Wednesday, July 26, 2023

Teachings of Paul

Why are none of the letters of Paul in this version of the bible? Perhaps it is because of the difficulty I face with Paul and his message.

It is clear to me that a key message of Jesus is to be humble. This message shows up time and time again. Jesus washes the feet. Jesus teaches us that whoever is first will be last. Jesus takes the role as a helper. If this is a key message of Jesus, I would expect his followers to try to exemplify the teachings of Jesus.

Yet, when I read Paul’s letters, it seems to me that Paul never got the message.  Not surprisingly. Paul never lived with Jesus nor saw Jesus in day-to-day behaviors. Paul only knows Jesus from one short vision Paul had on the road. The rest of what Paul knows about Jesus is what others told him. It appears that Paul’s vision changed Paul from being a hunter of Christians to presenting himself with the label of Christian. Paul’s ego, however, never wavered.

Consider the following examples. Paul writes “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.” (1 Corinthians 11:1) He doesn’t tell people to be imitators of Jesus. No, he has to pull the focus to himself. Does he understand Jesus’ message of humility? Nope, he goes all in: (Galatians 2:20) “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.” Paul draws the focus to himself in the guise of telling others that when you see him (Paul), you are seeing Jesus. This is a level of ego mania I don’t see in Jesus.

I suppose I would be fine looking past the ego of the individual if the message was compatible. Jesus taught his followers and disciples to comply with what is commanded from the scribes and Pharisees who sit in the chair of Moses. However, Jesus went further to say “Do as they say, not as they do.” Jesus described the leaders as preaching what they themselves do not practice. Jesus taught his followers to treat one another as equals, with nobody better, higher, or more authoritative. “But as for you, do not be called Teacher; for only God is your Teacher, and you are all brothers and sisters.” (Matthew 23:8). How does Paul handle this topic? Well, if you believe Paul wrote first Timothy, “I was appointed as a preacher and an apostle -I am telling the truth, I am not lying-, as a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.” (1 Timothy 2:7) This would mean that Paul is claiming to be God. So much for humility…again.

Love unconditionally. That is a foundational message of Jesus. Turn the other cheek. Love your enemy. Help those who oppose you. On and on, Jesus tells us to not be judgmental. Yes, Paul writes that if someone says anything that does not agree with Paul’s words, Paul invokes God that they be under God’s curse. (Galacians 1:8)

Love unconditionally includes not being racist or sexist. Jesus never taught sexism. While the gospels seem to be thin on Jesus’ interactions with women, every story shows Jesus treating them equally. Jesus talks about his “brothers and sisters” not just his brothers. Paul is not so considerate. 1 Timothy 2:8-15 is pretty harsh with many “I want…” and “I do not allow…”. Paul demands women be seen and not heard… with entire submissiveness.

Then there is the discrepancy between who goes to heaven. Jesus says only the people who do the will of God will enter heaven. (Matthew 7:21) Paul pronounces that faith alone will save you. (see Romans 10:13, Ephesians 2:8)

God’s mercy? Jesus tells us God will judge us on how we judge others. How we treat others is how God will treat us. “Blessed are the merciful for they will be shown mercy. (Matthew 5:7) Paul, on the other hand, teaches that God will do as God pleases, and mercy, from the perspective of a human is at best random.

What I conclude from my side-by-side comparison of Jesus and Paul, they are not the same. Jesus, for the most part, practices what he preaches. Paul contradicts Jesus and tries to draw focus on Paul himself.  Why are none of the letters of Paul in this version of the bible? Perhaps it is because of the difficulty I face with Paul and his message.

Thursday, June 8, 2023

Is COD deism?

I've been told I am simply a deist, someone who believes God exists, but beyond creating this world has no involvement in it. I disagree. I've been told God is involved in every aspect of every person and thing in this world at all times. I disagree. I may be wrong. Instead, I think there is a middle ground where God is most likely to be found.

Once again, it is not possible for me to know the details of God beyond what I have observed and been told. Once again, I'm going to try anyway.

