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no one,

||Agreed. That is why I said that I coming to see the God of Love and Light as an emerging force - a demigod - that is somewhat dependent on our focus on its energies to sustain existence and to grow. And that the primary mover is just a raw - perhaps chaotic - impersonal energy.||

I don't see the Love and Light as a person per se but as an emergent living energy or mode of being.

||However, I do not see why you think a devil could not be the same sort of demigod; albeit at a lower vibrational energy (whatever that means exactly). Ditto other archetypes and demigods out in a morphic field type level of consciousness.||

I think one of the key points of data is "The Universe exists." We know from this that there is not a malevolent force powerful enough to destroy it. We also don't see any type of evil force, say, just striking people dead.

One argument I would have against Christians believing in the Devil is this: So, the Devil can tempt us, but why doesn't he do so 24/7? We doesn't he just jabber in our minds all day, driving us mad? Oh, so God prevents that? Why doesn't God completely prevent that? Does God operate a little floodgate, letting the Devil in at times but not at others? So God is complicit in this temptation? And so on.

Positive causes are important, but negative causes--the reasons why things *don't* happen--are equally important. In explaining evil, we need to explain why evil doesn't simply destroy everything.

The best explanation I have is that evil is like the grinding of gears on an ontological level: it is the dissatisfaction of Reality with itself. It is the lack of completeness and contradiction within the System per Gödel's theorem. It is evenly distributed, like a little static electricity in everything, and we process it bit by bit. This energy, however, seeks to strike like lightning, and it *can* become aware and intelligent via living minds. It itself, however, cannot form a mind. Evil is at base destructive and contradictory, which includes self-destruction and self-contradiction. A mind cannot be founded on those qualities, but it can be infected by them. Thus, I think you see people like Hitler channeling this energy and building it, feeding on its power but always being brought down by it in the end. (I think the Dark Side of the Force is actually a pretty accurate representation of how it works.) We also know that the road to Hell is paved with good intentions. Evil will seek to turn any type of pride or assumption of one's own righteousness against one. I think the US in Vietnam and now Iraq and Afghanistan is a good example of that.

||As much as I like what you say and overwhelmingly agree with it, the idea that love vibrates "higher" and is therefore more powerful than the opposite (or at least anything less than it) seems to me a little faith based as well as just plain murky in meaning. It sure feels right to me, but that is not all that counts if we are developing an objective model.||

Well, Love vs. Fear, right? Love is pulling towards one, an embracing, validating, and Fear is pushing away, rejecting, invalidating. Love builds on itself and Fear destroys itself. Thus, there is a simple mathematical reason why Love wins and Fear loses. However, I believe Fear/negativity is also needed for any type of evolution to take place. Otherwise, one could never say, "Let it be this instead of this." Thus Fear is, paradoxically, not 100% bad or evil or undesirable.

Matt, "Well, Love vs. Fear, right? Love is pulling towards one, an embracing, validating, and Fear is pushing away, rejecting, invalidating. Love builds on itself and Fear destroys itself. Thus, there is a simple mathematical reason why Love wins and Fear loses."

Good answer. Thank you. I'll accept that. It fulfills the need for an objective proof. really good answer, actually.

"I don't see the Love and Light as a person per se but as an emergent living energy or mode of being."

Agreed.

"I think the Dark Side of the Force is actually a pretty accurate representation of how it works."

Agreed, again.

There appears to be no gap in our understandings of this aspect of the "mystery".

Thanks again.

Hi All,

I got busy, and dropped out of the conversation for a few days. It seems to have wound down, but in case anyone is still listening, I'll respond to a few more points or questions that may or may not have been directed my way.

"I don't see the Love and Light as a person per se but as an emergent living energy or mode of being."

As I see it, God/Love is an state of being. Cosmic/Al-That-Is consciousness is not a place or a person, but a mode of being.

"However, I believe Fear/negativity is also needed for any type of evolution to take place. Otherwise, one could never say, 'Let it be this instead of this.' Thus Fear is, paradoxically, not 100% bad or evil or undesirable."

I see N. D. Walsch everywhere here :P

I also like that way of seeing good/bad... for the good to be defined, there needs to be a polarity. Something from where we can choose. (In the book, God calls it what is useful [for our evolution] and what is not)

Hi Matt,

You said (to Bruce):

The argument reminds of what we learned from Catholic Doctrine: God is perfect, but since only God can be perfect, everything else can only be imperfect, hence the existence of imperfection and pain and suffering in the world. But this argument doesn't really work, since we don't need for things to be perfect in order to be much happier. We simply need pain and suffering eliminated.

I agree that this is a specious argument. Things don't have to be evil in order to be imperfect. There can be lesser or greater good, in comparison to the greatest good, which would ordinarily be identified as God.

The existence of pain and suffering is not due to imperfection, but due to evil. Which sends us back to the problem of evil that I mentioned earlier.

You said:

That response implies the "best of all possible worlds" argument of Leibniz, which I find wholly unconvincing. If the world *could* be better in any way, then God should make it better.

But this assumes that God is the only being who has an influence on the quality of the world. In Christian theology, God has given humans freedom to accept or reject God as a quality necessary for our very humanity. That freedom makes it possible for us to reject God and thus create evil. So the evil in the world does not come from God, but from human beings.

Yes, God could theoretically create a "better" world, but it would be at the cost of eliminating human freedom and rationality. Would that really be better? To have a blind world, blindly doing what it was designed to do?

Hi Matt,

You also said:

I think the term "God" is way too loaded with Abrahamic power relations and such.

It is for many people who came out of traditional Jewish, Christian, and Muslim backgrounds. For others it is not so loaded. Personally, I grew up without any major negatives being attached to the character of God. So the word has positive connotations for me.

I do understand that for others it may be a word that is difficult or impossible to rehabilitate. Unfortunately, the alternatives tend to be rather fuzzy and euphemistic. I like the specificity of "God."

About the Abrahamic conception of God, that (like every other human conception of God) is an accommodation to the particular social and spiritual state of the people who existed when and where those ideas were formulated and written down.

In my religious tradition we use the term "appearances of truth" to describe ideas that, while not actually true in themselves, function as truths for those who accept them. (We commonly say the sun rises and sets even though we know it does no such thing.)

People of that day and age needed to think of God as a super-powerful arbitrary monarch because that was the level at which their culture and their minds functioned. If God couldn't zap you with a lighting bolt for disobeying him or cause the earth to open up and swallow his enemies, then he was a weak God, and not worth following.

Accommodating the reality of who God actually is to their (rather low) level of culture made it possible to bring at least some moral and ethical guidelines to bear on a culture that was very brutal and very materialistic.

The task of later generations is to distill out a truer essence of God from the particular cultural clothing in which God was presented to cultures that existed two to four thousand years ago.

Not everything about that conception of God was false. The part about being super-powerful (omnipotent), super-intelligent (omniscient), and super-loving (omnibenevolent) was not wrong. It just got wrapped in a rather dark set of clothing in order to make it intelligible to people who generally understood and were impressed with only raw wealth and power in human relations.

Hi Bruce,

You said (quoting me at first):

"If the universe is pantheistic, then the whole thing is just God playing with himself."

Exactly. I thought you agreed with me earlier that at the deepest level--what you call the level of love or non-created reality--there *is* no one else.

Yes, at what I would call the divine level of reality, there is no one else. The divine level could also be called the level of love (and of wisdom) in the truest sense of the word, because that's the only place love is a self-existing reality.

However, we humans don't exist on the divine level. We exist on the spiritual and material levels. Everything that makes us distinct from God is non-God. That's so even if we are also filled with God, and our substance is, at its deepest level, God's love.

I think I posted this link here once before, but if you want a fuller statement of my views on this, it's in this article:
Containers for God

Hi Matt,

You said:

Yet in beings as limited as we are, what value is our autonomy compared to God's? I should think not very much. I'm not sure there is such a thing as a lack of coercion in a world in which we are so vulnerable. If God wanted to create true "others," I don't think he would create us in such a position of powerlessness and ignorance.

I have a somewhat different estimation of the human condition.

Yes, compared to God we are relatively powerless and ignorant.

However, compared to anything else in creation, humans are magnificently powerful and intelligent.

We have the capability to be these things. If we do not use those capabilities well, is that really God's fault?

I interpret the Biblical statement that God created humanity "in the image and likeness of God" (Genesis 1:26) as meaning that we humans are constructed according to the pattern of God, and have the general capabilities that God has, only in finite rather than infinite measure.

That means especially that we humans have:

  • The ability to love in a way that is not merely instinct or desire to gain satisfaction and pleasure for ourselves, but is motivated by wanting to give others happiness from ourselves,
  • The ability to understand the physical and spiritual worlds in which we live, and to grow endlessly in that understanding, and
  • The ability to act freely from the love that motivates us, as guided by our understanding of the universe.

