Forgive us, for we know not what we do

Forgive us, Father, for we know not what we do.

Each Palm Sunday, I am even more sensitive to the fact that for the next week, millions will unknowingly demonize God and believe that they will be mightily blessed for doing so. I’m sure you’re wondering: How in the world can someone demonize God and not know it?

As simply as I can explain it, we can be fully aware that we’re doing something (walking, driving or standing somewhere) without giving it a conscious thought. We frequently do things without thinking about why we’re doing them—or the meaning and implications of our actions.

For example: All of us have found ourselves in a room and wondered, “Why did I come in here?” Or while in the process of doing something, we suddenly ask, “Why am I doing this?”

On rare occasions, we ask, “What does it mean that I am doing this?”

Death by torture: Divine or demonic?

This week we will frequently hear the phrase, “Christ died so that we might live,” as if he lay down on a slab, closed his eyes and stopped breathing. No one ever says, “God gave Jesus to the Romans to be sadistically tortured to death for sins he didn’t commit.” If they did, would it change our perception of God?

God-so-loved the worldWe unconsciously declare, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life.” John 3:16

Have you thought about the meaning of this Bible verse and others that proclaim that Jesus “died for our sins”? Would you like to? Let’s do a Drama Queen Workshops-style thinking exercise:

Scene:

Front door of a beautiful suburban home. A business executive and single father, who has returned home a day early from a business trip, hears loud music and raucous chatter coming from his basement as he opens the door. He walks past beautifully appointed living and dining rooms, then into the huge kitchen, and down to the basement.

As he gets to the foot of the basement stairs and his eyes adjust to the darkness, he surveys the room. It looks like a scene from Sodom and Gomorrah:

Teenagers are drinking alcohol and dancing wildly. A few have passed out on the floor and on the sofas. Four guys are gambling at a table in the corner.

Near the laundry room, two boys are raping a drunk girl in the shadows. One kid, who was severely beaten after vomiting on a classmate, is lying in a pool of his own blood, lifeless.

The father is outraged! “What the hell is going on here? Mandy! Mandy, where are you?”

Screaming kids start scrambling, trying to escape up the stairs. He blocks their exit.

His daughter stumbles over friends to turn off the music and runs to him, stammering, trying to explain. Dad doesn’t want to hear it.

Mandy begs for his forgiveness; but forgiveness is out of the question. She falls to her knees, head bowed, in tears.

Dad is so angry, he can barely look at her. He asks, “Where’s your brother?”

“He left for that spiritual retreat today, remember?” Mandy murmurs, sobbing.

Dad raises an eyebrow. “It looks as if you are the one who should have gone!”

“I’m sorry, Dad. I don’t know what I was thinking. Please forgive me. Please forgive all of us,” she says, making a sweeping gesture across the room.

Her friends are now too afraid to move.

Dad thinks for a moment. Looking into the faces of the frightened teens, his tone softens.

“Because I love you so much, I will forgive you—but only on one condition: When John returns, I’m going to have him arrested and slowly tortured to death. His murder will wash away all your crimes. Everyone who believes that I have done this as an act of love will be forgiven of their misdeeds. In fact, they will live forever. So go tell everyone you know.”

That’s our drama. Now, ask yourself:

How would you respond to the father’s forgiveness offer if you were one of those teens in the basement: Would you accept it? Would you be grateful?

Is it an act of love or sadism to have an innocent child sadistically tortured to death so that the guilty children can escape punishment for their own misdeeds?

Why do we believe it is an act of love if God does it?

If a parent loves his guilty children so much that he would protect them by having his innocent child tortured to death, how does he feel about his innocent child?

If we insist to others that God had His innocent child tortured to death, are we proclaiming that God is good or evil?

If we believe that torturing an innocent person to death—for any reason—is a good thing, what does it say about us?

Needless to say, I’ve given this matter considerable thought, and I have concluded that declaring that God does something that Love would not do actually demonizes God. So during Holy Week or any week, I will repeat only one verse from the Bible’s crucifixion narrative: “Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:24)

Does Christmas belittle Jesus’s mission?

Egyptian god Horus

Horus of Egypt, son of a human virgin and a god.

I’ve often wondered whether we have done Jesus a great disservice by assigning him the same birthday as ancient gods. In mythology, Horus of Egypt (c. 3000 BC), Mithra of Persia (c. 1200 BC), Attis of Greece (c. 1200 BC), Krishna of India (c. 900 BC), Dionysus of Greece (c. 500 BC) and others were “born” on December 25.

All are the alleged offspring of virgin mothers and powerful gods. As legend has it, these illustrious demigods healed the sick, raised the dead, and were murdered by the establishment. Each one was resurrected after three days.

While it’s possible that December 25 was Jesus’s birthday, no one can pinpoint anything, anywhere that cites that date or justifies claims that he is “the reason for the season.”

Despite that, hundreds of songs have been written, thousands of pageants have been performed, and millions of gifts have been exchanged on December 25th. The Pope’s latest book says our Christmas traditions are based on myth. If you want the Cliff notes version, Yahoo! News outlines “Five Surprising Facts about Christmas” in this post.

How many times was Jesus born?

Many contend that to be a Christian, you must absolutely positively believe the Bible’s accounts of Jesus’s birth and death. Fair enough, since religion typically requires unquestioning belief. But which accounts are we required to believe: Luke’s or Matthew’s? (Were you brave enough to take the poll in my previous post, Manger or Mary’s House?)

