Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Who is God? Introduction.

Who is God?

Intro -
Logic vs. Learned Fallacy
The unknowable God
The need to unlearn

1. Who was Jesus?
Jesus the myth
Jesus the man
Jesus the teacher

2. What does Jesus teach us about God?
The fallacy of the law
The fallacy of the angry God
The fallacy of bigotry
The truth of love

3. God: The bigger picture
Can we understand God?
How many teachers are there?
God in spirit
God in life

4. God in history
The fallacy of a judgmental God
The fallacy of a personal God
The fallacy of good God
The fallacy of controlling God

5. God today
Does God save me?
Does God love me?
Does God control me?
Does God judge me?

6. Who is God?
Putting God together
Unraveling the mystery of self
Deepening our spirituality
Walking with God
Who is God?

An Introduction -

First off I'd like to say that in the course of research and writing this particular work, I have made myself and others very uncomfortable.  I personally believe that when we discuss religion we must learn to think critically, and proper critical thinking creates a deep sense of being uncomfortable. The reason for this uncomfortable feeling is that when we think critically about religion we most often find ourselves disturbing, deeply held beliefs.  
Ask yourself this, what does religion or spirituality provide for the person who practices it?  The answer comes in four parts.  First, our understanding of God and God's interaction with us, provides us with a sense of purpose, answering the question; Why am I here?  Secondly, our religious understanding speaks almost directly to our fear of death, answering our question; What is beyond this life?  Thirdly, our spiritual understanding of morality speaks to our need to tolerate and accept our inner life, answering the question; Am I worthy of love? And lastly, our understanding of our own inner value decides for us the question of the value of all people, answering the question; How should I deal with others?
So in this you can see that our personal understanding of religion, or God, or spirituality concerns the most driving and motivating forces in our human lives. All of our deepest fears, our heartfelt wants and our psychological needs hinge on the answers we find in our system of belief.  So it then makes perfect sense why we would be very touchy about questioning and/or upsetting that system.  Such endeavors are geared towards asking the "hard" questions, and these questions cause most people no end of nervousness. The thoughts must past through our heads; "What if I am wrong about my purpose? What if there is no heaven? What if I am not loved by God? What if others are just like me?
The questions perplex us until someone comes along with answers that seem to fit for us. Whether it is our parents, some mentor, our pastor or priest, or some guru on a hilltop, we want someone to answer these questions for us, and make us feel better about ourselves. This is of course, understandable. We need to know how to feel about these topics to function healthily in our societies. These answers we receive may start out very simple as we are young, but over time, and with the interaction of more teaching and learning we add to these simple concepts until we have recorded a full answer to each question that seems to work for us. 
There is, if you haven't already guessed, an inherent problem with this sort of information gathering.  The problem is that we gather up information from others, kind of like building blocks, and we fit these blocks together in various ways until they create something we recognize, and then two things happen. First we have come to the end of our journey, we have built our tower of babel and now we "know that we know" that this must be the truth. And secondly, we then apply our blueprint to all other people and assume they must have the same blocks as us, and that their blocks fit together in the same way. Both of these conclusions are fallacy. 
In fact, we have really gone about the entire issue in sort of a backwards manner, which leads us to continuing fallacy, because then we become purveyors of said "building blocks" and pass them on to others and share our blueprint soon we have many folks around us who suddenly all look alike, and this creates a sense of comfort for us and for them and we all get to sit around singing Kum Ba Ya, and feeling good about ourselves. This fallacy of our building from the ground up is that we have been given information, but not given the ability or the want to investigate for ourselves nor question the information that we have been so liberally handed.
