Sunday, September 17, 2006

The Case for Something Instead of Nothing

"I find it quite improbable that such order came out of chaos. There has to be some organizing principle.

God to me is a mystery but is the explanation for the miracle of existence, why there is something instead of nothing."
Dr. Alan Sandage - an American astronomer.

Why is there something instead of nothing? Why are we here? What is the meaning of life? What is my purpose? These are enduring questions that mankind has been asking himself since the dawn of time. Up until about a hundred and fifty years ago man thought he had the answer. The answer was God or the gods. The secular humanist revolution of the 19th century spurred on in part by the likes of Marx and Darwin has in effect pushed God out of the picture, prefering the chaos of random chance as the only rational explanation to these questions. But is it really rational?

Dr Alan Sandage, whom I quoted above, was born of Jewish background, but at age 60 became a Christian. He is not the only scientist who became a believer in Jesus Christ as God incarnate. One of the most famous is geneticist Francis Collins, the scientist who mapped the human genome. In the mid 70's Collins, a self described "obnoxious athiest" was surprised by the serene faith of the terminally ill patients he encountered during his medical residency. With his faith in "nothing" shaken he sought a consultation with a local minister who knew just the ticket... He handed Collins a book called "Mere Christianity" written by the most famous athiest to Christian convert of the 20th century - the one and only, C.S. Lewis. Dr. Collins put his science and his faith on the line in his own recently published book called "The Language of God".

"The Case for Christianity" the first volume of the collection that eventually became "Mere Christianity" is a gem of a book. C.S. Lewis has a remarkable way of making complex issues understandable. At the end of the first chapter Lewis lays out the scope of his argument: "First, that human beings, all over the earth, have this curious idea that they ought to behave in a certain way, and cannot really get rid of it. Secondly, that they do not in fact behave in that way. They know the Law of Nature; they break it. These two facts are the foundation of all clear thinking about ourselves and the universe we live in". It is true that all cultures throughout history have had such a moral code and those codes are remarkably similar.

If we start with the premise as Lewis does that there is an unwritten Law of Right and Wrong, Law of Human Nature, Code of Decent Behavior, a Moral Code or whatever you want to call it then logic and reason demand that it came from somewhere. Since it is not merely instinct and it transcends all cultures and all time it can't be simply "learned" then one concludes it was given to us by something, someone, - perhaps God???

Here I will step through the main points of C.S. Lewis' remarkable little book:

* * *
There exists an innate Law of Right and Wrong, Moral Code or Law of Human Nature that dictates how we "ought" to act and behave. The way we behave in fact is generally at odds with this Law. This Law had to have come from Somewhere or Something.

* * *
The universe we live in either exists for no reason or there is a power or "mind" behind it. There is but one entity that can even pose this question via the observation of the universe and everything in it, that would be man. LEWIS: "If there is a controlling power outside the universe it could not show itself as one of the facts inside the universe... The only way in which it could expect to show itself would to be inside of us as to influence or a command trying to get us to behave in a certain way. And that's just what we do find inside us." (The Moral Code)

* * *
The power behind the universe is either a Duality as in a Light/Good force and a Dark/Bad force or it is a Singularity where one force precedes the other. In the case for the Duality both Light and Dark are equal but separate and both forces believes itself to be good and righteous while the other is bad and evil; the two are locked in an endless battle. In the case for the Singularity the Dark force has fallen away from the Light.

* * *
Badness/evil for it's own sake is insufficient since being in a state of existence is itself a good thing. To pursue badness takes intelligence and will, both of which are good. It follows that badness is only spoiled goodness. LEWIS: "And you begin to see why Christianity has always said that the devil was a fallen angel... It's a real recognition of the fact that evil is a parasite, not an original thing... the thing that enables something to be effectively bad are in themselves good things - resolution, cleaverness, good looks and existence itself. That's why Dualism in a strict sense, won't work."