As discussed in that post, most of us haven’t noticed that the Bible cites two different locations for Jesus’s birth. Bible scholar Bart D. Ehrman says it’s because we read the Bible as we read other books: vertically, from the top of the page to the bottom, when it’s often more insightful to read it side-by-side.

To help his students glean more from the text, Ehrman asks them to list all the facts in a Bible story, then compare them with facts stated elsewhere. It’s a technique also used by the Rev. Gaylon McDowell, my New Testament teacher at Christ Universal Temple.

What I discovered when I did that exercise is that both narratives began and ended the same, but nothing else matched:

Contradictory Birth Narratives

If you’re interesting in learning and growing, I’d suggest that you try this technique with the Bible’s accounts of Jesus’s death and the days that followed. I think you’ll find it as insightful as the fact that the Book of James, written by Jesus’s brother, contains neither of these accounts.

How we missed it the first time

More fascinating, try this technique with the Great Flood story in Genesis, which claims that God couldn’t think of a better solution for man’s wickedness than to kill every living thing—including innocent infants, animals, fish and fauna. According to Bible and Torah scholars, five flood myths were woven together to Genesis. Because of that, you’ll need more than two columns on your page because the “facts” frequently contradict each other from one verse to another, not simply from one chapter or book to another.

Because we are told that the Bible is the inerrant “Word of God,” we typically dismiss or ignore inconsistencies. In other books, we’d consider it implausible for someone to be born in two different places. We’d easily notice that facts are changing from one sentence (or verse) to another.

With the Bible, we negotiate and reconcile blatant contradictions. That’s why we often see the star in Matthew’s story positioned over the stable and shepherds in Luke’s story. The wise men, who went to the house, are curiously standing near the shepherds and manger.

Why the facts don’t line up

Many believe the gospels were written by Jesus’s disciples. But based on the dates their gospels were written, Bible scholars agree that neither Matthew nor Luke ever met Jesus. They also note that the Book of James, written by Jesus’s brother, doesn’t mention the miraculous virgin birth involving his very own mother.

Matthew and Luke, however, were fervently committed to converting more followers to Judaism’s new sect, Christianity. Matthew crafted his birth narrative to attract more Jews by including as many elements as possible to link Jesus to the Jewish prophesies about the Messiah. In particular, it was important to establish that he was born in Bethlehem and from the lineage of King David. For good measure, he drew a parallel to Moses, who escaped the Pharoah’s mandate to kill newborn boys.

Luke’s aim was to convert everybody, Jew and Gentile. His birth narrative used imagery of common folk, shepherds, who rejoiced at the birth of the Messiah.

Both men realized that they needed a device to get Jesus to Nazareth after the birth. After all, he was known as Jesus of Nazareth, not Jesus of Bethlehem.

Does myth matter?

Completely lost in these tangled fables is the real significance of Jesus’s life: His message for us to love unconditionally and forgive untiringly, as exemplified by the father in the Prodigal Son parable. Another casualty: His admonitions for us to avoid judging and condemning each other.

If Jesus’s mission was to teach us that we are one with the father and to save us from committing sin by loving, forgiving and being nonjudgmental, have we belittled that mission by dedicating ourselves instead to errant words, unrelated traditions and worshiping the life story of mythical gods? If we haven’t honored Jesus’s teachings, as urged in his brother James’ book, what on Earth are we celebrating?

Manger or Mary’s House: Why does myth matter?

I saw an interview with theologian and bestselling author Dr. Bart D. Ehrman, who mused about polling his students on the first day of class at the Bible Belt university where he teaches. His first question: How many of you believe that the Bible is the inerrant word of God? Practically every student’s hand shoots up.

Da Vinci Code Cover

More thoroughly read than the Bible?

Next, how many have read “The Da Vinci Code,” cover to cover? Again, almost every hand is in the air. How many have read the Bible, cover to cover? One or two.

It’s no surprise to Ehrman and other Bible scholars that people who haven’t read it or haven’t comprehended what they’ve read are the ones that believe it’s the inerrant word of God. Like him, I’m a bit fascinated by that phenomenon, although I’m sure we both understand that the language in the text can often be challenging.

Add nuances such as ancient ritual, cultural idioms and good old-fashioned hyperbole to the mix, and it’s even more difficult to separate fact from fiction. Jesus, Interrupted coverPlus, as Ehrman pointed out in his latest book. “Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (And Why We Don’t Know About Them),” we tend to read the Bible vertically, from the top of the page to the bottom—the same way we read other books. And that could be a problem.

A problem? Yes. It’s probably the reason most who call ourselves Christians totally miss the fact that there are contradicting narratives of Jesus’s birth and death published in the Bible.

Most of us are confident that we know basic details about Jesus. Certainly, we know where he was born. More than likely, we don’t. Pretty weird, especially since we’ve attended dozens of Christmas pageants, even if we haven’t actually read the narratives in the Bible.

I’ll reveal the answer as we continue to explore whether myth matters, in the next post in this series.

Blowing up our violent god

I awoke this Sunday morning to a disturbing but not surprising newspaper story about a suburban Chicago teen, Adel Daoud, who tried to blow up a downtown bar full of patrons. His goal: To kill as many Americans as he could—and not just any Americans. He specifically targeted bar patrons with his car bomb because drinking alcohol is prohibited by Islam.

This was to be an act of jihad. The authoritative Dictionary of Islam defines jihad as: “A religious war with those who are unbelievers in the mission of Muhammad … enjoined especially for the purpose of advancing Islam and repelling evil from Muslims.”

