marți, 3 iunie 2008
duminică, 1 iunie 2008
joi, 29 mai 2008
Where have we come from, and where are we going? Can we know the answers? One person certainly did. 'I came from the Father and entered the world; now I am leaving the world and going back to the Father,' he said (John 16: 28).
The man of the world believes this life is the only life he has, and lives and acts according to that belief. If there is an after life, he thinks, we do not know much if anything about it, and the best thing to do is to enjoy the life we have on this earth and make the most of it.
Most religions, on the other hand, place a strong emphasis on the after life. Most religious people believe that the next life will either be wonderfully happy in heaven or horribly miserable in hell for ever. Our final destination depends on our faith or actions in this life. Many people hold this theory, but few of them are able to live in accordance with what they believe. Most of them watch the majority of their fellow beings, usually including many of their own relations, heading for eternal torment, and feel powerless to do anything about it.
Hindus and Buddhists believe in reincarnation. We progress through many lives on this earth, they believe, hopefully making spiritual progress each time we come, until we finally attain enlightenment and do not need to return. I do not believe this teaching, but I do find it more logical than the idea that we have one short - maybe very short - life on earth after which we will go immediately to eternal bliss or eternal torment (more probably the latter) depending on decisions often made with little on which to base them.
I believe in the eventual restitution of all things or universal reconciliation. God plans 'to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross' (Col 1: 20). I also believe that we pre-existed as spirits with God before we entered our earthly bodies.
These two beliefs change the whole perspective of our earthly life. It becomes a smaller part of something very much larger. The vast differences in our experiences and opportunities in this world become much smaller when seen against a background of what went before and what comes afterwards.
We will examine the scriptural evidence for our pre-existence, but, before we do so, we will consider how such a view could be correct if so few people now believe it or have seen it in scripture.
Why truth is hidden
Firstly, truth is hidden until God chooses to reveal it. In the old covenant, truth was hidden in types and shadows - pictures and stories - and later revealed when Jesus came as the mediator of the new covenant. The truth was there, but hidden until the time came for its revelation.
Most obviously this was true when the apostle Paul re-read the Hebrew scriptures with enlightened eyes, and saw things which he said were 'the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, so that all nations might believe and obey him' (Rom 16: 25, 26).
In the new testament, Jesus spoke in parables so that truth could be revealed to those whom he chose, but not to the multitudes.
So we will find some truth stated clearly in scripture for all to understand. Other truth we will find hidden in all kinds of ways, limited only by the imagination of God. Laws, stories, words, numbers and much more, all contain truth that God is able and willing to reveal when and to whom he pleases.
Secondly, we find that truth is hidden by man's sin and corruption. The doctrine of universal reconciliation is hidden by mistranslation of key Greek words. The church in general knew little of a gospel of grace and mercy, and needed a doctrine of eternal damnation to control its members and frighten them into submission. The ecclesiastical authorities were more than happy with inaccurate translation.
Thirdly we find that truth is hidden behind other truth. The traditional church view of eternal judgement makes it quite impossible for anyone to believe in any kind of pre-existence. Jesus said that he came from the Father and went back to the Father. Could it make any sense that we also came into this world from the Father, and the majority of us then went on to the devil? What father could send his children on any venture that in all probability would end in their suffering unspeakable torment for ever and ever?
If you hold the traditional majority teaching that most of the human race is destined for perpetual and indescribable torment, then pre-existence with God becomes an absurd impossibility.
The teachings of universal reconciliation and pre-existence are linked. If you believe in eternal damnation, you cannot possibly believe in. pre-existence as a spirit with God. If you believe in pre-existence, it is a strong argument for believing in universal reconciliation.
Fourthly, I must add that many in the early church believed both in universal reconciliation and in pre-existence. I've read that 'Until the sixth century A.D., early Christianity taught that we had a pre-earth life. Then the doctrine of a pre-existence was condemned by the council of Constantinople in A.D. 553.' Like many other truths, these truths were lost until the reformation and more recent times.
We will look now at universal reconciliation. I have written separately on this subject, under the title Universal Reconciliation, and so will write only briefly here.
The Life to Come
Does the Bible really teach that unbelievers will suffer eternal torment? I believe the answer is an emphatic NO.
Most English Bible translations contradict themselves on the subject of salvation. The following verses state directly or indirectly that all mankind will eventually be saved:
For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive (1 Co 15: 22)
For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross (Col 1: 19, 20).
And every created thing that is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all things in them, I heard saying, "To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, be blessing and honour and glory and dominion and power for ever and ever" (Rev 5: 13).
For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things (Rom 11: 36).
Other scriptures indicate that the majority of mankind will go into everlasting torment. Here are 3 of them:
Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels (Mat 25:41).
They will be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment goes up for ever and ever ... (Rev 14: 10,11).
Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life (Mat 25: 46).
They will be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power (2 Thes 1: 9).
At face value these, and many other scriptures contradict each other. The problem is solved when we turn to the original Greek. The words translated for ever and ever (eiV aiwnaV aiwnwn) should rightly be translated for ages of ages. The word translated everlasting or eternal (aiwnioV)should be translated age-lasting.
