21 September 2007

The Epistemology Part of It

Well, that last post was getting outrageously long, and while I'll certainly be reviewing it from time to time many readers may not want to go through the whole thing. No problem. After the jump I've got the real questions raised by the dream in a fairly quick format. You can ponder them yourself, try to answer them, add more of your own, or ignore the whole thing at your leisure.

I've spent too much time on this today already (it's after 2 and I wanted to go to St. Pete Clay today... not gonna happen. Perhaps tomorrow, unless I stay until after dinner) so, forthwith, the larger questions raised by the dream I described in the previous post.

1 What is lucid dreaming and why does it happen?

2 My subconscious was wrestling with the notion of duality (a soul and a body) as opposed to impermanence (you are your body and the collection of impulses therein and will cease existing when you die). Why did the tormenting skeleton not respond to my assertions of impermanence only to decompose into dust when I acted against him physically? If the skeleton asserted that it was a ghoul, does that mean it was a soul? If so, what happened to its soul when the body decomposed? If an evil spirit is considered to have a soul, how was it created differently from the soul that resides in a human, or is there no difference?

3 Why do our depictions of hell resort to tortures that would only affect a physical body? What torture is available to a non-physical soul? Do any Western theologies teach that the body goes to hell or heaven with your soul, and if so, what then is the point of there being two natures?

4 If a soul is eternal, can it be destroyed? If so, and if evil souls are destroyed, is that destruction functionally different than Buddha's assertion that all things are impermanent and the concept of the self dies with the body? If not, what is the punishment for a soul? Isolation from God and Paradise? Are souls given second chances or are they only granted one go-round on Earth to find and follow God? If the latter, why?

5 If the Buddha is right and everything is impermanent (and you can consider this question whether you believe that assertion or not), what then is the purpose of following the Eightfold Path (right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration)? If nothing lasts and all is vanity, how is moral good to be determined, and more important, why does it need to be? Is it simply that following the Path and doing right things make a person happier? Is that true? Doesn't Tucker Max seem to disprove that notion--or is there a plane of happiness amoral people are incapable of achieving? Furthermore, if one follows the Path and does right, one is living as God has asked--so would God deny a good Buddhist entry to heaven because of the Buddhist's rejection of God? If so, what sort of damnation would be experienced by a good and moral soul that did not embrace God? Would it be different from the damnation of an evil soul? Is a soul that was moral in life on Earth but still rejected or did not know God inherently as evil as a soul that lives an outwardly evil life?

6 I am undergoing a period of uncertainty and questioning about Christianity and my faith; I suppose many people do so. It is not at the level of a personal crisis nor do I expect it to be for many years, but it is there. My two fundamental problems with Christianity are as follows: 1. Why would an omnipotent and (presumably) beneficent God reveal himself only to one small tribe in the Negev Desert four thousand years ago, leaving all others to perish? Why would said God go to the trouble of creating souls for people He would have no choice but to destroy (or commit to eternal damnation)? If God would not destroy those souls, what happens to them--are they recycled (reincarnated) and given a chance to be saved; are they granted admission to paradise because they never had a chance to know God, and if so how does that square with God's desire to have all people follow Him, if those who don't follow him are granted the same rewards as those who do? 2. Why would an omnipotent and (presumably) beneficent God create distractions and diversions to throw people off the trail if He wants them to follow Him? I'm not referring to gambling, drink, and loose women; what I want to know is why create dinosaur bones, why create the processes for radioactive decay that allow us to date dinosaur bones, why create Australopithecus bones and genetic logs of evolution, why create redshift and an apparently multi-billion-year-old universe to sow confusion and discord in the world? If the Creation story as handed down in Genesis and elsewhere is correct, why would God create those red herrings? If the Creation story is (as I believe) meant to be read as metaphor, why is that not clear? And what is the purpose of the metaphor? Ultimately, what is God's purpose in allowing such a wide variation in interpretations of His message? Are all equally valid? If only one is equally valid, is it possible to know the one right path? Or is a relationship with God meant, in His view, to be a personal affair between you and Him, and as long as you commune with Him and accept Him it matters not what doctrine you choose to follow? If a personal relationship is the most important, what are we to make of individuals who, believing they have communed with the Almighty, take the lives of dozens or hundreds or more of innocent people? Can God call us to acts of evil and violence, and if so, why? Ultimately, if faith is what really matters, does that mean that a person who believes fervently that he must do evil things is not evil in the eyes of God? In other words, how can a lifetime of evil be forgiven by a deathbed conversion and repentance while a lifetime of good results in damnation for souls that did not have faith? If faith is all that matters and faith must be held in the face of all evidence to the contrary, what is the purpose of life and experience? Why create life at all?

Okay, there you have it. It was quite a dream, apparently.


scanime said...

Re: 6.2.

Call me a kooky southern Christian if you will, but I can't say that the Bible is the literal truth. Yes, it is supposed to be the Word of God. But the words were written down by man, who sometimes like to show his own perspective. It was also written thousands of years ago, at the earliest, and perspectives change. What was relevant then is not so relevant now. I'm trying to remember the specific example, but there was a grave warning that specifically alluded to a period ruler, although nowadays tends to be used for modern end of the world scenarios. And thirdly, we have the translations. Which is the literal Word? King James's version? The NIV? I suppose we really need to go back to the original Latin, Greek, Aramaic, or Hebrew. And even within the Bible, there are different stories. There are of course the two variations of Genesis, the four Gospels, and some parts of the Bible can conflict with the other.

Despite this, I find the Bible fascinating. There is beautiful poetry, historical stories, and the Gospels seem even better once you understand the men that wrote them. I keep telling myself that one of these days, I'll read it cover to cover.

I highly recommend reading The Gift of the Jews and Desire of the Everlasting Hills by Thomas Cahill for fascinating look at the history behind Judaism, Christianity and the Bible. The example I can't quite remember is from that series, as is a fantastic look at the origin of the Gospels.

And as for God planting dinosaur bones and the like... when the universe was young (which was not 4000 years ago) it was filled with hydrogen and maybe a little bit of helium, the simplest elements of the periodic chart. Stars formed from these basic elements, and fused hydrogen as a primordial fuel. As the stars grew old, the supply of hydrogen at their core dwindled. Searching for fuel, the stars moved on to helium. If the star was hot enough, it could begin helium fusion. Helium is denser than hydrogen, and so the star's core underwent gravitational self-compression while the remaining hydrogen was expelled.

And so this went, and after the helium was gone, a large star could then breaks down further elements. Carbon, neon, oxygen, and others are formed from the fuel of the star. Finally, the last element is iron, which is too heavy to undergo fusion. The star collapses under its own gravitational weight, and expels its material through a supernova.

This process of stellar evolution is how the universe started, how it came to be filled with stars and planets. And us.

Yes, it's science. It's chemistry, physics, and then some. But it's still God's work, and it takes nothing away from Him. I feel that this stellar process is no less a wonderful work because of the science behind it. In fact, it seems to be an improvement over God just snapping His fingers and bringing everything into existence in a literal week.

Damn, I rambled. I apologize for spewing my words all over the place. :) I really need to devote some rambling time to my blog...

Melinda said...

Have you considered attending seminary? In all seriousness, it might be an opportunity for you to do some true studying on these topics. My minister told me that at least 1/2 the people who were at seminary with him were there for personal reasons, rather than for training to become ministers. Just a thought.