"That which does no earthly good cannot be heavenly minded." R. Rivera

Friday, March 25, 2011

God May Have Spoken, But Our Problems Are Not Over

Dear family and friends,

I thought I would post something different. Rather than elaborate on a topic, I think it might be interesting to have a discussion open to all voices. So if you are inclined, please share your comments on the issue below.

If you do not have a Google account (or forgot it), you can create one in about one minute by going to this link:


Keep your login name and password safe where you'll remember it. And please share a thought or two concerning the following.

"Religion is the result of the mind's quest for answers to common life questions and experiences, with the added element (thus distinguishing it from philosophy) that the answers came to us extra nous -- i.e., from someone, somewhere outside of our mind, our life and experiences. This is problematic to say the least. For assuming a God who is the perfect heavenly transmitter, we are forced by the overwhelming weight of history to admit that we are poor terrestrial receivers.

"Let me put it this way. Just because God has spoken doesn't mean our problems are over. The religion (Christianity) that pushed to end slavery justified slavery in the first place. After this, the same religion justified the evil of racism, and the same religion is still trying to undo that one. Did the Hindu doctrine of karma emerge to explain the caste system, or did it help to create it? (You probably already know what I think.)

"So, assuming God (or gods, as the case may be) exists, that God has spoken, therefore we can know what God wants us to know, why such a checkered record of good and evil? Does being religious make us more moral than the non-religious? Or is what matters not our morality and goodness in the world, but being "saved" and heaven-bound? (So that one can say, "She's better than most Christians I've met, but without Christ, she's still not going to heaven.") These questions go out particularly to those who are Christian or are familiar with Christianity, but the questions are not limited to the Christian religion, and the non-religious are also invited to respond.

I say again, just because God has spoken doesn't mean our problems are over."

Ruben Rivera
To the upper left is a one question poll you can take.
You can elaborate on the choice you made by writing a comment.

1. I agree. This is why.

2. I disagree. This is why.

3. I'm in between (I don't completely agree or disagree). This is why.



Lucie said...

I am not sure religion is that heady...
I tend to think like Augustine that it's more the matter of a restless heart, of a perceived inner void, of a sense of one's vulnerability and finitude. It also comes from a sense of wonder, from encounters with beauty, with nature, with others that touch us.

Castles Crowns and Cottages said...

THis is WAY OUT of my league to discuss, but as an uneducated BELIEVER and hopefully, woman of faith, all I can say is that religion is an invention created out of the necessity to commune with the eternal. But history has proven that religion does lack GOOD RECEPTION and vice-versa, for our reactions to life's problems have not always been of a heavenly minded/earthy good nature...just sayin'! LOVE YOU...and ain't that the whole bloody reason for livin'? LOVE?


Ruben Rivera said...

Hi Lucie.
Thanks for visiting and commenting on my blog. Very helpful.

I agree that religion can emerge from a sense of wonder, awe, the "holy" (R. Otto et al), that's why I included the term "experiences". At some point of course that sense of wonder or awe must pose a question: What in the world was that? Who created this amazing universe? Why did I survive?

St. Augustine does say that he eventually found Christ from a restless heart. But his restlessness was based on serious philosophical questions. Why is there evil in the world, especially if, as Christians say, God is all good and all powerful? Why do people enjoy doing evil? Etc. Restless hearts, wonder, awe, life questions have all been starting points for religion. Thank you for bringing those points to our attention.

I'm still curious however. Why, if God has spoken, have our problems been far from over?


Edie Marie's Attic said...

Dear Ruben,

I am contemplating how to answer your question... what a huge question! I'll be back!


M.A.the2nd said...

