Closer To Truth: Some More About Theology

There is an ongoing PBS TV series called “Closer to Truth” featuring interviews on all of the Big Questions surrounding a trilogy of broad topics – Cosmos; Consciousness; Meaning. The trilogy collectively deals with reality, space and time, mind and consciousness, aliens, theology and on and on and on. Here are a few more of my comments on one of the general topics covered, subjects dealing with various theological concepts.

Mystery of the Trinity?

My initial reaction after watching “Closer to Truth” interviews on the Trinity is that I’d entered the Twilight Zone of waffle, waddle, twaddle and poppycock! The only contribution these theologians and philosophers have made is yet an additional contribution to global warming. I have the impression that this is akin to penning an entire encyclopaedia over the meaning and significance of one sentence picked at random, randomly from a library full of novels. Why does this cosmically matter?

I find it quite incredible that here in the 21st Century this concept is being seriously discussed as if it had some real significance, importance or meaning. It has as much reality as that philosophical debate over angels dancing on pinheads. One may as well argue over whether there exists one, two or three different species of unicorns. They too are referenced in the Bible.

This has all of the importance of arguing about the reality and meaning behind another trinity. One may as well just discuss the trinity of Kirk the Father; Spock the Son; “Bones” McCoy the Holy Ghost.

It’s all “Through the Looking-Glass” nonsense.

Is This the End Time 1?

As noted below, Jesus himself said that the end times should have come to pass while some of those that heard his message were still alive, or within a generation. Now that means that roughly some 699,000 days have now passed without any end times incident. That’s 699,000 days where God (and Jesus) have been a no-show. That total increases by another day per day. So what’s God (and Jesus) been doing over all these hundreds of thousands of days that has taken priority over the end times? If they haven’t gotten their act together by now, what odds that they will get their act together sometime over roughly the next 2000 years? What’s that they say in the military – hurry up and wait?

Is This the End Time 2?

In mythology there are many references to the departing gods that have apparently vowed many aeons before General Douglas MacArthur to return such as Quetzalcoatl. But most relevant to most of us is THAT Second Coming, otherwise hyped as the End of Days, and boy is it ever hyped.

It would seem that every time there is a natural disaster (even oil spills qualify), anywhere in the world, but especially in America, right-wing Christian Fundamentalists and TV Evangelists jump for joy, do high fives and are more than happy to point out, even gleefully telling “I told you so”, and the more the destruction, the better the mayhem, the greater the death toll, the higher they jump, the happier they are
and the more they rub their hands gleefully together. Why? It’s to them yet another Sign that the End of Days are near.

Well they are both right and wrong. There will be an end of days when the Sun engulfs us and roasts us alive, making global warming seem downright frigid in comparison. A real Hell on Earth certainly should appeal to the Fundamentalist and Evangelist mobs. However, it’s that ‘near’ part that’s in error. We won’t be solar barbecued for another five billion years, give or take a hundred million or so years in either direction.

As to THAT End of Days that so many are looking forward to – and if it takes disasters to convince the faithless and bring it on, so be it – sorry to rain on your parade folks, the solar barbecue is probably going to be something only for your great, great, great (add several million more “greats” here) grand-kids to look forward to and enjoy.

Of course if our Fundamentalists and TV Bible Thumpers had lived 500 years ago, or 1000 years ago, or 1500 years ago, they would have been strutting out the same old line, the same old hype, the same old gloom and doom (gloom and doom for the rest of us sinners that is).

How long can these Evangelists go on playing the same old End of Days song before credibility runs out? – Seemingly indefinitely if you’re already preaching to the converted and/or the gullible. No doubt 500 years from now their descendants will be screaming out the same old tired tune.

Is This the End Time 3?

The End of Days/Second Coming was supposed to have happened by the year 100 AD at the very latest, probably earlier according to no less an authority than Jesus Christ (J.C.) himself. Consider the wording in the Contemporary English Version of the Bible. Jesus said that “I can promise you that some of the people of this generation will still be alive when all this happens.” “This”, in this case refers to all those ‘signs’ that the end is nigh. One may wish to consult Matthew 24: 33-34; Mark 13: 29-30; or Luke 21: 31-32. It ain’t happened, so what went wrong? The 21st Century is clearly the wrong era for the end times according to J.C. If it isn’t, then clearly J.C. hasn’t a clue what he is talking about. Perhaps in the final analysis it is all just myths and fairy tales for grown-ups.

A New Heaven & A New Earth?