These are God-like qualities that are uniquely human because they have been infused into us by God. And in that sense, I do believe that God is human, which is the reason why we are human.

Hi Matt,

You said:

I think the very wrong track that Christian theodicy takes turns it into a huge topic. I think the atheist argument from evil is sufficient: God is either unable or unwilling to eliminate evil. That's one big reason why I don't believe in the paternalistic God of Western religion.

That atheist argument is an argument that God cannot exist because given the existence of evil, God would have to be either weak or evil, neither of which would be a God worthy of belief by an intelligent and compassionate person.

However, that is itself a weak argument based on a lack of knowledge and understanding of the problem of evil.

Still, I can't really blame atheists for that. Most religious approaches to the problem of evil are unsatisfactory from a rational perspective--not to mention from the perspective of human love and compassion.

I've come to the conclusion that the atheism and agnosticism of a certain segment of the population today is a necessary step in the spiritual development of humankind.

Why?

Because before a new spiritual paradigm can take hold in society, the old one must be rejected. Rational and ethical atheism as it exists today is the rejection of old, false doctrines and dogmas that must be cleared out before a new and better understanding of God and the universe can take their place.

I've come to believe that it is necessary for the Christian church that has existed for almost two thousand years now to die before a new spiritual era can take its place. The New Atheists are making their contribution to humankind's spiritual development by being agents of the rejection of old beliefs that must die before new ones can take their place.

I happen to believe that that new spiritual era now dawning will also be Christian in essence. But it will be so different from the previous version that it will not be recognized as the same religion--because it won't be the same religion.

Hi Matt,

You said:

I'd be willing to hear the nutshell version of Swedenborg's argument, however.

Wow! How do I distill a book of 150k words (Swedenborg's Divine Providence) into a nutshell?

Oops . . . my wife just called me to dinner. (Yes, I know. It's 2:00 in the afternoon. Just try to tell her that!)

Guess you'll just have to read the book! ;-)

Short of that, there's the previously referenced article:
If God is Love, Why all the Pain and Suffering?

I know it's not a full answer. But it's a start.

Leewolf, I am highly sympathetic to your outlook on the role of free will in all of this. I used to comment a lot about that, but nobody really thought much of it.

Maybe you can make a more convincing argument than I did. Good luck.

“Yes, God could theoretically create a "better" world, but it would be at the cost of eliminating human freedom and rationality. Would that really be better? To have a blind world, blindly doing what it was designed to do?”

That’s not the only problem, Evil and bad stuff does not come only from humans and their free will: cancer, AIDS, epidemics and other things are responsible of our suffering two, and God could certainly eliminate them without taking away our rationality or freedom.

“About the Abrahamic conception of God, that (like every other human conception of God) is an accommodation to the particular social and spiritual state of the people who existed when and where those ideas were formulated and written down.”

I completely agree with this, but I do not know if their image of God was created out of spiritual desires or for mass control purposes.

“Yes, at what I would call the divine level of reality, there is no one else. The divine level could also be called the level of love (and of wisdom) in the truest sense of the word, because that's the only place love is a self-existing reality.

However, we humans don't exist on the divine level. We exist on the spiritual and material levels. Everything that makes us distinct from God is non-God. That's so even if we are also filled with God, and our substance is, at its deepest level, God's love.”

What about people who claim to have accesed this place where Love is all that is (we know it’s no the spiritual level because in that level there are also ‘bad energies’) and they claim to have experienced the totality of God from a state superior to our everyday consciousness? Why does God deprive us from accesing that level, the best level of all? Does he want perfection for himself?

“However, that is itself a weak argument based on a lack of knowledge and understanding of the problem of evil.”

Now I’m not so sure that I know what the problem of Evil actually is, but saying that for eliminating Evil, He would have to take away our freedom is not sufficient... If God created us we have also been deprived from flying, and He seems to be okay with that. He could have created us free but incapable of doing bad stuff, as He created us incapable of flying or breathing underwater.

"I've come to believe that it is necessary for the Christian church that has existed for almost two thousand years now to die before a new spiritual era can take its place. The New Atheists are making their contribution to humankind's spiritual development by being agents of the rejection of old beliefs that must die before new ones can take their place.
I happen to believe that that new spiritual era now dawning will also be Christian in essence. But it will be so different from the previous version that it will not be recognized as the same religion--because it won't be the same religion.”

I agree, I also think that the (relatively) new Bishop of Rome, Francis, is also helping a lot in this issue, he seems more open-minded (to me) than previous popes. But I also think this transition will not be easy, and it will take more than one generation to be completed.

Leewoof,

||The existence of pain and suffering is not due to imperfection, but due to evil.||

I don't agree. The nature and structure of the Universe sets up the vast majority of our pain and suffering: sickness, aging, injury, death, unrequited love, and so on. Even if people were perfectly nice to each other on this planet, we would have a lot of pain and suffering to deal with. Beyond that, a lot of evil on Earth is due to imperfection: mental illness, ignorance, fighting over limited resources, etc. Finally, you have outright evil in the form of cruelty, sadism, etc., which I believe accounts for a significant amount of pain and suffering, but by no means the majority.

Right now I have a cough. Not even that big a cough. But it is like this really, *really* annoying itch on the right side of my windpipe, and it makes me want to rip my own throat out (and it's been quite resistant to cough medicine). A tiny thing, but it's kindof ruining my day. "Evil" hasn't been the cause of this; just some shitty virus. Viruses would have been a very easy thing for "God" not to create: they play no role in the food chain (they're not even alive, technically), and they just make animals miserable and/or dead. So simply eliminating viruses would instantly eliminate a very large percentage of the suffering in the world. I could provide many more such examples.

||Yes, God could theoretically create a "better" world, but it would be at the cost of eliminating human freedom and rationality. Would that really be better? To have a blind world, blindly doing what it was designed to do?||

A classic argument but also a bad one. As I pointed out above, a lot of pain and suffering in the world could be eliminated without affecting human freedom at all. But there are other serious problems with this argument.

God supposedly makes us free, but God also creates in us our tendencies, our predilections. And these make us *not* free. For example, sociopaths born without empathy, people born with various antisocial sexual tendencies, people born with mental illnesses or tendencies toward addictions, and so on.

Humans did not choose human nature, and we do not choose our individual riffs on human nature. So the idea that we are born free and that evil is totally our fault is incorrect. If God wanted a better world it would be easy to make: just make human nature a lot more loving, peaceful, harmonious, etc.

||It is for many people who came out of traditional Jewish, Christian, and Muslim backgrounds. For others it is not so loaded. Personally, I grew up without any major negatives being attached to the character of God. So the word has positive connotations for me.

I do understand that for others it may be a word that is difficult or impossible to rehabilitate. Unfortunately, the alternatives tend to be rather fuzzy and euphemistic. I like the specificity of "God."||

The trouble is that when you use the word "God," other people are using with the Abrahamic connotations, so it is likely to cause confusion if your image is different than theirs.

||In my religious tradition we use the term "appearances of truth" to describe ideas that, while not actually true in themselves, function as truths for those who accept them. (We commonly say the sun rises and sets even though we know it does no such thing.)||

That's a cool mode of discourse!

||Accommodating the reality of who God actually is to their (rather low) level of culture made it possible to bring at least some moral and ethical guidelines to bear on a culture that was very brutal and very materialistic.||

I agree.

||The task of later generations is to distill out a truer essence of God from the particular cultural clothing in which God was presented to cultures that existed two to four thousand years ago.||

Yes. Christianity was a very beneficial religion for a long time. The trouble now is that people want to hang onto the myth in a literal fashion, causing lots of problems.

||Yes, compared to God we are relatively powerless and ignorant.

However, compared to anything else in creation, humans are magnificently powerful and intelligent.

We have the capability to be these things. If we do not use those capabilities well, is that really God's fault?||

Of course it is God's fault, if God has not made human nature to produce the desired result. Just as it would be humans' fault if we bred dogs for viciousness and kept them as house pets.

||That atheist argument is an argument that God cannot exist because given the existence of evil, God would have to be either weak or evil, neither of which would be a God worthy of belief by an intelligent and compassionate person.