Dear Ruben ... This is an amazing topic. I read this three days and didn't comment because I felt I had to go away and think about it. You touch on a very raw and very emotional subject and I love it because not many people will go there. I agree with you ... the word may be spoken or written(as in the bible) but everything is far from right in the world.
The question "Where is God?" in all of the tragedies we have been surrounded by in the last 6 months? The answer is God does not have jurisdiction over what happens on the earth nor does he have jurisdiction over our decisions. Free Will. The will to do the right thing or the wrong thing .... that is what separates us from everything else.
I love the question "Does being religious make us more moral than non-religious people?" A question I have often asked my mother .... her parents were Presbyterian and Church of England but didn't go to church regularly. My grandmother was one of the amazing people I have ever met. She and her husband, Geroge, were one of the pioneering families in this area and forged a life out of a very hard country. I was bought up Catholic as Dad was Irish and Mum converted to Catholicism. I know people who claim to be religious, Catholic, Christian but who I think don't have many morals and yet my grandparents, who were not particularly religious, were the most amazing moral people I have ever known. Food for thought indeed ... Ruben you have no idea how much I think about this and how much I have read about this ..... I am sure you know that Emperor Constantine in 310 A.D. decided to go with Chritianity as it obviously was the way of the time and yet he was previously, a pagan. Religion, is and always will be, manmade. Being a good person, loving and respecting your fellow man (or woman!) is inherent and I don't believe the gates of St. Peter will be closed to those who didn't follow a specific "man-made" philosphy. Ruben I am currently reading a book which suggests Mary had more than one child .... and do you know what it doesn't matter! The fact is the Vatican would be more served by seeing the real world and the real suffering rather than worrying about something so insignificant... the reality is people would prefer to see Chritianity and Catholicism in a more real world, as in, not perfect, but there for them all the same .....

Tish Jett said...

Dear Ruban,

As your beautiful wife said -- although she then proved it wasn't true in her case -- this is waaaay out of my league.

But, because I think you have a beautiful, fascinating mind I thought I would weigh-in.

I was raised a Catholic and actually translated St. Augustine in my fifth year of Latin classes. He is my favorite saint because his favorite day was tomorrow. Luckily for him, he had enough tomorrows to get himself back on track before it was too late. Of course his excesses were strictly personal as I recall. Cruelty toward others was never part of his search.

I thought we were created with a free-will and theoretically we would develop a conscience and be more God-like (within our limited means) and by extension aspire to be Good, Kind and Understanding. These are our gifts from God, we were then left to do with them -- as with all gifts -- as we saw fit. It seems God had/has faith in us. (Little did He know. . .)

To be perfectly honest, I no longer have any formal religious attachment for many very precise reasons which I won't go into here. But, then again, those reasons are based on humans translating the institution.

More than anything, I want to believe there is Good, which I believe God is by definition, but there are days and days of doubt. How could there not be?

I think, once again, I shall take the side of Anita. I believe in Love above all else and I look out the window and see the garden, my dogs, the birds and I think how blessed I am. But if I turn on the television, how can I or anyone not pose questions?

I will not re-read this because it's rambling, searching perhaps, but thank you dear Ruban.

Love to you and Anita,

Ruben Rivera said...

Dear Frances & Tish,
Thank you for your invaluable comments. Let me respond here to one of your points.

Both of you mentioned the issue of the level of God's activity/inactivity and human (free) will in the universe. As we think about this let me briefly mention some different ways people have thought about this.

This issue is complicated by what some see as nature's "random" acts that cause so much misery (like Japan's recent earthquake), but which some call "acts of God" in the attempt to find meaning and hope in tragedy.

It is also complicated by vast inconsistencies of self-proclaimed religious people who believe one thing and live another, or for whom real love, equality, etc., are reserved for those in their "in-group", while those in the "out-group" can be ignored, hated, enslaved, etc.

Lastly, it is complicated by the world's Scriptures themselves, which often reflect all the biases and blunders of human experience, even as they contain some of the most beautiful principles of humaneness to be found in any literature on the globe.

For these and other reasons there are great differences of opinion on the matter of the level of God's presence and human will.

1. Some believe in no God(s) (atheists), and as a result, ironically, they can have an easier time explaining tragedy caused by nature or humans: e.g., tectonic plate shifts caused the Japan quake and those preachers who said God was punishing Japan are ignorant, insensitive morons.

2. Some believe that God is the Watchmaker who created the universe and all its natural laws and leaves us to figure out how to make the best of it (Deism). Many of America's "founding fathers", like Thomas Jefferson, were Deists. This of course has profound implications for religions, including things as basic as prayer.

3. Some believe in God or "the divine" that has real though LIMITED foreknowledge of what happens and LIMITED activity in the world, with significant human participation in shaping events and destinies (what I call "Forest Gump theology").
4. Still others believe that God is absolutely sovereign and knows all that has and will happen and is guiding all, even if very much behind the scenes. Where does "evil" come from? A primordial human sin explains why once Edenic nature and humans are now so dangerous. The good news: God is taking the universe and us to a predetermined glorious end that heaven-bound humans (assuming you are of the right religion) will, then, acknowledge as perfectly wise, despite the tragedies along the way (e.g., St. Augustine).

U.S. President Abraham Lincoln is credited as saying: I don't know if God exists, but it's probably best to live as if there is one (a variation on Pascal "wager".