I like the analogy of a child playing with a toy. Without reading too much into the concept of play or toy, the analogy has some merit.  People play with their toys in different ways depending on their goals and objectives. How they play with them says something about the person.

Imagine a collection of toys. Imagine some person made all of those toys. 

  • The first toy is a stuffed animal. Imagine once the stuffed animal it made, it was tossed in a toy box and ignored from that day on. 
  • Another toy is made. It is a wooden car with wheels that spin. The toy is then allowed to roll down a ramp or hill on its own as the person watches it from the starting point. 
  • Now, imagine the next toy made is a doll. It also gets tossed in the toy box, but every now and then gets pulled out and played with. This toy is held in different poses and made to move in ways the person wants the toy to move in.
  • Next is a ball.  The person plays with the ball by making it spin on the tip of his finger like a basketball player may do with a basketball. The person watches it carefully, observing the speed of the spin, any wobble that may happen, and anything else that might make the ball fall off their finger. On occasions, the person interacts with the spinning ball by brushing their other hand against it to add more energy to the spin to keep it going.
  • Finally, a watch. The person pays attention to every gear and every dial to ensure everything is working perfectly. If a speck of dust falls on a dial, the person removes it. If a gear needs grease, the person is ready with some grease to fix the issue. Nothing escapes the ever vigilant eye of the watch maker.
The "stuffed animal" god is what I call a deist. Many christians think of god as the watch maker. My suspicion is God falls into the basketball category. God is ever vigilant on all the details, but performs actions that move the whole to the desired outcome by specific actions that impact other elements which in turn accomplishes the bigger picture. God doesn't run around doing many different tasks for individuals and their personal needs. Those needs factor into the bigger picture and may, as a element of a greater whole, be addressed using a broader stroke. The difference between the basketball and the watch is the degree of response to individual needs independent of the bigger picture.

The added spin God gives the basketball seems to be reasonably consistent. Whenever this world needs attention, the solution is for God to remind us to love one another. The message has been with teachers and prophets telling us to do so or, in some cases, risk something bad happening. Sometimes it has been to show us how beneficial loving one another is for us. Sometimes, we get a gentle spanking or scolding to remind us to change our ways. But the message seems to be consistently the same: love unconditionally.

It is one message, spoken different ways at different times to accomplish one goal. We do this by showing God we are grateful for the creation by treating it as God wants us to treat it: with love.

Wednesday, June 7, 2023

What does God want?

 What do we know about God?

We’ve been told there is only one god. We’ve been taught that God is a loving, personal god who listens to our prayers. We’ve described God as all powerful, all present, and all knowing. I suspect this is not the correct description of God.

Ask, and you shall receive. God is listening and answers our prayers. As a child, I asked for a million dollars. I guess I should have included “right now” in my request. In a similar vein, I know others have asked to stop their suffering and their prayers seem to be answered with equal frequency. When prayers appear to go unanswered, the proposed rationale is that God works in mysterious ways. Is God really listening? Does he answer our prayers or is the frequency of our prayers being answered closer to random chance?

Perhaps we should start with what we know about God. God created the intangible and the tangible (heaven and earth). God created light and shadows. God created land and water. God, we can say, created diversity and a spectrum of degrees between the two extremes.

God spoke to Adam and Eve. God spoke to Abraham and Moses. God did not speak to the rest of the Hebrews. It appears that God picks a person or perhaps a small handful of people at any given point in time and has that person pass along God’s message. What this tells me about God is God wants us to know something at various points in time. Since God has a messenger to spread God’s message instead of simply telling everyone all at once makes me suspect God lacks the ability to talk to everyone all at once.

Using Occam’s Razor as a guide, God does not get involved with the minutiae of the creation but has a continued interest in the creation itself. As the whole of creation is constantly changing, the more reasonable explanation for God’s continued interest is to watch the evolution of the creation. God’s occasional interaction suggests God wants something and interaction is needed to achieve that something.

