On Biblical Standards and Natural Understanding

The Bible is a volume of writings which were hand selected (and in some cases hand edited) by the early Roman Church in the 4th century CE, and subsequently deemed as the exclusive and sacred word of God. About a thousand years later, these same writings were divided and organized into chapters, verses, and into a two fold division of an “Old” and a “New” Testament. The earlier major section of these writings reflects the personal, social, and religious values of a relatively isolated, desert people of an era of some two millenniums past; whereas the latter section reflects the ethical values of the Greco-Roman era of a slightly later time. The latter section likewise seems to serve as the subtext for a 2nd CE struggle between two general factions of the then recently conceived religious movement known as Christianity.

Each of the two major sections of the Bible center upon creative tales and embellished claims of the development of a select chosen people of God into an influential and powerful collective. In the first major section, that collective was visualized as the great and powerful nation of Israel. In the latter section, the collective so visualized was the institutional Church. There is a sense of validity to the existence of the respective collectives themselves, though in each case the chronology of the claimed circumstances are debatable, and the actual extent of influence and affluence are seemingly overstated, that is if taken literally.

The writings of the former major section are primarily composed of ancient Hebrew mythology, poetry, preaching, and the biased, fanciful tales of the over exaggerated national empire heretofore mentioned. The humble state of the allegedly once significant people is attributed to sin and faithlessness of the people themselves.

Meanwhile, the latter major section (evidently written primarily in the 2nd century CE) opens with the narrative of a wildly popular itinerant preacher who captured the interest and following of the local peasants, who conversely drew the ire of the religious establishment of the day, and who eventually was executed as a blasphemer. This young cleric’s claims of an impending apocalyptic crisis, coupled with the conclusion to the narrative being an empty grave and a claim that he was resurrected, lead to ever evolving claims of immortality, ascension, and even deity.

Although the content of the biblical narratives are primarily mythical tales, nonetheless there is no denying their worldwide influence even to this day. The first major section of the Bible is the forerunner for and serves as the foundation of the three major global monotheistic religions; namely Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The latter major section though is primarily the domain of the numerous sects of the Christian religion. In this respect, the influence of these texts in a variety of cultures simply cannot be overstated or underestimated.

Perhaps the most profound such influences have been realized in the realm of social relations. The adaptation of ancient thinking and harsh standards to modern societies has involved a predictable share of problems and unfavorable influence. Unfortunately, a number of unseemly social and systemic issues which plague contemporary cultures have precedent in and therefore may be founded upon biblical ideology.

Such include:

Patriarchy, Sexism, and Misogyny.
State sanctioned murder (aka Death Penalty, Capital Punishment)
Theocratic justifiable murder
Infanticide
Genocide
Religious Bigotry
Institutional Slavery/Exploitation of Labor
Sex Slavery
Militarism
Imperialism
Colonialism
Homophobia
Xenophobia

This list is not necessarily totally exclusive, and by all means some the of cited issues may overlap with each other. For example, the Old Testament authorized (even commanded) that non virgin newlywed wives should be executed for crimes against Israel. Such would constitute both Misogyny and Capital Punishment, which are each social issues to themselves, but in this case, they clearly overlap. There are several other such instances, but this example suffices for the moment.

The presumption then that biblical writings are of a sacred nature unfortunately can leave the false impression that the thinking of the people and the way of life of those depicted in biblical literature are somehow just and correct simply as a matter of record. And so to many people, mere biblical statements and examples are their basis to justify debatable social practices. And so, one might quote “an eye for an eye” to justify Capital Punishment, or “if any will not work, neither let him eat” to justify cutting funding for Food Stamps, with no need for further deliberation or alternative considerations. There is undoubtedly a “the Bible says it, that settles it” mentality among a large demographic of our society, but such is based upon the heretofore mentioned presumption that biblical writings are sacred in and of themselves.

Now, to be certain as to the matter; not all Jews, Muslims, and/or Christians are bigoted, homophobic, or misogynists; and for that demographic of religious monotheists I have the utmost respect. It is not easy for a Christian to take a “live and let live” perspective with regards to the LGBTQ community while they hear homophobic propaganda from their Preachers, nor is it easy for peaceful Muslims to conduct their lives while being slandered for the deeds of extremists Islamists. But the fact remains that the social values of many monotheists; especially here in the Southern region of the US, are based upon the social values of a desert people from an isolated region of over 2,000 years ago.