Future, corrective punishment exists, but its duration is not for ever and ever. Fire and brimstone (sulphur) are both purifying agents. The lake of fire - the second death - will serve its purifying purpose, and will cease to exist when Christ overcomes death, the last enemy. The time will then come when, according to John's vision, 'every created thing that is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all things in them, (will be) heard saying, "To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, be blessing and honour and glory and dominion and power for ever and ever"' (Rev 5: 13).
We can now consider the scriptural arguments for pre-existence as spirits with God.
Many scriptures testify to the pre-existence of Jesus. 'In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God' (John 1: 1). 'He made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness' (Phil 2: 7). He himself said, 'I came from the Father and entered the world; now I am leaving the world and going back to the Father' (John 16: 28). He had no doubts about where he came from, and none about where he was going. He came from the Father and was returning to the Father. He also said, 'Before Abraham was, I am' (John 8: 58).
Jesus had no doubts about his own pre-existence, but what did he say of his disciples? Referring to them, he said: 'As you sent me into the world, I sent them into the world' (John 17: 18). In Greek the verb sent is in the simple past tense in both parts of this statement, though some English translations change it to have sent in the second part.
In Ecclesiastes chapter 12 we find a poetic description of old age and death. It ends with the words: 'Remember your creator in the days of your youth … before the silver cord is severed, or the golden bowl is broken; before the pitcher is shattered at the spring, or the wheel broken at the well, and the dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it' (Ecc 12: 6, 7). This is a clear and unambiguous statement. The spirit came from God and the spirit returns to God.
Jeremiah describes his call to God's service as follows: 'The word of the Lord came to me, saying, "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations"' (Jer 1: 4, 5). God knew Jeremiah before he entered his mother's womb. This also indicates that Jeremiah (and we) existed as spirits before we entered our human bodies.
Dead and alive
Turning to the New Testament, we find the truth of our pre-existence implied, rather than stated. The New Testament describes the unbeliever as being in a state of death. Jesus said, 'I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has passed from death to life' (John 5: 24). You can't pass from death into life, unless you are in a state of death. Paul wrote, 'God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions' (Eph 2: 5). John uses similar language: 'We know that we have passed from death to life' (1 John 3: 14). Jesus, Paul and John all describe unbelievers as being dead. The word dead, according to both my dictionaries, means no longer alive. In other words, you have to be alive first before you can be dead. You know whenever you see a dead animal or bird or plant that it was previously alive. The scriptural teaching that the natural man is in a state of death implies that in some way he has previously been alive.
Similarly Paul describes people as alienated from God: ‘Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behaviour. But now he has reconciled you’ (Col 1: 21). You can only be alienated from people whom you previously knew and with whom you had good relationships. You cannot be alienated from people you never knew in the first place. If we start our lives on earth in a state of alienation from God, then we must have previously existed in good relationship with him.
Paul writes at some length on the subject of reconciliation to God: 'All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God' (2 Cor 5: 18-20). Reconciliation does not mean making friends with someone you've never met and don't know. It means restoring a relationship that previously existed and has been broken. So we cannot be reconciled to God unless we previously knew him and were in relationship with him. If indeed it is true that 'I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me' (Ps 51: 5) then that previous relationship can only have been in a previous existence.
The word redeem with its imagery tells us the same story. The meaning of the word redeem is to buy back what one previously owned. You cannot redeem something that was not previously yours. The meaning comes from the laws of the Old Testament. We find a clear illustration in Leviticus 25: 25: 'If one of your countrymen becomes poor and sells some of his property, his nearest relative is to come and redeem what his countryman has sold.' Not only property, but also people could be redeemed: 'he retains the right of redemption after he has sold himself. One of his relatives may redeem him: an uncle or a cousin or any blood-relative in his clan may redeem him. Or if he prospers, he may redeem himself' (Lev 25: 48, 49). Again we see clearly that redemption brings a person back to the free status he previously enjoyed. We see that we belonged to God before birth into our physical bodies and consequent sin separated us from him.
We must now take a fresh look at John chapter 3, the chapter where Jesus speaks about the new birth. Or does he? You may be surprised to know that the phrases new birth and new life occur nowhere in the Bible. Instead we find the words rebirth and resurrection. In fact new birth and re-birth are almost opposite in meaning. One has happened before, and the other has not. Nicodemus misunderstood Jesus when he asked, 'How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter the second time into his mother's womb, and be born?' Jesus was not referring to a repeat physical birth, but to a repeat spiritual birth. When we enter this world, we suffer spiritual death through sin. We must be born again into spiritual life.
We experience spiritual death when we enter this world. Jesus was without sin, and therefore did not experience spiritual death when he took a human body. For him, both physical death and spiritual death took place when he carried our sin and suffered on the cross. Similarly he experienced both physical and spiritual resurrection when he rose from the dead. Our spiritual resurrection is the same as our spiritual rebirth. It takes place when we receive Jesus as our saviour. Our bodily resurrection is yet to come.
So we find that the words redemption, reconciliation, rebirth and resurrection all tell us the same story. We are returning to a state we previously experienced and enjoyed.
Chosen before the foundation of the earth
Paul wrote, 'He chose us in Him (Christ) before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him' (Eph 1: 4). Were we chosen before we existed? It's possible, but it certainly makes better sense if we already existed before the foundation of the world at the time when we were chosen. This scripture also suggests an existence before we came into this world.
