Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The author(s) of our existence

If you've been following along, you've probably already guessed what the next cornerstone is about. If there is a master plan, who is the author???

Because the second cornerstone of my belief system is that our lives are not simply a chance of nature, nor are they a series of random events, the logical follow-on is that there must be someone or something that is directing the plan. So now I've opened the Pandora's box about the existence of a supreme being. I'm not even going to pretend I know for sure if it's a God, but it's a good place to begin. I Googled Webster's Dictionary and typed in "god". Here is the result:

1 capitalized : the supreme or ultimate reality: as a : the Being perfect in power, wisdom, and goodness who is worshipped as creator and ruler of the universe b Christian Science : the incorporeal divine Principle ruling over all as eternal Spirit : infinite Mind

2 : a being or object believed to have more than natural attributes and powers and to require human worship; specifically : one controlling a particular aspect or part of reality

3 : a person or thing of supreme value

4 : a powerful ruler

Actually, this is a pretty good cross-section of possibilities, and interestingly enough, as you'll read in a future post, I was introduced to Christian Science in my teens, so am quite familiar with both parts 1a and 1b of Webster's definition. Some of my later readings were about other aspects of realty, thus covering part 2; and parts 3 and 4 are so general that I think they'll probably be included in most any conclusion I reach. The one thing above that I do take exception to is the requirement to worship. The fact that I walked out of the Anglican church after my confirmation, never to return, is probably indicative of the fact that at an early age, I had decided not to worship my god.

Our entire world is like a symphony. Every action - every creature, a key participant in a glorious three dimensional song - all interconnected, all affected, none more or less important than another. If one thinks about the inter-relationships that exist in our physical universe, one can see the amazing tapestry that I spoke of in my last post.

Our own body is a wonderful example of absolute engineering genius. A little universe unto itself containing such complex networks that even with our "superior" brains we can barely begin to understand the workings, let alone the mechanics. We don't have to think about the functions that keep us alive - we breathe, our organs work and our blood flows without any help from us at all. We have only to think of a concept like walking or clapping our hands and our individual body parts spring into perfectly synchronized actions to carry out our thoughts. Our bodies heal themselves, nourish themselves, and if given the opportunity, recreate perfect new bodies in the form of our offspring.

Over the years I've extropolated this idea down to the tiny atom and applied it to the entire universe, and I've seen that it works no matter how large or small the scale. Of course you can quote me exceptions, you can cite examples of things that are not in harmony such as bodies that don't work in perfect synchronicity and a million other exceptions, but overall, surely you still have to admit that this universe is so interconnected, so complex and so beautiful, that it simply cannot be entirely random.

In my lifetime, I've examined dozens (if not hundreds) of ideas and theories about whether or not there is a supreme being, and if so, who or what it is. I still don't know for sure, but so many things have happened along my journey that point to the workings of an inescapable plan, that I'm thoroughly convinced that there is indeed an author of our existence, and in future posts, I hope to at least give you enough food for thought that you won't simply dismiss the idea out of hand.

I've now introduced the first three cornerstones of my belief system, namely that there is life after this physical world, that our lives are loosely woven around a master plan, and that the plan has an author. My next post will cover the fourth and final cornerstone, then I'll resume the story of the steps that led me to the place I am today. I invite you to join me, even challenge me, as the journey is recounted.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

The overall plan

The second cornerstone is my belief that all that we do is guided by an overall plan. Now this is a huge concept by itself and deserves more than one post (and probably several) to cover it. So, to summarize the points that I'll later discuss, I'll try to illustrate in short form, what lead me to this conclusion.

Is there a god? Damned if I know. It doesn't seem to me that any religion has truly proven this satisfactorily. So, are we back to taking it on Faith? I sure hope not.

At an early age, I believed in the God we see illustrated throughout the Christian religion. You know, the one with the white hair and beard (reminiscent of a sinister Santa) who's depicted smashing the stone tablets of the 10 Commandments, or ordering Abraham to sacrifice his son, Isaac. That God seemed pretty angry to me most of the time and I had a hard time reconciling Him to the loving god we were being asked to worship. That God seemed rather mean - He kept promising the Israelites He'd lead them to the Promised Land - and then constantly tested their faith (and patience) by changing His mind. I could almost understand why they built the golden calf to worship while they waited for Moses to return with the Rules of the Road. Then after testing God's patience and enduring a couple of His temper tantrums, the people finally settled down to roaming around the desert for 40 years until He showed them their destination. I mean, have you seen what the lands in the Middle East look like? Sheesh.

