Oct 252007
 

The Middle Word
Rabbi Irving Greenberg

Living in the Image of God
Jewish law envisions a future in which all human beings are treated as infinitely valuable, equal, and unique
The following is the first in a two-part series:

There is a fundamental principle of Judaism that accounts for all Jewish ethics, including the obligation to love your neighbor as yourself. The Talmudic sage Ben Azzai suggests that this axiom is the Torah’s statement that “God created the human being in God’s image … man and woman God created them.” The Babylonian Talmud (Sanhedrin 37a) spells out the implications of this concept. Judaism holds that–to paraphrase the American Declaration of Independence–all humans are created in the image of God, and therefore they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights and dignities, among which are infinite value, equality and uniqueness. Let’s explore what these three concepts really mean.

INFINITE VALUE: An image of man has a finite value. A Picasso sold for $30,000,000 plus; a Van Gogh for $82.5 million. But an image created by God is worth incomparably more; it is of infinite value. That is why the Talmud states that “To save one life is equivalent to saving a whole world.”

If a life is infinitely valuable, then it must be treated with great concern and care. No precious work of art would be left outside, exposed to the elements. Thus no image of God should ever be allowed to lie on the street, homeless and freezing during winter. Similarly, it is worth spending hundreds of thousands, and indeed millions of dollars, to medically treat and save the life of an infinitely valuable person–meaning, everyone.

EQUALITY: In the Jewish tradition, God is described in images ranging from a powerful warrior to a comforting mother. But it is understood that no image is literal or fixed, and no image is intrinsically superior to the other. To present an image of God as the preferred (or fixed) image of God is idolatry. All images of God (that is, all humans) are equal. Thus the claim that whites are superior to blacks, or males are preferred to women, or members of one religion are truly the image of God and the others are not, is equivalent to idolatry.

UNIQUENESS: Images of man are meant to be replicable. The normal assumption of all stamps, all coins, all reproduced photographs is that one is identical to the next; that is because they are images created by human beings. However, says the Talmud, an image created by God has this distinction: The Holy One creates all human beings from one mold (Adam and Eve), yet each one is different from the other. Not even identical twins are identical. To see people through stereotypes violates the fundamental dignity of the other person as a unique image of God.

The world that we inhabit degrades these fundamental dignities. Poverty and discrimination, legalized slavery and oppression, cultural stereotyping, and human neglect are rampant–but they are incompatible with the dignities of the image of God. Therefore, the Jewish tradition insists that this status quo be fundamentally restructured. We are commanded to work for tikkun olam, to perfect and transform the world until it fully respects the image of God in every human being. We must overcome poverty and hunger, which contradict the infinite value of the individual. We must overcome oppression, because racism, sexism, anti-Semitism, etc., all deny the equality of the other. We must overcome war, which is essentially fought by destroying infinitely valuable images of God with abandon. That is why Isaiah prophesied that “they will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks and they will not learn war anymore.” Isaiah promises that death itself, the ultimate denial of our unique, irreplaceable value, “will be swallowed up in eternity,” that is, overcome.

In short, the Jewish dream of tikkun olam includes the ultimate triumph of life over death and the realization of a world in which the full dignities of every individual are respected, nurtured, and developed. This is the Messianic Age in Jewish tradition. Incorporated into Christianity, into Western culture, and into certain variants of Islam, the Jewish revolutionary promise of world transformation has proven to be extraordinarily liberating and shattering of the status quo.

How shall we live until the final perfection is achieved? The answer of Jewish law and tradition is that we should respect the image of God to the maximum possible degree in all our conduct. Tzedakah, the obligation to help the poor and the hungry, stems from the fact that the needy are equal and infinitely valuable. Lashon hara (evil speech) is prohibited (even if the facts asserted are true) because the talk degrades the image of God in another other person. Sexuality is the search for physical and emotional confirmation of our uniqueness and infinite value–as well as that of the other. Thus, all mitzvot (commandments) can be seen as attempts to nurture the dignity of every human being in the image of God. Judaism is the way of life of Jewry, the community that tries to live by this higher standard–until we achieve tikkun olam, the perfection that will make universal the infinite value, equality, and uniqueness of all human beings.

from belief net.

Sep 042007
 

The whole foundation of Christianity is based on the idea that intellectualism is the work of the Devil. Remember the apple on the tree? Okay, it was the Tree of Knowledge. “You eat this apple, you’re going to be as smart as God. We can’t have that.” – Frank Zappa

Zappa, of course, wasn’t the first to find God’s behavior in Genesis 2 absurd. Shortly after Jesus, the Christian Gnostics read the Genesis account and saw something entirely different than what the orthodox saw. To them, it was obvious that the God of Genesis 2 was a bully – ignorant if not downright malevolent. To them, it was basically this “God” of Genesis 2 who was the REAL devil, and the serpent was sent from the true God to deliver Adam and Eve from Ignorance. The Gnostic “Testimony of Truth” put it in words Zappa would probably have approved of:

“But what sort is this God? First he maliciously refused Adam from eating of the tree of knowledge, and, secondly, he said “Adam, where are you?” God does not have foreknowledge? Would he not know from the beginning? And afterwards, he said, “Let us cast him out of this place, lest he eat of the tree of life and live forever.” Surely, he has shown himself to be a malicious grudger!”

But other mystical interpretations of Genesis pick up on additional subtleties. It is not simply wisdom that the fatal tree gives Adam and Eve – it is dualistic knowledge – categorical knowledge. Good vs. Evil. Light vs. Dark. Ultimately – myself vs. everything NOT myself. In other words, the developed Ego. The story in Genesis is basically the story of humanity rising above animal awareness and developing self-consciousness; a story repeated in the psychological development of every subsequent human being. Thorough the ego, humanity not only becomes aware of good and evil, but also life and death. We come to understand, anticipate… and dread our own mortality.

This is our “fall”. But it is a fall UPWARDS. The Ego is our only vehicle upwards toward transcendence, but it also can become our prison.

And so, in one important sense, the intellectual, categorical, dualistic mind IS an obstacle. Not because it allows us to question dogma or doubt doctrine, but because it isolates us from the rest of the universe in a prison of concepts, tortured by the suffering of remembered or anticipated pain and death and annihilation. The ego is our hell, and our only salvation is that the ego is temporary. To live forever in our present state would indeed be a grim fate.