However, that is itself a weak argument based on a lack of knowledge and understanding of the problem of evil.||

Care to explain? Or have you attempted to cover this in your other arguments? Sorry, but I don't think there is an effective counterargument. If we grant an omnipotent creator God, then that God is responsible for the results. "The buck stops here." It is surely possible for an omnipotent and omniscient being to leave room for freedom and even conflict for the sake of learning and growth without the level of intense suffering to be found on this planet.

||Because before a new spiritual paradigm can take hold in society, the old one must be rejected. Rational and ethical atheism as it exists today is the rejection of old, false doctrines and dogmas that must be cleared out before a new and better understanding of God and the universe can take their place.||

I somewhat agree. We have a very *very* messy situation right now in which religions well past their sell date are being *partially* replaced by atheism, which sadly is not the truth, all of which are coexisting with newer belief systems that really are, in my opinion, getting things right (i.e., New Age belief systems). Or pretty close to right. It is tragicomic in that atheists think they are being the modern and mature ones, and in some ways they are compared to the Creationists and other fools for dogma. Yet their philosophy is DOA.

||I happen to believe that that new spiritual era now dawning will also be Christian in essence. But it will be so different from the previous version that it will not be recognized as the same religion--because it won't be the same religion.||

I don't think it can be Christian in that the core "truth" of Christianity--that Jesus died on the cross for our sins, etc.--isn't true. That myth was adequate packaging for the *genuine* truths of Christianity: love of neighbor, altruism, etc. But it's a myth whose time has come and gone.

||Short of that, there's the previously referenced article:
If God is Love, Why all the Pain and Suffering?||

I had seen this before, and you are a very good writer, but I think this comes down to arguing on behalf of an ideal instead of letting the facts speak for themselves. We live in an evolutionary Universe in which entities evolve out of the Void. We do not live in a Universe designed for "best results" by an omnipotent unitary creator. The former covers the facts on the ground without having to bend over backwards in casuistry for an absentee "God."

"We live in an evolutionary Universe in which entities evolve out of the Void."

I think, sooner or later, we will ALL reach that place of endless perfection (that state of being I call God)... but not without suffering and making some mistakes in the way...

Life ain't supposed to be a bowl of cherries. We come here simply to learn the things that can't be learned in Heaven. It has to do with the difference between the physics of heaven and the physics of where we are now.

The really great thing is though is that after the soul transitions to heaven it looks back on this life like it was just an illusion or to quote Roger Ebert in his final moments with his wife, " But the day before he passed away, he wrote me a note: "This is all an elaborate hoax." I asked him, "What's a hoax?" And he was talking about this world, this place. He said it was all an illusion. I thought he was just confused. But he was not confused. He wasn't visiting heaven, not the way we think of heaven. He described it as a vastness that you can't even imagine. It was a place where the past, present, and future were happening all at once."
http://www.esquire.com/blogs/news/roger-ebert-final-moments

This Earth life is a school and it is through life's imperfections that the soul learns the things here that it was sent here to learn. After the soul learns what it was sent here to learn it is allowed to transition back to Heaven - which is the original holographic film that our universe is projected from.

You can't learn to drive a car simply by reading a book about it or even watching a video of it. You have to get into the car and drive it in order to really know how to drive a car. Same with riding a bike or flying an airplane. Same thing with a soul learning how to "drive" a body. From the moment a baby is born it is learning about the physical universe, what it is like to be separate, what time and space look and feel like, what it is like to be confined to a body and control that body, and make memories of what it was like to live in a 3 dimensional + 1 time Universe.

As described by near death experiencers there is no separation in heaven and time and space don't exist there in the same way they do here. This description matches exactly with how NDEers describe heaven - and what one might expect if one were living in or on holographic film.

Excerpt from The Universe as a Hologram, "At its deeper level reality is a sort of superhologram in which the past, present, and future all exist simultaneously....{snip}...For if the concreteness of the world is but a secondary reality and what is "there" is actually a holographic blur of frequencies, and if the brain is also a hologram and only selects some of the frequencies out of this blur and mathematically transforms them into sensory perceptions, what becomes of objective reality? Put quite simply, it ceases to exist. As the religions of the East have long upheld, the material world is Maya, an illusion, and although we may think we are physical beings moving through a physical world, this too is an illusion."
http://www.earthportals.com/hologram.html

Like Michelle M says in her NDE description, "I felt an understanding about life, what it was, is. As if it was a dream in itself. It's so very hard to explain this part. I'll try, but my words limit the fullness of it. I don't have the words here, but I understood that it really didn't matter what happened in the life experience, I knew/understood that it was intense, brief, but when we were in it, it seemed like forever. I understood that whatever happened in life, I was really ok, and so were the others here."
http://www.nderf.org/NDERF/NDE_Experiences/michelle_m%27s_nde.htm

We are all okay. The Creator of the Universe has embedded the soul's lessons in our everyday lives and it is holistically imprinted with what it needs to learn regardless of who we are, or where we live, or what we believe.

Having said all that I disagree with Leewof's point of view, I also have to say that I find much of Swedenborg's ideas of the afterlife very convincing and exciting, I like how he described the spiritual world (and he did it in a time where NDEs were not of common knowledge, and yet they seem to describe things very much the same way).

Luciano if you like Swedenborg you might be interested in reading this, "Swedenborg and the Holographic Paradigm," it is really fascinating.

Here's the first paragraph from the article,

"If Emanuel Swedenborg were alive today, it is very likely that he would consider many of the findings of the "new physics" compatible with his own thought. This is surprising, for many of the concepts arrived at by contemporary physics are so foreign to everyday ways of thinking that it is difficult for modern sensibilities to grasp them. That a man born three centuries ago should articulate them in his writings is nothing short of remarkable."

full essay can be found @:

http://www.swedenborgstudy.com/articles/science-math/mt88.htm

no one said:

Leewolf, I am highly sympathetic to your outlook on the role of free will in all of this. I used to comment a lot about that, but nobody really thought much of it.

Maybe you can make a more convincing argument than I did. Good luck.

Thanks for that. People will believe what they want to believe. I don't really have to convince anyone of anything. Just present my understanding of things as clearly as I can, for those who might find this view of the universe congenial and helpful.

Still, I'll take another crack at it in response to one of the other recent comments here.

Matt said, quoting me at first:

||The existence of pain and suffering is not due to imperfection, but due to evil.||

I don't agree. The nature and structure of the Universe sets up the vast majority of our pain and suffering: sickness, aging, injury, death, unrequited love, and so on. Even if people were perfectly nice to each other on this planet, we would have a lot of pain and suffering to deal with. Beyond that, a lot of evil on Earth is due to imperfection: mental illness, ignorance, fighting over limited resources, etc. Finally, you have outright evil in the form of cruelty, sadism, etc., which I believe accounts for a significant amount of pain and suffering, but by no means the majority.

The issue of human free will goes far deeper than simple, temporal cause-and-effect matters of "we humans did this wrong thing, and it caused that pain and suffering."

Free will is not just an incidental property that God slapped onto human beings as an add-on after creating the rest of the universe. It is a fundamental quality of humanity that God took into account in designing the universe.

Keep in mind that from God's perspective, there is no such thing as time or space. Everything that we think of as extended in time or space, God interacts with from an infinite and eternal state that exists outside of time and space.

God didn't wake up one day and create a universe that didn't exist before. Rather, God creates the universe at all points of space and time from within--from above time and space.

So for God there is no sequence of events in which there is a specific point at which human beings come into existence and begin to influence the universe, whereas before there was no such influence from human beings. Rather, the entire universe, past, present and future--from the Big Bang to the Big Crunch (or whatever comes at the other end)--is influenced by the existence of humans with free will even though we exist in only some of the time and some of the space of the material universe.

Saying that humans didn't cause floods or earthquakes or viruses or any number of other things that cause pain and suffering but don't have any direct, causal relationship that we can see to any evil that any human being committed is an example of looking at the universe from a flat, time-bound perspective--which is not the full reality of the universe we live in.

There are also other factors in relation to God's purpose in creating the universe that affect the fact that its design includes many natural phenomena that cause pain and suffering for human beings.

I like Art's comment that "Life ain't supposed to be a bowl of cherries."

I question--in fact, I reject--the idea that the physical universe would be better if there were no pain and suffering in it. This idea is, I think, based on narrow view of humanity and of our reason for being here on earth. We're not here on earth for pleasure, fun, and games. We're here to develop into beings with depths of love, understanding, and compassion that do not develop when life is easy and everything is handed to us on a silver platter.

Of course, these are huge questions. The article I linked previously is only one of several I've written to tackle these issues. One of my readers kept asking more of these tough questions, so I wrote what ended out being a four-part article to delve deeper into it. The part most relevant to what I've been talking about here is Part 2. Here it is, if you want a fuller explanation of what I'm talking about in this comment than I can give here:
How can we have Faith when So Many Bad Things happen to So Many Good People? Part 2

"Luciano if you like Swedenborg you might be interested in reading this, 'Swedenborg and the Holographic Paradigm,' it is really fascinating."

Thank you very much, Art! I'll give it a look. But, for the record, I don't find Swedenborg's teachings to be anything special from any other thing I've read before, and I don't see him to be any more convincing or enlightened than Jane Roberts or Neale D. Walsch. I just happen to think there is a little of truth in every one of them.

