to continue it blood-thirsty habits. In fact, evolution itself is a very cruel system from our perspective of justice. It depends on mutations that prosper and ones that fail each for no reason of their own doing.

 

I am not defending the existence of God, but suggesting that injustice in our world may not be the right test. It is possible that there is a cosmic system that seems unjust from our lowly, species-level perch. We are, I think, just a small insignificant component of the cosmos.

 

I am also not suggesting that we can justly cause harm to others or permit suffering. Of course, we should not. But, the existence, or absence, of 'evil' may not the the right test for the existence of God.

 

George

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