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Care to engage in intellectual religious conversation? (A rational, real-world Christian’s perspective)
Posted: 15 December 2009 03:26 PM   [ Ignore ]
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Hi everyone. I am new to this forum and website (I stumbled across it while looking at some things on Wikipedia). I struggled with an appropriate title for this post, as I wanted to have the opportunity to engage in meaningful discussion with others, but I didn’t have all day to sit around thinking up a flashy title. Also, I realize I have not established any credibility with anyone on this site, but I hope to do so if you give me the opportunity. I have perused through about the first 10 or so pages of this section on the board. After reading posts on various matters, I thought I would engage in thoughtful discussions with others on the topics of “God”, “Christianity”, “the Bible”, etc.  I will say a few things up front.

1) I am a Christian, and do believe the teachings of the Bible, although I acknowledge there are inconsistencies, perceived or real, that may seem unexplainable and/or contrary to rational beliefs and/or science.
2) There are GOOD NUMBER of self-proclaimed Christians that really turn people off from any discussions about religion, and I don’t think of myself as one of those people. In other words, I am not one of those Christians that beat people over the head with a Bible, or one of those Christians that are Christians only on Sunday morning, or one of those Christians that impose the will of God on other people, or one of those Christians that personally attack others, or one of those Christians with intellect at the level that they will believe anything their minister tells them, etc.
3) I realize that probably a majority of Christians are not intellectually capable of engaging in discussions contrary to their views, and that you all have probably encountered a number of these individuals. While I don’t claim to be as smart as anyone else on this board, I do think that I am capable of intellectual discussion.
4) I know that most of the posters on the board have seen countless amounts of biblical scripture thrown at them. As such, I will refrain from doing so (other than quoting a verse here and there if necessary). From what I have seen some Christians do, throwing a bunch of scripture at someone who doesn’t believe the information thrown at them either causes the person to get defensive, personally attack the other person, ignore the arguments, or almost completely destroy the credibility of the person. 
5) I ask that no personal attacks be levied against me (and I in turn will abide by this request).
6) To Adonai888, I respect you as a person and your attempts to discuss various issues, and commend you for following your heart and what it tells you to do. That being said, I think you have said several things which have damaged your credibility and/or your opinion.
7) There are intelligent, rational Christians out there, I promise!
8) And finally, my job requires me to analyze multiple, competing sides of a position or argument. So I assure you that I am open-minded, and will not summarily jump to any conclusions. With that being said, I will do my best to facilitate my side of any discussion in an expeditious and thought-provoking manner, but with a 60 hour/week job and a family, I can only hope it is up to par with other posters.

Anyone care to start this up? I really have no idea where to start, but let me throw something out there. I have read several posts regarding various issues related to God’s morals/compassion/etc. (i.e. mass killings, killing children, rape, sacrificing, etc.). I think a lot of these posts are flawed in 2 ways. 1) People are basing what is good and right, or what is moral, off their own personal code of morals. If you think about it, everyone has their own set of standards and what they believe to be moral and ethical. Some of these morals are based upon religious views, others are based upon common sense, others are based upon personal experiences, and the list goes on and on. 2) If there is a God in existence, I think most people can agree that an omnipotent being who has been around since eternity would certainly have differing codes of conduct/morals than a human being who has lived on average 75 years. Even in history, morals were different, and what is wrong and right will always be debatable. Also, if there is a God and this God is all-knowing and all-powerful, I would venture to say that our human minds are not capable of conceiving each and every one of God’s standards. While we certainly are in a better position now, intellectual speaking, than we were thousands of years ago, we will also be in a better position a couple thousand years from now, assuming there is not a major catastrophe on earth that sets us back to pre-historic times.

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Posted: 15 December 2009 04:07 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Thanks for the post, Johnny, and I hope it elicits some calm, reasoned discussion. I think you may find it tough going after awhile unless you have an iron constitution and self-possession. It is very easy to take arguments personally even when they are directed elsewhere. (I know I am not immune, either, and doubt anyone really is). We have had a few reasonable and reasoned Christians here in the past, and I at least found their presence welcome, although disagreeing with their views in places, of course.