And thus the conclusion of the matter at hand:

Shall we, as individuals and as collective societies, base our standards upon our own natural understanding of “right and wrong”, or shall we allow our natural senses to be influenced by ancient writings from harsh and somewhat barbaric cultures? Shall we trust our common sense and natural sense of compassion as a moral guide, or shall we trust the harsh standards of a people of antiquity?

I suggest that such queries are not so much a matter of faith or religious ideology, but a much more basic reality of natural existence and common sense.

As for me, I choose to trust my own natural understandings.

But to each their own.

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Absurdism and Appendix-itus in Ecclesiastes

The Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes merits high marks in my opinion for its philosophical perspective of Absurdism, and its antidotal remedy of apathetic moderation.

The author of the early portion of Ecclesiastes is a realist, one who accepts the finite nature of all life, and thus one who realizes the futility in getting too caught up in the frustrating experience of the human condition. His acceptance of Absurdism as expressed in terms of “emptiness, emptiness, all is emptiness” could not have been expressed any clearer than by Camus; whereas his advised remedy “to eat, drink, and be happy” is Dudeism 101 as portrayed in “The Big Lebowski”.

Sadly enough, the afterthoughts of the author of the Appendix are a real buzzkill to the actual summary of the original author. The whole “fear God and keep his commandments for this is the whole duty of man” concept is the supplemental commentary of someone who read the text and realized that “alas, this ain’t theology”; and so with a few scratches of the pen, a wonderfully fulfilling humanist existential writing fell prey to your stereotypical theological indoctrinating humdrum.

If ever there was a case of literary homicide by Appendix-itus; then such is the case of the latter verses of the book of Ecclesiastes.

The original text of Ecclesiastes, as concluded in 12:8; offers such deep, real life existential insights, then only to be later diluted by the imaginative indoctrinating theology of a “text tamperer” in the verses that follow.

I suppose that such is only fitting when considered in the framework of the content and the message of the unknown, existential author of Ecclesiastes; “because sometimes a man who has toiled with wisdom, and knowledge, and skill must leave all to be enjoyed by a man who does not toil for it… and who knows whether he will be a wise man or a fool?”.

What a pity.

“Emptiness, emptiness, all is emptiness”…..

On Ruism and Humanism

Confucianist Ruism and Secular Humanism share common ground in that each ideology maintains that the human being is naturally equipped with the capacity to be kind, courteous, caring and compassionate. In essence, the theory is that goodness is naturally developed from within rather than being driven into the person from without.

The Confucian Ruist then does not depend upon being motivated or moved by an exterior being, but rather trusts the natural inner feelings of compassion and concern for others as an effectual guide for establishing a personal code of ethics (Note: The very term “Ru” means softness).

I believe this quality is very well termed by the Asian Studies scholar Philip Ivanhoe when he describes Confucian ethics as “virtue ethics”. Indeed, Confucian Ruism is the theory that all people have within the natural virtues necessary to be humane and to live in peace and harmony.

And so the daily walk of the Confucian Ruist and the Secular Humanist is that of seeking to cultivate and develop our natural virtues from within as we socially engage and casually interact with others without.

For such is the good and natural way of the person who trusts our natural sensitivity and softness as a reliable and reasonable social guide.

The “Me Within Me”

The Confucian thinker Mencius said “All humanity has the mind which cannot bear to see the suffering of others”
(Mencius 2A.6)

My thoughts:

Introspection is the key,
To realize the “Me Within Me”
A common mind we all share,
Upright, sincere, and based on care.

This mind I often throw away,
And act contrary to the Way.
This mind distressed at the pain of another,
I cherish more than any other.

On The Root of Humaneness and The Rudiments of Harmony

The Confucian thinker Mencius maintained that “all things are complete in oneself”. Confucius himself said that “Humanity is born with uprightness”.