There are countless stories about God's testing of His people and also a few about His love. But overall, I didn't think He was all that benevolent and it was probably a good idea to be a little afraid of Him.

Now Jesus, on the other hand, was the kind of god I could almost believe in. I paid very close attention to the books of the New Testatment. First of all, they were written in language that was easier to understand, and secondly, Jesus was a pretty decent guy, who was betrayed by his closest friends and pretty much shafted by his own father. This wasn't too hard to identify with! But once he was crucified and rose into Heaven, everything got sort of convoluted. Now there was the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost...and to this day, I'm still not sure who's in charge.

Through my various readings, I discovered that there were other holy men, such as Buddha and Mohammed who had also brought gospels to the world and who had their own legions of followers. Not to mention dozens of other gods who had been worshipped and revered throughout the ages.

How could we know for sure which One was the right One? I mean seriously, how could you choose?

This particular question plagued me for a very long time, but in the beginning, I asked myself just a few questions - Why would God bother to micro-manage us so closely that He wanted to know about each and every thing that each and every one of us did each and every day? Why was He so mean to the many and so good to the few? And what was going to happen to all the people who worshipped in other religions, so didn't even have a chance of getting to Heaven?

At this point, I could have turned to athesism, become an agnostic, or taken it all on Faith (as they had asked me to in Confirmation classes). Instead, I began to lean towards the concept of reincarnation and the idea that there was a greater plan for each of us - a tapestry, if you will, that we weave together, singly and in groups, into a pattern that's recognizable but not necessarily symmetrical. A tapestry that has a specific design, but that can be embelished a little without losing the overall pattern. That there is a plan for all of us, but at any given point in time, we can change it with free will.

I know that at this point, I haven't proven the concept or even expanded on it enough to convince anyone that the plan exists. I'll try to do that in future posts - all I want to do here is put in place the second cornerstone of my belief system, that is, establish the underpinnings that will carry all of the rest of it. So, to summarize my last post and this one, I believe there is life after this world and that we are all part of a greater plan.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Finding the cornerstones

I didn't realize until recently how arrogant I was to toss away centuries of Christianity because I didn't like it - especially when I was merely 13 years old. They had told us we could do anything - be anything - I guess I assumed that meant we could.

I still believed in God. I said my prayers. I tried to follow the 10 Commandments. But I didn't believe in Heaven and Hell (or Purgatory, for that matter). My mother used to say that Hell was right here on earth. (I don't think we ever really talked about Heaven.)

I never doubted that there was life after death, but I couldn't believe that we were rewarded or punished for eternity based on the short span of time we spend here, especially those who died young or were born with mental disabilities that denied them the possibility of embracing Christianity. And on top of that, what about all those millions (or was it billions) of people who followed religions other than Christianity? It wasn't adding up.

So, I started my journey to find out the meaning of Life, the Universe and Everything - and my part in it. I thought it wouldn't take long. Yeah, right.

I started at the public library, but instead of reading religious volumes, I was drawn to the occult section. When I was growing up, I had been told that my father had experienced some "physchic" episodes as a child. This intrigued me. I had never had any myself, but the possiblity that you might be able to see ghosts or predict the future was so alluring....

Our public library had about 8 books in the occult section and they were all pretty bad. I did read them all, however, and learned that Harry Houdini had been very interested in the occult and firmly believed that he would be able to find his way back from the dead to let the others in his circle know that there was indeed life on the other side. To my knowledge, he never did make it back...

I also read about Edgar Cayce and his gift of prophecy, the quatrains of Nostradamus, the brilliance of Leonardo Da Vinci, the secret society of Masons and the occult leanings of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Even the Satanic Bible of Anton LaVey. I read it all. Learning, growing, following one thread, then another, weighing each word and each idea, keeping some and tossing most. Looking, searching, trying to understand - and doing it all by myself.

The one thing that ran through it all, the common thread, was that life continues even after death. I think this fundamental belief has been with humanity since the very beginning. It's primal. All societies and cultures have recorded either in their written histories or in their burial ceremonies that the dead live on in other worlds. I don't think this is a subject I need to elaborate further on, it's easily researched and you could spend more than this one lifetime learning about the various afterlives that have been believed to exist throughout history.

In my own heart, I know it to be true, but it's been a very long journey trying to understand just how it all fits together. It's a quest that began for me 40 years ago and still continues today. As this blog continues and my religious leanings are revealed, the first cornerstone, or building block of my belief system is that life continues beyond this physical world.