Here is another spin on the concept of a new heaven and a new earth. The creation of a new heaven and a new earth could just mean the termination of the current version of the software program that created and sustains our Simulated (Virtual Reality) Universe Mark One to be replaced by a Simulated (Virtual Reality) Universe Mark Two. The new and improved Mark Two software version of our virtual landscape would of course translate into a new heaven (Heaven Mark Two) and a new earth (Earth Mark Two). This makes just as much sense as that supernatural scenario outlined in the Book of Revelation.

Religious Faith: Rational or Rationalization?

If, as I believe (as a matter of faith), that religious faith is rooted in self-interest, the “what’s in it for me” concept, then religious faith is a rationalization. You have no rational reason to have religious faith any more than you have a rational reason to have faith in Santa Claus, but you might rationalize lying to your children about the existence of Santa. In the case of your so-called religious faith, you are rationalizing lying to yourself, or perhaps rationalizing to yourself that maybe, just maybe, it’s not really all a lie and that my self-interest in adopting a religion might really pay off.

Authentication and Conflict in Religious Belief?

Well I must say that when it comes to this topic, [“Closer to Truth” contributor] J.P. Moreland certainly has some superior religious convictions, convictions which I’m sure many other people of other religious faiths would dispute, and that’s putting it mildly.

Basically Moreland seems to think other faiths that is faiths that are not based on Christianity and Judaism, are rather self-serving and culturally derived. Even if they have their hearts in the right place and promote good ideas they are still false faiths. Christianity and Judaism on the other hand are cross-cultural faiths, and thus are superior.

But Moreland’s even more basic tenet is that Christianity and Judaism are the only really real religions because they, and they alone, are based on historical evidence. Christian ‘faith’ is based on the historical reality of miracles, Moses, and Jesus, as cases in point. Moreland keeps on keeping on about the absolute historical evidence that supports the Old and New Testaments putting those religious documents heads and shoulders above all other religious texts. No other religion, and Moreland specifically cites Islam in this context, is based on any actual historical evidence. Thus, Islam, and other non-Christian faiths, aren’t true. Show me the evidence for Islam and I’ll give up Christianity Moreland says.

So Christianity isn’t based on faith but on historical evidence according to Moreland – bull! There is no independent historical evidence that has been uncovered by archaeologists or historians that supports any events that Christianity and Judaism relate in their texts. There are only words in a book (the Bible), a book cobbled together by numerous authors over the space of a thousand years that now appears in dozens upon dozens of differing versions or translations. Oh, and some books that should have been included in the Bible didn’t make the final cut, and some books that did make the final cut just barely made it in. What a cut-and-paste job! In any event, anyone can write words in a book. Bookshops and libraries are full of novels and other works of fiction. Just because you read the words in the Bible don’t make them necessarily so – to paraphrase that song from “Porgy and Bess” – or make them real historical evidence, to quote Moreland.

Moreland goes on to quote Jesus, but how does Moreland know what Jesus said? If he is honest, he doesn’t. He can’t. The gospels weren’t written down until 70 to 100 years after Jesus shuffled off to Buffalo. Jesus, assuming there ever was a Jesus, was such a minor figure in his day that nobody went around with pen and paper following him and writing down his words of wisdom. There were no journalists eager to put into print the latest text-messages of Jesus. Jesus left behind no documents or letters or notebooks. So much for Moreland’s absolute evidence.

I love Moreland’s concluding remarks that “sometimes the best thing you can do to love someone is to tell them they’re wrong.” Okay, Moreland, you’re wrong!

Does Cosmology Provide Meaning?

I maintain that you, and you alone are the responsible agent for determining what your own meaning and purpose is while you exist here on Terra Firma. Buck-passing to a larger whole, an alleged higher authority, even if it is just your parents, teachers, clergy and theologians, philosophers, or whatever, is just being intellectually lazy. However, that’s not to say they cannot be an influence on you, but the final, free will choice, is yours and yours alone. You are responsible for your own choices and actions. You couldn’t argue in court that some nebulous larger whole made to do what you did.

Free Will and Decision Making

By the way, can you have free will in Heaven? I mean can you, of your own free will, make a decision to commit a sin in Heaven? If you can, well you shouldn’t be in Heaven at all and God has stuffed up, being all-knowing, in letting you in, in the first place. If you can’t commit a sin in Heaven, then God has revoked your free will!

Is There Life After Death 1?