The teen reportedly told undercover agents that he wanted to make it clear that his jihad was a terrorist attack. He didn’t want Americans to dismiss it as just another act of a mentally ill person, specifically referencing the recent Aurora, Colorado movie theater massacre.

According to the criminal charges filed against him, Daoud allegedly sent an email declaring: “I am trying to do something [an attack] here [in the United States] . . . pray to Allah for my safety and that I’m successful in this life and the hereafter.”

His message gets to the heart of this drama: There are those who believe that their god sanctions the use of weapons of mass destruction. In fact, Allah will protect them in this life and reward them in the afterlife, if they successfully murder their disobedient brothers and sisters.

Gun-shaped Holy BibleShocked? Appalled? Can’t understand why anyone would believe something so preposterous?

You shouldn’t be surprised at all. Most Americans worship a God who solves problems by murdering humans. This angry, vindictive god is at the core of Judaism, Christianity and Islamic faiths.

In the first chapter of the Judeo-Christian Bible, God kills “every living thing”—from pregnant women and newborns to plants, trees and wildlife.

The body count rises as the book progresses. By some accounts, the Bible records God killing more than two million of His own children. By contrast, Satan kills a whopping 10.

But that’s not all: God orders us to lay waste to each other, too. Using Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, I counted more than 50 circumstances under which the so-called “word of God” mandates us to murder a member of our human family for the strangest of reasons. (Good thing we’re disobedient heathens. We’d all be serving life sentences in state and federal prisons.)

Bible says God killed more people than Satan

dangerousintersection.org

For example, the Bible tells us that children who curse their parents “shall surely be put to death.” (Exodus 21:17) Women who are not virgins when they marry “shall be executed.” (Deut. 22:13-21).

Is this the word of God or merely insight into the controlling behaviors of ancient men, as recorded by scribes? Did God become less inhumane, as some would have us believe, when they contrast the God of the Old Testament with the God of the New Testament? Or is it more likely that humans gradually evolved beyond these particular barbaric behaviors?

If the Almighty can’t think of a more humane way to solve problems, how can mere mortals be expected to do so?

It’s a compelling question that attorney Eric Veith approached from a different angle in his March 2007 post on the Dangerous Intersection blog, “Does reading violent scripture make people violent?”  Veith cited a study that had recently been released in which researchers asked 500 students to read a violent Bible passage.

Half of the students were allowed to read through to the conclusion of the Old Testament story. Only those students knew that God had ordered members of select Israeli tribes to retaliate for a woman’s murder by completely destroying several cities. (Perhaps a precursor to the urban riots following the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s assassination?)

Researchers then conducted an exercise to measure the students’ aggression after reading the violent passages. Here’s what they discovered:

Those who were told that God had sanctioned the violence . . . were more likely to act aggressively.

Let’s connect the dots: Our beliefs about God—what God is and what God does—informs, supports and sometimes even dictates our actions. The behavior of humans throughout recorded history reflects this. The results of this study merely punctuate it.

The violence we now experience on a daily basis, in the Middle East and America’s inner cities, reflects our thinking and our beliefs. And it reminds us why we have been told to let peace “begin with me”: As long as one of us worships a God who solves problems by murdering, torturing, crucifying, condemning, harshly judging and angrily retaliating against members of the human family, none of us will have peace.

What is it that you believe about God?

A Bag Lady’s Holy Week

Bag LadyRarely do I want to be that one, the bag lady. But for the next few weeks, I’ll be happily living out of suitcases. The first stop on my journey is the Balcony of Life, where I will stay until Easter is good and over. 

In years past, I’ve tried to tough it out and remain on Earth’s stage during Holy Week’s incessant demonization of the Divine, even though the bludgeoning of God’s holiness annoys me to no end.

As Einstein said, “Doing the same thing, and expecting a different result, is insanity.” So this year, I’m changing course: Rather than take myself there, I’m bringing myself here—to the Balcony. Memo to Self: Install an escalator! There’s no graceful way to lug all this stuff up these stairs.

Hmmm, even from the lower balcony, I can see what a blessing the soul we knew as Trayvon Martin has been for race relations in America. He has both awakened us to our tendency to label, judge and respond to another member of the human family based on superficial characteristics such as skin color and attire. He also has stirred our conflicted sense of justice.

As a species, we are still evolving, still trying to resolve our love-hate relationship with violence and vengeance. Sometimes brutalizing an innocent member of our human family is unacceptable to us. More frequently—in fact, daily—brutality is absolutely OK with us.

Why is the murder of one innocent child of God reviled and the brutal murder of another revered?

Trayvon’s murder falls under the unacceptable category. Hundreds of thousands of citizens in this mostly Christian nation have taken to the streets in outrage over the inhumanity of vigilante George Zimmerman and the insensitivity of the non-vigilant Sanford, Florida Police Department. We clearly revile injustice and violence—except when we’re giddy and grateful for it.

During this, the holiest week on the Christian calendar, we will attend vigils, wear hoodies to church, and post cathartic sentiments on social media in protest of the death of this innocent child and its subsequent cover-up. Then we will get down on our knees and thank God for sending another innocent young man to be slowly and sadistically tortured to death so that the guilty could be forgiven.

Let me play that back for you: According to ancient reports, God was so vehemently opposed to forgiveness that “He” stooped to the barbaric and distinctly human practice of sacrificing a live and innocent being before “He” would forgive the guilty. Yes, it’s the same God that wants mere mortals to forgive 70 times 7.