Leewoof,

Well, I am kindof arguing against two different versions of the same argument at once.

In the standard Christian view, God created a perfect world for humans, but we messed it up (Adam and Eve eating the fruit, etc.). I think the argument from evil nukes this pretty effectively. It at least requires apologists to do some pretty fancy mental gymnastics. Leibniz wrote his "Theodicy" arguing that we live in the best possible world; how could a perfect God create anything else? His argument was that there was the perfect mix of good and evil in the world such that God could use the evil to maximize good.

I think your argument ends up being a version of this. You clearly have a very sophisticated theological understanding, and I respect your worldview and largely agree with it. At the end of the day, we are probably using different names and images for much the same thing.

But still. I think it's more helpful to think in terms of the Universe making lemonade out of lemons, as opposed to thinking that it intended coffee but it turned into lemonade somehow something something.

||I like Art's comment that "Life ain't supposed to be a bowl of cherries."||

I agree. Life is supposed to be supernovae exploding, creating the heavy elements we require for life, dinosaurs fighting and evolving into the chickens we eat, humans evolving and learning and suffering and overcoming their limitations and growing spiritually. And that going on in a bunch of planets in our physical Universe, etc. There is a higher power, and it is mainly (but not totally) non-interventionist in the physical realm. That higher power is *not* a Creator/Parent God but instead is something that emerged out of the Universe with us. Or we can see it as the entire Universe, of which we are a part. And I agree that it transcends time and space. In any case, it's best not to claim that we completely understand it, or that it has revealed itself completely to us through prophets, etc.

I think this way of thinking cleans up the Ptolemeic epicycles and produces Copernican clarity. This view does not need to explain why a God is not in control, since it does not claim complete control for it in the first place.


Hi Luciano,

You ask:

What about people who claim to have accesed this place where Love is all that is (we know it’s no the spiritual level because in that level there are also ‘bad energies’) and they claim to have experienced the totality of God from a state superior to our everyday consciousness? Why does God deprive us from accesing that level, the best level of all? Does he want perfection for himself?

I don't doubt the reality of such experiences.

However, I also don't think people who have had that experience actually experienced the consciousness, let alone the totality, of God.

The level of love, enlightenment, and power that exists even at the lower levels of heaven is so far beyond anything we can experience with our natural mind here on earth that it could easily be experienced as "place where Love is all that is." And each higher level of heaven is whole orders of magnitude beyond the heaven below it.

Yes, there are also "bad energies" in the spiritual world. But outside of the intermediate "world of spirits," where people first come after death, good and evil are kept strictly separated from one another. So someone who experiences heaven--especially its higher levels--would not find that experience tinged with evil. It would be sensed as pure love and light.

It's not that God wants to keep the totality of God's experience from us. It's that it is not possible to experience that without actually being the mind of God--which is infinite and divine. That means it's beyond the finite, spiritual and physical levels on which we humans exist and operate.

God gives us as much of the experience of God's love and wisdom as we are able and willing to accept, experience, and express at whatever spiritual level we attain.

And sometimes God gives us brief flashes of deeper levels than we have attained as a foreshadowing of what we might experience on an ongoing basis if we continue on our spiritual path. The mind can fly above where the heart and hands currently are; but those brief experiences of enlightenment will not truly become our own until the heart and hands catch up with the head. And that takes a lot more work on our part.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but when I read about someone who claims to have experienced the totality of the mind of God, I sense just a wee bit of human ego projecting itself onto an experience that, while certainly mind-blowing compared to what we ordinarily experience here on earth, falls far short of the full infinity and eternity of the mind of God.

Having read (some years ago) the autobiography of one guru who experienced great things, then let it go to his head and ran amok in the ashram-type community he had gathered around himself, and having read about others who for some reason require multiple Porsches, Rolls Royces, and beautiful women to properly pursue their spiritual path, I tend to be just a bit skeptical of spiritual "sages" who toot their own horn make great claims about their own godlike enlightenment.

I tend to think that real enlightenment is characterized by great humility, and a dedication to serving one's fellow human beings in practical and spiritual ways.

Hi Matt,

You say:

God supposedly makes us free, but God also creates in us our tendencies, our predilections. And these make us *not* free. For example, sociopaths born without empathy, people born with various antisocial sexual tendencies, people born with mental illnesses or tendencies toward addictions, and so on.

Humans did not choose human nature, and we do not choose our individual riffs on human nature. So the idea that we are born free and that evil is totally our fault is incorrect. If God wanted a better world it would be easy to make: just make human nature a lot more loving, peaceful, harmonious, etc.

It's true that we do not choose the hand that we're dealt. We just have to play with it. But how we play with that hand is our choice. We can give up and fold round after round, or we can look at the cards, identify their strong points, discard some and aim for better cards, and then wager or bluff our way to the big win.

It's true that we are not radically free. There are many things in our life over which we have little or no control. But we do have an area of freedom in which we can make choices that influence the overall direction of our life.

To use a human example, in earlier ages a man who grew up in a family of shepherds, whose father, grandfather, and great-grandfather were all shepherds, would almost certainly become a shepherd himself. But within the life of a shepherd, he could choose whether to be an honest or dishonest shepherd. He could choose whether to treat his animals well or badly.

When it comes to our eternal life, what counts is not what we were given, but what we did with what we were given.

About sociopaths, if a particular sociopath truly does not come equipped with the ability to feel empathy, then that lack will not figure into the evaluation of whether he or she will end out in heaven or hell in the afterlife. Only what we consciously choose within the area of our freedom and capability counts.

Further, if a sociopath truly does not have the ability to empathize, and acts in instinctual, animal-like fashion pursuant to the drives he or she does come equipped with, then his or her actions cannot really be called "evil" in a spiritual sense, any more than the actions of animals can be called "evil."

When animal predators rip up and eat their prey, they are not engaging in evil, and they are certainly not engaging in sin. They are merely expressing their nature and playing their part in the predator/prey relationship that is a fundamental facet of the operation of the ecosystem.

To the extent that we humans are animal-like through no choice of our own, the actions we engage in based on that animal nature are not moral or immoral. They are amoral. We may still have to put a sociopath in jail to protect future victims. But if the label of "sociopath" is an accurate one, and not just an excuse on the part of a particular criminal, then those actions will not be held against him or her spiritually.

Hi Matt,

You say, quoting me at first:

||That atheist argument is an argument that God cannot exist because given the existence of evil, God would have to be either weak or evil, neither of which would be a God worthy of belief by an intelligent and compassionate person.

However, that is itself a weak argument based on a lack of knowledge and understanding of the problem of evil.||

Care to explain? Or have you attempted to cover this in your other arguments? Sorry, but I don't think there is an effective counterargument. If we grant an omnipotent creator God, then that God is responsible for the results. "The buck stops here." It is surely possible for an omnipotent and omniscient being to leave room for freedom and even conflict for the sake of learning and growth without the level of intense suffering to be found on this planet.

I think this is largely covered in my other comments.

The crux of the matter is whether God truly gives us freedom, so that we can have a distinct will either in harmony with or opposed to God's will.

If we humans are truly free, and can truly choose to act against God's will, then it is not true that God is responsible for evil results that come from human actions.

Here's another way of putting it:

Is there a point at which we humans become actual, self-responsible adults? Or are we eternal children, whose parent (God) and not us, is legally responsible for all of our actions?

In the U.S. the age of legal majority is 18. Once someone reaches that age, parents are no longer legally responsible for his or her actions.

Saying that God is responsible for all our actions is saying that we are not really adult, human beings. It is saying that God never cuts the apron strings, and never lets us live our own life, on our own terms, taking responsibility for our own actions.

As I see it, God is not a helicopter parent. Rather, God is a parent who cuts the apron strings and lets us become grown adults.

It then becomes our own choice whether we wish to do things God's way or our own way. And if we do it our own way contrary to God's way, it's our own fault, not God's, that the result is a lot of pain and suffering both for ourselves and for our fellow human beings.

As for the level of intense suffering on this planet, that's really a judgment call. Is there some line we can draw to say, "This much suffering is excusable, but if it gets any worse, then it's not excusable, and God is a sadist"?

If we blame all evil and suffering on God, then even the slightest backache would be sufficient to convict God of being cruel and unmerciful. If God can simply eliminate all pain and suffering without any negative effects, then anything short of eliminating all pain and suffering is intolerable.

The atheist argument is weak because it assumes that God is an big ol' nanny in the sky, responsible for every little bump and boo-boo that we humans suffer.

God is a grown-up, and expects us to be grown-ups, too.

God expects us take responsibility for our own actions, and for the pain and suffering they cause when we act from selfishness and greed rather than from love for our fellow human beings, and for God.