Living in tents
'Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling' (2 Cor 5: 1). Paul here describes the human body as a tent or temporary dwelling. In normal thinking we do not progress from tents to houses. We live in houses and move temporarily into tents and then return to houses. Bible imagery was the same. Abraham dwelt in tents, but was born in a solid house in Ur of the Chaldees. God instituted the festival of tabernacles (tents) to remind the people of Israel that they had dwelt in tents during their journey from Egypt to Canaan. To describe the body as a tent naturally implies both pre-existence and post-existence in a more permanent state.
Strangers and foreigners
We find this phrase in 1 Pet 2: 11: 'Dear friends, I urge you, as strangers and foreigners in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul' and Heb 11:13: 'confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth.' You can only be a stranger or a foreigner if you have come from somewhere else. The Greek word for foreigner (parepidhmoV) means someone who comes from a foreign country.
Came naked into the world
'For we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either' (1 Tim 6: 7). These words of Paul also imply both pre and post existence. To take something out implies going to another place or existence. To bring something in implies coming from another place
An Alternative Explanation
At this point we must consider an alternative explanation for some (but not all) of the above scriptures. Paul wrote, 'As in Adam all die, so in Christ shall all be made alive.' Death, alienation, reconciliation and redemption can all be seen as happening to the human race as a whole, rather than to each individual member of it.
The story of the children of Israel in Egypt supports this view. God redeemed the people as a whole from Egypt rather than as individuals. Jacob went down into Egypt with 70 people. Many more were then born and died in Egypt. Generations later Moses then brought a million or so people out of Egypt. No individual went down into Egypt, lived there, and then returned to the land of Canaan. Only the people as a whole did that.
So is it individual members of the human race that die and become alive, are alienated and then reconciled, and are sold into sin and then redeemed? Is it not rather the human race as a whole?
The answer is not either .. or, but both .. and. These things happen both to the human race as a whole and to its individual members.
The scriptures have many interpretations and fulfilments. All too often one valid interpretation of scripture has blinded our eyes to any other! Every one knows that the Holy Spirit descended on the church as a whole on the day of Pentecost. Generations of believers have been blind to the fact that he also falls on individuals.
Books have been written about the wonderful way in which Jesus fulfilled the festivals of the old covenant and the Tabernacle. We thrill to the greater understanding of Jesus that such writings have given us. However we are thrilled a second time when we see that the ancient festivals also are a pattern for our own spiritual growth and walk with God.
The scriptures contain heavenly patterns, which often have more than one earthly fulfilment. So also death and resurrection, alienation and reconciliation, slavery and redemption happen in different ways to the Jewish people, the human race as a whole, and also to its individual members.
An Anecdote and a Poem
One day a very little girl told her parents that she wanted to go and talk to their new baby on her own. The parents had installed an intercom so that they could hear when baby cried. They told her to go ahead and wondered what she was going to say. With the intercom switched on in the baby's room, they were able to listen to everything the little girl said. She went over to the crib and the parents heard her say, "Since I have been on the earth I have forgotten what Father was like. Could you tell me what He is like?"
This beautiful little story is reminiscent of the following lines from the ode: Intimations of immortality from recollections of early childhood by the English poet William Wordsworth:
Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting
The soul that rises with us, our life's star
Hath had elsewhere its setting,
And cometh from afar;
Not in entire forgetfulness
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God who is our home:
Heaven lies about us in our infancy.
Shades of the prison-house begin to close
Upon the growing boy,
But he beholds the light, and whence it flows,
He sees it in his joy.
What implications does pre-existence have, and how does it change our attitudes?
We will consider first general implications and then personal implications.
Traditional teaching has presented this life as the start of our existence. This life might be long or short, happy or miserable, privileged or unprivileged, lived in heathen darkness or with every opportunity for spiritual light. Some people are born into a good family in a free country and live many years in health and happiness and plenty. Others are born into poverty and depravation or under evil governments, or live their lives with every kind of suffering for no obvious fault of their own.
The man of the world repeatedly tells us it is unfair. How can God be just when existence is so unequal?
In the past we might have replied that this life is not the whole story. Anyone who repents of his sins and believes in Jesus for salvation will go to heaven when he dies, and his sufferings will turn to infinite joy. The unrepentant will go into eternal torment.
Our friend replies that this is even less fair. Not only is this life unjust, but the next is infinitely worse. Many people live out this life in suffering and misery, only to find that far worse awaits them in the eternity that follows.
Thank God the true gospel is infinitely better than this. Our life in this world is a small part of a vastly greater picture. It is neither the beginning nor the end. Our true beginning with God was good. Our eventual state with him will be better far. That state of heavenly blessing can begin for us even now.
Paul wrote: 'our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all' (1 Cor 4: 17). Jesus himself suffered beyond anything we may imagine, when the inconceivable darkness and burden of the sins of the world broke his hitherto perfect communion with his father. In varying degrees all other members of the human race suffer a breach in their relation with our Father. Finally all will return to perfect communion with him. Long or short, small or great, the suffering of this life will seem little compared with the glory that will eventually come for all mankind.