Your life begins at conception. Your life ends when you die. It’s quite clear that the you at conception is not the same you as the you at time of death. Between the two end points there are many seconds (of time) and many changes. Every second new atoms and molecules become part of you, yet ever second atoms and molecules that were part of you depart the scene. From second to second your cells divide, die, and do all manner of chemical things. From second to second you age, ever so slowly, but ever so surely. Gray hairs and wrinkles appear as those seconds pile up. Second by second memories are added to; other memories fade away. One set of seconds you are angry; another set of seconds later you are ROTFLYAO. Loves are found; loves are lost. Knowledge is gained; knowledge is amended; some knowledge is lost or discarded. To make your long time story short, you are not the same identical person from one second to the next, like it or not. Now the question becomes, out of those millions of differing stages of you, which is the one which gets picked to be the life-after-death you? You probably get no say. You may not want an afterlife saddled with the appearance of a ninety-year-old, a thirty-something would be better. On the other hand you will probably want intact all the memories you had at ninety. Can you have your cake and eat it too and the best of all possible worlds? I rather think not.

Is There Life After Death 2?

There would appear to be four separate and apart positive concepts that are suggestive of a life after death. Unfortunately, each of these four separate and apart concepts all have an equally negative aspect that counteracts the positive.

The concept of an afterlife is nearly universal across all cultures and societies past and present. That’s a rather positive indication that there must be a life after death. Alas, that’s countered by the reasonable suggestion that the concept of an afterlife is just wishful thinking since the afterlife remains just a concept and not a proven reality after thousands and thousands of years.

Believers in a life after death point to Near Death Experiences (NDEs) as a positive indication that when we die we move on to another plane of existence commonly called an afterlife. This is re-enforced by the near universality of the NDE experience by people who have NDEs. Alas, that’s countered by the fact that NDEs are not independently verified by those present when an NDE happens to that someone else in their presence. Further, there is an alternative and natural explanation available for the NDE experience.

Ghosts apparently are strong positive physical evidence (since they can be seen, heard and interact with their immediate environment) that some part of you survives death. That too is re-enforced by the fact that ghosts are also a near universal part of cultures and societies past and present. The negative is that there are also reports of ghostly or phantom buildings, trains and other non-living things that once were but are no longer. That probably requires an alternative explanation that has nothing to do with surviving death.

Lastly, there is a vast literature that reports on communication with the ‘dead’. Such reports must number in the multi-tens-of-thousands; probably more, way more. Alas, séances, Ouija boards, channelling, and the appearances of ectoplasm embodiments have been well and truly debunked as total flim-flam. As the saying goes, there’s a sucker born every minute – probably every second.

So, there you have four positives for life after death balanced by four negatives against life after death.

Is There Life After Death 3?

Quite obviously [“Closer to Truth” contributor] J.P. Moreland believes there is life after death. He argues that if it is rational to believe in God (IMHO it is not rational), then it is rational to believe in an afterlife because God is not finished with you; He has further plans for you which requires you to front-and-center up into the afterlife that He has provided. Alas, the logic doesn’t follow. Moreland cannot know that God is not finished and done with you at the moment you draw your last breath.

Moreland also cites as life after death evidence the resurrection of Jesus. Alas, the existence of Jesus, far less a resurrection, isn’t universally accepted by all scholars. Even if Jesus did exist, he could have been an ordinary mortal with delusions of grandeur who is now dead, Dead, DEAD.

Moreland also cites the existence of Near Death Experiences (NDEs) as absolute proof positive that there is an afterlife. Alas, there is no such proof positive otherwise NDEs would be standard issue in medical and related textbooks as proof positive there was an afterlife. If that were the case there would be no need for any further debate on the subject of the existence of an afterlife any more than one needs to debate the reality of gravity.

As if all of that isn’t enough nonsense, Moreland says that there is no scientific approach to the idea of an afterlife, only scientists who have their own personal approach, and that approach is a philosophical one not a scientific one. Of course one reason why there is little or no scientific approach to the idea of an afterlife is the same as there is no scientific approach to the reality of astrology.

The other concept that I take issue with Moreland on is his insistence that memories are not spatially located in the brain and have nothing to do with hardcore brain biochemistry, and neither is mind or consciousness. They have nothing to do with the brain. Memories, mind and consciousness are real but independent of the brain. Well, I suggest that if I were to destroy Moreland’s brain, cell by cell, sooner or later Moreland wouldn’t have any mind, consciousness or memory of anything left.

Is There Life After Death 4?

Here is an interesting can of worms regarding the afterlife. It is usually assumed that there is one and only one essence of you. One self-awareness per body is the default position. It’s that singular essence or self-awareness that will reside in the afterlife, whatever that is and where ever that is. However, it is well known in the mental health trade that there are persons who have dual personalities, multiple personalities or split personalities. In other words, one body and one brain can house two or more essences or personalities or self-aware consciousnesses.