The Dark Power in the universe - a mighty evil who holds the power behind death and disease and sin was created by the Power behind the Good, which we call God Himself. The Dark Power was created by God and was a good when it was created and went wrong. The universe is at war with itself, but it is not a war of equal and independent powers. It is a civil war, a rebellion and the world we live in is occupied territory, occupied by the rebel, Satan himself.

LEWIS: "Christianity is the story of how the rightful King has landed, you might say landed in disguise... Christians then believe that an evil power has made himself for the present the Prince of this World." Then how can the absolute Power allow something so contrary to His will? God created things which have a free will, free to go right or wrong. And why would God give us free will? LEWIS: "Because a free will, though it makes evil possible is also the only thing that makes possible any sort of love or goodness or joy worth having... When we've understood about free will we shall see why it is silly to ask: Why did God create a creature of such rotten stuff that it went wrong?"

LEWIS: "How did the Dark Power go wrong? Because the moment you have a sense of self at all, there is a possibility of putting yourself first - wanting to be at the center - wanting to be God, in fact. That was the sin of Satan: that was the sin of the human race..." Satan, the devil, the Dark Power - put into the heads of our ancient ancestors that they too could be Gods. That they could invent some sort of happiness outside of God, apart from God.

The problem becomes that since we were created to "run" on God we don't run properly without him. He is the fuel of our spirits like gasoline is to a car. Despite all the terrific things man has accomplished throughout the centuries something always goes wrong. The people who rise to the top with their power, wealth and influence develop the fatal flaws of selfishness or cruelty and a people or a society falls into misery and ruin.

God is absolute goodness and imbued in us this Moral Code, the Law of Right and Wrong so that we can be good as well in order to be "with" Him. Since we, as fallen men under the yoke of the Dark Power holding this Earth in it's grips, fall short and do not live up to this Law we lose favor with Him. Christianity is the story of God's plan to save us from the emptyness of life without God.

There was a people chosen by God to be the ones to know and understand the sense of right and wrong and right conduct. The Jews spent several centuries chronicling the Moral Law that existed inside the conscience of man. The Jews, convinced that God was the creator of this universe and exists outside of it, were shocked at the claims of this Man among them, Jesus of Nazareth who went about claiming to be Him. LEWIS: " Let us get this clear. Among Panthiests, like the Hindus anyone might say he was part of God, or be one with God: there would be nothing very odd about it. But this man, since He was a Jew, couldn't have meant that kind of God... Once you grasped that, you will see what this man said was quite simply the most shocking thing that has ever been uttered by human lips."

LEWIS: "We are faced with a frightening alternative. This Man we are talking about was (and is) just what he said or else a lunatic, or something worse." Christians accept that Jesus was God and landed in enemy occupied territory in human form. The question is - to what purpose? To suffer and be killed for the forgiveness of our sins. The central Christian belief is that Christ's death has somehow put us right with God.

LEWIS: "We learn that Christ was killed for us, that his death has washed out our sins and that by dying He disabled (spiritual) death itself. That's the formula, that's Christianity." That is not to say that we are free to sin and act pridefull because Christ has made this ultimate sacrifice. The unrighteous must dig out from the hole he created. LEWIS: "In other words, the fallen man isn't simply an imperfect creature in need of improvement: he's a rebel who must lay down his arms..." This surrender is called repentance.

Repentance means killing a part of yourself. LEWIS: "Only a bad person needs to repent and only a good person can repent... now we need God's help in order to do something which God, in His own nature never does at all - to surrender, to suffer, to submit, to die. Nothing in God's nature corresponds to this process at all... God can only share what he has: this thing, in His own nature, he has not"

What if God became a man? What if our human nature which can suffer and die was joined with God's nature - then we could receive God's help. God through Christ sacraficed and died which is something He himself needn't suffer at all. The perfect surrender: Perfect because He was God, surrender and humiliation because He was man.