Every mystical tradition recognizes that the intellectual mind is an obstacle to be overcome in the spiritual path. Zen masters give their disciples torturous, insoluble mental puzzles (koans) to trick the mind into exhausting itself. Yogis practice for years to quiet the noise of the mind. In Christianity, “contemplative prayer” involves a long discipline of focusing the mind on divine emptiness.

John Wren-Lewis, an atheist mystic, describes his experience of awakening from the conceptual world into emptiness:
“Now all the judgments of goodness or badness which the human mind necessarily has to make in its activities along the line of time were contextualized in the perspective of that other dimension I can only call eternity, which loves all the productions of time regardless.”

Jul 022007
 

Something I read recently inspired me to comment a bit on the much neglected subject of a realized eschatology in the teaching of Jesus. As I’ve commented much earlier:

(http://perennis.pathstoknowledge.com/kingdom_god) For every statement Jesus makes that COULD be interpreted as pointing us toward hoping for a future kingdom and a future coming – there are as many, if not more, that point to the kingdom of God being right here, right now, in the innermost heart of every person.

 

From many clear parables and clear teachings – from the entire Sermon on the Mount – it is completely clear that Jesus expects his teaching to utterly transform a person in the here and now. He even tells his disciples to “take no thought for the morrow” – a teaching that seems incompatible with scanning the headlines for the latest news of the Antichrist and analyzing the Bible for letter sequences that will warn us of the coming disasters.

 

The future is, in general, the province of the ego. It is in the non-existent future (for only the NOW really exists) that we will finally be fulfilled, finally find happiness, finally have “enough” etc. And, in the Christianized version of this game, it is only in the future that we will experience God’s grace, live in God’s presence, and be rescued from the future fires of hell. Earth life becomes simply a prelude. Choose Jesus and, some day, in the future world, he’ll save you from hell and reward you.

 

But the fact it, “hell” is right here and now. Humans live in prisons of their own making, suffering punishments of their own devising. Happiness eludes them. As the Buddha’s first noble truth teaches – life is suffering. There is sickness, injustice, greed, violence and death. There are also milder forms of suffering connected with feeling unfulfilled, unloved, unappreciated. This is not to say that all of us live in unremitting misery. There are, after all, levels in hell, and glimpses of joy. But taken as a whole, our species must obviously be diagnosed as profoundly unhappy and rather psychotic. In the last century alone, we endured two world wars, countless local conflicts, numerous episodes of genocide and atrocity involving nearly 100 million people. Global poverty increased and millions starved to death while millions in wealthier countries turned to drugs, alcohol, gambling or the mindless pursuit of consumer goods to dull their suffering. It is estimated that about 34% of the U.S. population will suffer clinical depression at some point in their lives.

 

Leaving aside the question of a future hell – a transformational understanding of Jesus’ teaching offers to save us from the hell we’re already in. It’s not a matter of Jesus punishing us for not accepting him. We’re already doing a fine job of punishing ourselves. But the Kingdom of Heaven can indeed be within us. Suffering can end. Joy can be our continual state. This is not something to be paid for with years of privation and mortification. It is right in front of our eyes. Or rather, right behind them.

Apr 022007
 

Since this is bound to come up at some point, I wanted to do a more comprehensive post on the words “everlasting” or “eternal” connected to punishment (hell, hades, lake of fire, etc). This will be somewhat redundant of my earlier short post. My apologies in advance.  Also, it will be rather technical and of probably no interest whatsoever except to a believer in sola scriptura (the Bible Alone is truth). You have been warned.

As far as I can find, EVERY single scripture which is traditionally interpreted as teaching everlasting punishment uses some version of the Greek words “aion” and “aionios” to describe this punishment.  These words are also the origin of our English word “eon”, and, like that word, convey the idea of a long – but finite amount of time. They are, however, consistently MIS-translated as “everlasting” or “eternal” by the King James and many other translations.  It is safe to say that the doctrine of eternal punishments stands or falls on the correct translation of this one, somewhat obsure, term.

This in itself raises a question. If God wants us to know about eternal punishment and directed the writing of the Bible, could he not have inspired the choice of some other, less controversial word? Yes, he could have. Several very appropriate words are available in Greek, such as “akatalutos” (endless, permanent – strongs 179), “aidios” (ever-enduring – strongs 126), “athanasia” (undying – strongs 110), “adialeiptos” (ceaseless, permanent – strongs 88). All these words ARE used in the New Testament – but only when referring to eternal life and eternal rewards, never in reference to punishments – a telling difference.

The Pharisees and the Essenes apparently DID believe in eternal torment for the wicked, and when Josephus, the Jewish historian of the time of the apostles, describes their beliefs, he uses the Greek words I mention above. The Pharisees, he says,  believe the wicked are sent to an everlasting prison [eirgmon aidion] subject to eternal punishment" [aidios timoria]. The Essenes believe the wicked would suffer never-ceasing punishment [timoria adialeipton], or deathless punishment, [athanaton timorian].

Jesus teaching, by uses terms such as “olethros aiónios or aióniou kriseos "age-long chastisement," or "age-long condemnation." In distinguishing his doctrine of punishment from the Pharasees, it may be that this is at least part of what Jesus had in mind when he warned his disciples to beware of the doctrine of the Pharisees and the Sadducees” (Mat 16:12). The Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection, and the Pharisees believed in endless torment. Perhaps those who teach endless punishment today are, in fact, teaching one of the particular doctrines of the Pharisees that Jesus specifically repudiates.

The writers of the time who used the word “aion” and “aionios” used them to refer to “age” and “age-long” – not eternity. Here are some examples:

From Homer: "Thyself shall be deprived of pleasant aiónos" (life – or age.) "Husband thou hast perished from aiónos" (life or time.)  

From Hesiod: "To him (the married man) during aiónos (life – his age) evil is constantly striving,”

Hippocrates. "A human aión is a seven days matter."

Euripides: "Every aión of mortals is unstable."

Euripides: "Marriage to those mortals who are well situated is a happy aión."

Plato: "Leading a life (aióna) involved in troubles."

Arisotle: "Which of these things separately can be compared with the order of the heaven, and the relation of the stars, sun, and also the moon moving in most perfect measures from one aión to another aión,"

Philo: "These they called aiónios, hearing that they had performed the sacred rites for three entire generations."