For the benefit of us all let me repeat that everyone is welcome here to discuss and debate in a reasoned fashion, so long as they respect the rules.

Now, as to your final point about God. Of course, we are assuming the classical God of theology, who is not only all powerful and all knowing, but perfectly good as well. (That is, he is “omnicompetent”). So it won’t do to say that “good for God” is somehow materially different than “good for us”, unless the property of “perfect goodness” is simply a vacuous construct, that means nothing. For “perfect goodness” to be meaningful, (and indeed for the claim that “we were created in God’s image” to be meaningful as well, which is part of the story) there must be some basic comprehensibility to God’s goodness. Or to put it another way, “good for God” must be broadly comprehensible, broadly identical, to “good for us”.

Unless, of course, we aren’t arguing for God’s existence, but simply assuming that God exists and engaging in apologetics.

If we aren’t to assume ex ante that God exists, then what we have to do is look around ourselves and ask whether what we see is best described as a world that would have been created by a perfectly good, all powerful, all knowing person. (Note: the question as to whether this world is consistent with such a deity isn’t the appropriate question. We don’t want to know if God is possible given the evidence before us, but whether he’s rationally credible).

Now, I take it as demonstrable that the pain and suffering we see around us, due not simply to human wrongs but also to natural evils such as hurricanes, tsunamis, volcanoes, birth defects, viruses, etc., are such as not to be credibly assigned to an omnicompetent person.

Since we have no other reason to accept the existence of such a person, and since ancient texts are themselves no good evidence for supernatural occurrences, I submit that we have no good reason to accept the existence of God, and indeed good reason to assert that such a being does not exist.

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Posted: 15 December 2009 05:07 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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I’m quite certain that there are, and have been, intelligent and rational Christians.  Some are, and have been, brilliant, in fact.  However, I think their intelligence and brilliance are demonstrated apart from their peculiarly Christian beliefs.

For example, the great Christian thinkers I’ve read, even when expounding on arguments for the existence of God or on what is “good”, seem to rely on arguments and ideas which were held by many long before Christ existed, or which have no connection with or basis in the assertion of Christ’s divinity.  Aquinas, for example, is essentially (pun intended) an Aristotelian.  Augustine borrowed heavily from Plato and the neo-Platonists.  A great deal of stoic philosophy made its way into Christian philosophy.  The golden rule, and the principle of reciprocity, were thought of centuries before Christ lived, by the person known in the West as Confucius and others.

In short, Christians may be rational and intelligent, but they are not so because they are Christians.

Regarding the problem of suffering, by the way, I agree with Doug that it just won’t do to say God knows better than we do, or may have a different conception of good and evil.  That’s a mere evasion; it doesn’t address the problem, it’s merely an assertion, based solely on speculation, that the problem does not exist.  That’s not a very useful “solution” of the problem.

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Posted: 15 December 2009 07:27 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Johnny - 15 December 2009 03:26 PM

Anyone care to start this up? I really have no idea where to start, but….

Your post suggests that folks on this forum are ill-informed about religion.

In the debate metnioned below A. C. Grayling notes that many atheists know perfectly well the perspectives of Christianity, because they once held those beliefs, but no long hold them. If you check some of the threads here you can get some background. Let me know if you have troubel and I’ll put in another post with some links.

I was, for example, brought up as an Episcopalian.


Here is a link to a debate on whether “Atheism is the new fundamentalism”

Here is a link to audio—[ check comment 197]
ftp://aas.uct.ac.za/incoming/Atheism is the new fundamentalism.mp3 (23.7MB)

[Introduction to the Debate]

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Posted: 15 December 2009 07:38 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Doug said it much more precisely than I, but I tend to be more succinct.

It is foolish for an atheist or agnostic to engage in a debate or even a discussion about, say, morals, while presupposing (supposely for the sake of argument) the existencs of a god.  Once that premise is allowed, it can’t help sliding into all of the logic and reasoning, thereby biasing the whole discussion unfairly.