In this book we will explore the concept of Logic vs. Fallacy, and hopefully discover that both religion and spirituality are not locked in concepts of absolute truth and unbending ideas, but instead are vast fields of knowledge that are incredibly deep and interesting. For the last few thousand years we have lived under a system of hierarchical intelligence. A system which says that only a few have the truth, and that unless we, the unwashed masses, go to them and ask for truth, we cannot have it.  This is the priestial principle, an idea that has fostered a laziness and sense of dependence on others ideas instead of our own investigation.
I will seek to lay open a path throughout this writing that will give each of us a better grasp on how to apply both logic and investigative ability to our own spiritual walks.  I will also impart to you information that I have gleaned from my own spiritual and religious investigations. That information is for you to take or leave as you see fit, but I include it to hopefully jar in you a sense of wonder and a want to dig deeper into your own system of beliefs. 
Do I believe that my own understanding of God and spirituality is the right one? In a word, no. I don't believe the word "right" can be properly affixed to the concept of spiritual truth, and the reason I say this is because God, if God is really worthy of that title, is so much more than any human or group of humans could ever actually understand and comprehend that none of us have all the answers, or ever will. This sort of God is a mystery, but a mystery that interacts with the creation, and lets little bits of itself slip into our understanding. To give you some idea of what I mean imagine the whole of the known universe, all of the billions of galaxies, stars, planets, time, and any and all dimensions and alternate once you have that in mind, imagine that God must be greater than that...outside of that...outside of the laws and limitations that you and I are bound by. This sort of God would be truly capable of being all powerful, and all knowing. Any god that is less than this is really no god at all. This is why our various knowledge of God cannot be considered "right or wrong"...because God is in fact, unknowable, at least as a whole, but we will get into that in a later chapter.
So at this point, if we can begin to grasp the immensity of God, then we can clearly understand that what we know of God, is very limited indeed. And that we could study our entire lifetime and really never grasp more than a molecules worth of knowledge. Once we are able to understand this idea, we begin to see that we must "unlearn" many of the religious and spiritual teachings that we have been given. It is this unlearning that is our first step, to let go of the limited priest principle knowledge that has been given to us, and start from scratch. Its kind of like the difference between going out to by a meal, and creating that meal at home from the base ingredients. If I go out for a meal, I can never be sure exactly what it is I am being served, because I did not witness all that has gone into that particular recipe, but if I create for myself a meal, then I know what has gone into it, and what its foundations are, and can be sure that it is exactly what I wanted.  Religion has be sold to us this way for a very long time, pre-packaged and shrink wrapped so that it goes down easy and we can go on about life doing whatever it is that we deem more important than our spirituality.  But is anything really more important? As we discussed earlier, the very heart of our thinking and behaviour is rooted in what we believe about our origins, and our spirituality.. These truths guide our thinking on a very deep level, and even decide how we feel about ourselves and others. It is time that we took our religious and spiritual learning into our own hands so that we can first unlearn the knowledge that has hindered our movement, and then by applying logic and understanding to what we can know about God, we can then create for ourselves a spiritual foundation that we can truly believe in and trust.  