In the Greek translation of the Old Testament (The Septuagint)  the same use of “aion” or “aionios” for “age” applies:

"There were giants in the earth in those days; and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bare children to them, the same became mighty men which were of old, (aiónos), men of renown."

“"Whereas thou hast been forsaken and hated, so that no man went through thee, I will make thee an aiónion excellency, a joy of many generations."

"And it shall be, if he say unto thee, I will not go away from thee; because he loveth thee and thine house, because he is well with thee, then thou shalt take an awl, and thrust it through his ear unto the door, and he shall be thy servant. aionios"

There are also a number of places where the word is used in the New Testament that simply CANNOT refer to “eternity”. Here are some examples.

What was sown among the thorns, this is he who hears the word, but the cares of this age (aion)  and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and he becomes unfruitful.  (Matthew 13:22 WEB)
[Is the listener distracted from the gospel by the cares of ETERNITY??]

So will it be in the end of the world (aion). The angels will come forth, and separate the wicked from among the righteous,  (Matthew 13:49 WEB)
[The angels come at the end of ETERNITY?? (ie, never)]

as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets who have been from of old (aion) (Luke 1:70 WEB) [From the beginning of ETERNITY?]

His lord commended the dishonest manager because he had done wisely, for the children of this world (aion)  are, in their own generation, wiser than the children of the light.  (Luke 16:8 WEB)
[The children of ETERNITY are wiser than the children of light??]

Since the world began (ek tou aiónos) it has never been heard of that anyone opened the eyes of someone born blind. (John 9:32 WEB)
[Since the beginning of ETERNITY?? ]

Now to him that is of power to stablish you according to my gospel, and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began (chronos aionios) (Romans 16:25 KJV)
[Since ETERNITY begain??]

that in the ages (aions) to come he might show the exceeding riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus; (Ephesians 2:7 WEB)
[That in the ETERNITIES to come?? Is there more than one eternity?]

Now all these things happened to them by way of example, and they were written for our admonition, on whom the ends of the ages (ta tele ton aiónon) have come.  (1 Corinthians 10:11 WEB)
[Has the end of all ETERNITIES come upon us?? THAT would be bad news]

Even where the word refers to something where “eternity” might make sense, the construction doesn’t allow for “eternity” to be the meaning. For example:

Now to the King eternal [aionos], immortal, invisible, to God who alone is wise, be honor and glory forever and ever [eis aionos] . Amen. (1 Timothy 1:17 WEB)

No one would object to calling God the eternal King. But would it make sense to call him the King of the “eternities” (plural?) This makes no sense at all. There’s only one eternity. However, if aion means age, then we get this translation (from Youngs)

and to the King of the ages, the incorruptible, invisible, only wise God, is honour and glory–to the ages of the ages! Amen.  1 Timothy 1:17 YLT)

“King of the Ages” – and “ages of ages” make perfect grammatical sense, and are still accurate.

So, if “age” and “ages” and “age-long” are really the better translations of these words, how and when did they come to be translated “eternal” and “everlasting”? We can get some clues by examining ancient dictionaries and lexicons. Here is the definition of “aion” from some ancient dictionaries.

Hesychius, (A. D. 400-600,) "The life of man, the time of life."

 Theodoret (A. D. 300-400) "Aión is not any existing thing, but an interval denoting time, sometimes infinite when spoken of God, sometimes proportioned to the duration of the creation, and sometimes to the life of man."

John of Damascus (A. D. 750,) says, "1, The life of every man is called aión The whole duration or life of this world is called aión. The life after the resurrection is called 'the aión to come.' "

Then, by the 16th Century, we read this in the lexicon of Phavorinus: "Aión, time, also life, also habit, or way of life. Aión is also the eternal and endless AS IT SEEMS TO THE THEOLOGIAN."

So sometime after the Council of Nicea, the meaning had begun to change to “eternal”, and it was apparently at the instigation of theologians, rather than translators. There began to be a theological preference for thinking of “aion” as “eternity”.

Another help in pointing out that “aionios” cannot mean “eternal” is in the word for punishment associated with it, for example, in this scripture:

And these shall go away to punishment age-during (kolasis aionios), but the righteous to life age-during. (Matthew 25:46 YLT)

The word used for “punishment” (kolasis) actually refers to pruning, to cutting off branches to improve a tree. The correct translation is closer to “correction” or “chastisement”. It is a REMEDIAL punishment – the object being to improve the person being corrected. It would be absurd to imagine undergoing “corrective” punishment for all eternity! The word suggests that at some future point, the branches will be sufficiently pruned that the tree can be allowed to grow again.

Mar 212007
 

First a disclaimer. I’m an example of a “Theistic Evolutionist”. I think this actually makes me a good candidate to evaluate the evidence for evolution. If the evidence tended to show that God created each species independently, I’d be happy to accept it. I’m not an atheist, so I have no anti-God axe to grind. On the other hand, I don’t believe that the opening chapters of Genesis require me to believe any scientific particulars about the origin of species. So if the evidence tends to show that all life descended from a common source with modification, I’m equally happy to accept THAT. I was originally a zoology major in college, so I have enough of a science background to at least have a basic understanding of most of the ideas presented in favor of evolution. My purpose in this article or articles will be to try to explain these issues to Christians and other theists simply enough that they can evaluate them.

Let’s begin by setting some boundaries.  People mean a lot of different things when they say “evolution”. All I’ll be talking about here is the idea that all life has descended with modification from common ancestors. This is one formulation of the FACT of evolution. Evidence for the truth of this idea is overwhelming. In fact, evidence of the same strength and kind regularly sends people to death row for murder. And I’ll hope to show that if the FACT of evolution is false, then God has gone out of his way to deceive us – to the extent that he could not be trusted.

As to the mechanism of HOW life descended with modification from a common source – that is more open to discussion. We know a great deal about some of the mechanisms, but certainly not everything. As to how life originated in the first place – that is even MORE open to discussion. Scientific theories about this currently rely on substantial amounts of conjecture. What we DO know is that somehow, life descended from a common source with modification. It was not created in the form of distinct individual “kinds” or species, as creationism would have it.

DNA and Genetics

It’s interesting to remember that Charles Darwin knew nothing about DNA. The workings of the inside of the cell were, to use Michael Behe’s term, a “Black Box” to Darwin and other scientists of the day. In Darwin’s day, it was well known that parents (human, animal or plant) passed on their characteristics to their offspring. People with black hair would tend to have children with black hair. Birds with larger beaks would tend to have offspring with larger beaks, etc. Although genetics was studied, no one knew exactly HOW these characteristics were passed on.