We can follow Christ through repentence and live a Christ-life where we are not expected to be perfect, for only He is perfect, but through the power of the Holy Spirit which Christ places in you. You carry a piece of Christ with you that will help steer you straight when you get off course. LEWIS: "This repentence, this willing submission to humiliation and kind of death, isn't something God demands of you before he'll take you back... it's simply a description of what going back to him is like." The unrighteous must die (spiritually) and be reborn to go back to God. To simply ask for forgiveness without going back and starting over is getting there without actually going there, it's impossible.

Through belief, baptism and communion we begin the process of reconciliation with God. Belief is obvious, but what about baptism and communion? Baptism is the process in which the Holy Spirit enters into you, a part of Christ. You are accepting the Christ-life. (That's why even as a Catholic I believe in adult baptism or reaffirming baptism at every Christening of a baby.) Communion, Mass, the Lord's Supper reflects our phyical being - we are not simply spiritual creatures, we are made of matter - and our physical selves need Christ's nourishment as well to protect the Christ-life inside us.

In Conclusion

Being what I like to call a born again Catholic I say this: while I consider myself Catholic I am a Christian first and foremost. I know this flies in the face of "The Church" teachings but I can and will live without the Catholic Church if I have to, but I will not live without Christ. There are many wonderful things about the Church and it's catechism but the Roman Catholic Church is a human institution and therefore is infected with Satan. There is evil in the Catholic and all other denominations and faiths (uh hem Islam) so my loyalties are between me and Jesus.

I think C.S. Lewis would also agree with that as he noted that the various theories of exactly how Christ died and rose from the dead are secondary to the fact that Christ died for our sins, paid our debt in advance. We don't necessarily need to understand something perfectly to know it is good.


Saturday, September 09, 2006

9/11 Conspiracy Theories Deflate (a bit)

Last week the Arab network Al- Jezeera aired a pre-9/11 tape of Osama bin Laden and a pair of the 9/11 hijackers apparently engaged in final planning stage of the attack on America. This I would hope will take some of the air out of the 9/11 conspiracy nonsense I wrote about here. It will not, of course put it to rest forever, nothing ever will.

The moonbats howling over this will simply slide into their backup plan that 1.) the Bush administration knew about the plan and did nothing to stop it 2.) Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda are constructs of the US government and helped plan it all along. I am trying to see the benefit bin Laden gets out of it??? Unless you go so far as to believe he has been an agent of the US since the Soviet/Afghan days and draws money from the international war/oil machine, a machine that is, of course, dominated by the US. Possibly he likes living in a cave and being chased around by army rangers.

I had a hard time finding any major news outlets that kept the report of this new tape available on their websites. None of the alphabet networks in America archived the link to this story which died in about two days. Not surprizing in that anything that would appear to help George W. Bush must be buried. I found snippets of this story at Reuters, Yahoo News, and TaipeiTimes . Here on this Taos, NM site I found an article that feels remarkably like my earlier post on this subject. The writer, Eric Mack like myself was impressed with the effort and quality of the investigative work that went into the DVD, but like me can't get past the sheer magnitude of such a conspiracy:

MACK: Speaking of those pesky hijackers, where are they now? Avery claims that almost half of them are in fact still alive and well and piloting commercial planes halfway around the world.

This is where things begin to fall apart for the theory and the film’s credibility in my mind, because if this is the case, it is certainly a veritable smoking gun. However, Avery presents absolutely nothing to substantiate the claim or even a terse explanation of how he came across the information. And if Avery is able to locate living hijackers, what then is his answer for the hundreds of people whose families are quite convinced they died aboard hijacked flights that were actually a military dummy plane or a cruise missile according to the film? If no jetliner crashed into the Pentagon, where are the passengers that were allegedly on that flight? That’s an awfully large number of co-conspirators.