No one’s protesting the inhumanity, injustice or hypocrisy of this alleged act of God. No one’s demanding evidence that Love would do anything inhumane, unjust or hypocritical. No, instead we’re jumping for joy that we are washed in the blood of Jesus. Isn’t that part of a satanic ritual? Where does the Divine fit in that?

Can we legitimately scream for justice in Trayvon’s murder, when we’re not demanding the same for Jesus’s insanely brutal death? Can we credibly call for Zimmerman to be arrested and tried, but continue to give the Roman soldiers a get-out-of-jail-free card?

All of us carry baggage in our heads. Some of it is information and beliefs that harm us or others. We drag it from place to place and it blurs our ability to see Truth. Perhaps it’s time to let some of it go—starting with all illogical thoughts that demonize God.

From where this bag lady is sitting, if I am grateful for anything this Holy Week, it’s that God really is Love, and that Love forgives absolutely and unconditionally—no matter how much or how long we’ve repeated tales that The Divine does anything demonic.

Opening the eyes in back of your head

I recently reconnected with my college sweetheart and lifelong friend, who initiates a pleasant game of catch-up every once in a while. After all these years, I’m still surprised whenever he and his healthy sense of “what if…” curiosity suddenly reappear on my life path.

During our latest round of shoulda, woulda, coulda catch-up, we had a friendly debate about the value of revisiting the past. He insisted that it’s a healthy exercise, whether our memories are dramatically romanticized or even tinged with regret. Although I didn’t immediately admit it, he was right: Staring straight ahead can be myopic. Worse, we lose the valuable gifts tucked inside those rear view glances: context, life lessons and wisdom.

Rear-view mirror

(c) Bill Frymire

Perhaps you’ve noticed that we can’t always see where we’re going as clearly as where we’ve been. It’s the birthing chamber for those “If I only knew then what I know now” groans.

Ahhh, if our foresight was as 20/20 as our hindsight, life would be so much easier, wouldn’t it? But let’s be grateful that we have eyes in the back of our heads. With that hindsight, we can squeeze every drop of value from our experiences—pleasant and otherwise.

Easier to believe than to think

Albert EinsteinIt doesn’t take Jesus to tell us that putting new wine in old skins will make an absolute mess. It doesn’t take Einstein to tell us that doing the same thing and expecting a different outcome is simply wacko. That great teacher, Experience, has told us these things on numerous occasions.

It doesn’t profit us to blindfold the eyes in back of our heads or power down our brains when discerning truth from possibility. By now, we’ve had millions of chances to be “born again”: clear out the debris from thoughts and beliefs that we know, from experience, don’t work and let our evolutionary lessons inhabit this new space—staying open to the possibility that new discoveries might replace them, as well.

Is Earth really flat?

We don’t have to rely on what others told us to believe. For example, several Bible scriptures, including Revelation 7:1, Isaiah 11:12, Job 28:24 and 37:3,  tell us that Earth is flat. Eyes open, brains in full throttle, do we embrace these scriptures as Truth (the Word of God), or as insight into what ancient people believed was true?

During an online search for images depicting the “four corners of the Earth,” as described in Revelation 7:1, I discovered the existence of the International Flat Earth Society. Its members are dedicated to “unraveling the true mysteries of the universe and demonstrating that the earth is flat and that Round Earth doctrine is little more than an elaborate hoax.”

Half of what you see, none of what you hear

I also found the image I was seeking, created in 1893, complete with ten Biblical scriptures that “condemn the globe theory.” Among them, included scriptures claiming that the earth, moon and sun stand still.

Map of the square, stationary Earth

In the tradition of new wine in old skins, this map presents us with a round and square Earth. It was created using the same methodology as the Christian clergy at the Councils of Nicaea in 325 and 787 CE, who poured an Old Testament God inside New Testament wineskin. All over the floor splashed a bi-polar deity who is genocidal, filicidal, difficult to please, smiting, full of wrath, judgmental, homophobic, punitive, capricious, vindictive, sadistic, AND the unconditionally loving, forgiving father of prodigal children.

Does believing make it so?

Every minute of our lives, we have the opportunity to apply the lessons we’ve learned and use them as guides as we progress along our life paths. Instead, we repeat phrases and hold expectations that they will perform as if they are true, even though we’ve learned through observation and experience, they are not. Phrases that top that list: “Believing makes it so” and “What we think about, we bring about.”

Millions of us quote modern scribes who declare that we can manifest whatever circumstances, possessions and relationships into the physical world that we desire. All we have to do is “claim” them or follow a certain formula or invoke a particular spiritual law.

With all due respect to the writers of those theories, nothing we have experienced or witnessed validates their claim. When our eyes open and brains are in full throttle rather than idling in gullibility, we know that laws produce the same result, 100% of the time for 100% of those affected, independent of our thoughts or beliefs. Yet we keep doing the same thing, expecting a different result.

We also know that laws don’t have to be consciously invoked. When’s the last time you you invoked the Law of Gravity so that you could walk, sit or hang a picture without anything floating away?

Is possibility a law?

Anything is possible. But if the Law of Attraction works the way modern sages say, everything to which we devoted dominant thought and emotional energy, and visualized in great detail would appear in our experience. Nothing else.

In other words, there would be no dictionary entries for surprise or disappointment. We’d be in total control of our experience here; in fact, we’d have dominion over Earth, just as the ancient scribes believed. Wouldn’t that make our physical/ego selves’ toes curl with delight?