Let me jump out on a limb here and suggest God wants to see how the creation will evolve and change over what we perceive as time. For the creation to collapse and end would be counter to God’s will. This would explain how various people over time have presented a message from God and why I didn’t get a million dollars as a child. God’s involvement with the creation is similar to a person spinning a ball on the tip of their finger.  Once it is spinning, it will remain spinning for some time.  Occasionally, the person needs to add a bit of energy to the spinning ball by brushing their other hand against the ball. Perhaps God needs to be slightly involved to have the creation in general do what God wants from it.

So, then, what does God want? Why does God need to talk to various people over the history of mankind? What does God need from us? If God’s goal is to keep the creation going and humans can have a huge impact on this planet, perhaps God talks to us to have us keep this planet alive and productive. Again, the answer may be hidden in what God has told Adam and Eve, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, Mohammad, the Dalai Lama, and others. The message is fairly consistent: Love unconditionally. The way it is presented may change and the choice of words may differ, but the underlying message is consistent. God needs us to stop discriminating against one another, to stop hurting one another, and to instead love, care, and support one another. PERIOD. FULL STOP.

Why does God need us to love unconditionally? I haven’t a clue.

Friday, June 2, 2023

Why baptism?


Purpose: Wash away sin and to wash away the person's pre-conversion life as they transition to a "christian life".

History: John the Baptist performed the ritual before christianity began. Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist. Jews use a mikvah for ritual cleansing.

However, we have no record of Jesus ever baptizing anyone, recommending baptism, or ensuring anyone was baptized.

Okay. Let's go through some of this. We're taught that we only have one baptism for the remission of sin.  (Remission: cancellation or forgiveness).Wash away sin? Do I have to be baptized every time I need to be cleansed of my sin or is it an act that is only done once per person?  Only once?, then why do I have to do it? Why not simply repent and ask God for forgiveness? That's all a person has to do all the other times.

Proclamation of a transition from an old life to "a life in Christ"? Isn't that "confirmation"? Do we have to transition twice?

Infant baptism? How can an infant confirm their commitment to a christian life? Or is infant baptism simply a little presumptuous for parents to give their child a bath in public?

I'm not sure baptism is all that important for someone to live their life according to God's message.

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

The bible is unnecessary, because...

Like Jesus, I like my collection of pithy quotes. Take for example "Nobody talks about purple polka dotted grass." It's a great statement to remind myself, and those I've discussed it with, that the person I'm referring to has been thinking of what they are discussing. Nobody talks about something that isn't on their mind.

I cannot remember the first time I used that phrase. I certainly cannot recall the comment the person made that led me to creating "purple polka dotted grass".  I'm even more certain that the person I told it to the first time has no clue I had created on the spot for that conversation. Moreover, I have no clue how often I have used the phase or how often others have mentioned it to me. I've even heard people use the phrase when talking to other people who have heard it. Moreover, I've heard people tell people of some of my pithy sayings, sometimes out of context with the original meaning (but nonetheless close enough to apply). It is clear that, even in my lifetime, people are repeating what I have said and applying it to new/similar circumstances.

I was reading the bible today and saw a number of sayings of Jesus prefaced by some situation.  That made me wonder... Was the scenario in the bible the original scenario that generated the saying or was it a later example that is simply similar? Like people twisting my words slightly to fit the new circumstance, did the evangelists of old do the same with what Jesus said? Did they even know what the original scenario or care?  Did they instead, like people around me, apply the pithy saying to a circumstance they felt it related to?

Sometimes, changing the scenario changes the impact or scope of a saying. This made me consider what would happen if I ignored the prefix/scenario and concentrated on the pithy saying alone. Would I be better off simply collecting the pithy sayings without the background story that generates it. It is reasonable to assume the background story presented in the bible could be completely unrelated to the reason Jesus created/used his pithy words. The easy answer is removing context entirely removes useful information.