Now we know that DNA and RNA molecules control these traits and others by controlling the structure of the proteins that make up the bodies of all living things. The genes on the DNA molecule are blueprints for building the complicated building blocks that make up life. These DNA molecules, and the traits they contain, are passed down from one generation to the next. Enormous effort has gone into studying and cataloguing gene sequences of the DNA molecule, especially in humans. We have also studied the intricate and fascinating workings of living cells down at the level of biochemical reactions.

The Commonality of Life

The first fascinating thing about DNA is that all life on earth uses it. Not only does all life use DNA, but there are other surprising similarities. All life uses the same basic three types of polymers out of hundreds of possibilities. Many molecules that make up life come in “right-handed” and “left-handed” varieties. Overwhelmingly, all life on earth uses molecules of the same “handedness”. All DNA in all life uses only four nucleoside building blocks out of at least 102 possibilities. All proteins in all living things use only the same 22 amino acids out of 309 amino acids available in nature. All life uses the same basic “code” for translating DNA into proteins. All life uses a very similar cycle of complex chemicals to process energy. For example, virtually every form of life from yeast to man uses a protein called “cytochrome c” as part of the process of providing the body cells with energy. When Darwin proposed that all life descended from a common source, he had no idea that at the molecular level, all life would turn out to be so very similar.

Why this similarity? If God were creating each species separately, why would he make a rose and a whale look so completely different on the OUTSIDE – but function so similarly on the INSIDE, at the level of molecules? Why limit himself to so few chemical choices out of the huge number available? Why be so beautifully creative with the outward forms and so boringly repetitive with the inner workings? Did he take shortcuts with the biochemistry because he thought no one would be looking at it?

Of course, it all life descended from a common ancestor, then everything becomes plain. All life has inherited the basic chemistry of life from its original ancestor. If only God had made a few species that use different amino acids, or a different polymer or a different nucleoside – the theory of evolution would be in serious trouble. But he didn’t.

DNA Variation and Mutation

Although normally DNA is passed from parent to offspring as a perfect copy, occasionally there are problems. Minor changes can happen, for various reasons. DNA can be damaged during copying due to such things as radiation, environmental toxins, certain viruses or just a random “hiccup” in the chemical machines that do the copying. There are many sections of the DNA molecule that are inactive. Changes to those parts of the DNA molecule will be passed on to the offspring, but will have no noticeable effect on the offspring. On the other hand, if the mutation happens to a part of the DNA that is used for making proteins, then the protein can be changed. This can cause major or minor differences in the traits of the offspring. Mutations and the rates of mutation have been extensively studied, especially in humans. This is an important part of some cancer research, for example.

Take, for example, the protein “cytochrome c” I mentioned above. This protein is made up of about 100 amino acids and is vital to all life on earth. Because it is so vital, any mutation that seriously changes the way DNA produces cytochrome c tends to be fatal. And for that reason, very few changes in cytochrome c are passed on to offspring. But there are some parts of the cytochrome c protein that are only “structure”. They can be changed to a different amino acid without changing the function of the molecule.

Think of it as a toy dump truck made of legos. The toy truck has to have wheels, and a certain cargo capacity. But it really doesn’t matter, for most of the truck, if you build it out of green legos or black legos, or a mix of all sorts of colors. As long as the structure is there and it rolls and carries cargo – it will work. And so the cytochrome c molecules in humans are slightly different than the ones in horses, or corn, or yeast. They have accumulated some mutations. But they all work. In fact, you can take human cytochrome c and put it into yeast and it will work just fine.

But here’s the interesting part. If any life form has a mutation in its DNA causing a change in cytochrome c, it will pass that change in cytochrome c on to its offspring. If all life is descended from a common source, then, we should be able to map out the family tree of all life on earth by comparing cytochrome c molecules. If we start with humans, then any form of life with very similar cytochrome c should be on a branch of the tree very near us, and any form with more differences in cytochrome c should be farther away. So what do we find? We start with:

Chimpanzee: 100%. That is to say, chimp cytochrome c is absolutely identical to human cytochrome c. This would tend to indicate that chimps are very close to us on the family tree of life.

Here are other species and how similar they are to humans in their cytochrome c:

Mouse: 91.3%
Donkey: 89.4%
Horse: 88.5%
Lamprey: 80.8%
Carp: 78.6%
Maize: 66.7%
S. pombe (a yeast) 67.3%
Neurospora (another yeast) 63.7%
Euglena (a single celled organism) 56.6%

It’s not hard to see that the tree of life we actually find by molecular testing is very similar to the tree that evolutionary biologists had put together decades earlier by examining common characteristics. But Darwin had never heard of cytochrome c. He and other biologists created their classifications based on various shared traits. Darwin did not know that mapping the development of a molecular protein would turn out to show the exact same pattern as his theory predicted.

But how does this fit with special creation? WHY would God deliberately create humans and chimps to have EXACTLY the same cytochrome c out of more than billions of possibilities? Is it because the cytochrome c in humans and chimps functions slightly differently, somehow “tailored” for primates? No. The cytochrome c of virtually all life is basically interchangeable in terms of function. This is because it is basic to the energy cycle of all life. As I said above, human cytochrome c works in yeast without a hitch. Why would God perfectly match his “custom” created cytochrome c to the evolutionary chain of life? Why provide virtually certain forensic evidence that all life evolved from a common ancestor? All God would have had to do would be to give chimps significantly different cytochrome c than humans and evolution would have been dealt a devastating blow.

And cytochrome c sequences basically ARE at the level of importance that DNA evidence is in a courtroom. Cytochrome c differences are caused by DNA differences, and are only passed on by ONE mechanism that we know of in the whole world – one that we observe every single day. Heredity.

Endogenous Retroviruses

If the previous example were not enough, the phenomena of endogenous retroviruses should seal the deal. Retroviruses insert themselves into the DNA of their host. Very occasionally, they will insert themselves into a sperm or ova and will be passed on to the next generation as part of the DNA. Provided that the virus has inserted itself into a portion of the DNA that is not critical, it can and will continue to be passed on for generation after generation. It is estimated that about 1 to 8% of human DNA are these fragments of viruses passed down from our ancestors. These fragments are, in effect, tiny “scars” of ancient viruses infections found on our DNA, in every cell.