Someone looking at one square inch of a great oil painting could easily say that it made no sense. Reveal the whole picture to him, and he would see a brilliant masterpiece. When we look at this life with our limited human sight, we are seeing only a small part of a vastly greater whole. God’s creation is like an enormous and perfect tapestry. For now, we can see only an infinitesimal part of it. He looks at the whole from eternity to eternity and declares, as recorded in the book of Genesis, that it is very good.
What difference does our pre-existence make for us at the personal level?
We are returning, like the prodigal son, to a father we have previously known and loved. We are not going to a new country, where we have never been before. We come back like a traveller from a foreign country to the home and place where we belong.
Reconciliation with God is not making friends with someone we've never met before. It is restoring a lost and broken relationship, and lifting it to a new and far more wonderful level.
We are not purchased by a new owner whom we have never met, but redeemed by our original loving heavenly Father.
marți, 27 mai 2008
It is within the context of the intuition of being that the question of the existence of God must be placed. Without this intuition, the conceptual statements that are framed to prove the existence of God will remain flat and unconvincing. Logic alone does not have the ability to make us see. St. Thomas could never have imagined a metaphysics without God at the center of it, and God was not superimposed on his metaphysics because of religious reasons, but was the very heart of the intelligibility of his metaphysics. We start with the most basic facts of everyday existence and by means of the intuition of being we follow them inwardly and see that they point towards existence itself. Existence as received and contracted, this or that existing being, is not possible without there being existence unreceived. The intuition of being is the opening of our eyes to how every existing thing points to existence itself. St. Thomas gives his five ways leading to the existence of God, and Maritain adds a sixth, and there are others, but they must share the common essential ingredient of an intuition of being which vivifies them. Once the basic insight is in place, it is possible to grasp why St. Thomas gave God the attributes that he did.
There is no intellectual intuition of God Who is Himself existence. The limited and received existence of the beings of our experience demand there be a center to the circle on pain that there would be no beings. As soon as we disengage being as being from the empirical being of this or that existent, we must posit existence in itself. Essence must be finally understood as a certain capacity to exist and essence-existence or being must be finally understood in relationship to unreceived existence.
Here we have reached the limits of conceptual or essentialistic understanding. God does not possess a capacity to exist. He is without essence in this sense. There is no reception or contraction of His existence by His essence. He is His existence. All essences are measured in relationship to Him. God is not a being among beings. He is not something among other things. It is possible to call Him no essence, no-thing, if we keep clearly in mind that this is not nothingness or no nature, but no potential or capacity.(30) He is not nothing, for existence is all actuality and reality. We cannot contain God within our concepts. We can say true things about Him basing ourselves on the very structure of the things that exist around us, but the way He exists in Himself is beyond our comprehension. Maritain writes that the concept of being:
"Is one in a certain respect, in so far as as it does make incomplete abstraction from its analogates, and is disengaged from them without being conceivable apart from them, as attracted towards, without attaining, a pure and simple unity, which could alone be present to the mind if it were able to see in itself - and without concept - a reality which would be at once itself and all things. (Let us say the concept of being demands to be replaced by God clearly seen, to disappear in the face of the beatific vision.)" (31)
In the intuition of being we glimpse the transessential nature of existence, but this is simply a weak reflection of what existence itself must be, of what God, esse subsistens, is like. Maritain again:
"The analogical infinitude of the act of existing is a created participation in the unflawed oneness of the infinity of the Ipsum esse subsistens; an analogical infinitude which is diversified according to the possibilities of existing. In relation to it, those very possibilities of existing, the essences, are knowable or intelligible." (32)
duminică, 25 mai 2008
by Ryder Penn
Look at me! I am an essay! Wow! Look how well I am written! I am the best essay! I am eight pages long, double-spaced, with 12 point font. Or am I? My author believes in the law of existence, a crazy notion by Rene Descartes and will argue that I exist, but I, believe in Friedrich Nietzsche's nihilism, and will prove the essayist wrong. The author will start off by giving a philosophy, but I am going to state hard facts. It will be up to you, the reader to decide who is right, who is wrong.
The author argues: “This paper is real! Look at it! I can feel it and you can feel it! You are becoming an active part of this realism, and because you are using your faculties to read, all this becomes real. Descartes would say: “I think therefore I am,” this comes from his Discourse On Method. In addition, according to The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition, the word "exist" means, “To have actual being; be real.” To be real you have to be genuine and authentic, not artificial or spurious. These words are all authentic. My own hand formulates the words on this paper. They come out of my mind; these words do exist. If I were to push the delete button then the paper would not exist. If I were to run my finger along its edge, I would feel the pain of a paper cut. I would feel that wound for days.