Monday, August 12, 2013

Chapter 9 – Be serious

“Much of what is called Christianity has more to do with disguising the ego behind the screen of religion and culture than any real movement toward a God beyond the small self, and a new self in God.” ~ Richard Rohr

     So now we must get down to “brass tacks” as they say.  What is the most serious problem facing those who want to walk the Christian path and act according to the will of God?  The most serious problem is that the lines of communication are closed.  Jesus came to bring the message that man can communicate with God openly, but we immediately threw that concept out the window.  For all of the history of religion the idea has been that certain people are given authority by god to become intermediaries, shamans, priests, oracles, and the like, and it is to these people that we must look for our communications with god.  This is a pattern of control, one that has been established in our collective minds for thousands of years, but let’s look at it reasonably.  
     Once again let us place God as our father, and we as his children, and what if you came to me and said, “today I am going to talk to father about the problems in my life.” And I said, “No, sorry, you cannot do that, father has appointed me as his spokesperson and any talking you want to do has to be done through me, and then I will bring you his answer.”  Would you believe me?  Probably not, but we believe the exact same lie on a much greater level.  We are told that we common folk, the unwashed masses, do not have the understanding, or education, or that special something that will allow us to go before God, so we must have an intermediary to stand in our place and guide us by the answers god gives him or her.  This is the fattest load of crap that the church has maintained for too long.  If God loves us, and we Him, then what is stopping us from going directly to him and talking with Him ourselves?  Nothing is stopping us, except a fear of “not being good enough” and a selfish want not to take responsibility for our own spirituality.  We have been trained for so long to believe that we are not nor shall we ever be good enough to actually go before God and have a direct relationship with Him.  We are told not to question, not to stray from tradition, and most of all, not to interpret God for ourselves.  
     In this country alone the rate of people with self-esteem issues rises yearly.  We believe in the very core of our beings that we are not worthy, and with the church teaching stupidity like “original sin” and redemptive theology it’s no wonder we feel this way about ourselves.  Secondarily, as humans we are just lazy, and it seems so much easier to let someone else have responsibility for my own spirituality while I continue enjoying my worldly distractions.  The basic concept here is that I don’t want to miss the football game, put down the remote, or quit shining my new car long enough to actually consider my own spiritual life, because it seems boring and if I look to closely then I have to start seeing all the junk I've hidden away for so long.  We, by our natures, avoid pain, and living the spiritual life is full of pain.  What we don’t see is that it is the pain of growth, the pain of maturity, and like exercising regularly; it is a good pain, one that will build us into better people.  
     So how do we get off of our collective buttocks and actually sum up the courage to go before God ourselves?  It requires a change in lifestyle, small at first, but greater as we become more mature.  The change begins with some simple questions.  What do I really believe about God?  Do I believe that God loves me and wants good things for my life?  If this is so, what am I willing to give up so that I may focus my attention on God and increase my own spirituality?  Pursuing a spiritual path is a life long endeavor, and not to be taken lightly.  Take time to investigate the various paths around you.  Take the opportunity to oversee your own re-education in spirituality.  There are many great authors and books out there that are not regurgitated idiocy, but actually go outside the box and get you to really thinking about your relationship with God.  Look for a mentor, someone who is ahead of you on this path, someone who can give you some advice or direction when you need it, but isn't prone to trying to force your walk in one way or another.  And perhaps most importantly, do not be afraid to step outside your own boundaries.  Get out of the box, ask deep questions, and analyze all of the answers...even if they seem outrageous at first. 
     Once you can answer these questions truthfully and without regurgitating church rhetoric then you’re ready for step two.  Step two involves some minor changes in behavior; first you need to begin practicing meditation.  Now I know that word brings to mind eastern gurus and chants and such but that’s not at all what it means.  Meditation is prayer in the right direction.  Too often our prayers center on us asking God for something or another, or attempting to coerce God into some action or another.  The problem is that this sort of praying is neither worship nor communication.  This sort of prayer is simply an attempt to manipulate God into doing what we want, getting our own way and it does little or nothing to develop the true spiritual life.  Instead, we learn to meditate, to listen for what God has for us.  We learn to let God do the talking, and we learn to look at ourselves, truthfully, openly and we begin to know ourselves in a much deeper way.  Meditation is simple really, but it takes time to master.  Start by setting aside five or ten minutes a day.  Find a place where you can sit and not be disturbed, and begin by simply relaxing and breathing deeply.  Try to clear your mind of distractions, worries and outside issues, and simply focus on being open and clear.  As things pop into your mind simply label them, and set them aside for future consideration.  At first let this go on for just a few minutes at a time, but as you become more comfortable with it, then you can begin to extend the period of time or set up several times per day to meditate.  Meditation allows us to quiet our minds, to center ourselves down and begin to be open to what God is saying to us.  If the God we believe in is omnipotent and all knowing, doesn't it make sense that He already knows what you want?  Instead, shouldn't you be listening for what He wants for you?  As a minister I am often asked, “Why is it that God no longer speaks to people?”  My answer is this; “God is speaking to us all the time, we have simply lost the ability to listen.”  If we want to get serious about our spiritual walk then we must take action, and the first action we should take is listening to what God wants for us.  Father Richard Rohr has produced several books on the topic of “Christian” meditation and I would suggest them for further study on the topic.       An additional step you can take is to begin looking at the number and type of distractions that exist in your life.  Let me say, there is nothing wrong with having a bit of leisure time, but if our distractions are too many we may find we have little time or energy to put towards our spiritual growth.  Take an inventory of your diversions and then prioritize them.  Figure out which are the most important to you and which you can let go of to make room for spiritual practice.  You will need time for meditation, for reading and discussion, and most of all for actually doing ministry.  Eventually 30 minutes to an hour each day for meditation, perhaps the same amount of time a few times a week for reading and discussion and perhaps an entire day, two or three times a month for going out and actually doing ministry.  This may seem like a lot, but it’s something that you can work up to, and eventually surpass at some point.  If we want to be taken seriously as Christians, we must live and act as Christians.  If a man tells me that he is a baseball player then I want to see him catch and throw and hit a ball, if a man says he is a Christian, I want to see the compassion, love and understanding that come with being a Christian.  It is time to take action, and it is time that we bring to Christianity the action that it should have had long ago.  We must get out of our comfort, live up to our potential and take our spirituality seriously if we want change to happen.