Having said all of that, my mind is drawn to a Big Bang Theory television episode where it was determined that Indiana Jones was not needed for the outcome of the story, even though he was the main character of the film. Is the work I was doing having an impact on the outcome? Does the bible matter?

Consider the following questions:

Who is Jesus?  Is he:

1. Another word for God
2. The trinity, as in simply another facet of God
3. A distinct, but connected element of a holy trinity
4. Another god... perhaps a lesser god
5. Half god/half human with all the powers of god
6. Born human, but God elevated Jesus to god
7. Born human, but God elevated Jesus to a divine being (less than "god")
8. Human, but God controlled him (like a puppet)
9. Human and God spoke to Jesus, enabling him to perform god-like powers
10. Human and God inspired him, but Jesus had his own will to choose to comply
11. Human who was well informed by others (not God) about what to teach
12. Human with awareness of the sociological and ethical issues and created a solution
13. ?myth? never existed? Everything about Jesus is made up?

Question number 2. Do you believe in salvation by faith alone?

If you answered question one with anything between 1 and 8, and answered question two with a yes, then why should you care what the bible says? Why care about the pithy sayings at all? A god has told you that if you believe in them, you are saved.  What else is there? All the bible stories and commandments matter for nothing because salvation is promised by one able to grant it simply because you believe in them. Throw the bible out and get on with your life. The rest of the bible has no impact on your outcome.

On the other hand, if Jesus existed as a human (9-12) and/or salvation is through good works, then defining "good works" matters. Knowing what Jesus said is the proper behavior matters. Knowing what scenarios need to be associated to which pithy saying matters. Knowing the context matters.

Unfortunately, if my own pithy sayings are misapplied, even in my own lifetime, how can I trust Jesus' sayings would remain sacred and accurate through decades of retelling and centuries of transcriptions. Identifying what he really said and the context he said it in matters more to those who don't fall into the first group. To these followers, the bible matters.

What was it like back then?

consider the following possibility...


Many cultures were travelling around the eastern mediterranean around the time of Jesus.  There were three major cultures present: Greek City-State, the Roman Empire, and the Jewish Temple-State.  None of these were working efficiently at the time.

The various cultures lived in semi-isolated groups within cities trying to keep their culture/history alive.

This produces an environment of tension, bigotry and racism.  

Along came Jesus.  He was (most likely) a reformed rabbi who saw the problems caused by the cultural clashes and wanted to teach people how to get along in peace and harmony.


Prior to Alexander the Great, there were three models which societies would use to structure themselves. Yes, there are others, but these three are most predominate in the time of Jesus.

Let's call the first one the "Ancient Near-Eastern Temple State". Every city had its own god (maybe more) who ruled the citizens of the city. Assyrians, Babylonians, Canaanites, and Judeans are familiar examples. Common in these temple-states was social stratification (power vs purity, or king and high priest) and some form of scribe would mediate between the two organizations. This was the culture of the jews before the first destruction of the temple. There was one high priest for all of Judea.

Then there was the polis or Greek City-State. The polis was a creation of the Greek spirit of independence and free thinking as well as the practical need for aristocratic clan leadership. The Hellenistic approach was to push the control of government down to the city level. Each city choose what type of government they wanted, from democracy, monarchy, oligarchy, or tyranny to name the most common. What they had in common was the sense of rejection to a large, national dictator predetermining how they are ruled.

And, of course, we cannot overlook the roman republic. This social system, based on patricians and senators, demanded order from all within their domain.

When I look at the United States, I see a similar behavior: cultures moving about and coming in contact with one another, each wanting to maintain what they have. When that interferes with another culture, conflict increases. I've often said people raise their "voice" when they don't feel heard. If someone's culture is being ignored, pushed aside, or otherwise not honored as the people of that culture expect, the tendency is to push back. In the US, we tend to deal with pockets of cultural infusion at any time.  The western mediterranean area must have been overwhelmed by all three of these cultures clashing everywhere all at once.