If you want to start by discussing the bases for belief or non-belief in the existence of a god,  the conclusions of that would probably define whether or not an argument about the origin of morals is feasible.

Occam

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Posted: 15 December 2009 09:29 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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Johnny - 15 December 2009 03:26 PM

1) People are basing what is good and right, or what is moral, off their own personal code of morals. If you think about it, everyone has their own set of standards and what they believe to be moral and ethical. Some of these morals are based upon religious views, others are based upon common sense, others are based upon personal experiences, and the list goes on and on.

Of course people base their views of morality on their own personal code of morals. The universe imposes no morals upon us, therefore we must develop our own morals.

2) If there is a God in existence, I think most people can agree that an omnipotent being who has been around since eternity would certainly have differing codes of conduct/morals than a human being who has lived on average 75 years. Even in history, morals were different, and what is wrong and right will always be debatable. Also, if there is a God and this God is all-knowing and all-powerful, I would venture to say that our human minds are not capable of conceiving each and every one of God’s standards.

First, I will not grant god’s existence a priori, and there is no empirical evidence any god exists. Therefore most of your Point 2 is invalid, and the valid part belongs in Point 1. I agree what is wrong and right is always debatable. I have my standards, and they agree with most reasonable people’s standards. Our standards conflict when people assume they have a god-given right to enforce their moral standards on others, such as people who believe gays should not have the right to marry.

Postulating an imaginary god and saying “humans are not capable of conceiving each and every one of God’s standards” is ludicrous. First you must prove your god exists, and you cannot do that without empirical evidence. Ergo, your argument is refuted before you begin.

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Posted: 15 December 2009 10:10 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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This post was deleted since it is an identical copy of post #117 in the Swiss Minaret thread.

Do not merely copy your posts to different threads.

Occam

[ Edited: 15 December 2009 10:53 PM by Occam ]
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Posted: 15 December 2009 10:18 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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Hello Johnny,

OK - in order to corroborate your point-of-view, one would have to assume “God” in the Biblical sense exists. Because the questions you pose deal directly with the known, monotheistic assumption of an omnipotent and omnipresent creator, it is difficult to side with you on this topic.
From my perspective for example, having been raised as a Christian (Catholic more precisely), then slowly shedding the dogma after years of careful observation, the ‘god’ of which you speak exists only in our collective psyche. There is simply no imperical proof of the creator that you are speaking of specifically.
Now, is it possible that our universe is the result of some form of intelligent design? Sure, it’s possible, but all current and valid evidence can only lead us to assume that we are creating that form of design in our minds. However, science is constantly revising as we learn, so one day ... who knows.
But you cannot ignore the facts at hand and make assumptions of faith. Faith is not science and it does not necessarily hold truths.
Christians and all other religions, make very specific assumptions about “god.” Further, these assumptions are taught to generation after generation as FACT. When one questions the fact, then the back-peddling seems to begin. “Well, you have to interpret the meaning.” “Well, you have to consider the times.” “Well, that is why you must have faith, my son.” The common denominator of any religion is faith. However, if one is diagnosed with acute appendicitis, does the doctor say, “well, we’ll just have faith that it will work itself out.” No - the doctor removes the appendix. Why? Because it is a known and observable fact that left untreated, it is very likely the appendix will burst, poisoning the body and killing the patient.
Now this example is pertinent because it’s life or death. Religion is life AND death. It suggests the path to live your life, based on an expected outcome after death. So to the religious person, there’s a lot riding on this. In their minds, it’s as important as a doctor removing their infected appendix.
To me, not following religion makes me face reality in a way that we all should be. We - are all we have and that is a precious commodity. It doesn’t make me an anarchist, a murderer, an immoral fiend ... it makes me human. It makes me realize that what we do here and now is what matters for our survival.
By indulging in the “what ifs”, we weaken our species. We weaken our ability to ultimately survive.
Just friendly food for thought.

