"Malaysia Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad and the Sultan of Johor are seen in a blue Proton Saga... "When asked whether there is any tension with the sultan, Dr Mahathir said: “No, I don’t see anything because I went to see him and he drove me to the airport. I don’t want to comment on the sultans because if I say anything that is not good then it’s not nice because he is the sultan”"

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Wednesday, April 02, 2003

7) Fundamental Precepts

Sin

I was lead to believe, at the retreat, that Sin was singularly the most important thing in (Catholic) Christianity. Perhaps that isn't strictly true, but definitely it seems that Sin is grossly overrated.

The appeal of asceticism in religion, that God wants us to feel bad, probably stems from people�s assuaging of their guilt, and perceived building of self-virtue through self-flagellation. The worse you feel, the more God will reward you in the afterlife! The priest said that suffering was good as it would orient you towards God. To this I reply: How about those who despair, curse �God� and turn the other way? Why does God like us to suffer, if he is so good, kind and merciful? Could it be that he is sadistic?

Sin is a fact of life. If you want to survive in the Modern (or even the Ancient world), it is necessary to commit some form of sin, especially in the fields of business and politics. To do other would to be trampled upon. For example, when people ask questions, we usually respond with a degree of tact. Another name for that would be "lying" - a form of sin. "These six things doth the lord hate: Yea, seven are an abomination unto him... a lying tongue... a false witness that speaketh lies" - Proverbs 6:16,17,19. It is also written by David, "I hate and abhor lying" - Psalms 119:163. But how about when colleagues or friends tell us to tell callers looking for them that they aren�t around? Even monks, living in communities, have the potential for sin. Unless one retreats to a cave and lives as a hermit, it is almost impossible to live sin-free - with the Church's broad definition of Sin, that is.

Perhaps even harder to escape - Original Sin. Even when babies have just been born into the world, they have already been tainted by Original Sin.

Let us step back and examine the boundaries of Sin. How are we to know what is sin? Subjective and flawed human interpretations of Holy Text aside, let us look at Natural Conscience. Now, we are, almost all of us, born with an endowment of Natural Conscience. For Christians, let's say it came into the race when our ancestors partook of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. If we imbibed the knowledge present in the fruit, then would we not know what is sinful, and what isn't? In many societies, polygamy - both polyandry and polygyny - is practised, and in some African tribes, free sex is the norm. Homosexuals are highly valued in some societies for, with no children of their own to take care of, they can aid in the parenting of others' offspring. Now, it can be argued that social norms have distorted the Natural Conscience. So if we give this argument the benefit of the doubt, we can still see that in babies, sexual instincts are present. Some male babies are born with erect members, and some female ones lubricating, and one reason why swaddling is so popular is that it stops babies from touching their gonads - something that comes naturally to them. If that is the case, why is "self-abuse", something eminently and obviously natural, so condemned?

The priest proclaimed that, however good a life you try to live, unless you have divine help, it is impossible to lead a sinless life. And I agree, for with his Universal, Puritan, all-encompassing definition of Sin, it would be impossible to even breathe without sinning! For it seems to follow human, congenital, totally natural desires is to sin, and all along we are already burdened with Original Sin. Isn�t following our Natural Conscience (implanted into us when Adam and Eve ate of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil) and following the Golden Rule and its corollaries is surely insufficient! Methinks that it is best not to focus too much on inevitable, omnipresent sin but instead to concentrate more on moderating the sin and being a positive force.

But why is Sin so bad? If it does not destroy or control you, or hurt others, what is so bad about a moderate amount of �sin�, especially since we are all tainted already by Original Sin? We are told that God hates Sin, but not why. In fact, Sin humanises us.

It is necessary to sin somewhat to survive in the real world, and if someone has such an obsession with eradicating sin, that person will lose all sense of perspective, and this obsession will destroy him. Perhaps that is the greatest sin. We were told, too, to dig out the roots of our sin, and the priest gave the analogy of grass growing in a field - if you just trim the grass, it will grow back. I counter: If the grass is sin, imagine that the field is a person - if you dig out the roots, the field will erode and the place will become a desert. Are we enslaved by sin? More like enslaved by religion.

In summation, I found this quote very meaningful: God and Christians are analogous to an abusive husband and his wife. The husband beats the wife relentlessly, but has instilled such fear in the wife that she cannot possibly conceive of her husband being wrong. Thus, she believes that it is her fault that she is being beaten, and that her husband has no other recourse. This is not tolerated in today's society, but, when God does it, it's perfectly alright. This is what Christians who accept the belief of Hell do to themselves. They've been brought up to fear God from birth. This fear forces them to accept the completely illogical and unbacked statement that God is perfect. Thus, whenever they question the existence of Hell and how just it can be, the leash of God�s perfection tightens around their necks. They simply recite the above mantra and put all the blame on themselves, absolving God of all responsibility for his actions, allowing them to live comfortably with their illusory belief in the biblical God being perfect.