The pragmatic view is what William Shakespeare states in his play called the Merchant of Venice: "If you prick us do we not bleed? If you tickle us do we not laugh? If you poison us do we not die? And if you wrong us shall we not revenge?" Shakespeare's words live on today. His words inspire other writings; his words can make you cry, laugh, and marvel at the phenomenal writer he was. Shakespeare died almost 400 years ago; he had to exist to write. He had to be real to have thoughts; he had to have an imagination. Other philosophers beside Descartes argue for existence like Pete Mandik and Chris Eliasmith. The Metaphysics of Science by philosopher Craig Dilworth says:
Briefly, a realist about x holds that x enjoys mind-independent existence, that is, x exists regardless of whether anyone thinks, hopes or fears that x exists. It may sound odd to demand of minds and other things mental that they have mind independent existence, but the claim, for instance, that my mind is mind independent just means that I have a mind regardless of whether anyone thinks, hopes, or fears that I do. As well, a realist insists on there being explanations of the empirical world (including minds) in terms of the real world. Thus, a complete theory of the mind should explain the existence and functioning of minds in terms of the reality lying behind their empirically testable properties. This expectation strongly contrasts with the strictly empiricist position of phenomalists.
Hold on! Hold on! I have to interrupt. I mean this author is rambling on and on, sighting this example, then another, but is utterly failing to prove existence. The writer, comments about existence, even giving a definition, but she fails to site the definition of realism. Basically the author gives circular logic stating: "the meaning of real is to exist." This circular reasoning gives me room to wonder where this logic is coming from. Does the argument give hard facts? No, the rational isn't factual, how can you argue using examples from nonexistent playwrights and nonexistent philosophers?1
In fact, there is nothing that can be proven without some doubt, which means nothing at all and that existence is futile belief. I could be a great wonderful dream an Ethics teacher was having one night. You, the reader could be a brain in a jar, being stimulated by probes, I was a part of that mental stimuli. There is no logic in saying that feelings prove existence.
Moreover, that can also be said for pain, perception and my list can go on and on, but I, unlike the author, won't bore you with trivialities. I am no more real then the air you breathe; that isn't real either. I cannot feel the air, nor touch it, but you say it exists? Does air cause you pain to breath it? Does it give you any feelings of any kind? No it doesn't! That is the author's whole logic! I hope you are reading this. Simply because you touch something doesn't mean it's there. It means only that your brain was fed a signal that understands it to mean something is there. In reality, all you really know is that you are somehow being fed simultaneous impulses that seem to be the movement of your eyes, arms, etc. How can you confirm that your arms and legs actually exist?
In other words, have you ever had a dream that seemed completely real? Had a dream where you did things, said things, ate things, experienced things that seemed absolutely real? Well, here's the thing -- you had that dream while lying flat in a bed with your eyes closed. You didn't actually see or hear or touch or experience anything, but your brain was being fed impulses that it processed into the dream experience you had. We dream in the REM stage of sleep, yet those dreams are not real, how can one know for certain that we are not dreaming all the time?
The author is pushing me out of the way, so the propagation of the writer's argument continues. Be careful! Her logic is very random and vague. The author says: “How is haphazard logic such as a brain in the jar proving anything? Goodness! The paper even goes so far as to site dreaming as an example! Those are its' "hard facts?" Who does it quote from? Where are its scientific facts? The paper raises too many questions and so few answers. Therefore it is my belief that relativism holds truth and value are relative to an observer or group of observers. We are all observers. There is no way to explain the truth behind the fact that millions of Americans watched the destruction of the twin towers in New York. That event existed along with countless others throughout history. The mere fact is that by me, the author, creating this essay, it will be read by many and will by that fact live on.
Let ME interject! There is no ME! I am just paper! I cannot breathe! I do not have an essence! I do not have the power to debate! The only reason I am debating is because my author has created me to do so. I have no soul. This is a mere paper in which if there were no trees, there would be no me. If I was real; paper, and papers come from trees. Trees are predominately in the forest then I must be in a forest. To put it another way “Man's life is but a jest, /A dream, a shadow, bubble, air, a vapor at the best.” George Walter Thornbury, The Jester's Sermon. Or better shown is the passage in A Psalm of Life by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. In which he says: “Tell me not, in mournful numbers, / Life is but an empty dream! /For the soul is dead that slumbers, /and things are not what they seem.”
I laugh at the paper! Did the paper not say that quoting from "unreal, nonexistent" authors was futile? In this last argument the paper hypocrisy of deceit finally plays itself out. However, I believe what Descartes said:
Reason instructs us that all our ideas must have some foundation of truth, for it could not be that the All-Perfect and the All-True should otherwise have put them into us; and because our reasonings are never so evident or so complete when we sleep as when we wake, although sometimes during sleep our imagination may be more vivid and positive, it also instructs us that such truth as our thoughts have will be in our waking thoughts rather than in our dreams.
It is only with our belief in God that we are able to live and be. Without God, life is not worth knowing. Also only from God we have eternal knowledge and know-how. Our life, power, all our know-how comes from Him.
WHOA! Hold on, the author is now pulling god in this discussion! Does the writer suggest that in order to prove existence there has to be a god? What a joke! It is based on this "god" joke that her argument will now fail. God is an invisible friend for grown-ups; he is non-existent and senseless being. For this god is a conclusion someone made up one day to explain the universe. In actuality the universe doesn't exist any more then I do. Sure, the author will debate that pictures and telescopes show the magnificence of god's creation, but nothing can be proven with certainty. Even the fact that I am arguing is senseless and meaningless, for isn't the author stimulating all these arguments? If I am just a complex puppet being typed on a page, then why wouldn't the author also be a pawn masquerading by stimuli? How can the author prove otherwise?