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Posted: 16 December 2009 08:46 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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I have long considered myself to be somewhat of a Christian, but for me to take Christianity as true, I must believe that The Bible is a concentrated form of the divine’s emanation into the universe. I am very skeptical that it is so. If it is so, I do not believe that the Bible should be taken literally, but rather as an expression of how the divine moves. That is, all of the contents of the Bible is divine, and the concepts with which it expresses itself are all part of creation. Satan is to be resisted only with the recognition that also he is part of what constitutes God’s creation. Satan is not, God’s eternal, cosmological, adversary but a progressive force in the universe that is suppose to help one reach direct understanding of the true nature of reality. It may be by mischievous means of temptation, but still a necessary component to solve the puzzle of what life is.

Perhaps there is a gradiency of satanic forces within the holy spirit, that left the Bible incomplete in it’s formation. Why was some gospels left out for instance? What gave the church and roman leaders the authority to compile it to the exclusion of the gospel of Mary or the gospel of Thomas? These things have left me to distrust the Bible as it is, and left me on a journey that is completely experiential. Instead of looking for God’s word in scripture, I look for guidance in reality as it is. Having complete trust that the ultimate reality is benevolent in nature, I trust grace to show me the way towards true understanding.

I disagree with those who say that there is no empirical evidence for God, rather God is something that is discovered in the experiential account of what is.

[ Edited: 16 December 2009 08:52 AM by WeeDie ]
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Posted: 16 December 2009 10:15 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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WeeDie-

Perhaps there is a gradiency of satanic forces within the holy spirit, that left the Bible incomplete in it’s formation. Why was some gospels left out for instance? What gave the church and roman leaders the authority to compile it to the exclusion of the gospel of Mary or the gospel of Thomas? These things have left me to distrust the Bible as it is, and left me on a journey that is completely experiential. Instead of looking for God’s word in scripture, I look for guidance in reality as it is. Having complete trust that the ultimate reality is benevolent in nature, I trust grace to show me the way towards true understanding.

I disagree with those who say that there is no empirical evidence for God, rather God is something that is discovered in the experiential account of what is.

Much of this reads like a prayer-”I trust grace to show me the way towards true understanding.”
What exactly is “grace”? Could your statement have been reworded like this: ” I trust my inner feelings of instinct and morals, as well my likes and dislikes, tastes and fears to show me the way to true understanding.”
Having complete trust that the ultimate reality is benevolent in nature,” What is the ultimate reality? I know what it is. I know what you “ultimately” mean by this-DEATH. That is the ultimate reality you are trying to eloquently sidestep.
And who would not want the “ultimate reality” to be benevolent.(?) This is a main root of faith here.
Trying to ascribe human sentience, and personality to an act of nature.  “The ultimate reality is benevolent”-What does this mean?
It doesn’t mean anything, it’s just a way for people to latch on to faith. Faith replaces knowledge. Faith replaces fear.

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Posted: 16 December 2009 10:29 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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WeeDie Posted: 16 December 2009 08:46 AM

I disagree with those who say that there is no empirical evidence for God, rather God is something that is discovered in the experiential account of what is.

And here is the fundamental difference between a religious person (Christian, Jew, Muslim, whatever) and an atheist/agnostic.  The faithful take a god’s existence on faith.  And that’s fine.  Johnny and WeeDie start with the existence of a diety and work from there.  Atheists start from the place that there is no evidence for a deity and look for proof to change their minds.

Johnny post is a good one.  It is respectful and his curiousity is apparent.  But what he fails to see is that we each start at ridiculously different places.  If he wants to understand why we are atheists (most of us), that’s great.  If he wants us to understand why he is a Christian, that great, too.  But until and unless he steps back from Christianity and looks at the way deities throughout history have be protrayed and how Christianity looks like other religions in many ways, he won’t be able to “convince” us of anything (if that’s his goal).

In the matter of morality: Johnny sees God in human morality.  That is, we need to follow God to be good.  If we don’t have God, how can we be good?  It’s a question we’ve debated here many times before.  But the main point gets lost—atheists see morality as coming from situations and changing/adapting over time.  So if a Christian wants to get us to his/her side, then he/she’s going to have to 1)prove the absolute existence of said God, and then 2) why its rules are better than ours.