Hi Matt,

You say, quoting me at first:

||I happen to believe that that new spiritual era now dawning will also be Christian in essence. But it will be so different from the previous version that it will not be recognized as the same religion--because it won't be the same religion.||

I don't think it can be Christian in that the core "truth" of Christianity--that Jesus died on the cross for our sins, etc.--isn't true. That myth was adequate packaging for the *genuine* truths of Christianity: love of neighbor, altruism, etc. But it's a myth whose time has come and gone.

The idea that Jesus died on the cross for our sins, as it is usually interpreted in traditional Christianity, is false and non-Biblical.

Did you know that there is not a single passage anywhere in the Bible that says that Jesus paid the penalty for our sins?

Did you know that there is not a single passage anywhere in the Bible that says faith alone saves--that in fact, faith alone is specifically rejected as saving in the Bible (see James 2:14-26, especially verse 24).

Did you know that there is not a single passage anywhere in the Bible that says that there is a trinity of persons in God?

Traditional Christian doctrine about God and Jesus is false for many reasons. One of those reasons is that the fundamental doctrines of Roman Catholicism and of Protestantism are taught nowhere in the Bible. They were invented over the centuries by various Christian theologians who totally missed the point of Christ's teachings.

This whole subject is a little far afield for Michael's blog, and I don't want to hijack this into a debate over Christian doctrine. But if you're interested, go over to my blog and click on the link toward the top of the right navbar for "'Christian beliefs' that the Bible doesn't teach." From there you'll find links to articles that offer a very different understanding of Christianity and what Christ was doing here on earth--one that is much more solidly founded on what the Bible actually does say, and that doesn't require us to check our brains and our empathy at the door.

Hi Matt,

About the level of intense suffering to be found on this planet, I should add that the worst of it does seem to me to be human-caused.

It's true that there are natural disasters that kill hundreds of thousands, and in rare cases even millions of people. But the biggest death tolls in history, running into tens of millions, have been caused by despotic human governments.

In areas of the world where there is rampant malnutrition and starvation, the causes are largely political.

With present knowledge and technology we could easily feed several times the current population of the world. The fact that there is insufficient food in some areas of the world has to do either with a lack of will on our part to provide food, or in many cases, an active intention on the part of various militias and governments to use starvation as a weapon in wars over control of territory and resources.

Even the results of natural disasters are greatly magnified by human decisions to take the easy way out.

Why do earthquakes in third world countries, and in poor areas of wealthy countries, kill so many more people than earthquakes in wealthy areas? Generally it's because of shoddy building practices. We have the capability to build earthquake-resistant buildings. But when we build cheap, shoddy buildings instead in order to make or save a buck, those buildings crumble and crush people in an earthquake that would not even do serious damage to a well-constructed building.

Also, much of the sickness and disease that we suffer is due to our own poor living practices.

If we go through our lives smoking, drinking large quantities of alcohol, and sitting on the couch eating junk food while watching TV, what can we really expect? There are clear, scientifically demonstrated correlations between many of our living practices and many of our diseases. These correlations are well-known and well-publicized. Yet we keep on doing things that we know will cause us to become diseased and eventually to die. Millions of people literally smoke and drink themselves to death, even knowing that they are slowly killing themselves.

I know there are people who get sick and die through no fault of their own, due to environmental or genetic causes over which they have no control. But the vast bulk of sickness and disease in this world is linked to known causes that we could easily eliminate if we had the will to do so.

Yes, there is some pain and suffering built into the system that God designed. But the more we look at the major causes of pain, suffering, and death in our world, the more obvious it becomes that we bring the bulk of it upon ourselves either through negligence or through harmful and foolish actions.

Is it really God's fault if we, knowing how we could fix the worst causes of pain and suffering in our world, choose not to do so either because we are too lazy and self-indulgent or because we are actively pursuing wealth and power at the cost of millions of human lives and untold pain and suffering?

Leewolf, "Not to put too fine a point on it, but when I read about someone who claims to have experienced the totality of the mind of God, I sense just a wee bit of human ego projecting itself onto an experience that, while certainly mind-blowing compared to what we ordinarily experience here on earth, falls far short of the full infinity and eternity of the mind of God."

Yes. I have been saying that for years.

On the topic of suffering, I see both your points and Matt's as being valid. I think what is being missed is understanding what the worst suffering is.

If we are talking about suffering as becoming old and sick and dying - that sort of thing - then I think Matt's points are the better ones. However, IMO, the worst suffering is not that which arises from natural entropy, but from human choices; things like betrayal, rape, slavery, murder (to include killing in war), character assassination...man's inhumanity to man....things that damage the soul of the victim and the doer.

Most people can accept that for everything under the sun there is a season; including a time to live and a time to die. OTOH, there is plenty of evidence that people - survivors - are profoundly negatively impacted psycho/spiritually when the cause of a painful life event is deliberate human malice; or even simple neglect.

Children dying from cancer are often accepting and spiritually intact. Whereas children who have been severely abused or are dying as a result of human caused cataclysms, like war, are suffering soul damage. If they survive the experience(s) they have long lasting negative aftereffects.

So I believe that true suffering, the kind that really hurts, is the result of man made choices.

That's a very satisfying answer, Leewof. But maybe we just se God in different ways.

"However, I also don't think people who have had that experience actually experienced the consciousness, let alone the totality, of God."

I see God as pure consciousness... or, better, I see (or believe in) a fundamental consciousness underlying this Universe, that I call Source or God. I don't see God as having a distinctive physical body, but I believe this Universe to be a part of God, or filled with him.

"The level of love, enlightenment, and power that exists even at the lower levels of heaven is so far beyond anything we can experience with our natural mind here on earth that it could easily be experienced as 'place where Love is all that is.' And each higher level of heaven is whole orders of magnitude beyond the heaven below it."

Yes, maybe people experiencing Cosmic consciousness are just trying to describe something new and ineffable, and that is their only way to describe it. Yet, people who got a "glimpse" of Heaven, via NDEs, do not describe it in the same way that people who experienced Cosmic consciousness. They seem to be two different things: there are cases of people who had a NDE, and after being reunited with deceased relatives and stuff, and feeling separated from them, entered the Light and had the Cosmic consciousness experience *there*. But you may be right, and that's just them entering a higher level of Heaven. I myself, think that they reach a state where they just *know* (as they say they do) what they are experiencig.

"It's not that God wants to keep the totality of God's experience from us. It's that it is not possible to experience that without actually being the mind of God--which is infinite and divine. That means it's beyond the finite, spiritual and physical levels on which we humans exist and operate."

But *if* He created us, and He truly is almighty, He could have created us able to experience the same He is experiencing. I just don't like the idea of a Creator that keeps the best for himself... maybe it's my ego speaking, but a life of being a mere creature, even an evolved one, without being able to taste that primordial, divine experience of being one with God, sounds a little unappealing. Also, I've never heard anywhere else of the spiritual realm being finite.

"Not to put too fine a point on it, but when I read about someone who claims to have experienced the totality of the mind of God, I sense just a wee bit of human ego projecting itself onto an experience that, while certainly mind-blowing compared to what we ordinarily experience here on earth, falls far short of the full infinity and eternity of the mind of God."

The key experience of cosmic consciousness is that the subject feels the removal of the ego. They say that this experience is not exclusive for them, and that all will experience it someday... at the end of the day, if they are actually speaking from the ego, we cannot know. All that we know is that we didn't felt what they did, so their explanation and understandig of the experience *may be* the most accurate one. At least better than our own speculations.

"Having read (some years ago) the autobiography of one guru who experienced great things, then let it go to his head and ran amok in the ashram-type community he had gathered around himself, and having read about others who for some reason require multiple Porsches, Rolls Royces, and beautiful women to properly pursue their spiritual path, I tend to be just a bit skeptical of spiritual "sages" who toot their own horn make great claims about their own godlike enlightenment."

Oh yes, those are despicable... but there are opportunists everywhere, too bad they get too much attention and people end believing all spiritual teachers are like that :/

Leewoof,

||It's true that we do not choose the hand that we're dealt. We just have to play with it. But how we play with that hand is our choice.||

But the tendencies by which we will choose to play the hand are also inborn.

Most people are not advanced and self-actualized thinkers. Most people do not regularly, if ever, ask themselves the question: "How am I doing? Could I be doing better?" If the inspiration to ask these questions is lacking, then the freedom to act upon the answers is also lacking.

||About sociopaths, if a particular sociopath truly does not come equipped with the ability to feel empathy, then that lack will not figure into the evaluation of whether he or she will end out in heaven or hell in the afterlife. Only what we consciously choose within the area of our freedom and capability counts.