Stop! These crazy ramblings by the paper! The paper is now reverting back to previous arguments and going nowhere with them. Lets say for a minute that the paper is right and we are puppets being pulled by strings, then someone has to pull those strings, right? The paper just proved that God exists! There has to be a master puppeteer, and creator of the puppets; that is God. Again if the paper does not exist, then why does it waste time by arguing at all? For doesn't the meaning of nihilism come from the Latin nil which means: nothing? Would the paper say… anything?
Outside Descartes and Nietzsche realms of the mind, what is real? What is imagined? Can we truly ever really know? As a sentient being, I have argued with Descartes for existence, but I failed to prove it! As a forced character, the paper tried to prove Nietzsche's nihilism, but failed in that respect. In Shakespeare's Hamlet, Hamlet says: “yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust?” Philosophers all alike follow the labyrinth of the quagmire of humanity. However, it is my opinion, the answer of existence lies in-between. There is no god, no imaginary friend, but existence, that belief is held by most of humanity and because so many people believe it, it is true. Existence will fail if enough people believe it doesn't exist. Even this paper exists because you and I deem that it is there, but is it? If we stopped our fallible belief, then it would be nil.
marți, 20 mai 2008
joi, 15 mai 2008
The nature of human free will
Our free will is not visible and does not have material existence. However, such factors do not render its existence impossible. Everyone has two (physical) eyes, but we also can see with our third (spiritual) eye. We use the former to see things in this world; we use the latter to see things beyond events and this world. Our free will is like our third eye, which you may call insight. It is an inclination or inner force by which we prefer and decide.
Man wills and God creates. A project or a building’s plan has no value or use unless you start to construct the building according to it, so that it becomes visible and serves many purposes. Our free will resembles that plan, for we decide and act according to it, and God creates our actions as a result of our decisions. Creation and acting or doing something are different things. God’s creation means that He gives actual existence to our choices and actions in this world. Without God’s creation, we can do nothing.
To illuminate a magnificent palace, we must install a lighting system. However, the palace cannot be illuminated until we flick the switch that turns on the lights. Until we do so, the palace will remain dark. Similarly, each man and woman is a magnificent palace of God. We are illuminated by belief in God, Who has supplied us with the necessary lighting system: intellect, reason, sense, and the abilities to learn, compare, and prefer.
Nature and events, as well as Divinely revealed religions, are like the source of electricity that illuminates this Divine palace of the human individual. If we do not use our free will to flick the switch, however, we will remain in darkness. Turning on the light means petitioning God to illuminate us with belief. In a manner befitting a servant at his lord’s door, we must petition the Lord of the Universe to illuminate us and so make us a “king” in the universe. When we do this, the Lord of the Universe treats us in a way befitting Himself, and promotes us to the rank of kingship over other realms of creation.
God takes our free will into account when dealing with us and our acts, for He uses it to create our deeds. Thus we are never victims of Destiny or wronged by Fate. However insignificant our free will is when compared with God’s creative acts, it is still the cause of our deeds. God makes large things out of minute particles, and creates many important results from simple means. For example, He makes a huge pine tree from a tiny seed, and uses our inclinations or free choice to prepare our eternal happiness or punishment.
To better understand our part, and that of our will power, in our acts and accomplishments, consider the food we consume. Without soil and water, air and the sun’s heat, none of which we can produce or create despite our advanced technology, we would have no food. We cannot produce a single seed of corn. We did not create our body and establish its relationship with food; we cannot even control a single part of our body. For example, if we had to wind our heart like a clock at a fixed time every morning, how long would we survive?
Obviously, almost all parts of the whole complex and harmonious universe, which is a most developed organism, work together according to the most delicate measures to produce a single morsel of food. Thus, the price of a single morsel is almost as much as the price of the whole universe. How can we possibly pay such a price, when our part in producing that morsel is utterly negligible, consisting of no more than our own effort?
Can we ever thank God enough for even a morsel of food? If only a picture of grapes were shown to us, could all of us work together and produce it? No. God nourishes us with His bounty, asking in return very little. For example, if He told us to perform 1,000 rak‘as (units) of prayer for a bushel of wheat, we would have to do so. If He sent a raindrop in return for one rak‘a, we would have to spend our whole lives praying. If you were left in the scorching heat of a desert, would you not give anything for a single glass of water?
How can we thank Him enough for each bodily limb? When we see sick and crippled people in hospitals, or when we ourselves are ill, we understand how valuable good health is. But can we ever thank Him enough for this blessing? The worship God Almighty orders us to perform is, in fact, for our personal benefit and spiritual refinement, and well as for a good personal and collective life. Furthermore, if we believe in and worship God, He rewards us with infinite happiness and bounties in Paradise.
In sum: Almost everything we have is given to us for practically nothing, and our part in the bounty we enjoy here is therefore quite negligible. Similarly, our free will is equally negligible when compared with what God Almighty creates from our use of it. Despite our free will’s weakness and our own inability to really understand its true nature, God creates our actions according to the choices and decisions we make through it.
Is Islamic viewpoint of Destiny and human free will compatible with fatalism?