Johnny, before we can discuss morality, you are going to have to prove the existence of God as you know it.  Then we can move on.

I’m ready!

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Posted: 16 December 2009 10:41 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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I’d like to also say that Weedie and Johnny, and anyone else-it’s ok! This faith is OK. If it works for you that’s all that truly matters.
That’s it. If it’s working for you. Boom. ‘Nuff said!!
I don’t want to sound like I’m portraying us atheists as People of Steel! Men of Iron-Women of Granite Spirits. No. We all go through life with questions, fears, doubts.
This is important to emphasize to all of you theists who try to label us atheists as this or that. We are just like you. We aren’t special, we don’t consider ourselves gifted, or The Real Keepers of The Flame. We have fears. We have morals. We have truths. 99.99% of us have superstitions of one form or another-even if some won’t admit it. It’s natural.
We act irrational. We are benevolent. Etc..
Just like lot’s of theists we also don’t like to see the damage done by religion. And as was said by Johnny and Weedie, even most theists can see when religion goes too far. Most atheists think just about all religion goes too far. But most will tolerate it, because we are all on this Ship we call Earth together, and if that’s what helps you get to Port Safely, then so be it. We try to help you understand otherwise, just like many of you try to make us see otherwise.

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Posted: 16 December 2009 11:14 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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VYAZMA - 16 December 2009 10:15 AM

WeeDie-

Perhaps there is a gradiency of satanic forces within the holy spirit, that left the Bible incomplete in it’s formation. Why was some gospels left out for instance? What gave the church and roman leaders the authority to compile it to the exclusion of the gospel of Mary or the gospel of Thomas? These things have left me to distrust the Bible as it is, and left me on a journey that is completely experiential. Instead of looking for God’s word in scripture, I look for guidance in reality as it is. Having complete trust that the ultimate reality is benevolent in nature, I trust grace to show me the way towards true understanding.

I disagree with those who say that there is no empirical evidence for God, rather God is something that is discovered in the experiential account of what is.

Much of this reads like a prayer-”I trust grace to show me the way towards true understanding.”
What exactly is “grace”? Could your statement have been reworded like this: ” I trust my inner feelings of instinct and morals, as well my likes and dislikes, tastes and fears to show me the way to true understanding.”
Having complete trust that the ultimate reality is benevolent in nature,” What is the ultimate reality? I know what it is. I know what you “ultimately” mean by this-DEATH. That is the ultimate reality you are trying to eloquently sidestep.
And who would not want the “ultimate reality” to be benevolent.(?) This is a main root of faith here.
Trying to ascribe human sentience, and personality to an act of nature.  “The ultimate reality is benevolent”-What does this mean?
It doesn’t mean anything, it’s just a way for people to latch on to faith. Faith replaces knowledge. Faith replaces fear.

Excellent!
But more then a declaration of faith, my prayer is a surrender to forces outside control of what I consider my personal identity. I recognize that I know very little about the universe, and that what I do not know will always be a relative infinitum compared to the little knowledge that I have. I agree with you that the ultimate is very close to what we consider death, and I see my journey as a ‘taking away’ of what I consider to be ‘me’, to leave room to something greater. So I’m not trying to sidestep death, but rather, I’m integrating with death, while what we call life is still occurring. This is often a difficult path, with a great deal of suffering involved. The mind is not accustomed to see itself as empty.
To believe ‘ultimate reality’ is benevolent is an existential position. It is logical for me to assume that since there is existence, the reason for it is a good one, whether that ultimately entails the end of the feeling to exist or not. I assume you’d rather believe ‘ultimate reality’ is neither good or bad but simply what is. But this is also a matter of faith, based on your acquired knowledge about existence. As you were born you would not have acquired any knowledge, and thus not have any sense of your own existence or identity. I’m trying to go back to the roots of my own being and in doing so, an experience of what I call the divine have entered my experiential realm.
So it is not by a leap of faith that I believe in God, but by participating in existence I have discovered forces which I interpret to be of divine nature.
God to me, is a pointer towards the recognition that all is One. So in a way you could say that mathematics is a map of God (dividing 1 an infinite amount of times and revealing the relationship doing so produces). The polarity of existence, or the relative realm, is in a way always lesser then the unity of all things.