It seems to me that within each person is the root of humaneness and the rudiments of a peaceful and harmonious way. The cultivation of such qualities is a daily endeavor accompanied by a host of distractions and obstructions.

I sincerely maintain that the cultivation of our nobler qualities, which should be our primary effort according to Mencius, is the most natural of all experiences and the most necessary of personal endeavors.

A daily work in progress.

The Practical And Adaptive Nature of Confucian Humanism

Among the qualities of Confucianism which appeal to me are the personal and practical nature of its teachings, and the ease with which such may be adapted to any circumstance or situation.

Confucianism is the self awareness of our natural qualities; and the subsequent application of such in any and all settings. In fact, when one comprehends the reality that the Confucian way is merely adaptation to and abiding in accord with the nature of all reality, then we can understand that the Way is not only always with us; but that in fact the Way is within us.

As Confucius said, “Humanity is born with uprightness” (Analects 6.17). And as Mencius said “All things are complete in oneself” (Mencius 7A.4). Again, Mencius said that “All humanity has the mind which cannot bear to see the suffering of others” (Mencius 2A.6).

The fact that such qualities are natural to our very being, and the fact that “all things are complete in oneself” then it follows that the realization of such is based upon a deriving such from within, rather than having these qualities driven in from without. Hence; the 12th Century Confucian Lu Hsiang-Shan said “Principle is endowed in me by Nature, not drilled into me from outside”. Thus, the Confucian way is to “build up the nobler part of our nature” (Mencius 6A.15) by way of honest introspection and sincere application of such in any and all settings in our lives.

And so it is that the Confucian way is merely self awareness of our natural humane qualities; and sincere application of such in our everyday lives.

The Confucian way then is applicable in any situation, and is adaptable to any setting.

Hence, when one looks within, and realizes our natural sensitivity for the feelings of all beings, and responds accordingly, then we are better people for the experience.

Confucianism is about human relations, regardless of the setting.

Confucianism is about self cultivation, and subsequent social engagement based upon a natural kindness and courtesy which is natural to our being.

The Confucian way is to be the best family member, citizen, employee, supervisor, neighbor, and friend; not due to rules and regulations, but rather based upon the realization that such is natural to our very being.

It is my personal view then that self cultivation is the most natural of all experiences, and the most noble of all endeavors.

And such is the Confucian way.

“If you can renovate yourself one day, then you can do so every day, and keep doing so day after day” (King T’ang of the Shang Dynasty)

On The Mind Which Cannot Bear The Suffering of Others (Mencius 2A.6)

From the moment of my birth I have been sensitive to discomfort of any degree, and have from that very moment asserted my will to seek comfort as my preferred state of being.

From an early age I was sensitive to the suffering of other sentient beings. The cry of a stray dog in pain or suffering would have been such a discomfort to my inner being, that my own comfort would have depended upon the comfort of that dog.

I aspire to never lose my original mind which has always had such an aversion to discomfort that my own comfort depends upon the comfort of others.

I cannot help but believe that everyone is born with this same natural aversion to discomfort of any degree for self and others, yet I can only speak for myself in so affirming that such was the case for me.

In the words of the Confucian scholar Mencius (371-289BCE):

“All people have the mind which cannot bear to see the suffering of others”

“The good person is the one who does not lose his originally good child’s heart”

The Individual, Civilization, and Moral Goodness

Per the reasoning of many Christians (not all, but many), it would seem that atheists should murder, plunder, and steal at will, yet such has never been the case as a general rule. Granted, there are Atheists who do harm to their fellow human being, yet I am unaware of any evidence that they do so more than any other demographic representatives of the human race.