Most Western Orientalists accuse Islam of being fatalistic. Whereas, except a small sect-Jabriya-no one in the history of Islam has defended fatalism. Almost all the Western philosophies of history and, to some extent, Christianity with all its sects, are, by contrast, fatalistic and based on the irresistibility of what they call historical laws. The outlines of those philosophies of history may be summed up as follows:
Mankind are in a continuous progress towards the final happy end.
This progress depends on the fatalistic, irresistible laws of history which are completely independent of humanity, so humanity must, in any case, obey these laws, otherwise they are certain to be eliminated.
All the stages, primitive, feudal or capitalistic, through which mankind inevitably pass in the course of time to the final happy end should not be criticized, because mankind have nothing to do other than passing through them.
What is implied concerning the political conditions of time by all such philosophies of history may be this: The present socio-economic and even the political conditions of the world are inevitable, because they were dictated by nature, which decrees that only the able and the powerful can survive. If the laws of history dictated by nature are in favor of the West, the communities that choose to survive must concede to the dominion of the West.
What distinguishes the Quranic concept of history from other philosophies is that, first of all, while philosophers of history or sociologists build their conceptions on the interpretation of past events and present situations, the Quran deals with the matter from the perspective of unchanging principles. Second, contrary to the fatalism of all other philosophies, the Quran lays great emphasis on the free choice and moral conduct of the individual and community. Although Divine Will, emphasized by the Quran, could be regarded as, in some respects, the counterpart of the ‘Geist’ in the Hegelian philosophy and of absolute, irresistible laws of history in other philosophies, the Quran never denies human free will. God, according to the Quran, tests humanity in this life so that humanity should sow the ‘field’ of the world to harvest in the next life, which is eternal. For this reason, the stream of events-successes and failures, victories and defeats, prosperity and decay-all are the occasions which God causes to follow one another for mankind, to the end that the good may be distinguished from the evil. Testing must evidently require that the one who is tested should possess free will to choose between what is lawful and unlawful or what is good and bad. Thus, according to the Quran, what makes history is not a compelling Divine Will, rather it is humanity’s own choice, the operation of which God Almighty has made a simple condition for the coming into effect of His universal will. If this point is understood well enough, then it will be easy to see how groundless are the Western philosophies of history especially with respect to their conception of some “inevitable end.”
Destiny and human free will can be reconciled in the following seven ways:
This subject is quite difficult and has long been discussed by exacting scholars who have attached to it great significance.The Divine Destiny and man’s free will can be reconciled in seven ways.
The absolute order and harmony displayed by the whole of creation bear witness that God is All-Wise and Just. Wisdom and Justice demand that man should possess free will so that he may be chastised or rewarded for his acts. Although we cannot know the exact nature of this free will, and we may not be able to reconcile it properly with Divine Destiny, this does not mean that free will does not exist.
Every person feels himself to possess free will, and perceives it to exist. Knowing the nature of something is different from knowing that it exists. There are many things the existence of which is obvious to us while their nature is not understood. Man’s free will may be one of them. Also, existence is not restricted to the number of the things of which we know, so our ignorance of something does not indicate that it does not exist.
Man’s free will does not contradict Divine Destiny, rather, Destiny confirms the existence of free will. Divine Destiny is in some respects identical with Divine Knowledge, which goes parallel with man’s free will, in determining his actions, thus it confirms free will, and does not nullify it.
Divine Destiny is a kind of knowledge, and knowledge is dependent on the thing known. That is, conceptual knowledge is not fundamental to determine the external existence of what is known. The known in its external existence is dependent upon the Divine Power, acting through the Divine Will.
Also, past eternity is not, as people imagine, just the starting-point of ‘time’ so that it becomes essential for the existence of things. Past eternity is in fact like a mirror in which the whole of time, past, present and future, is reflected. People tend to, excluding themselves from the passage of time, imagine a limit for past time which extends through a certain chain of things, and they call it azel-past eternity. But to reason according to such an imagining is not right and acceptable. For better understanding of this subtle point, the following example may help:
Imagine that you are standing with a mirror in your hand, that everything reflected on the right represents the past, while everything reflected on the left represents the future. The mirror can reflect one direction only since it cannot show both sides at the same time as you are holding it. If you wish to reflect both directions at the same time, it would be necessary to rise high above your original position so that left and right directions are united into one and nothing remains to be called first or last, beginning or end. As already mentioned, Divine Destiny is in some respects identical with Divine Knowledge. It is described in a Prophetic saying as containing all times and events in a single point, where first and last, beginning and end, what has happened and what will happen, are all united into one. And we are not excluded from it so that our understanding of time and events could be like a mirror to the space of the past.
‘Cause and effect’ are not separable in the view of Destiny, that is, it is destined that this ‘cause’ will produce that ‘effect’. It cannot therefore be argued that, for example, ‘killing a man by shooting him’ should not be regarded as a crime because the slain was destined to die at that time anyway so he would have died even had he not been shot. Such an argument is baseless since that man is actually destined to die as a result of being shot. The argument that he would have died even if he had not been shot would mean that he died without a cause, and in this case we should not be able to explain how he died. It should be remembered that there are not two kinds of destiny-one for the cause, and the other for the effect. Destiny is one. Having been deceived by such a paradox, the Mu’tazili school of thought concluded that ‘the man would not have died if he had not been shot’ (forgetting that it was his destiny to be shot) while the Mujabbira (Fatalists) argued that he would have died even if he had not been shot. The Ahl al-Sunna wa’l-Jama‘a follow the correct view by judging that ‘we do not know whether he would have died or not if he had not been shot’.