Further, if a sociopath truly does not have the ability to empathize, and acts in instinctual, animal-like fashion pursuant to the drives he or she does come equipped with, then his or her actions cannot really be called "evil" in a spiritual sense, any more than the actions of animals can be called "evil."||

I firmly disagree, and your logic reminds me of the casuistry I was taught in my Catholic days. Sociopaths are tragic precisely because they are evil and can't help it, and many don't even know it. I see no evidence of "judgment" in the Afterlife in which a higher power says, "You couldn't help it; come on into Heaven." Rather, people will go where they can be themselves. Sociopaths will go where they are comfortable being sociopaths. It doesn't matter that they didn't choose to be evil. (Now, I think they will eventually evolve out of that and will not be condemned to that state eternally. Again, there is no "condemnation" per se.)

||The crux of the matter is whether God truly gives us freedom, so that we can have a distinct will either in harmony with or opposed to God's will.||

We do not have such freedom.

||Saying that God is responsible for all our actions is saying that we are not really adult, human beings. It is saying that God never cuts the apron strings, and never lets us live our own life, on our own terms, taking responsibility for our own actions.||

That is not the point. The point is that one is responsible for fulfilling one's goals and the result over that which s/he has assumed responsibility. If you are a manager in a company and your division does not perform well, then it is your fault insofar as you were actually empowered to manage. If you have done the hiring and also have the power to fire, then very definitely. If you say, "So and so did not do their job," then you should not have hired them, or you should have fired them, or you should have taken measures to improve their performance.

If you want to say that people are stupid and irresponsible and thus the world is a mess and it's our fault, I will heartily agree with you. But if you say that that is not God's fault, I would say, No, God should have created people better or managed them better.

||As I see it, God is not a helicopter parent. Rather, God is a parent who cuts the apron strings and lets us become grown adults.||

That is fine, in which case a better design of human nature had been preferable.

||As for the level of intense suffering on this planet, that's really a judgment call. Is there some line we can draw to say, "This much suffering is excusable, but if it gets any worse, then it's not excusable, and God is a sadist"?||

Ah, but the argument is not that God deserves a slap on the wrist if evil goes beyond a certain point on planet Earth. The argument is that an omnipotent God does not appear to *exist in the first place* if evil goes beyond a certain point.

||The atheist argument is weak because it assumes that God is an big ol' nanny in the sky, responsible for every little bump and boo-boo that we humans suffer.||

It's not weak at all if you concede that God is not involved in preventing or treating our boo boos, since the argument is, "Granted this level of evil, God is unable *or unwilling* to do anything about it."

This is an argument against the God of the Bible, who is described as being a loving Father and an interventionist one at that. It is not an effective argument against a Deist God or some other type of less involved deity.

||Traditional Christian doctrine about God and Jesus is false for many reasons. One of those reasons is that the fundamental doctrines of Roman Catholicism and of Protestantism are taught nowhere in the Bible. They were invented over the centuries by various Christian theologians who totally missed the point of Christ's teachings.||

All true! So you say, "I happen to believe that that new spiritual era now dawning will also be Christian in essence. But it will be so different from the previous version that it will not be recognized as the same religion--because it won't be the same religion." But I'm not sure what "Christian in essence" means here if that essence has nothing to do with what Christians currently believe. Again, words and their connotations causing problems...

||From there you'll find links to articles that offer a very different understanding of Christianity and what Christ was doing here on earth--one that is much more solidly founded on what the Bible actually does say, and that doesn't require us to check our brains and our empathy at the door.||

The Christian myth doesn't do much for me, although I appreciate a lot of what Jesus says in the New Testament and am glad I was exposed to it.

||About the level of intense suffering to be found on this planet, I should add that the worst of it does seem to me to be human-caused.||

I appreciate your arguments and agree in large part. People as individuals and in the aggregate are pretty stupid. We could feed the world and live abundant and rewarding lives, but our greed and stupidity and other negative qualities get in the way.

But if there is a creator God, he made us that way. And the net result of that is his/her/its responsibility.

Hmm do I even want to weigh in on the debate. Who knows really, and will we ever really know? Like you No One, it seems to me "All that is" is highly impersonal with all the tragedy in the world and I've had my problems with that.

I do feel that as our awareness is known to affect the atom which forms the basis of all creation, then consciousness is probably the key to why we exist.

The forgetting would be necessary to learn each lesson I think, e.g. trust, confidence, intellect, love, and what it feels like to have many different types of lives and relationships- being a mother for example, a brother etc., that reincarnation would allow.

Having a lot of experience increases our knowledge and understanding, and if we are an aspect of god, this increases "its" knowledge and understanding and produces a myriad of other conscious beings who can be a capable companion, and trusted to also have power and influence on the universe.

I think therefore consciousness explains why we are even here and why we need to grow and develop, and even free will. Although tragedy occurs, perhaps we don't see the whole picture, how humanity is slowly learning that violence brings tragedy and "god" can see we will become a more humane species in the long run.

My two cents, whatever.

Liked this post by Grof- well said- ain't that the truth.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/stanislav-grof-md-phd/science-and-spirituality-_b_680470.html

Cheers Lyn.

I just want to add, although we think being human is out natural form, and we are the species that will come to conquer the universe.

I think the key is the opposite, that our spirit form is our natural state and that our human form is just a vehicle to learn. And this makes sense, that its just an opportunity to grow and develop, so we take this knowledge back when we return to spirit or conscious entity that forms the universe. Cheers

Hi Matt,

You say, quoting me at first:

||The crux of the matter is whether God truly gives us freedom, so that we can have a distinct will either in harmony with or opposed to God's will.||

We do not have such freedom.

If that is your view, then this is the crux of our differing perspective on the issue of evil in the world and our responsibility for it.

If we are not free, then we are not responsible for anything we do, including the evil things we do. It is all simply the playing out of forces bearing upon us, over which we have no control.

I cannot accept such a view of humanity.

If it is your view, then there is a fundamental gap between your perspective on the human condition and mine.

You say:

Ah, but the argument is not that God deserves a slap on the wrist if evil goes beyond a certain point on planet Earth. The argument is that an omnipotent God does not appear to *exist in the first place* if evil goes beyond a certain point.

If there is no such thing as human freedom, then yes, atheism would seem to be an inescapable conclusion.

It does seem to be a general feature of atheism that ultimately, the reality of human freedom is denied. Everything is the result of physical forces. Human consciousness itself is a mere side-effect of those forces, and has no power over the inexorable workings of blind evolution.

You seem to extend that picture to include spiritual reality, which I find interesting. More commonly, a denial of God's existence is paired with a denial of the existence of spiritual reality.

Still, if there's no freedom, and our lives are pre-programmed, what's the point of it all? We're just puppets on a stage that has no puppet master.

Hi Lynn,

Thanks for the link to the Stanislav Grof article. He does sum it up very nicely!

In particular, for several years now I've been actively thinking about what "the church" will look like in the new spiritual era that is now dawning on humanity.

I still don't really know.

But one conclusion I've come to fairly firmly is that there will be no priesthood standing between God and the people, representing God to the people and the people to God. Everyone will have a direct relationship with God, without the need for human intermediaries.

But I agree with Grof that there will still be a need for spiritual teachers and guides. Otherwise I'd be totally out of a job! ;-)

Hi Luciano,

Thanks for your response. You say:

But *if* He created us, and He truly is almighty, He could have created us able to experience the same He is experiencing. I just don't like the idea of a Creator that keeps the best for himself... maybe it's my ego speaking, but a life of being a mere creature, even an evolved one, without being able to taste that primordial, divine experience of being one with God, sounds a little unappealing.

The thing is, in order to experience the consciousness of God as it is in itself, you would have to be God. This means it would not be you experiencing it. It would be God experiencing it.

The real question here is whether there actually are created beings who are distinct from God, or whether everything is God.

If everything is God, then of course our task would be to re-merge with God, as pantheistic religions and philosophies generally hold.

But if God has created distinct beings who are not God, then the task is different. It is not to re-merge with God, but to come into relationship with God.

If this is our human situation (as I believe it is), then we will never lose our individual identity.

Rather, that identity will come into closer and closer relationship with God (and with fellow created beings) such that, to use a paraphrase Swedenborg's rather paradoxical language, the closer we get to God and the more we realize that everything good and true in us is from God, the more distinctly we will feel that we are our own unique self.

My view of the universe is as an (almost) infinitely diversified set of created beings, all of whom (and which) are in relationship with God and with one another.

In this system, God does give us as much of the experience of God's consciousness as we are able to handle. But since we are distinct beings, it is not possible to give us the full and exact consciousness of God because, as I just said, that would mean that we were God, undifferentiated, instead of being in relationship with God.