Now for the interesting part. Several of these same virus fragments, in the same locations, are found in chimps, gorillas, orangutan, gibbons, and other apes and monkeys. The closer we get to humans, the more fragments are shared. The odds against this being by chance are astronomical. The only known mechanism for having exactly the save virus fragments in exactly the same places is… heredity. It is inescapable that we share ancestors with chimpanzees and other apes and monkeys. We know how the viruses get there. Viral infection. We know how they are passed down – genetically to offspring. These are observable mechanisms that we have studied extensively. Humans and chimps have clear and unmistakable genetic fingerprints of a common ancestor – fingerprints left by an ancient viral infection.

This phenomena is nearly impossible to explain reasonably through special creation. Why on earth would God create both chimps and humans so that their DNA was scared by several virus fragments in the same locations?? What possible purpose could this serve? Why place older and fewer infection markers in more distant evolutionary ancestors – exactly as evolution would lead us to expect? Did God create each of these species so that it APPEARED they had been infected in the past by viruses? Or did he manipulate the odds (and it would have required drastic manipulation) so that they were infected in the same places in their DNA? Either way, God would be going out of his way to LIE to us – to deliberately mislead us with the evidence. And once again, if it had turned out that we shared virus scars with organisms who were very different from us, but didn’t’ share them with apes – evolution would have absolutely no explanation.

If you shared enough very specific gene markers with another person, it would be proof positive in a court of law that you and that person share common ancestry. This is exactly how most paternity cases are resolved. Exactly that same sort of evidence proves conclusively that we share ancestors with the other primates. The only alternative is that God is a liar and a trickster.

Mar 162007
 

In the collection of sources that went into the Bible, there were several different perspectives regarding Satan and the role of evil in the world. In fact, the book of Job is an all-out argument right in the pages of scripture between several of these competing views. Israel was in a unique position to experience and ponder the problem of evil because they lived in a land that was a crossroads between Egypt on one side and Asia and Mesopotamia on the other. During much of their history they were constantly conquered or invaded by one ambitious empire after another.

Before this period, God’s attitude toward Abraham and his descendents is one of unqualified benevolence:

Now Yahweh said to Abram, Get out of your country, and from your relatives, and from your fathers house, to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation. I will bless you and make your name great. You will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you. All of the families of the earth will be blessed in you. (Genesis 12:1-3 WEB)

God continues to bless Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in spite of their personal failings and problems.

The “Prophetic” View

As Israel began to experience repeated conquests by their neighbors, a religious question arose. If God promised to bless Israel and give them their land as a possession forever (see Gen 13:15), why were they often conquered and subjugated by their neighbors? The answer that developed has been called the “Prophetic” view of good and evil. God blesses Israel when they obey him, but he is prepared to punish them when they do NOT obey him.

Behold, I set before you this day a blessing and a curse: the blessing, if you shall listen to the commandments of Yahweh your God, which I command you this day; and the curse, if you shall not listen to the commandments of Yahweh your God, but turn aside out of the way which I command you this day, to go after other gods, which you have not known. (Deuteronomy 11:26-28 WEB)

Remember that Deuteronomy was written long after the fact. The Deuteronomist (possibly Jeremiah) was looking back at Israel’s history from the perspective of repeated periods of suffering. Also notice that the blessings and curses are entirely physical, in there here-and-now. For example:

“I command you this day to love Yahweh your God, to walk in his ways, and to keep his commandments and his statutes and his ordinances, that you may live and multiply, and that Yahweh your God may bless you in the land where you go in to possess it.” (Deuteronomy 30:16 WEB)

The reward for obedience to God was not heavenly happiness. It was life, possessions, and posterity. Physical prosperity and happiness was the sign of God’s favor. Physical misfortune was the sign of God’s displeasure.

Also at this time, the concept of “Satan” began to occur in scripture. We are used to thinking of the serpent in the garden of Eden as the first appearance of Satan, but this is a later association. In the primitive original story, the serpent is only a serpent. “Satan” originally meant simply “adversary”. For example, in 1 Samuel 29:4, The Philistines are worried that if they take David into battle with them against Israel (David is serving the Philistines at that time) he will turn on them in battle and become a “satan” (an adversary).

God sends angels as “satans” to either oppose or test various individuals. In Numbers 22, for example, God sends an angel as a “satan” against Balaam, to prevent him from cursing Israel.

Gods anger was kindled because he went; and the angel of Yahweh placed himself in the way for an adversary [Hebrew = “satan”] against him. Now he was riding on his donkey, and his two servants were with him. (Numbers 22:22 WEB)

In one case, God himself acts as the “satan”. We read:

Satan stood up against Israel, and moved David to number Israel. (1 Chronicles 21:1 WEB)

But in a parallel version of the text, we read:

Again the anger of Yahweh was kindled against Israel, and he moved David against them, saying, Go, number Israel and Judah. (2 Samuel 24:1 WEB)

Was it Satan, or Yahweh, who moved David to number Israel? It was God, acting as an adversary (satan) against David. He was, in other words, testing David.

Satan as God’s Prosecutor.

By the time the book of Job is written, the view is beginning to shift again. There have been various religious reforms in Judah and Israel, and even during periods of religious righteousness, the people continue to suffer from invading armies on several sides. Physical misfortunes don’t seem to be confined only to the wicked. The good suffer also. The book of Job addresses this issue.

Job, whom we are told is an entirely righteous man, suffers horrible calamities. He looses his children, his livestock, his health. His friends, echoing the prophets and the book of Deuteronomy, insist that if Job is suffering, he must have done something to anger God.

Is it for your piety that he reproves you, that he enters with you into judgment?
Isnt your wickedness great? Neither is there any end to your iniquities. (Job 22:4-5 WEB)

What Job’s friends don’t know, of course, is that Job is suffering at the hand of “Satan”. Instead of being just an occasional role filled by whatever angel is convenient, however, the role of “Satan” now seems to be a full-time position. Satan is seen as the chief prosecutor of the court of heaven. He is still an honored member of the “sons of God”, the highest angels. But his role is now to seek out unrighteousness and bring it to God’s attention for punishment, and to test even the righteous with trials.