Friday, September 18, 2009

We were going where no one had gone before

Being born in 1956 meant that I was officially part of the Canadian baby boom (1947 - 1966), however, it also meant that I was just a shade too young to have been part of the wild and anti-establishment movements of the Sixties. Not to say I didn't know it was going on - I lived through it all - the nuclear bomb drills in school, the assassinations of Martin, Bobby & John, the race riots all over the US, the arrival of the Beatles in America, the protests against the Vietnam War, the Manson Family and the music and the flower children who danced and loved their winding way throughout the entire decade. Touched by it all, but unable to actually participate, my thinking was not like that of any generation that had come before me.

I was 13 years old in 1969 and Star Trek had been beaming into my universe every week for 3 years. I never missed an episode. It truly was the brave new world and I believed. Believed that there was a greater power, that good would always triumph over evil and that we would all someday live in a society where neither race, religion, wealth, gender, nor political stripe would mean anything.

I think that Gene Roddenberry's vision influenced us in a way that no other generation before had ever experienced. It wasn't just what was in the message - it was that the message was visual. We all saw the same images, as Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock, Scottie and Bones hurtled through the universe. This was not like a book that some of us had read and each imagined just a little differently from one another - these were powerful visual images of a multi-national crew of men and women working together to achieve the same ends - and all of us saw it exactly the same way. This was good triumphing over evil week after week, planet by planet, surrounded by sophisticated technology created in a world where scientists developed tools that were intended to be used for something other than weapons of mass destruction.

I loved science fiction and besides my other tv favourites such as Lost in Space and Dr. Who, I read many of Isaac Asimov's short stories, was profoundly touched by Nevil Shute's "On the Beach" and very much affected by John Wyndham's "The Chrysalids". Then Gene Roddenberry gave us a new universe, and I embraced it. Now if I could just figure out who was behind it and how to make it happen.

All of these things were molding a young mind to reject organized Christian religion and the dogmas associated with it. It was painfully obvious to me that the Church (and I mean this in the broadest sense - basically all Christian religions that I had experienced to that time, namely Anglican, Catholic, Baptist and United) had not only fragmented society into sects that at best were suspicious of each other and at worst initiated wars against each other, but it had done nothing that I could see to alleviate the great suffering of so many of the world's people.

One thing about television - it had brought the real world right into our living rooms and there was no longer any way to gild the lily.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

We Take it on Faith

My parents were Anglican and I had been baptized into that religion at the age of 5 or 6. Now I was 12, so confirmation classes began.

It's mostly hazy to me now. I remember learning that the colour of the minister's vestments was connected to certain religious occasions. About the meaning of the host and the wine in relation to communion with the Lord. About the trinity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost. Oh there was lots of dogma - and I had lots of questions.

We started at the beginning - the creation of the earth and then Adam & Eve. I enquired immediately about the origin's of Cain's wife. "Well, we don't take it literally", I was told, "we take it on faith"....

Well, then what about Darwin's theory of evolution? "Well, there are arguments for it, of course, but we believe that God created the universe - we take it on Faith"...

Then there was Noah and the Flood, the parting of the Red Sea, the selling of children into slavery and prostitution, the killing of all first born children...and the ever constant answer - we take it on FAITH.

So eventually the Reverand and I came to an impasse. I'd ask a question - we'd take it on FAITH - then we'd move on to the next lesson. I was 12 years old and not stupid. I had a logical mind and very good comprehension and retention. I had never confused fantasy with reality - I knew the difference, and most of what I was hearing here could only be classified as fantasy. While I believed in God and his Son, Jesus, this was just too much. I could see how the 10 commandments were beneficial (and probably necessary) to the survival of civilized man, but I figured that the chances they had been delivered to Moses from the Hand of God were pretty slim. After a while I was told not to disrupt the class any more, just listen and let the others learn. I understood that particular instruction very well and did what I was told. We learned our lessons, took our test and passed into the realm of confirmed Anglicans.

The ceremony was serious and full of all the dogma and circumstance one might expect. All the newly confirmed girls and boys (we took our classes separately) marched together down the aisle one Sunday morning into the presence of the Canon. I remember thinking what a big ring he wore as he placed a hand on each of our heads and said something I don't remember and probably didn't understand. I figured it must be a blessing, but I wouldn't be surprised if he was actually thinking about what he was going to have for lunch as he mumbled the same words over each of us. Today was the big day and for the first time in our lives, we all received the body and blood of Christ in the form of the host and what I think was probably grape juice (if it was real wine it sure was watered down). I took my communion, stayed for the rest of the service, and never set foot in an Anglican church again - at least not for a Sunday service. My parents had wanted me confirmed and I was. That was the only reason I suffered through the entire winter of lessons.