Without relationship, I find the universe to be rather pointless. If God is already infinite, omniscient, omnipotent, and so on, what's to be added by spinning out a whole universe to "learn" and "experience" things that God already knows?

But if the purpose of the universe is for God to be in relationship with other beings who are distinct from God, then it starts to make some sense to me.

You add:

Also, I've never heard anywhere else of the spiritual realm being finite.

Well, you've heard it now! As I understand it, God is the only infinite being. Everything else is created and therefore finite.

Thanks for your response Leewoof!

First of all, I don't see God as a deity separated from His creation, I think He is the original or primordial being that constitutes this Universe, and I tend to believe we eventually re-merge with God, but our individuality is not lost, and we can become individual beings again if we choose. At least I prefer to think of God this way. I don't see this God to be perfect, at least not in the way that we humans have labeled perfection, and maybe he isn't perfect in any way, He just is everything that exists, God just is.
As He is everything that exists, He is the good and the bad things we find in the Universe, and we can choose what is best for ourselves.

I just do not trust in a God that created somehow inferior beings to be in a relationship with them. And why is He labeled as perfect I don't see... If he was perfect, shouldn't anyone just be attracted automatically to Him? or find Him to be most appealing than any other conception of how the Universe works?
I know, He created us free, and that's our most important characteristic, so important that He even allows people to kill people in order to protect the killer's freedom (He apparently does nothing in order to protect the victim's freedom wich is being ripped off). With this freedom we are given, we can even choose to turn our backs on Him, but I mean to say, if He is perfect, why does so many people reject Him in the first place? Perfection seems to be an absolute, so if He is rejected/not liked or criticized in any way, then we cannot label God as being perfect for Human standards.

Leewoof said:

"The real question here is whether there actually are created beings who are distinct from God, or whether everything is God. If everything is God, then of course our task would be to re-merge with God, as pantheistic religions and philosophies generally hold."

Leewoof, for me, there's no discrepancy whatsoever between the two views. They're both right.

As I see it, God is the state of consciousness in which the universe experiences itself as one single infinite being.

And we humans (along with all other forms of life) are indeed entities who are distinct from God, in the sense that we are in a state of denying or forgetting oneness. We are currently *experiencing* ourselves as separate entities.

And part of what makes the cosmic scheme interesting, is that we are always in motion -- either emerging from God into separation, or returning to God and the blissful perfection of oneness.

So we do re-merge with God, albeit temporarily.

Now to someone who might say "Bruce, I disagree with you. We are *always* distinct from God" -- well, I can't disagree with that either.

And that's because chronological sequence is only way of perceiving reality. Fundamentally, everything "happens" at the same time, so we are indeed separate from God *and* experiencing ourselves as God, simultaneously and eternally.

Whoops. That last paragraph should read:

And that's because chronological sequence is only one way of perceiving reality. Fundamentally, everything "happens" at the same time, so we are indeed separate from God *and* experiencing ourselves as God, simultaneously and eternally.

(I left out "one" in the first sentence, which completely reverses the meaning.)

Here's a tangent related to forgetfulness that I just came across, from Tom Paine in a letter from Luxumburg prison to Lady Smyth:

Memory, like a beauty that is always present to hear herself flattered, is flattered by every one. But the absent and silent goddess, Forgetfulness, has no votaries, and is never thought of: yet we owe her much. She is the goddess of ease, though not of pleasure. When the mind is like a room hung with black, and every corner of it crowded with the most horrid images imagination can create, this kind speechless goddess of a maid, Forgetfulness, is following us night and day with her opium wand, and gently touching first one, and then another, benumbs them into rest, and at last glides them away with the silence of a departing shadow. It is thus the tortured mind is restored to the calm condition of ease, and fitted for happiness.
. . . . .
All grief, like all things else, will yield to the obliterating power of time. While despair is preying on the mind, time and its effects are preying on despair; and certain it is, the dismal vision will fade away, and Forgetfulness, with her sister Ease, will change the scene. Then let not the wretched be rash, but wait, painful as the struggle may be, the arrival of Forgetfulness; for it will certainly arrive.

Hi Luciano,

You say:

Yes, maybe people experiencing Cosmic consciousness are just trying to describe something new and ineffable, and that is their only way to describe it. Yet, people who got a "glimpse" of Heaven, via NDEs, do not describe it in the same way that people who experienced Cosmic consciousness.

Of course, there are at least as many different kinds of experiences in the spiritual world as there are here on earth. Different people will experience different things under different circumstances.

To put it in some context, according to Swedenborg, what people who have brief experiences of the spiritual world ordinarily encounter is neither heaven nor hell, but what he calls "the world of spirits," which is midway between heaven and hell. This is the place where everyone first goes after death. Like earth, it has a mixture of good and evil.

This doesn't tell the whole story, though, because also according to Swedenborg, people who die are met on the other side by angels from the highest "heavenly" (or "celestial") realm of heaven. My sense is that this still takes place in the world of spirits, but heavenly angels "travel" there in spirit to accompany the person over to the other side. Once the need for their presence is over, the dying person leaves them and moves into conscious awareness of the scenery of the world of spirits.

Of course, there is huge variation in this, too, as we know from the many different accounts of near-death experiences.

The point is, the ordinary NDE experience is actually taking place in the world of spirits (according to Swedenborg's description of the afterlife) rather than in heaven. An experience of cosmic consciousness, however--if genuine--would be an experience of one or another level of heaven.

Angels themselves have differing experiences throughout the passages of their lives. They aren't always living in a state of cosmic consciousness. Sometimes they have a sense of oneness with God, and sometimes they are more focused on the people around them, or the tasks in front of them. So even though the higher angels are familiar with the experience that we would call cosmic consciousness, they don't spend their entire lives lost in the vast wonder of it all. Like us, they have lives to get back to after having one of those ineffable experiences.

Lynn,

||Having a lot of experience increases our knowledge and understanding, and if we are an aspect of god, this increases "its" knowledge and understanding and produces a myriad of other conscious beings who can be a capable companion, and trusted to also have power and influence on the universe.||

Yes! This is what I would call the mainstream New Age view, and I think it is correct.

Leewoof,

||If that is your view, then this is the crux of our differing perspective on the issue of evil in the world and our responsibility for it.||

I think the crux comes down to whether a creator God created everything according to a plan. I think there is no such entity.

As for freedom, I think there is a spectrum of freedom in the Universe. The more advanced the being, the freer. Sentient animals are free to follow their impulses. Animals that can understand options are free to go with the option they choose. Humans can have varying levels of self- and other-understanding and thus are free to varying degrees. Some people seem to act only on impulse; some people seem to act upon their deliberations.

If the option or insight does not appear to a person, then s/he is not free to act upon it. I think this is understood to be true in Christianity under the concept of "grace." If we go with Calvinist theology, we even have the concept of "the Elect."

Thus, if we grant the existence of an omnipotent God, then I think it is a candy-coated notion that everyone is equally free to be align him/herself with the will of God.

||If we are not free, then we are not responsible for anything we do, including the evil things we do. It is all simply the playing out of forces bearing upon us, over which we have no control.||

I never said we are not free at all. Freedom varies both within the individual and across individuals. And indeed there are many things over which we have no control.

||If there is no such thing as human freedom, then yes, atheism would seem to be an inescapable conclusion.||

This is both a straw man and incorrect.

||It does seem to be a general feature of atheism that ultimately, the reality of human freedom is denied. Everything is the result of physical forces. Human consciousness itself is a mere side-effect of those forces, and has no power over the inexorable workings of blind evolution.||

I don't think this is a correct portrayal of atheism, and I am the furthest thing from an atheist.

||You seem to extend that picture to include spiritual reality, which I find interesting. More commonly, a denial of God's existence is paired with a denial of the existence of spiritual reality.||

I don't deny God per se; I deny the existence of the childish fantasy God of Abrahamic religion. And you are also incorrect in that Hindu and Buddhist thought (not to mention Confucian, Taoist, etc.) recognizes spiritual reality without recognizing such a God.

||Still, if there's no freedom, and our lives are pre-programmed, what's the point of it all? We're just puppets on a stage that has no puppet master.||

I agree. But that's not my argument.

Matt said:

"I am the furthest thing from an atheist."

How can this be when you say that the universe has evolved from chaos? What kind of a God would not have been present at the outset?

Can you describe the God that you do believe in?

Hi Matt,

Thanks for your reply. My apologies for misrepresenting your views. I was speaking rather loosely in terms of my own definitions of God and human spiritual freedom--which is not very helpful for the purposes of open discussion.

You say:

I think the crux comes down to whether a creator God created everything according to a plan. I think there is no such entity.

I may or may not believe in such a God, depending on how it is defined.

I do believe that there is an omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent God who created the universe according to a plan.