Now it happened on the day when God’s sons came to present themselves before Yahweh, that Satan also came among them. Yahweh said to Satan, Where have you come from? Then Satan answered Yahweh, and said, From going back and forth in the earth, and from walking up and down in it. Yahweh said to Satan, Have you considered my servant, Job? For there is none like him in the earth, a blameless and an upright man, one who fears God, and turns away from evil. Then Satan answered Yahweh, and said, Does Job fear God for nothing? Haven’t you made a hedge around him, and around his house, and around all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his substance is increased in the land. But put forth your hand now, and touch all that he has, and he will renounce you to your face. Yahweh said to Satan, Behold, all that he has is in your power. Only on himself don’t put forth your hand. So Satan went forth from the presence of Yahweh.
(Job 1:6-12 WEB)

We see here the beginnings of what will come to be called the “Apocalyptic” worldview. The good can expect to suffer in this life as a test of their faith. God will eventually make things right. In Job God shows up personally in the last chapter in a “personal” apocalypse, and makes everything right. But Job also begins to hint at the fact that not everything may end up justly resolved in this life. The unwarranted suffering of the righteous may require rewards AFTER this life.

For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God: (Job 19:25-26 KJV)

These rewards are still seen in terms of a physical resurrection. They are still physical rewards – but postponed until the resurrection.

The Apocalyptic View

After the Babylonian captivity, the returning exiles rebuilt Jerusalem in a spirit of religious purification and reform. The Torah was codified and followed rigorously. And yet in spite of unprecedented religious purity and righteousness, Judea soon experienced some of the worst persecution of its history at the hands of the Seleucid Empire. Antiochus, ruler of the Empire, prohibited Jewish religious practices, and punished any demonstrations of Jewish piety with unprecedented cruelty. Jewish scriptures were burned and even women and children tortured and killed for refusing to sacrifice to pagan idols.

During this period, the “Apocalyptic” worldview came to full flower. It seemed obvious that a righteous God would not willingly order such atrocities toward the pious simply as a test. Borrowing perhaps from the Zoroastrian dualism to which they had been exposed by the Persians, the Jews began to see Satan not as the prosecuting attorney of heaven – but a fallen angel in total rebellion against God. This idea of fallen angels begins to appear in Daniel, which was written at the time of the persecutions of Antiochus. An angel is sent to Daniel, but is delayed due to having to fight off the “prince” (a fallen angelic governor) of Persia.

But the prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me twenty-one days; but, behold, Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me: and I remained there with the kings of Persia. (Daniel 10:13 WEB)

This is also one of the first mentions of Michael the Archangel. The introduction of angelic names and hierarchies – also a favorite topic of the Persians, would proliferate in later years.

Daniel is also filled with apocalyptic visions. God would eventually destroy the kingdoms of the world and set up his own. Until then, the righteous could expect persecution, because of the evil angelic powers – but God would reward them in the resurrection. For example, in 2nd Maccabees, an inter-testamental writing from this period, we read of seven brothers who were tortured to death for refusing to violate religious law. He says to his tormenters:

So when he was ready to die he said thus, It is good, being put to death by men, to look for hope from God to be raised up again by him: as for thee, thou shalt have no resurrection to life. (2 Maccabees 7:14 KJVA)

We begin to see that God will not only reward the righteous in the resurrection, but punish the wicked. This theme is amplified in another intertestamental writing, 1 Enoch.
Then I looked and turned myself to another part of the earth, where I beheld a deep valley burning with fire. To this valley they brought monarchs and the mighty. And there my eyes beheld the instruments which they were making, fetters of iron without weight (or of immeasurable weight) Then I inquired of the angel of peace, who proceeded with me, saying, For whom are these fetters and instruments prepared? He replied, These are prepared for the host of Azazeel, that they may be delivered over and adjudged to the lowest condemnation; and that their angels may be overwhelmed with hurled stones, as the Lord of spirits has commanded. Michael and Gabriel, Raphael and Phanuel shall be strengthened in that day, and shall then cast them into a furnace of blazing fire, that the Lord of spirits may be avenged of them for their crimes; because they became ministers of Satan, and seduced those who dwell upon earth. ( 1 Enoch 53: 1-6)
Here we have the concept of a hell of burning fire. Satan also has been “promoted” to the head of the fallen angels.

 

The Gnostic View

Things continued to be difficult for the Jews under the Roman Empire, culminating in the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in 70 AD. This event crushed the hopes of the most pious Jews. In a world that at times seemed utterly evil, some of the Jews began to question the wisdom of God in permitting such a situation. Combining influences of earlier philosophies, Jewish and Christian Gnostics took the next step past the apocalyptic viewpoint. The righteous suffered, said the Gnostics, not because evil was a test permitted by a good God, and not because a powerful fallen angel was on the loose opposing a good God. The righteous suffered because the God who had created the material world itself and all the powers that controlled it was an EVIL God (or at best, an incompetent one). This “Demiurge” had been created by a cosmic accident. He had incompetently created the world and ruled over it, demanding worship and obedience. To a number of these Gnostics – Satan basically WAS the God of the Old Testament. Satan had created the world and given the Old Testament law – demanding worship as the one and only God.

But above him was a TRUE God, of complete goodness and pure light. The true God, taking pity on the tortured creation of the Demiurge, had sent messengers into the world to show the way to escape from the clutches of the evil God of the material world.

The Apocryphon of John describes this incompetent creator:

"Now the archon who is weak has three names. The first name is Yaltabaoth, the second is Saklas, and the third is Samael. And he is impious in his arrogance which is in him. For he said, 'I am God and there is no other God beside me,' for he is ignorant of his strength, the place from which he had come.”

The Gnostic equating of Satan with the Demiurge or god of this world has it’s echos even in the New Testament writings

I will no more speak much with you, for the prince of the world comes, and he has nothing in me. (John 14:30 WEB)

For our wrestling is not against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the worlds rulers of the darkness of this age, and against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.
(Ephesians 6:12 WEB)

in whom the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving, that the light of the Good News of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should not dawn on them. (2 Corinthians 4:4 WEB)

We know that we are of God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.
(1 John 5:19 WEB)

 

The Gnostic view also regarded the next life as entirely spiritual. The physical world was evil, and so a physical resurrection made no sense.

Summary

To review, then, the conception of Satan has undergone considerable change in Biblical and extra-biblical writings, going hand in hand with a change in worldview and the perception of Evil. These changes can be summarized as follows:

The conception of Satan:

Primitive: An occasional role of God or his angels.
Prophetic: God’s official prosecutor.
Apocalyptic: A cosmic rebel against God.
Gnostic: The evil or incompetent creator of the world.