Opening the eyes in back of our heads

Perhaps it’s time for us to see a bigger picture, and make a game of it, as creative souls do. My dear friend Joe’s wonder-filled game of “what if…” seems perfect for this:

  • What if God is so much greater than the brain-limiting images of a huge being who looks like a human and lives in outer space?
  • What if God is a divine, immortal and invisible intelligence and we are made in that likeness and image, rather than the other way around?
  • What if we have misidentified ourselves as mere mortals?
  • What if we, as divine, immortal and invisible souls are much more invincible and intelligent than the sensory human body costumes we are temporarily wearing?
  • What if, in the divine, immortal and invisible world of Spirit, everything is perfect, in Divine Order?
  • What if, as divine, immortal and invisible souls, we are precisely where we want to be, having the experiences we want to have for this bat-of-an-eyelash moment in Universal Time?
  • What if attempts by our mortal, sensory human costumes to control the divinely perfect experience we’ve designed simply don’t work?
  • What if we let go of our limited vision of ourselves and consciously sought to identify ourselves as the divine, immortal omniscient spirit within us?
  • What if we trusted the Divine Within to be our pilots, instead of using our bodies and the brains within them to manipulate the circumstances, possessions and people in our physical lives?

Forgiveness is Only a Math Problem

Pop quiz: What’s 70 times 7?

No, it’s not 490! It’s the number of times we’re supposed to forgive those who offend us. Oddly enough, more than two thousand years after a profound and rather revolutionary Jewish rabbi taught this lesson, most of us—even those who profess belief in this man’s teachings—still can’t do the math.

Should we blame the teacher? I don’t think so. He delivered his lesson quite clearly and simply. I’m more inclined to believe that the problem lies in the text. It is more than a little confusing, as evidenced by the findings of a recent Gallup poll.

Researchers found that 49% of Americans believe the Bible, the text from which our views of forgiveness are founded, is the inspired word of God. But these same people don’t think it should be taken literally. Clearly, someone’s confused.

Man swears on Bible

The truth and nothing but the truth, so help me...

When did we stop taking Truth at its word? And, I’m sorry, if God inspired texts that can’t be taken literally, what was the point of the divine inspiration? Heck, mere mortals could have simply made up some stuff.

Actually, 17% of the poll respondents think the text was totally man-made, a collection of legends and fables. My guess is that the latter were merely brave enough to say what the 49% were thinking. If we do the math, 66% of us have discovered that the Bible contains information that is untrue, conflicting or incorrectly recorded.

The implications are tremendous. When overlook obvious errors in the text and call it the Word of God, what are we saying about the credibility and trustworthiness of that Word?

Some scholars take this very seriously. For the last 53 years, for example, Orthodox Jewish researchers at a Jerusalem university have been poring over ancient manuscripts, separating the wheat from the chaff. They’re trying to strip the Hebrew Bible down to its oldest and most authentic text. So far, they’ve unearthed evidence that people have been toying with the Bible for centuries. According to a report on this pivotal research called The Bible Project, scholars have concluded that

“This text at the root of Judaism, Christianity and Islam was somewhat fluid for long periods of its history, and that its transmission through the ages was messier and more human than most of us imagine.”

That explains why it took more than five decades for the team to complete a mere three books of the Bible. And we think we’re reading The Word of God.

The messy and human transmission (and let’s not forget tampering) is precisely why I think we can’t wrap our heads or arms around the famous rabbi’s lessons on forgiveness. The tampered text, in not so subtle ways, actually teaches us to be unforgiving.

Noah's Ark cartoon

©2010-2011 ~tawfi2 (Mohammed tawfik on deviantart.com)

As kids, we learn that God does not forgive

One of the earliest stories in the Bible is of the Great Flood. For centuries this alleged genocide has been romanticized, most recently in whimsical children’s books. At a very early age, we learned about forgiveness from this story: The Almighty God, Who could do anything “He” desired, preferred to sadistically “destroy everything living thing” [Genesis 7:4] rather than wave the wand of forgiveness over the humans in “His” creation. Not sure what the animals and plants did to deserve this fate.

Of course, our parents and religious teachers didn’t highlight God’s lack of forgiveness; but it is the unmistakable raison d’être in this ghastly story. Instead, we were served a sugar-coated version of the tale, complete with beautiful cartoons depicting the smiling faces of wild but happy animals patiently prancing onto the ark in a polite queue or peeping out of portholes as if they were on a Mediterranean cruise. 

Wait a minute! Portholes? According to the story, God ordered Noah to put only one window in that massive vessel—and, excuse me, it wasn’t in the cargo hold. But happy faces are great subterfuge to keep us from realizing that they were about to suffer a punishment worst than death. What child wouldn’t be horrified by the image of carnivores and herbivores crammed into the same dark space? It was nothing less than a Happy Meal for the predators whose prey had no chance of escaping. If kids could figure that out, certainly God could.

And can we talk about poor Noah and his fam? Those poor folks were not only forced to live with the aroma of wild animals and fecal matter; they also suffered the trauma of smelling the stench and, if they could get to that one window, seeing thousands of bloated bodies—infants, children, adults, the disabled and elderly—floating around them for weeks or as much as a year, depending upon how long it took the water to recede, which depended upon which verse of Genesis you read. If their preservative-free, unrefrigerated food supply could last that long, who in the world could eat under those conditions?