The question is, if neither personality is dominant or there was no original personality, which personality or essence gets the golden or heavenly ring? If there are three personalities in one body (as in the film “The Three Faces of Eve”), and say one personality is saintly, another personality is atheistic and a third is sinful, which personality gets the afterlife? Does it have to be restricted to the equation of one essence per one body gets one afterlife?

The issue of more than one mind in just one body, say as in Siamese Twins with two heads and brains but one body, when it comes to the afterlife, is a philosophical and theological issue that I haven’t seen addressed. I wonder why? Perhaps it is in the way too hard basket, maybe even too hard for a deity to resolve!

Is there a Judgement?

According to [“Closer to Truth” contributor] J.P. Moreland, there will be a judgment from on high. Moreland makes that statement on the grounds that the Christian religion is absolutely true based on historical evidence from New Testament documents and that Jesus actually rose bodily from the dead and that Jesus was the Son of God. The Christian religion is true, there’s historical evidence to back that up, and therefore there must be a judgement because Christian religion says so.

Excuse me, there is no such evidence for the truth of the tenets of the Christian religion and the New Testament as actual history, at least not enough that would satisfy any historian, that’s for sure. Moreland certainly believes in the validity of the New Testament, but there is a vast gulf between believe and actual evidence that one can examine on the slab in the lab.

Moreland goes on to suggest that God’s judgement will be fair and that even those who for a whole potful of reasons never got to know the messages of Jesus and the tenets of the New Testament will still be judged on their merits, even if they existed before the time of Jesus. Of course I’m not quite sure how far back that time of grace would extend to. Would those humans who migrated out of Africa some roughly 70,000 years ago qualify? What about the Neanderthals? What about Homo erectus? If humans only are to be judged, where is the line in the sand drawn between what is on the pretty much human side of the line and that which falls pretty much not on the human side of the line?

Now Moreland can state with certainty what God will do because he says absolutely “I know what God is like”. He knows what God will and will not do. “God is such a wonderful person” according to Moreland. God is fair and just and kind and funny. How Moreland can say that with a straight face thus ignoring all of the Old Testament ‘evidence’ to the contrary is quite beyond me.

Anyway, Moreland says with 100% certainty that there will be a final judgement. He hasn’t convinced me by any sort of hardcore evidence presented in his “Closer to Truth” interview.

Eternal Life is Like What?

Apparently, according to [“Closer to Truth” contributor] J.P. Moreland, ‘life’ eternal is very much like this one in that we require food and have sensory apparatus and can do things that are of personal interest, etc. And of course we don’t decay so presumably we’re 100% healthy, both physically and mentally. Of course part of our terrestrial health tends to involve the need for sex. Alas, sex is apparently the one thing we don’t get, or don’t need or don’t want in the ‘life’ eternal. That alone might be off-putting to some people! But there seems to be an inconsistency here since one of God’s directives, at least here on Earth, was to “be fruitful and multiply”. So what happened to that common phrase we all know; “on Earth as it is in Heaven”? There must be sex in Heaven since there is sex here on Earth. Finally, one question that never seems to be addressed when you achieve ‘life’ eternal is which one of the ever changing multi-versions of you that existed here on Earth is THE one selected for your eternal afterlife?

Do Persons have Souls?

Do persons have souls? The trouble here is that ‘the soul’ has so many diverse definitions that it can mean just about anything you want it to mean. Probably no two people would describe the concept in the exact same way. However, I think we can agree that an egg cell has no soul – however you define it. A sperm cell has no soul – however you define it. Therefore, at conception, you have no soul. No cell has a soul, therefore no tissue (a group of common cells) has a soul, therefore no body organ has a soul (an organ being composed of various tissues), therefore you, as a collection of various organs and organ systems must have no soul!

So when did you get a soul (assuming there is such a thing and that it has some degree of tangibility)? Did you get your soul at birth? Perhaps it was on your first birthday? Perhaps you received you soul when you became of age, say 21. Perhaps it’s just as likely that you don’t receive a soul at all – there is no such separate and apart physical thing you get from any higher authority. Perhaps your soul just develops or evolves naturally as part and parcel of your growing maturity over the years, in which case it can’t be totally separate and apart from the body. In other words, if you develop a soul akin to your developing a sense of morality or spirituality, then it cannot ‘leave’ the body after death. Translated, your soul (however you define it) isn’t your ticket to an afterlife. It resides somewhere in that brain-thingy of yours, locked somewhere within that maze of biochemistry that collectively makes up your grey matter. As an aside, if you were to clone yourself, would your clone have a soul?