Conception of evil:

Primitive: An occasional fact of life.
Prophetic: God’s punishment.
Apocalyptic: Part of Satan’s civil war.
Gnostic: The primary nature of the material world.

Conception of rewards/punishments

Primitive: Earthly – unconditional
Prophetic: Earthly – conditional
Apocalyptic: Future earthly – conditional
Gnostic: Future spiritual – conditional
 

 

 

Mar 022007
 

Just to jump on the bandwagon, let me chime in with my opinion on the supposed discovery of Jesus’ body in a tomb in the holy land (as documented by James Cameron.)

 

There are three basic scenarios that have been put forward regarding Jesus.

 

1. That he was what the New Testament claims.

 

In this case, he was resurrected and there is no body to find.

 

2. That he never existed at all.

 

In this case – again – there’s no body to find.

 

3. That he was basically an ordinary human being in nature.

 

This is a bit more complex. This would mean that there WAS a dead body somewhere, at some time. However, within a generation of his death, many of his followers are loudly proclaiming he rose from the dead. This is inconsistent with a carefully preserved and marked crypt as Cameron reports to have found. Even the Ebionites, who lived in the very place this crypt was found, and who believed Jesus to have been merely human – believed God raised him from the dead. Why would they believe this if his crypt and remains were well-preserved? If the resurrection was a hoax, it would make little sense to identify the tomb and ossuary with easily identifiable markings. Surely if the disciples wanted to perpetrate a hoax, they would have either destroyed the body or hidden it without overt identification.

 

In any of the usual scenarios, then, it seems unlikely that an easily-identifiable ossuary with the remains of Jesus Christ is going to suddenly turn up.

 

Sep 212006
 

In the process of looking up a few universalist writings, I ran into a very interesting bit of writing from a liberal Quaker. First, a recap of a few universalist ideas:

The basic argument for universalism is quite simple and powerful – Human beings are finite. Because they are finite, they are only capable of finite good and finite evil. To suffer in hell eternally would be an INFINITE punishment. Since God is just, he could never insist on or even allow an infinite punishment for a finite evil. To do so would be infinitely unjust.

Traditional Christianity responds by making the concept of hell a bit more sophisticated. God is not throwing us into hell or keeping us there. We reject God, and that rejection IS hell. God cannot interfere with our freedom, and so we are free to continue to reject God and remain in hell forever.

Now I quote from the Quakers:

“I had rejected the image of a wrathful, powerful God anxious to punish the wicked in the fires of hell, but I was left with a benevolent but feeble God who had no choice but to destroy the ones he loved. Hell was another Holocaust, where once again millions would be thrown into the furnaces while God stood by powerless and defeated. When confronted with the inconsistency of an all-powerful God incapable of accomplishing his desire, I drew a careful distinction between what God wanted to do and what God was able to do. God was not free.”

“I defended our freedom to reject God–but denied God’s freedom to reject our rejection. Acknowledged that God can have mercy on whom he will have mercy, and compassion on whom he will have compassion, but I quickly defined the persons and situations in which God could be merciful and compassionate. My God was shackled, powerless to act.”

“This shackled God was not the God of Jesus.”

(From If Grace Be True: Why God Will Save Every Person. Philip Gulley & James Mulholland.)

This idea that God is free to reject our rejection of him also works into their view of the crucifixion. Quoting again:

“Calvary was not the fulfillment of a divine plan. It was not the final installment on a cosmic debt. It was not necessary to satisfy some bloodthirsty deity. The crucifixion was the cost of proclaiming grace. The more insistent Jesus was on God’s grace, the more likely was his eventual death on the cross. His death was a human act rather than a divine sign. People, not God, demanded his crucifixion."

“God did something glorious in Jesus. His resurrection settled once and for all the question of God’s attitude toward his children. God has determined to love and redeem. In the crucifixion we said no to God, but in the resurrection God rejected our rejection. This is the triumph of grace”

I found this point of view quite refreshing.

Found at: http://www.quaker.org/quest/issue-9-gulley-02.htm

 

Jul 282006
 

A Mystical Retelling of John 1

The old master walked along the path with his students. “Tell us what happened long ago” one said, “in the very beginning”

“With God there is no beginning” replied the master, “neither is there any ending. The transient forms of finite things in this world begin, and they end. These forms are like the words of a story told by God. They begin and they end, but God does not begin.”

“Tell us about the beginning of these forms then” said another student.

The master gazed far off at the horizon, as if casting in the depth of his mind for a distant memory. “In the beginning, the Form came to exist. The Form was with God. And the form WAS God. This was the beginning. All finite things in their infinite variety came to be, flowing from these forms. For God became the Form, without ceasing to be God. None of the finite forms exists apart from his infinite existence.”

“Does that include evil forms? Forms of darkness and destruction?” asked one student.

“If God did not withdraw his light in some forms, he would have nowhere to manifest his light in other forms. All would be indistinguishable. God separates his being into light and darkness, and each have a part to play. He withdraws from a void of darkness and death, so that into the darkness, his light may shine, and the darkness can never overcome it. The purpose of the darkness is to be overcome by the light.”

“If all the forms also God” asked another student, “then what of us, who are forms as well?”

“God, the Form becomes flesh, and dwells within you,” said the master. “He is in the world, and he creates the world. He is in you, and he creates you. You are his own body.”

The students murmured among themselves. “How can we accept this?” said one of the louder ones. “We aren’t God! We don’t see God dwelling in ourselves!”

“You will never see it by identifying with your finite self. That is because you remain in the darkness in which God hides from himself” said the teacher. “To overcome this darkness, God sends a special demonstration. He unfolds for humanity a story in which his presence is manifest in all its glory in a single human being, a Christ, full of grace and truth from his birth – the glory as of God’s only son. Those who accept God’s glory in him are given power to become children of God themselves – not by their own finite efforts, but by God within.”

“Are you this special Son of God, this Christ?” Asked his students.

The master smiled. “I am not that light. Like you I began in darkness and awakened to the light. I remain here to testify to you of that light. You are as much children of God as I. You have all received of his fullness, but don’t yet realize it.”

“If we follow the morals of our religious tradition, will we find this light? Will we see God?” asked a hopeful student.

“The finite self does not see God in the finite world” said the teacher. “But in the Christ, God is manifest, and seeing him in Christ, you have the grace to see him in all things, even yourselves. And when God awakens in you – you will have no need of your moral tradition. Grace will flow from you.”