Avery does present a wealth of important and overlooked reporting from that day. The evidence of some sort of cover-up is undeniable – something that can be expected from an administration possibly seeking to hide some of the more embarrassing aspects of the country’s worst catastrophe –

There is no doubt that the government at the urging of the Bush Administration sought to obscure damning details of the negligence of our national security aparatus out of fear what an already hostile media would do with it. But to think that rises to the level of planning and carrying out such an obscenity is patently delusional.

Needless to say the conspiracy theories will never die but each time something like this tape comes out (if it is responsibly reported) it will help put a nail in the coffin of this nonsense.


Sunday, September 03, 2006

So, How's that Working Out for You?

There is being right and there is being bullheaded. When you put these two things together watch out! Ask any parent ushering an unruly child through this life to name the ingredients for TNT. One part tantrum and one part "if you know what's good for you!" Somethimes you just have to do what works and suspend the righteousness of your point. Concede to lead.

Which one of us Earthly parents has not used bribery to get a child to do what we "want" them to do? After standing on our high horse lecturing someone who can't possibly hear the wisdom and brilliance of our every utterance we eventually sucumb to the tactics of the old time Chicago Ward boss. It lends credence to the old phrase - you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. Standing there with your arms folded holding to your point in firmly because you are absolutely right (and you are) while your little world crumbles around you doesn't win you friends or influence. A friend of mine sympathizes with me under these circumstances and says "no, listen, you are absolutley right, so, how's that working out for 'ya?"

I am starting to think that our - the United States - ongoing involvement in Iraq is much like that of a parent of an unruly child. That child's name is Democracy, and Democracy is throwing a tantrum. We are standing with our arms folded insisting that young Democracy simply behave and stop acting up. Democracy's peers do not understand her parents and all this freedom stuff. No one in the neighborhood has parents like that, and the other parents don't like Democracy's parents one bit.

What are we to do? The President insists that we are not leaving until Democracy is a stable well adjusted child. Well, we have all seen what becomes of the kid with overbearing parents... Honestly, I think it's time we step back and allow little Democracy to flounder and flail a bit. Let her work out some of the details herself. We can keep an eye out and protect her from the neighborhood bullies - like any good parent would.

I am not calling for the US to leave Iraq to the insurgents and terrorists what I am saying is maybe we should quietly fall back to our bases. I base this notion on an observation made by author and adventurer Rory Stewart. He noted that the Italians, who were in charge of security of a smallish area in Iraq, rarely left their base to do any sort of patrols. This was not due to any brilliant strategy or forethought, but rather it was more conducive to staying alive than the American style of securing an area. Oddly enough the area under the Italian purvue was far more stable and well governed than nearby provinces under American or British authority.

Stewart also noted that immediately after the elections, which were a rousing success, he witnessed what no doubt happened all over Iraq. At the first session of the newly elected regional councils the local cleric/warlord walked in and ousted the democratic idealist and took over the town. No one stood up and insisted in honoring the result of the elections out of fear and an adherence tradition. A tradition that gives power to the biggest bully... OK it's something like our democracy, without the glad handing, smiles and the lies (our bullies are the ones with the biggest wad of cash)!

What Stewart is essentially saying is that we (the West) know nothing of this culture and we ought to step back without insisting that the Iraqi's do exactly what we want and let them "discover" democracy for themselves. Stewart, by the way, is apolitical and is not anti-American/anti-West. He was in fact in favor of taking Saddam Hussein out. And like the Americans he was unprepared for the reality of the devastation of Iraq that Saddam had wrought. Iraq, as we have found out, was a hollowed out shell. Despite all the set backs and the reality of the insurgency and the presence of al Qaeda Iraq need not succumb to civil war. There is a strong sense of nationalism that the US can exploit if we fade back and allow it to flourish. Even though the shiite population has strong ties to the shiite's in Iran there is no love for the Iranian regime in Iraq.

There is a phrase we use to diffuse problems with our children that works as sort of a misdirection when the very presence of a certain something illicits and undesirable reaction - it is "out of sight, out of mind". Maybe it's time for a less visible American presence in Iraq.