My mother and father never knew why I refused to attend church services after that and I never told them. If they wanted to believe in all the hocus pocus, that was ok with me, but I was having none of it, and at 13 years old, they let me make that decision for myself.

I'm very grateful to them for that.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Where it started

I think I was 10 when I realized that God was probably not all I had been lead to believe. In fact, He (I never questioned His gender at that time) was right up there with the Tooth Fairy, Easter Bunny and Santa. Just too good to be true....

I was pretty well read for a 10 year old at that time - let's say 1966 or 1967. Remember there was no Sesame Street or early learning. TV had 2 channels and didn't come on until noon and ended by midnight. There were no computers or other external information sources for a child - you basically had your brain, your imagination and what you observed, to work with - that was it. Religion was basically two choices, you were Protestant (me) or Catholic (the heathen). I'll not be discussing Mohammed, Allah or Budda in this blog, because none of them even existed in my religious experience.

I was baptized into the Anglican Church when I was about six. I remember it quite clearly. It was at the Trinity Church in Saint John, New Brunswick. My sister was a babe in arms and I was five years older than she, so quite able to recall the minister, my parents, the couple who I assume were our godparents and the urn of holy water. I had no clue what was going on, but it seemed important to the grown ups, so I did whatever I thought was expected of me, even though I was not impressed when the minister (who I later learned was actually a Canon) splashed water on my blouse.

Church was new to me, but we had begun spending some time there. I attended church services on Sunday mornings with my parents - at least my mother was there. I remember how boring it was while the minister talked and talked, but finally, after a while, a teenage boy in a white robe carrying a large cross would walk down the aisles and we children could fall in behind him and go to Sunday School. I liked Sunday School. We got to colour pictures and listen to bible stories. I liked it a lot, but I was a bit suspicious about some of the stories...

For some reason I was interested in learning more about our religion. I'm not really sure what prompted me to begin reading the bible, but I do remember that we were living in Riverview, so I'm thinking I was 12 or so. I decided I'd read one chapter every night at bedtime. I had an old bible that had been given to me by a teacher at a Baptist vacation bible school I had attended with a friend when I was 8 or 9. The bible had no covers. It was about five inches high and 3 inches thick and had some colour plates in the middle - things like Noah releasing a dove and Moses parting the Red Sea, and it was that old bible that I opened and began reading. The pages were kind of a silky paper and the print was very small and spread over two columns on each page.

So of course Genesis was first. God created the world, then realized he needed some people, so He also created Adam and Eve. They hung out in the Garden of Eden and had a great time until Eve decided to listen to the snake and eat the apple (stupid girl) and then they had to hide from God. Eventually He kicked them out of the garden and they got down to the business of starting humanity rolling by having 2 sons, Cain and Abel. Unfortunately, like most siblings, Cain and Abel couldn't get along and you guessed it, Cain slew Abel and had to leave. So, off he went to live in the land of Nod and eventually married a woman from that country.


So I read this over quite a few times. Something wasn't making sense here. I went back to the beginning and started over. Nope, I didn't miss anything or misunderstand something. Somehow, Cain managed to not only find other people, but a whole country of them. I kept on reading the bible every night, but now I took most of it with a grain of salt. I slogged through all the biblical language and the millions of "begattings". I learned about Moses and Abraham, David and Goliath, Joseph and his brothers and coat of many colours. Finally I finished the old testament and got into the teachings of Jesus, which I enjoyed much more, but I was still taking it all with some healthy scepticism.

And, then, becuase I was 12, I started my Confirmation classes. The minister was very British. He had a daughter who was a little older than me and had quite a reputation as a "bad girl". I didn't pay too much attention to that, because all children of ministers were a bit on the wild side - I decided that was just a by-product of having to spend so much time in church. I think our classes were in a room in his house - maybe 6 or 8 of us - 13 year old girls receiving religious instruction so that we could become confirmed and begin taking communion with the grown ups.

At first I was quite excited about this. I had a lot of questions and no answers. Now I would find out the truth and finally be able to understand the reason for the inconsistencies I had discovered in my biblical readings.