HappyHumanist - 16 December 2009 10:29 AM

WeeDie Posted: 16 December 2009 08:46 AM

I disagree with those who say that there is no empirical evidence for God, rather God is something that is discovered in the experiential account of what is.

And here is the fundamental difference between a religious person (Christian, Jew, Muslim, whatever) and an atheist/agnostic.  The faithful take a god’s existence on faith.  And that’s fine.  Johnny and WeeDie start with the existence of a diety and work from there.  Atheists start from the place that there is no evidence for a deity and look for proof to change their minds.

Johnny post is a good one.  It is respectful and his curiousity is apparent.  But what he fails to see is that we each start at ridiculously different places.  If he wants to understand why we are atheists (most of us), that’s great.  If he wants us to understand why he is a Christian, that great, too.  But until and unless he steps back from Christianity and looks at the way deities throughout history have be protrayed and how Christianity looks like other religions in many ways, he won’t be able to “convince” us of anything (if that’s his goal).

In the matter of morality: Johnny sees God in human morality.  That is, we need to follow God to be good.  If we don’t have God, how can we be good?  It’s a question we’ve debated here many times before.  But the main point gets lost—atheists see morality as coming from situations and changing/adapting over time.  So if a Christian wants to get us to his/her side, then he/she’s going to have to 1)prove the absolute existence of said God, and then 2) why its rules are better than ours.

Johnny, before we can discuss morality, you are going to have to prove the existence of God as you know it.  Then we can move on.

I’m ready!

The difference between an atheist and a theist is that the theist have discovered the divine, if only through the work of some revealed scripture of some prophet, which transcends in quality anything that could have been produced by the human mind. I do not take a position on whether the holy scriptures have been divinely inspired, but base my belief in a God, in the panentheistic sense, on mystical experiences of love and union.
I cannot recollect from where these forces have acted on ‘me’ and I therefor consider them to be a work of some divine dimension. My notion of grace goes hand in hand with this. It is as if I follow grace along to reveal the mystery of existence ever more clearly. Less and less it is I who act, and more and more it is grace who acts through me. It’s a question of surrendering to what is, as it is, even in the fear of disappearing completely.

[ Edited: 16 December 2009 11:16 AM by WeeDie ]
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Posted: 16 December 2009 11:50 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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Weedie-

It doesn’t mean anything, it’s just a way for people to latch on to faith. Faith replaces knowledge. Faith replaces fear.
Excellent!

So it is not by a leap of faith that I believe in God, but by participating in existence I have discovered forces which I interpret to be of divine nature.
God to me, is a pointer towards the recognition that all is One. So in a way you could say that mathematics is a map of God (dividing 1 an infinite amount of times and revealing the relationship doing so produces). The polarity of existence, or the relative realm, is in a way always lesser then the unity of all things.

Well I must say I have just lightly perused your Blog(is that what it’s called?), and I have learned some more insight into your beliefs. grin  I’ll go back and have a closer look.

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Posted: 16 December 2009 11:52 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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VYAZMA - 16 December 2009 11:50 AM

Well I must say I have just lightly perused your Blog(is that what it’s called?), and I have learned some more insight into your beliefs. grin  I’ll go back and have a closer look.

Be careful, those mushrooms can lead to all manner of silliness. shock

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Posted: 16 December 2009 11:54 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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fotobits - 16 December 2009 11:52 AM
VYAZMA - 16 December 2009 11:50 AM

Well I must say I have just lightly perused your Blog(is that what it’s called?), and I have learned some more insight into your beliefs. grin  I’ll go back and have a closer look.

Be careful, those mushrooms can lead to all manner of silliness.

I wouldn’t know anything about that Foto! LOL

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Row row row your boat gently down the stream.  Merrily Merrily merrily merrily life is but a dream!

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