Common sense questions are rarely asked by Believers because thinking and questioning are truly the enemies of “blind faith.” In fact, they are considered heretical. (If you think I’m being sacrilegious, simply pick up the copy of whatever version of the Bible you have right now and tell me how many times the facts change in the Flood story, from verse to verse.) So just in case God really is a genocidal maniac rather than the unconditionally forgiving father of prodigal children, we’ve decided to believe some or all of these stories, even the second major lesson in forgiveness, which is even scarier.

Another Lesson: Forgiveness Requires Suffering

This one’s probably going to make some Christians uncomfortable. The most unforgiving (as in not Christlike) among them might even throw rotting tomatoes into the balcony, dramatically proving my point: Forgiveness is an elementary math problem that we haven’t been able to learn, despite having a Master Teacher. But if we’re ever going to solve this math problem, someone’s got to speak truth to those who would try to control our thoughts and beliefs through fear. Needless to say, the Loud Mouth got the assignment.

Like the Great Flood story, we’ve sugar-coated Jesus’s brutal murder by claiming that he died for us. In this story, as we’ve created it, God’s shows “His” love, mercy and forgiveness in a most peculiar way: God loved “His” bad kids so much that, in the barbaric tradition of those who wrote the story, “He” gave Jesus as a live sacrifice, sending “His” only innocent child to be slowly tortured to death.

We refuse to see that this story, which claims that the only condition under which God would forgive the guilty is by inhumanely brutalizing the innocent, portrays God as satanic. Worse, we promote the idea that if we believe that God placed Jesus in the hands of the sadistic Roman soldiers, “He” will  forgive our sins. The cartoon below graphically demonstrates how this principle works.

Murderer meets Victim in HeavenWrong Lessons, Well Learned

And that, Boys and Girls, is why we need a refresher course in multiplication. It’s almost impossible to learn to forgive 70 times 7, as Jesus taught, when we’ve been told for thousands of years that 1) Forgiveness is not really divine and 2) If the Divine forgives at all, there are strings attached. And oh, by the way, sometimes those strings have human blood on them.

Refresher Course is Open if You Are

It’s never too late to learn elementary math, as many have discovered in the transformative Drama Queen Workshops, where we free ourselves from the drama of Earth’s myths—beliefs that portray us as separate us from each other and from the Divine. Let me share the truths that seem to speed the path toward knowing Self, trusting God, and attracting a steady flow of Divine Guidance:

  1. Life is always fair.
  2. God is never far.
  3. Death is not “The End.”
  4. Absolutely nothing is unforgivable.

Spirit presented them to me as the Drama Queen Workshop Principles. The fourth principle is the most transformative for every Soul. Forgiveness will absolutely change your eternal life, release you from the chains of anger and resentment that have bound you to your offenders since The Beginning. Do we really want to spend time with those who have hurt, disrespected or abused us? The only way to release them is to forgive them.

Forgiveness comes so naturally when we understand the other three DQW principles. When we realize that we are eternal souls that embody the Divine Spark of Love that we call God, Allah or other revered names, it’s easy. When we understand that in a what-goes-around-comes-around world, Life is always fair, it just happens. When we know that we will receive what we give, at the most perfect time in our eternal life, because death of the mortal body is not the end of us as immortal souls, we don’t hold onto thoughts, anger  or resentment about what the other person did to us. We know we won’t be held accountable for the way they treated us, only how we treated them, no matter how they treated us. We release ourselves and move on.

We’ve ignored what Jesus reportedly said in most of the New Testament in favor of scriptures portraying Godliness as unforgiving and mortally vindictive. Let’s not turn a blind eye toward “Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven” [Luke 6:37], “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive our trespassers” [Matthew 6:12] or the unconditionally forgiving father in “Prodigal Son” parable [Luke 15:11-32]. Forgiveness appears as a recurring theme. It is the good news. God is Love is the good news. Love forgives unconditionally: Good news.

Despite these scriptures’ message that forgiveness is something we do for ourselves, we believe we’re doing our offenders a favor. We act as if we are giving them a gift they don’t deserve when, in fact, we are only hurting ourselves. We deny ourselves forgiveness when we withhold it. If we want to our sins to be forgiven, we must forgive others for theirs—as many times as necessary, as many times as we’d want to be forgiven. Yes, even 70 times 7, although I certainly wouldn’t recommend remaining in the proximity of a such a repeat offender.

Hope is alive! Just as we learned when we were agonizing over our multiplication tables, practice makes perfect. Lessons are always easier to learn when they’re fun, so I invite you to download a supply of Forgiveness Coupons from the DQW home page. Make a game of forgiving unconditionally. See for yourself that forgiveness really is divine. And discover, while you’re at it, that you are, too.

I love you!

Coming up: Our last week on Earth…

Have you noticed that the only constant on planet Earth is change? It seems that everything–from buildings to bodies, and even the planet itself–ages and decays.

At some point, life as we know it will end. But will it happen because an angry God is coming to judge us, grant eternal life to all who believe that He had Jesus slowly tortured to death, and sadistically torture those who don’t believe He’d do something so satanic? And will it happen next Saturday, May 21, as some folks say?

Judgment Day ad bench

Who has time to SIT?

Why not next Saturday? It’s as good a guess as any. And let’s face it; there have been many guesses.