Accepting the Word

Christianity is founded on the idea of Love - God loved us so much, he sent his only Son down to die for us. Whoever believes in him will receive Eternal Life. So, a question comes up - what about those who don't? In the deepest heart of Africa reside pagan tribes which have never been visited by Missionaries. So when they die, they will not be able to receive Eternal Life - just because the news never got to them? Even when people have been preached too, they may not believe, as there is no compelling reason for them to. Perhaps what the missionaries say sounds like the words of Snake Oil salesmen (and who believes them, anyway?) - what makes one so different from another, and which faith should they believe in, then, with so many clamouring for their souls? Or how about those who want to believe, but who are never touched by Divine Grace and die bitter and cynical? Or even people in religions which punish apostates - some with death, even, resulting in the rate of conversion being low due to the fear of punishment? Is it fair to all of these people?

God is good

A generally accepted notion is that God is good. A cursory observation of the world will show that this does not seem to be the case - misery is widespread. This is explained off with reference to quotes from scripture, and various excuses, that Evil comes from Man through his free will, God is trying to mould people, misery is good for the character, the Universe being God�s creation and not his plaything and so on. However, how can the deaths of innocent people in natural disasters, say, be justified then? God is good, God is merciful and God is kind, after all. If we take the view that God should not intervene in his creation, then why are there still so many instances of supposed miracles? Or why, indeed, has God even appeared in this world, to mess around with it? Even if he does want to appear, it is suspicious that he chooses such indirect and doubtful means to do so. And how about the Evil supposedly arising from the hearts of men? Many people become �evil� because of their circumstances - poor neighbourhoods tend to have higher crime rates, say, so this �evil� does not really come from men, but from what happens to men, since most people are born good.

When good things happen, we are supposed to praise God. If bad things happen, we are supposed to do the same. But why should we praise someone who is doing bad things to us? The logic behind this is ultimately very fishy. Why should it not be the other way around?

If God is so good, why do we have a Vengeful/hateful God who urges genocide (and this after �thou shalt not kill�):

Exodus 34:17: I will drive out before you the Amorites, Canaanites, Hittites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. Take care, therefore, not to make a covenant with these inhabitants of the land that you are to enter; else they will become a snare among you. Tear down their altars; smash their sacred pillars, and cut down their sacred poles.
Genesis 7:4: For yet seven days, and I will cause it to rain upon the earth forty days and forty nights; and every living substance that I have made will I destroy from off the face of the earth. [Ed: Even the surely guiltless children?]

Specifically, it seems the Unchanging, Eternal God makes himself out to be spiteful, vindictive, cruel and sadistic in the Old Testament.

Perhaps the notion of God being good can best be rebutted simply and succinctly in the Riddle of Epicurus.

Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?
Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing?
Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing?
Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing?
Then why call him God?



God is perfect

God is supposed to be perfect, all knowing, eternal, infallible and the like. If that is the case, then why is his creation, the Universe so imperfect? Just one example would be extinction - if the Earth was created perfect, then species needn�t die, need they? Or how about the supposed Great Flood?

God repenting as he has made a mistake: Genesis 8:21: �I will not again curse the ground any more for man's sake; for the imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth; neither will I again smite any more every thing living, as I have done.

Jesus doubting God: Matthew 27:46: And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?

Many other examples can be found in the Bible. Just look.


8) Christianity as interpreted by Man

Since I was at a Catholic retreat, the thoughts and reflections below will inevitably by somewhat biased towards (or against, if you prefer) Catholic doctrine and practice.


Ave Maria

A common accusation levelled at Catholics by other Christians is that they are obsessed about praying to Mary. Catholics might protest, but a casual observation of their method of prayer puts paid to their protests. When Catholics wield their Rosaries and start praying, the amount of prayers to the Virgin Mary outweigh those to the Holy Trinity combined, due to the former being recited in a decade. Hell, maybe it's not a Trinity after all, but a Holy Quartet. What I want to know is, why is appealing to Mary to intercede so important? The Son was supposedly sent to Earth to die to breach the gap between the Father and his creations. So why is the additional help needed? And why is so much time devoted to it? As far as I know, in fact, nothing in the Bible exhorts believers to pray to Mary, and if the Bible is the Eternal, Unchanging and Complete Word of God, it takes a Catholic not to see that we have a problem here. John 14:6, "Jesus said to him, �I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me.�"

Besides the unseeming obsession with praying to the Virgin Mary, Catholics also have a whole host of other rituals and practices that other denominations frown on. Now, it's not good for a religion to stay still and not adapt to the times, but some people take the Bible as the eternal and infallible word of God, so addenda are reviled - someone once told me that she decided to stop being a Catholic because "they practice a lot of rubbish that isn't in the bible", and you should have seen my former superior ranting about how Catholics are wrong to pray to Mary.
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