Jul 272006
 

While thinking about the issue of Gnosticism and the problem of evil, I suddenly had what was (to me at least) a very powerful “ah ha” moment. Of course, once written down and shared, it will probably seem mundane or even stupidly obvious. But at the time it was like a bolt of lightening from heaven.

The insight was this: Whatever the literal truth or falsehood – Gnosticism is actually a very perceptive metaphor on the problem of pain and evil. It hit me as I was reading something in a Gnostic text and realized it was very similar to something both Robert Pirsig and Ken Wilber had said. Both these writers point out a particular hierarchy of being – one I think we would all agree with. You can divide it up in more than one way – but it goes something like this:

The Hierarchy of Being

The foundational structures of the cosmos are physical – in the sense of being governed by chemistry and physics. Then there are biological structures built from the physical. Then there are social structures built from the biological. Then there are the mental structures of ideas that are built from social dialogue. You can add a layer of spiritual structures, but since that will be an item of dispute, let’s just lump it in with mental for the moment. Each of these structures is built on the preceding ones. Biological systems use physical systems. Social systems use biological systems (people) and physical systems (technologies). Mental systems use social systems (communal dialogue), biological systems (our brains) and physical systems (the neurochemistry of the brain).

Contrary Purposes

Now for a critical observation – each of these levels have entirely different – even contradictory – purposes, laws and goals. For example, entropy (The tendency for all matter and energy in the universe to devolve into a state of inert uniformity and disorder) is a fundamental principle of the physical cosmos. But biology is in a state of war with entropy. Biology is a system for increasing the order and energy in the small local pocket of it’s own system. Biology has its own laws and goals – which center on the survival of the individual organism and its reproduction at the expense of all else. But at the social level, these biological goals – unchecked, become evils. Societies may choose to sacrifice their own individual members for the good of the society – if they threaten the social stability, for example. Then from these societies and their interactions, systems of ideas arise. And what a society may see as “good” for its survival and prosperity (slavery for example) the arising system of ideas may see as evil. In the West, we have a developed a system of ideas which demands that we tolerate (for the sake of the IDEA of liberty) the existence of certain things which may pose a danger to the social order – reformers or crackpots as the case may be.

The point is, at each point in the hierarchy of being, the “good” and “evil” of the lower rungs on the ladder may be (and often ARE) very contrary to the “good” and “evil” of the higher rungs. Let’s take a bad genetic illness like Harlequin Baby Syndrome. From our point of view in the social and particularly mental spheres of being, this seems quite obviously evil. It is hideous and causes great physical and emotional suffering. On the other hand, from the point of view of biology, it’s not bad at all. Genetic variability is what drives the whole process. If we didn’t have a thousand mutations or genetic combinations that resulted in death and pain, we wouldn’t have the one that turned proved to be useful in some particular way. Suffering and death are simply failed experiments that weed out unfit genetic combinations.

The higher levels cannot normally disregard the rules and laws of the lower levels. They simply find ways to work around them or compromise with them to achieve their purposes.

Spiritual Metaphors

Let’s return to the Gnostic metaphor, then. The Gnostics saw the god of creation, the demiurge or “half-maker” as a somewhat ignorant figure, full of arrogance, petty jealousy and capriciousness. From the ideas above, we could say that the demiurge represents the physical/biological systems, as seen from the point of view of the mental/spiritual systems. It’s interesting that as gnosticism developed from its earlier roots, the demiurge was increasingly seen as not just immature and ignorant, but positively EVIL, along with the material world he organized. Orthodox Christianity has been more reluctant to condemn the material world, but still tries to insist that God governs the whole cosmos in accordance with the higher (mental/spiritual) notions of “good”. The idea that “good” changes from one level to the next would probably rub the wrong way and be seen as making morality “situational”.

A Symbolic Example

This idea of good and evil changing from one level to the next has an interesting illustration in world symbology – specifically the symbol of the snake. Ken Wilber points out that serpents can be seen as symbols of good OR evil in many different religions – including Christianity. For example, the serpent represents Satan in the garden on the one hand, but when Moses raises up a serpent on a pole to heal the Israelites, it is taken to be a symbol of Jesus.

In Hindu/Buddhist symbolism, the snake represents Kundalini energy – the basic life/god force of the cosmos, which works it’s way up the energy centers or “chakras” of the human body as it spiritually progresses. It’s starts at the base of the spine, at a center representing the physical systems, and works it’s way up to above the crown of the head, representing the highest spiritual centers. Wilber points out that when the snake symbol is used as representing “evil” it is seen at the lower levels of the body (the typhonic gods, for example, or the goat-god baphomet), and at the higher levels of the body, it represents “good” (Buddah and other deities are seen with cobras shading the crown of their heads). It is not that the physical levels are “bad” – they are only seen as bad when we fixate on or descend to the lower physical/biological or social levels as the expense of the mental/spiritual levels.

More Refinements

The categories I have been using, by the way, need not be divided so broadly. Within each level of being, there may be many sub-levels. For example, there are many types and classifications of social and mental systems. A new and higher social or mental system may find its notions of “good” and “evil” quite different from an earlier one.

Implications

How do we view the problem of evil from this hierarchical perspective? What looks to us humans as “unnecessary suffering” from our perspective is usually the “good” of a lower order interposing itself in our own “good”. Theoretically, of course, it could always be the good of a higher order interposing itself in our own “good”. For example, our programs of selective breeding produce species that, while they serve our purposes nicely – are actually LESS fit for survival. If biology had an independent mind and could speak, it might accuse us of corrupting things. Which brings up another point. A lower level is utterly incapable of reacting according to the “good” of a higher level. If there are levels of being above our own – we might be quite unequipped to understand “good” and “evil” with respect to them – until we reach that level ourselves. In fact, if the system I have mapped out here has any predictive value, it would probably say that at the next level, the “goods” and “evils” of our MENTAL or philosophical/religious systems are quite incidental to a much greater spiritual good. The angels or higher beings may be as unconcerned about the truths of our philosophies and dogmas as we are unconcerned with “corrupting” natural selection by breeding prize milk cows.

If we look at God as being present at every level of this hierarchy, working within it – we are simply faced with the fact that there are different ideals of “good” at different levels of being.

“Evil” is simply the interplay of different levels of “good”.

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