“The end” as a human obsession

The Essenes, members of a monklike Jewish sect, were preparing for Judgment Day before the birth of the man we now call Jesus. Scholars say that more than 60 years after Jesus’s death, John Mark, a companion of his disciple Peter, wrote Peter’s recollections of the time he spent with Jesus. Among those recollections, Jesus’s prediction that the end of times would come during the first century. In Chapter 9 of Mark’s gospel, he writes that Jesus told a gathering that some of them would be alive on Judgment Day.

This claim is repeated almost verbatim in Matthew 16 and Luke 9, since both scribes “borrowed” liberally from Mark’s text years later. In the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians (Chapters 4 and 5), he, too, warned that the end of the world was near: It would occur during their lifetime. None of these scribes actually knew Jesus. All were incorrect.

Throughout the ages, many others have predicted the so-called End of Times. In most cases, including the latest, the predictions were based on “the inerrant word of God”–the writings of ancient people who fervently believed the Earth was flat, that God lived above the clouds, that the Earth was the center of the universe, and the sun and moon revolved around it.

What’s fascinating is that from these unscientific people, we are basing our scientific calculations.

whom do we trust?

At the heart of the Judgment Day belief is this divine question: Will Earth and every living thing that occupies it die of natural causes–or will it be destroyed by a sadistically punitive God who has no regard for the human life He created, and whose punishment exceeds all human crimes? And if we really believe that God is so diabolical, how do we differentiate Him from the so-called “Enemy?”

God and Man in Tucson

British explorer Sir Richard Francis Burton once wrote: “The more I study religions, the more I am convinced that man never worshipped anything but himself.” Or, as my best friend in high school, now the Rev. Vici Derrick, chuckles, “God made man in His image—then man returned the favor.”

We live in a world in which humans have faithfully embraced ancient authors’ portrayals of God as an angry being who vindictively and violently killed humans to solve problems and silence dissent. Thousands of years later, we vigorously defend ancient scribes’ mandates to “put to death” humans who commit sins ranging from being impudent children to murdering a member of the human family.

A human—or a committee of them—declared everything the scribes wrote was the inspired “Word of God.” If we believe that, why are we shocked and repulsed by incidents such as the executions in Tucson and Pakistan? Why do we call these murders “brutal,” “demonic” and “senseless?” Why do we label the killers zealots, sociopaths and terrorists, if we really believe what we say we believe?

Lit candle

Holding us in Light

Tolerance and forgiveness are divine, not vindictiveness and violence. It is humans who are prone to respond with vitriol and violence. It is humans who must be taught to be civil and accepting of others. It is humans who must be encouraged to love. These virtues are not innate human characteristics.

Have we forgotten the barbaric times in which humans lived? Can we imagine how difficult it must have been for the ancients when they tried to describe God, tried to make sense of their dangerous world and bring some order to it, and when they tried to explain why natural disasters occur and how the world began?

The only context they had was human context. Man at that time solved problems through violence. They may have reasoned that if their world was dangerous and violent, that must be how God is—and how God planned it to be. Or perhaps to justify their behavior, they declared it godly: They were merely mimicking the Huge Human in the sky.

And so they passed down to us a who God is angry, volatile, vindictive, judgmental, violent and mostly unforgiving. They told us—and told us to tell others—that God ordered us to be angry, volatile, vindictive, violent and mostly unforgiving.

Have you ever taken time to count the multitude of reasons that the Word of God says that members of our human family “shall be put to death”? If our ancestors obeyed the word of God, the human race would have been extinct ages ago.

So why do millions of us still believe today that God’s response to human error is brutality: torturing innocent individuals to death so that the guilty could go free or bragging that He drowned “every living thing”? Why do we believe that God would accept an impotent demon’s challenge to inhumanely test a good man’s faith by killing all of his children, drying up his crops and making him suffer untold physical and emotional pain? Why do we believe that God will satanically torture us throughout all eternity for our indisputably finite period of human error? And why do we believe that if humans did any of these horrific things, it would be appalling, unacceptable, deranged—and criminal?

We don’t believe that it’s OK to kill politicians who disagree with us, whether it’s Tucson or Pakistan! Why is it OK, defensible—it’s even worthy to be praised when God commits these inhumane acts? Are we subconsciously holding God to a lower standard than ego-driven humans?

We are accountable for own our double standard. We can’t say that it’s unacceptable for humans to solve problems by killing people, while simultaneously proselytizing that God sinks to such a low, human, and sometimes demonic standard of behavior.

The irony is not lost on us that the youngest victim of the mass murder in Tucson reportedly was born on September 11, 2001—the day when other individuals chose to solve a problem with violence. What was the human response? Claim that God told us to solve that problem with violence. Throughout that child’s lifetime, we tried to solve the problem violently. We inspired support for the violence by fanning the flames of fear.

And how’d that work for us? How many lives did we save? How many families did we destroy? How many young men and women have suffered sustained mental and physical injury?

Historically, the toll for for miscasting God in our vindictive, violent image has been high. Blindly believing in the drama written by ancient scribes has actually breathed life into the demon they created. Every time we treat someone in ways that we would not want to be treated, we feed the demon and share responsibility for its continued destruction around the globe, in homes and parking lots, on city streets and rural countrysides.

Perhaps it’s time to stop worshipping our ego-driven human selves long enough to learn what the murderers and murdered are teaching us: Violence destroys; it is ungodly. True power and true victory come from living as if we were created in God’s true image—as the spirit of Unconditional Love and Forgiveness.

Peek-a-Boo!