The followers of Imam al-Maturidi, one of the sub-schools of the Ahl al-Sunna wa’l-Jama‘a, regarded man’s inclination upon which his free will is based as having nominal value and existence, and accordingly originating in man himself, while the Ash‘arites do not ascribe that inclination to man because they consider it to have a real existence. According to them, man has, however, a nominal or theoretical disposal of that inclination and, because of this, the inclination and man’s disposal of it are a relative matter, not having a definite external existence. Something of nominal and relative existence does not require a perfect efficient cause which would annul man’s free will in his actions; rather, when its cause acquires the weight of preference, it might have an actual existence. In which case, where the Qur’an says, ‘Do not do this, because this is evil’, he may refrain from committing it. If man were the creator of his own actions, then he would himself be the ultimate cause of them, and his will would be cancelled. According to the science of established principles or methodology and logic, if a thing is not necessary, it will not exist. That means there has to be a real complete cause before something can exist, but a complete cause makes the existence of something compulsory so there will be no room for choice.
Man’s actions are the result of his preference between two alternatives, which is of nominal significance. If a necessary cause does not exist which forces him to make a preference, then this means that the act of preference takes place without a necessary cause. Is it not a logical impossibility which contradicts one of the most important principles of theology?
It is not an impossibility that man makes a preference without a necessary cause, it is an attribute of his free will to do such things. It is, however, an impossibility that something can be preferable by itself without a necessary cause for its preference.
Since it is God Who creates the act of murder, why is he who kills called a murderer?
According to Arabic grammar, the active participle functioning as the subject is derived from the infinitive, which denotes a relative affair or deed, not from another word derived from the infinitive which expresses an established fact. Therefore, since it is man himself who does the deed denoted by the infinitive, he is the murderer.
That is, man wills to do something and accordingly does it, so he is the doer or agent of his acts. It is the man himself who does the act of killing, so he should be called the murderer. God creates man’s acts in that He gives external existence to them; He does not perform those acts. It would have been meaningless for man to have free will if God had not created the acts which are the outcome of that free will.
Although man’s free will is too inefficient to cause something to happen, Almighty God, the absolutely Wise One, has made its operation a simple condition for the coming into effect of His universal Will. He guides man in whatever direction man wishes by the use of his free will so that he remains responsible for the consequences of his choice. As an example, if you were to take a child upon your shoulders, and then leave him free to decide where he would like to go and he elected for you to take him up a high mountain, and in consequence he caught cold, he would have no right to blame you for that. Indeed, you might even punish him because he wanted to go up the mountain. In like manner, Almighty God, the Most Just of Judges, never coerces His servants into doing something, and He has accordingly made His Will somewhat dependent on man’s free will.
In sum: As man, you do possess free will, which makes almost no contribution to your good acts, although it can cause deadly sins and destruction wherever it operates. Therefore, exploit your free will for your own benefit by praying to God continuously, so that you may enjoy the blessings of Paradise, a fruit of the chain of good deeds, and attain to eternal happiness. Further, you should always seek God‘s forgiveness for your sins in order to refrain from evil deeds and to be saved from the torments of Hell, a fruit of the accursed chain of evil deeds. Prayer and putting one’s trust in God greatly strengthen the inclination to good, and repentance and seeking God’s forgiveness cut the inclination to evil and break its transgressions.
We may summarize the discussion so far in seven points:
Divine Destiny, also called Divine determination and arrangement, dominates the universe but does not cancel our free will.
Since God is beyond time and space and everything is included in His Knowledge, He encompasses the past, present and future as a single, undivided point. For example: When you are in a room, your view is restricted to the room. But if you look from a higher point, you can see the whole city. As you rise higher and higher, your vision continues to broaden. The Earth, when seen from the moon, appears to be a small blue marble. It is the same with time. So, all time and space are encompassed by God as a single, undivided point, into which the past, present and future are united.
Since all time and space are included in God’s Knowledge as a single point, God recorded everything that will happen until the Day of Judgment. Angels use this record to prepare a smaller record for each individual.
We do not do something because God recorded it; God knew beforehand we would do it and so recorded it.
There are not two destinies: one for the cause, the other for the effect. Destiny is one and relates to the cause and the effect simultaneously. Our free will, which causes our acts, is included in Destiny.
God guides us to good things and actions, and allows and advises us to use our willpower for good. In return, He promises us eternal happiness in Paradise.
We have free will, although we contribute almost nothing to our good acts. Our free will, if not used properly, can destroy us. Therefore we should use it to benefit ourselves by praying to God, so that we may enjoy the blessings of Paradise, a fruit of the chain of good deeds, and attain eternal happiness. Furthermore, we should always seek God’s forgiveness so that we might refrain from evil and be saved from the torments of Hell, a fruit of the accursed chain of evil deeds. Prayer and trusting in God greatly strengthen our inclination toward good, and repentance and seeking God’s forgiveness greatly weaken, even destroy, our inclination toward evil and transgression.