However, I do not believe this means that everything inevitably and inexorably plays out in deterministic fashion according to God's plan.

My view of God's plan is that it involves ultimate, eternal human freedom in the sense that we can, if we wish, permanently reject God's plan for our lives. Or we can accept only some part of God's plan, but not all of it.

The "plan" itself is not some detailed set of exact instructions that we must follow to the letter or suffer God's wrath. Rather, it is an open-ended process of spiritual rebirth and growth that we are invited to engage in.

A few months ago I posted an article along these lines in which I turned Thomas à Kempis's famous aphorism on its head:
God Proposes, but Man Disposes . . . and God Re-Composes
This article pretty well sums up my views on human freedom vs. God's plan.

Of course, if we reject God's plan, it does involve certain unpleasant consequences. But those consequences are not punitive on God's part. They are simply the cause-and-effect (aka karmic) results of acting contrary to the laws of the universe. If I choose to bang myself on the head with a brick, I'm going to hurt or kill myself. That's why God suggests (metaphorically speaking) that we not bang ourselves on the head with bricks.

Hi Matt,

You say:

As for freedom, I think there is a spectrum of freedom in the Universe. The more advanced the being, the freer. Sentient animals are free to follow their impulses. Animals that can understand options are free to go with the option they choose. Humans can have varying levels of self- and other-understanding and thus are free to varying degrees. Some people seem to act only on impulse; some people seem to act upon their deliberations.

I agree that there are many different kinds and levels of freedom. For example, we may be free to believe something, but not to act upon it. Or we may be free to choose between two options, but not a third option.

I was speaking of what I consider to be ultimate human spiritual freedom.

In terms of that freedom, the question is whether we humans have the ability to choose our own eternal course? Or must we inevitably follow the course that God or the Universe has set for us, and end out at a destination that is pre-determined for us?

I have a problem with every spiritual perspective that has us all ultimately re-merging with God, or all ultimately entering nirvana, or all ultimately achieving oneness with the universe, or however it is conceived and phrased.

If our ultimate destination is inevitable, and it's just a matter of time (whether milliseconds, decades, or cosmic eons) until we get there, then are we truly free? Or are we simply rats in a maze, taking a longer or shorter time to reach the cheese, depending upon how many wrong turns we take along the way?

Hi Bruce,

You say:

As I see it, God is the state of consciousness in which the universe experiences itself as one single infinite being.

I understand that this is your view of God and the universe. I just happen not to agree with it.

I see God as infinite, and the universe, both spiritual and physical, as a created and therefore finite entity.

From my perspective, the very act of creation involves putting boundaries, or limits, on infinite reality. And the very act of limiting infinity makes the created entity non-infinite, and therefore non-God.

And:

Now to someone who might say "Bruce, I disagree with you. We are *always* distinct from God" -- well, I can't disagree with that either.

I'm one of those "someones."

I believe that we are created distinct from God and will always be distinct from God. From my perspective, being forever distinct from God means that we can be eternally in relationship with God.

If you are able to hold in your mind simultaneously both the idea that we are all God and the idea that we are non-God, who am I to argue with you? No good would come of such an argument. I could say that I agree in some sense, but the way you and I understand it is different. And to sort it all out would require a large volume of not very productive philosophical hair-splitting.

In the end, it's not what we believe, but how we live pursuant to what we believe that really matters. Belief is useful only to the extent that it prompts and guides us to serve our fellow human beings in helpful and practical ways, and to treat them with respect, compassion, and love.

Personally, I have no problem with people disagreeing with one another in their beliefs and perspectives, as long as there is oneness on the issue of loving and serving our fellow human beings. To me, that, and not particular doctrines and beliefs, is the heart of religion and spirituality.

Leewoof said:

"In the end, it's not what we believe, but how we live pursuant to what we believe that really matters."

I completely agree. And growing up as I did suffering from such insecurity and self-doubt, I find it helpful, on a daily basis, to remember that the boundary between myself and my God is illusory and temporary.

Just as important, thinking that way opens my heart to other people, because it forces me to see them in exactly the same light.

Not to mention that it matches my own most profound spiritual experiences, as well as others'. When NDErs talk about "becoming one with the Light," as they so often do, I see it as a literal description of merging with God.

Leewood said:

"If our ultimate destination is inevitable, and it's just a matter of time (whether milliseconds, decades, or cosmic eons) until we get there, then are we truly free?"

For me, being free means, above all, having the opportunity to reach my full potential and fulfill my deepest longings. As I see it, living in a universe where I get to reunite with God satisfies those criteria quite well.

And since that may sound selfish to you, let me add that "fulfilling my deepest longings" includes fulfilling *your* deepest longings too, since I see us as two facets of the same entity.

What's more, I get to choose from among an infinite variety of paths back to Source, and even the option to delay that reunion as long as I like.

So yes -- I'd say we're free.

Bruce,

||How can this be when you say that the universe has evolved from chaos? What kind of a God would not have been present at the outset?

Can you describe the God that you do believe in?||

Grof is right that Void and Plenum are different aspects of the same thing. I think "God" is being-consciousness-bliss (sat-chit-ananda) of zero/infinite dimensionality.

Sorry--that should be Leewoof, not Leewood. :)

Leewoof,

||My apologies for misrepresenting your views. I was speaking rather loosely in terms of my own definitions of God and human spiritual freedom--which is not very helpful for the purposes of open discussion.||

You're fine, and I'm not perfect either!

||The "plan" itself is not some detailed set of exact instructions that we must follow to the letter or suffer God's wrath. Rather, it is an open-ended process of spiritual rebirth and growth that we are invited to engage in.||

That sounds about right.

||In terms of that freedom, the question is whether we humans have the ability to choose our own eternal course? Or must we inevitably follow the course that God or the Universe has set for us, and end out at a destination that is pre-determined for us?||

I don't believe in any kind of predestination, either.

||I have a problem with every spiritual perspective that has us all ultimately re-merging with God, or all ultimately entering nirvana, or all ultimately achieving oneness with the universe, or however it is conceived and phrased.||

The fourfold negation in Buddhism is interesting (this sophisticated negation is applied to more than one topic; here is one example):

I have not elucidated that the saint exists after death; I have not elucidated that the saint does not exist after death; I have not elucidated that the saint both exists and does not exist after death; I have not elucidated that the saint neither exists nor does not exist after death. And why, Mâlunkyâputta, have I not elucidated this? Because, Mâlunkyâputta, this profits not, nor has to do with the fundamentals of religion, nor tends to aversion, absence of passion, cessation, quiescence, the supernatural faculties, supreme wisdom, and Nirvana; therefore have I not elucidated it.

http://www.sacred-texts.com/bud/bits/bits013.htm

I think its a great example of how sophisticated Buddhist thinking can be, even if I don't think that Buddhism is *the* Truth.

It might be wishful thinking, but I think that somehow we get to keep ourselves and become One with All at the same "time."

||If our ultimate destination is inevitable, and it's just a matter of time (whether milliseconds, decades, or cosmic eons) until we get there, then are we truly free? Or are we simply rats in a maze, taking a longer or shorter time to reach the cheese, depending upon how many wrong turns we take along the way?||

We both agree that death is inevitable. If you believe in a permanent Heaven and Hell, then the extent of one's freedom is to go to one or the other. How is that more free than any other inevitable result? I don't think the fact that Hell is an option in your system is really an advantage, is it? "I'm freer because I might mess up and go to Hell"?

You said the following to Bruce, but I'd like to comment:

||In the end, it's not what we believe, but how we live pursuant to what we believe that really matters. Belief is useful only to the extent that it prompts and guides us to serve our fellow human beings in helpful and practical ways, and to treat them with respect, compassion, and love.||

I mostly agree. I think the other point of belief is solving problems and pursuing opportunities. I like New Age belief because it is positive, proactive, and empowering. It is open-minded, inclusive, and non-dogmatic.

My goal is to discover *something* that will make the world a better place and life an easier thing to live. I haven't done it yet. But I think that is what the goal of philosophy should be.

||Personally, I have no problem with people disagreeing with one another in their beliefs and perspectives, as long as there is oneness on the issue of loving and serving our fellow human beings. To me, that, and not particular doctrines and beliefs, is the heart of religion and spirituality.||

Absolutely!

I suspect that as human life is such an individual journey, that thats probably the point, after all "god" could simply have cloned us all in its likeness otherwise

So merging with "it" but still having a personality intact may be our fate- as Mellon Thomas's description of "god" as a mandala of souls.

I also think once in we are in the celestial grounds, we come to understand that we are all aspects of a "god", who is a loving and compassionate creator who gave us what we have come to experience, and that we are all part of the same being. Therefore, being free is unlikely to have the same connotations, as so many of those who have had NDE have discovered. Lyn x.


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