It’s amazing how long fables live on Earth and in Cyberspace. Five years after I first blogged about this attempt to manipulate (i.e. frighten) the Faithful, it landed in my e-mailbox again. Let me repeat myself…
Maybe you’ve already received this image of the nighttime sky in an e-mail message. If not, take a wild guess at what that eerie looking object in the heavens might be.

Need a hint? Well, according to the originator of the e-mail, this image was captured by NASA. You know the Loud Mouth in the Balcony had a lifetime as a  journalist, so I had to fact-check.  

Lo and behold, it was true! NASA is the image’s source; I think you’ll agree that it’s a highly credible source.  

Now what do you think the e-mail said that NASA called this image? Take a wild guess.  

Uh huh. The Eye of God. Now if we believe that, all we have to do is figure out whether God is winking at us, which explains why we can’t see the other eye, or if “He” (pardon my limiting masculine pronoun) is the mythical one-eyed Cyclops. Oh yeah, and where is God hiding the rest of “His” face and body?  

Obviously, the sleuths at snopes.com had wondered the same thing. This is what they discovered:  

“This is a real photograph of the Helix Nebula, although it’s technically not a single photograph but rather a composite image formed from several photographs taken by NASA’s orbiting Hubble Space Telescope and a land-based telescope at the Kitt Peak National Observatory near Tucson, Arizona.   

“This image was NASA’s “Astronomy Picture of the Day” for 10 May 2003. The tinting of the image is artificial; the Helix Nebula does not naturally appear with the colors shown above. The picture’s ‘Eye of God’ appellation is a title coined by an admirer of the photo due to the nebula’s resemblance to a human eye, not something designated by NASA. The nebula is also visible all the time, not merely ‘once in 3000 years’.”  

 Of course, the e-mail didn’t mention any of these critical details. Instead, it added that un-Christlike Biblical quotation that always accompanies these types of manipulative messages:  

Jesus said, “If you are ashamed of me, I will be ashamed of you before my Father.” (Mark 8:38, Matthew 10:33, Luke 9:26 & 12:9) 

Considering that 1) Luke and Matthew copied most of their text from Mark, 2) none of them knew or heard Jesus personally, 3) they were were quoting him decades after his crucifixion–without the benefit of tape recorders, transcription machines or even shorthand, and 4) these words seem hypocritical, coming from the mouth of a man who believed in forgiving 70 times 7, I’m wondering why its veracity hasn’t been vigorously challenged by those who call themselves Christians. If I remember correctly, Jesus was also quoted as saying, “Condemn not.”  The “I will be ashamed of you before my Father” verse certainly is a condemnation. Would Jesus really say something so un-Christlike? 

Other Bible verses claim that issuing threats of this type was not part of the Prince of Peace’s nature. If people didn’t believe his teachings, Jesus was also quoted as telling his disciples to “wipe the dust” from their feet and keep it moving. He didn’t say, “Stand there and badger, belittle, and threaten the people until they embraced my Truth as theirs!” Instead, he believed that those who have ears would hear. 

Things haven’t changed much. Even today, most are more willing to embrace the concept of “fearing God” than to embrace the emancipating and joyful message that God is Love, God is within, and God forgives 70 times 7. I think we’ve noticed that every verse in the Bible doesn’t agree with the others, as they would if the book was written by one author, rather than the collected works of different authors with different philosophies, different politics, written at different times for different reasons. (Hint: Each chapter is “The Book of ______”)   

Bible scholars value the text for the insight it provides into the thoughts and beliefs of ancient peoples. They not only know that many of the facts are inaccurate, they know that many of the facts, as written, weren’t intended to be accurate. Bible historians also know that the original texts have been transcribed and translated so many times that it’s impossible to know what was really written. And laity logic tells us that if God is timeless, so would be “His” word. It wouldn’t need to be interpreted or updated. Frankly, it reminds me of what a book would look like if the works of Rev. Jerry Falwell, Deepak Chopra, Neile Donald Walsch and the Rev. Billy Graham were represented in one volume, each sharing his own perception of what God is and what God does. Some parts of the book would resonate with some of us; other parts would not. 

And so it is today: We ignore the parts of the Bible we don’t agree with. For example, most of us will not kill our children for being flippant, our spouses for cheating, or strangers for passing our temples, even if the Bible directs us to do so. Others might. In fact, many like to find and focus on the scary words in the Bible, the threatening passages, the manipulative verses that “put the fear of God” in others–as if Love kills, tortures, condemns, judges, is ashamed of us, or will not let us return home.

What most of us think about God is utterly fascinating. That’s why I wasn’t at all surprised to receive another “photo” by e-mail of a teary-eyed God, peering at Earth, with a face almost as big as the planet itself. You’ve seen that one, right? If we are to interpret this photo literally–and if we are to believe that God is human rather than Divine– it would make sense that “He” would be saddened by man’s attempt to distort Jesus’ beautiful lessons into utter meaninglessness. And, I could see where “He” might be even more disturbed to see that man has made God in his physical image, rather than acknowledging that we were created in the image of God. According to scripture, that means we are omnipresent Spirit–like God, not that God has a body, like us.

Luckily, God is so all-knowing that nothing we do surprises or saddens “Him”. God knows us better than we know ourselves, and “He” loves and forgives us, despite our shortcomings, short-sightedness and limited vision of what Omnipresent Loving Spirit looks like and how it perceives its human creation.

 I’m telling ya, that kind of Love will absolutely bring a tear to your eye, no matter how big your head is.