In the meantime, the Jewish temple state was undergoing change as well. After the hasmonean rulers attempted to integrate Greek ideas, the more "pure temple-state priests" pushed back harder. This lead to the pharisees, who wanted to push back time and integration to their more familiar world. These separatists developed schools of ethics, piety and politics based on the law of Moses to counter the changing environment leading away and towards Hellenistic practices.

This "raised voice" began to divide the Jews into those moving towards new practices and those wanting to keep their culture intacted and unchanged. Needless to say, there was a vast amount of diversity in the area at the time of Jesus.

Like the current United States, I'm certain that groups would cluster tightly together in small micro-cultures. Just as we have the chinatowns, Japan towns, little Italy, and more, people wanting to preserve their culture will band together in small tight communities. As these communities bump into one another, the chance of conflict increases. Once that conflict has gone on more than a generation, people forget what caused the conflict and simply integrate the hatred and animosity into their daily lives.

This is the world Jesus was born into. This, therefore, is the underlying world Jesus worked with as he preached a message of love. To this chaos, he taught the following three things:

  1. The notion of a perfect society conceptualized as a kingdom
  2. ANY individual was fit for this kingdom
  3. That the kingdom should be a mix of people (ethnic, cultural, etc)
Needless to say, but this message did not sit well with people trying to enforce their cultural beliefs or even those who simply wanted everyone else to just go away.

Friday, March 10, 2023

Musings on the deification of Jesus

 I wrote the following notes back in April 2005.  At some point in the near future, I should review it and see if I am still aligned with it...

Is God a trinity?  Should we honor Jesus as an equal third of a trinity?

To begin, let's first examine the nature of God and God's creation: Is God an artisan or a parent?  Did God create the world, as the Jewish faith proclaims, like a painter brushing oils upon a canvas?  Or, is God more like a parent who births the world by copying, or replicating, God's own essence into everything (as the Greek philosophers' would have us believe.)

This question is crucial, as the ramifications produce entirely different views of religion.  If we were to accept the parent explanation, God donates a part of himself to the creation.  Another way of looking at this is God duplicates himself, or part thereof, like a cell, cloning himself in the creation process.  If this view is accepted, then all of creation is God.  If this is true, then we are all begotten of God and Jesus would be nothing more than another part of God's essence. (This does deify Jesus by deifying everything God begot, including us.)

On the other hand, if the Jewish perspective were to be considered, God was more of an artisan.  God created everything out of nothing.  God willed the world into existence.  The world had a point where it came into existence.  It had a beginning.  God is different because God has no beginning.

If God is a parent, then humans do not need salvation.  Jesus would never have considered mentioning salvation if we all are part of the essence of God.  If God is a artist, then we, his creation, have fallen short of the glory of God.  Salvation would have meaning.

Arius wondered: "If the Father had begotten the Son, he who had been begotten had a beginning, and therefore there must have been a time when the Son did not exist."

Like us, Jesus was one of God's artistic creations.  Like us, Jesus has a beginning.  Like us, Jesus does not know everything that God knows.  For example, Jesus points out in Mark 13:32 that only God knows when the world will end, and that Jesus does not know this information.  In John 14:28, Jesus points out that God is greater than Jesus.  Jesus even points out that, like a puppet, God commands Jesus on what to say in John 12:49.  If the Gospels don't spell it out directly enough, there is always the first of the ten commandments: "You shall have no other gods before me."

Jesus even spelled it out clearly when he said that we should "love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength."  Jesus did not say, love the trinity, or love me, or even love the essence of God.  On the contrary, Jesus separates God from God's creation with the golden rule.

Is Jesus part of God?  No more than we are part of God.  Jesus was, like us, God's creation.  Jesus falls short of the power of God.  But is Jesus a god?  The first of the ten commandments implies that there are other gods.  Could Jesus be one of these gods?  That is very possible.  Any case, Jesus is less than God (capital "G").  Think of Jesus as a "lesser god".

It would appear that Jesus was aware of the greek perspective (god as a creative parent).