So, do you have a soul? Nope! The burden of proof is on those who advocate that humans possess an indestructible, immaterial ‘soul’ that exists separate and apart from the body and which survives the body’s demise. If such proof (or even evidence) were set in stone
the is-there-or-isn’t-there debate would have ended long ago. No one can demonstrate where the soul comes from, how it becomes a part of you, or where it goes to after you’re gone. No one can explain how an immaterial concept can contain hardcore data – your essence in other words. Does a person with a multiple personality disorder and sense of selves have more than one soul? I think not. There’s also the double standard of humans anointing themselves with a soul but not animals. This is another example of humans patting themselves on the back without justification.

Is the Soul Immortal?

According to [“Closer to Truth” contributor] J.P. Moreland, the soul is an immaterial substance and it is also a thing. So a soul is a thing of substance that’s immaterial. Wow! Unless I’ve missed something in translation here, that’s a total contradiction. It’s like saying that Wednesday weighs 30 grams. Moreland also goes on in his beliefs about the soul that it controls or animates the body. Again, how something immaterial can exert physical control on something material like the body is beyond me. In any event, I was under the impression that the concept of a vital force was tossed out the biological and philosophical window many decades ago. Finally, according to Moreland, the soul has various facilities that determine what makes you, you. Moreland mentions [free] will, mind, consciousness, and spirit. But he also mentions sight, and sight is a physical thing that relies on a physical process. That too is incompatible with the soul being something that’s totally immaterial. When it comes to J.P. Moreland and his concept of the soul, IMHO, something is screwy somewhere.

Does a Soul have an Afterlife?

[“Closer to Truth” contributor] J.P. Moreland is in no doubt that the soul exists and it has an immortal afterlife. However, he leaves himself in the enviable position whereby he cannot be disproved by science since the concept of a soul, and I gather the concept of an afterlife too, are not, according to Moreland, scientific questions. Belief systems are great when they cannot be falsified. You can wear your suit of theological armour and thumb your nose at the scientific community.

Anyway, the thrust of the interview centred on Moreland’s belief that there is no physical state of self. The brain has bugger-all to do with mind, consciousness and related although these facets of self are functionally dependent on there actually being a brain. In reality it is the soul that has the facilities of self, like thoughts, mind and consciousness.

While Moreland’s belief cannot be falsified by science, according to Moreland, that’s not a belief that I personally share.

Do Angels and Demons Exist 1?

[“Closer to Truth” contributor] J.P. Moreland is in no doubt that angels and demons exist. He states two reasons for this, one being that Christianity says so. Because Christianity is 100% true, there must therefore be a system dependent belief in angels and demons. Of course the flaw there is that Christianity is a faith not based on any evidence, so angels and demons are real as a matter of faith not because there is slab in the lab evidence for angels and demons.

Moreland’s second reason is based on millions of personal experiences that people have related over thousands of years regarding interactions with angels and demons. Again, hardcore evidence is conspicuous by its absence even though credible people, like those with doctorate degrees, have made reports, at least according to Moreland. But the icing on the cake is that Moreland has had a personal experience with angels. Well actually not. The witnesses in two separate cases relate seeing angels around Moreland – one a woman in church; the other one of Moreland’s graduate students. Moreland never saw his angels himself. Again, no physical evidence is presented, not even an out of focus photograph.

But the aspect that really raised eyebrows on the part of the interviewer, was Moreland’s statement that guardian angels exist and protect children. “This isn’t make-believe, this is real” according to Moreland. See my comments below for an analysis on guardian angels, but I just have to echo the interviewer’s observation that if guardian angels exist, they are doing a horrendous job of guarding!

Do Angels and Demons Exist 2?

Then there are ‘guardian angels’ that need to be considered. However, IMHO, the concept of a ‘guardian angel’ is seriously flawed. First off, if we each have a ‘guarding angel’ looking over us, and as the human population keeps doing it’s “be fruitful and multiply” bit, where do all the ever required additional ‘guardian angels’ come from? Do they just materialize out of thin air? And secondly, if they exist, then they are doing a lousy piss-weak job of being a true guardian. I mean you still have bad luck, misfortunes, failures, accidents, illnesses and you still ultimately end up kicking-the-bucket. If a child of two say dies of cancer (or for any other reason), do the parents really believe there was a so-called ‘guardian angel’ looking after their kid? Do you believe it?

So-called ‘guardian angels’ are just wishful thinking. There’s no reference to them at all in the King James Version of the Bible. In fact, the word “guardian” doesn’t rate a mention. While some angels as depicted in the Bible allegedly look after selected individuals at selected times at the behest of God, that’s a far cry from the belief that God sends an angelic spirit to watch over every individual 24/7. In fact the concept of guardian angels isn’t consistently believed or upheld in Christian thought as an article of any sort of faith.