Atheists like England's Richard Dawkins would say that's all hogwash. Humans have all they need to cultivate humaneness, and religion has been precisely one of the things that have prevented us from growing up and doing just that.

Of course "The Age of Reason" and its modern legacy of rational and scientific approaches to the world haven't done much better at creating a humane society where all are treated as we want ourselves to be treated.

This is why I have said that "Both science and religion would do well to follow the dictum: 'First do no harm.'"

Ruben Rivera

Lucie said...


Are you asking the theodicy question? I did not think so at first, but now it seems maybe you are.
I don't think that question can be solved. We're into faith and mystery... as the writer of Ecclesiastes (one of my favorite Bible people) says.

Then I also have another question for you. You say: "God as spoken" What do you mean? That God is no longer speaking?
And of course, God may speak... but we must hear and respond. "If today you hear his voice, harden not your heart".

Our learning to hear and listen may be what religion is about.

Ruben Rivera said...

No Lucie. My post was not based on theodicy. I was simply agreeing with you that Augustine's famous "Our hearts are restless till they find their rest in thee" is true as a basis for where religion comes from. But I was pointing out that Augustine's restlessness was significantly inspired by (among other things) the quest to find an answer to theodicy (where does evil come from?), as he relates in his "Confessions". For a long while the Manichean religion provided an answer for him to the problem of evil, but he later found it insufficient. (Neo)platonism later helped him much (some of which he retained after becoming a Christian). But of course the platonists did not conceive of the idea or need for divine grace. But Augustine distinguished between the conversion of the mind/reason (which Greco-Roman philosophy and the powerful rhetoric of St. Ambose's preaching had a hand in) and the conversion of the will. Thus it was not even the teachings of Christianity alone that finally reached Augustine (as his famous prayer indicates: "God give me chastity, but not yet." -- i.e., by now he was convinced of the truth of Christianity but was unable to follow it) -- but (as he says) the grace of God in his garden experience that resulted in the conversion of his will, and the rest as they say is history.


Fete et Fleur said...

I'm thinking about this one . . .

I'll be back.

Ruben Rivera said...

Forgot to answer your other question. What does "God has spoken" mean? I purposely did not limit this precisely because there is broad opinion on it and I don't want to get tripped up on that issue. However one defines divine "revelation" / "truth" the original question still applies, as you have indicated by idea that God speaks (not just past tense or in scriptures alone) but we don't listen. That may be the seed of a fruitful discussion.

wilson said...

When it comes to Understanding Gods plan or Gods meanings. I often must resort to going to Nature. Once in nature I find myself pondering these many many questions. Then all of a sudden I find myself near a trail of ants..as I peer down at these wonderful creatures I can't help but think. I ask God..."God do you think these little ants can truly in their little minds understand or recognize what or who I am. Can they look up and do they have the capacity to recognize me? Personally I think not but I may be wrong." Then I say God is there life smaller than an ant? Then I say "yes there is the atom." "Do you think the Atom in its universe can recognize us humans and our Universe?" Then I take my thought one more step and I look up and say to God..God I cannot see you nor can I pretend to understand you as I believe the ant cannot see me but not only through faith do I believe you are there but by the simple laws of Nature. Just like the ant how am I to know or think like You or understand your presence in the Universe. Fortunately for me he, God was kind enough to have sent his only begotten Son. Who died for me and my sins so that once again I can return back to him. That my friends is how my simple child like mind thinks, and leave Godly thoughts and questions to the Heavenly Creator to manage.

Ruben Rivera said...

Hi Wilson.

Thanks for the input because I certainly want to be careful not to give the impression that we are going to answer all the questions only privy to the infinite. My question was based on the assumption that God has revealed what God wants us to know (e.g., as you say, "God was kind enough to have sent us his only begotten Son..."). Hence my question: If God has given us "the answer", why has the history of religion's success in achieving a better world been so, well, mediocre?


Edie Marie's Attic said...

Good Morning Ruben,

Thank you for your kind words, I value them more than you can know.

My answer is I agree. There will always be problems & issues in this world even though we have God. Often, the more God is in our lives the more trials we have with this world. But the great answer to the universe is LOVE. Simply love. Not to say that love is simple... sometimes it's not. But if we embed the love of God as deep in our hearts as we possibly can, we can't help but want to share it with others. It's a kind word, a smile, a prayer, a casserole, a ride to an appt, an understanding ear, a birthday card, a card for no reason, a cup of coffee we didn't have to pour, donating good used clothing to the "free" store, loving the child your nephew adopted as his own, being the light of our Lord that our co-workers and customers can get a glimpse of, etc, etc, etc.