Now, my observation regarding such is that people seem to be naturally equipped to know how to treat each other kindly, courteously, and decently; although some admittedly choose to do otherwise. Yet in a collective sense, as in any given society, most people have figured out a way to do so in a civilized manner. Furthermore, in these societies, those who choose to live otherwise almost always represent extreme exceptions to the general practices of the society so represented. (This is one of the reasons I attempt to avoid grouping and classifying various religions and or cultures based upon the doings of extremists within their respective ideology. For those who practice violence are almost always the extreme exception to the general lifestyle of the overall majority within any respective group/culture. This was true of even Nazi Germany, and I don’t doubt this rings true for most any society one could consider)

Now, in light of the various and differing religions, ideologies, cultural distinctions, economic theories, social theories, and political ideologies ever present in any and every culture which has or ever will exist, the fact that most people within any such respective culture figure out a way to live together in peace and harmony, leads me to conclude that separate from each respective cultural ideology of all societies of all time, there seem to be qualities of humanness which are universal to our species, which serve as a foundation for peaceful and harmonious relationships.

Such as they are, these are my thoughts on the matter of individuals, civilizations and morality.

On Our Innate Qualities Of Social Behavior

I find the following two common philosophies among many Christians disturbing:

1. That every person is born in sin.
2. And/or that humans are somehow incapable of distinguishing right from wrong on our own, without some external aid from a celestial deity.

I find both premises lack merit, and quite frankly make no sense.

Every thing that exists has principle and function.

A rock has the natural qualities of a rock, and albeit its function may be dormant; nonetheless the rock provides a surface for things of different qualities to rest upon. To that end the rock is naturally equipped.

A tree has the natural qualities of a tree, and among its functions are those of being a source of feeding and shade. To those ends the tree is naturally equipped.

Water has the natural qualities of water, and it functions to provide sustenance and life for many beings; including our own species. To a variety of such ends, water is naturally equipped.

Humans have the natural qualities of humanness, and among our functions is that of social behavior. To that end we humans are naturally equipped.

To conclude otherwise would make no sense.

How is that, that of all the myriad of things in all the universe, we; who appear to be of the highest degree of level of communication, creativity, and compassion; are somehow incapable of one of our most basic functions, that of social behavior, without some external aid of an alleged celestial deity?

I maintain that everything that naturally exists, is naturally equipped with certain distinctive qualities to function so as to effect certain basic principles, which are unique to each such thing.

To conclude otherwise with reference to a mere one among the incalculable things in all the known universe, simply makes no sense to me.

Hence I conclude, that we humans are naturally equipped with all necessary qualities to distinguish right from wrong, which is of course a most basic aspect of proper social behavior.

And thus my personal perspective is, that the cultivation of my natural qualities of goodness, is both the most natural of all endeavors, and the most noble of all efforts.

Why Do Atheists Debate The Topic of God

Today, I was challenged on a discussion board as to why we Atheists debate the topic of God, since we don’t believe in such. My response:

I can understand your perspective. There is a side of me that would just go on with my life and not ever address the topic. For those who do so, I tip my hat to them. But there are many reasons why I personally pursue the topic (I speak just for myself):

1. The concept of God has historically been a propaganda tool. I grew up learning about “Westward Expansion” and “Manifest Destiny'”; instead of being taught about imperialism, torture, enslavement, and genocide. To me, accurate history is important, hence a realistic perspective as to our national sins of the past 500 years will be helpful to hopefully guide us to a more humane way of life in the fortunately

2. In that regard, unfortunately, the concept of God is a contemporary political tool; both in our country and elsewhere. And when I say a political tool, I mean a tool which results in and which justifies inflicting suffering. So long as monotheism continues, then god might as well be alive to represent the nationalist zealots who support torture and killing in order to “protect their way of life’. If that “way of life” is perceived to be “God blessed”, then the concept of God is detrimental to peace, harmony, and good health.

3. People kill in the name of God. So long as the concept of God is unchecked, unaddressed, and unopposed, then people will go on killing in the name of their gods.

4. The concept of God is the justification for many racisms and bigotries. So long as there is homophobia and misogyny in the name of God, then the concept of God continues to play a role in subjugating minorities and justifying the denial of basic human rights to all.

Concl: The issue from my perspective regarding my personal quest to reason and dialogue regarding “god”; is not that which is not real (God); the issue is that which is all too real: Revisionist history, justified ongoing human atrocities in the way of war, murder, torture, homophobia, sexism, and many other such bigotries; IN THE NAME OF GODS.

So long as such continues, I personally feel morally obligated to to do what I can to reason against ignorance, and to attempt to be the best person I know how in the process.