LOVE. It's the answer to everything if only people would realize it. Sometimes it's really difficult to stay in the mode of love... but after years of practice it gets a bit easier. I'm happy to be in my 60's now... I've learned some basics by now! LOL

Oh yes... along with love we can't forget LAUGHTER! One of God's greatest medicines.

I hope this answer made sense to what the question was... some of the brain cells start to go after 60 too!! LOL

In His love, Sherry

Ruben Rivera said...

Dear Sherry,
Ultimately, this is where I end up as well (though I didn't want to give that away too soon; I wanted to hear from others). Jesus is very clear on this: What is the greatest commandment?, he is asked. Or what must I do to be saved?, he is asked in another instance. The answer both times is similar: Love God and [prove that by] love people that we can see all around us but wouldn't think of loving (because they don't belong to your "in-group", like the Jewish person in the Gospel who wouldn't have thought he had to love Samaritans). I think true religion ("faith" is actually a better term, as far as I'm concerned) is the lifetime of learning to live consistently by this central truth. As long as people claim to love a God they've never seen, while failing to love real people that they CAN see every day (as 1 John says); as long as they fail to treat others as they want to be treated (as Jesus taught), their religion and religious claims are simply not believable. For want of this radical love (that is above gender, race, class, personal gain, even above an economic system or political party--i.e., a Gospel liberated from these captivities), religion will remain unconvincing and its results, mediocre.

I deeply appreciate your love for God and for people in the everyday things.

Love, grace, and peace.

Debbie said...

Ruben! I got your comment on my blog and I did see this post but wanted to spend some time to quietly think about it and then post my thoughts. I will do this tonight. It is a topic that is right up my alley ... you know that. Please be patient. Comment is coming.

Love to Anita as always!

Debbie said...

Hi Ruben - First of all I really enjoyed reading all the previous comments. Some very intelligent and insightful people. I think that being "religious" can sometimes make us more rigid and less open to others. Following rules and dogma is a way for some people to believe that they are "saved" if they walk the straight line and stay within the boundaries of whatever rules their church or particular religious affiliation hold, and with that comes a certainty that they will go to heaven. Your question "if God has spoken then why are our problems not over?" My best answer to that would be that as long as human beings remain unconscious (Eckhart Tolle "A New Earth") then you are unable to live in the present moment ... the NOW and therefore unable to hear God speak. A spiritual person who is guided by God within, who sees God in nature and in other people, and is able to open oneself to other ideas/philosophies, and is sincere in their search for truth cannot help but come to the realization that so much of life is uncertain. Good people suffer, immoral people prosper and so it goes. I believe that God is. Creation shows us this. Scripture also tells us that God loves the evil as well as the good. So, with all that said, I think that though God has spoken (and I believe he continues to speak even though much of humanity ignores Him), as long as there are human beings who are unconscious and ruled by ego, they will not hear God speaking to them. To hear God you must do away with "ego". I have no idea when the earth will end or change or be transformed, but I do think that it would take thousands of years for human beings to evolve to the point where kindness is the rule that all humanity would live by. I believe that EGO prevents human beings from hearing God. I believe that God loves us deeply and tenderly and feels for us because He knows what it is to be human too. And personally, I think only the truly evil will go to hell. For the rest of us, I believe that God's mercy is beyond what we could imagine. It's hard to be human and live in this place of exile. Like St. Paul said "I fought the good fight". That's all I can strive to do. Fight the good fight and leave the rest to God.

Andrew said...

I would agree that just because God has spoken doesn't mean that our problems are over... as a matter of fact I think that scripture suggest that God speaks and few listen. By the time of the exile of the Northern and then Southern kingdom, the prophets make their audience(s) aware that though God had spoken in the form of the deutero/levitical law... the people of God had almost utterly rejected most if not all what God had spoken as terms of their covenantal relationship with him. I would tend to agree that religion is toxic... I just think that we are all "religious" at some level no matter how much we try to deny it, and it is that "religiosity" that impedes our ability to distinguish what is God and what is us. Furthermore, I think if we reflect on the current situation of the church and church leaders here in the United States, specifically with the emergence of the book written by Rob Bell... it is easy to see that there are those who will unabashedly stand by there traditional views of a God that is all wrath and no love (or a love that is so gracious enough to save us from the wrath) and others who will unabashedly stand by a God who is all love... both of which are gods made in mans own image. I believe that a infallible God chose to reveal himself to fallible people who tend to prefer to listen to serpents...