Chapter 10 – be a follower of Jesus

“After all, he’s not a tame lion.” ~The lion, the witch and the wardrobe

     For those kind souls who have read this far hoping that this treatise wouldn't really challenge their beliefs, I give one final warning; this final chapter may tap the nail into the coffin.  Let me start out by saying something a bit controversial; Jesus wasn't a good or nice guy.  I know, this sounds contradictory and against everything we Christians have ever been taught about Jesus, but let’s look at this from a logical perspective.  Jesus wasn't a good son, he refused his father’s work, chose not to defend his family against slander and did not work a regular job or own property.  He wasn't a good Rabbi either, as he chose not to teach in the synagogue, spoke against the law, and refused to commit to the basic rituals and habits of Judaism.  Nor can we say that Jesus was a good friend, he led his friends away from lucrative jobs, led them into often dangerous confrontations with government and church officials, and continually harassed them about their shortcomings.  As far as Jesus being a nice guy, just look at some of the things he said, things like; “You must love me more than your family”, or “it will be almost impossible for a rich person to get to heaven”, or “leave the dead to bury their own, but you come and follow me.”  These sayings are hard, even mean sounding and these are only a few examples of such sayings.  Jesus makes many statements that seem completely contradictory to what culture, society or religion say are normal, good, and right concepts. Why would such a learned and wise teacher, who speaks often of love and compassion, say and do such unusual things?  I believe that Jesus said and did such things because he understood something simple that religion and culture have perhaps never known, that living a life of spirituality goes far beyond the temporal and physical state that distracts most every human most every day.  
     To truly become a spiritual being means learning to become more than our physical natures would entail.  Jesus is asking us to go against our nature, to become more than our nature, to become super natural.  Great spiritual teachers all throughout human history have pointed in this direction, and it is for these very reasons that very few religions can truly imitate or follow the doctrines given by such profound teachers.  Jesus, Krishna, Buddha, and others have taught these “hard” truths, but mankind chooses to avoid the actual spiritual truths and create systems of laws and doctrines that actually prevent following such concepts.  In this chapter I am going to outline five hard spiritual truths that can entirely change our lives, but be warned before you read much further, I doubt you will like what you see, and my doubt is even greater that many can follow such stringent guidelines.
1.      Love God first – Almost any Christian you ask will claim to love God, but do we really?  Isn't it closer to the truth to say that we have God only as a mere acquaintance?  Will you give up the Sunday football game for God?  Will you give up your lucrative job and security for God?  Will you give up your life for God?  Jesus makes it very clear that God and what God has for our lives must come first, before comfort, before security, and even before family.  God (read here; the study of spirituality and the growth of the inner self) must be put first in our lives, above all other considerations, and unless we can do this, we cannot call ourselves Christians.  Jesus chose the path that led him to the cross. Whether you believe that he was a super natural entity that came to redeem mankind from sin, or if you believe he was a wise teacher looking to change the status quo of religion in his day, either way, he stayed the path, even when it led to his family calling him a nut, even when it led to being run out of town, and even when it led to torture and death.  This is the sort of focus that we are expected to live up too, and it is the very first step in truly grasping and understanding your own spirituality, God must come first.
2.           Take care of the name of God – “God” isn't God’s name…it is a place holder for a concept.  God’s name is what power we give that concept.  When the Judaic law states “Do not take the name of the Lord in vain” it simply means that we should not assume we know or understand God enough to make claims in His name.  As humans our knowledge of God is minuscule at best and often flawed by perspective and selfish desire, so it is foolish for us to use the name of God to validate any particular task or ideology.  The name of God has become so scarred and mangled in our day that people scoff at the idea and laugh at the thought of a super natural creator.  God’s name has been scarred with war, murder, deceit, fear and hate and it is because the idea of God has been used to give authority to one leader or another’s want for power.  The reason that in Judaism there are so many names of God is that each name describes only a singular experience with God, as lord, as comforter, as teacher or unknowable mystery, and it is this sort of naming that helps us to embrace and appreciate the mystery without abusing the name.  God is not a republican, a liberal, a fundamentalist, a Baptist, white, black, or sublime energy.  God encompasses all that is our universe and more, and any attempt to boil God down to some ideological concept only serves to scar the name even more. It is enough that you name and see God in your own experience and expect that others will name and see God differently.
3.           Quit expecting an easy life – Jesus never alludes to the idea that once we choose to follow His lead that our lives will somehow gloriously change and become comfortable and easy.  In fact Jesus proclaims the exact opposite.  Living a spiritual life is hard, uncomfortable and often filled with pain, trial and grief.  It is a life of learning, breaking down and more learning.  We cannot be grown as spiritual beings without pain and suffering and it is these very things that many of us want religion to save us from.  Spirituality is something you practice and live every day, whether good or bad, rain or shine, and it is a constant inward journey to see what exactly we are made of, and growing that stuff into a strong and useful tool for God’s activity in our lives.  The rough spots in your life require rejoicing, because it is these very tough times that grow you and make you into the person you are or will be.  The mistakes you make, the horrible things you have done, or thought about, the shameful dreams and fantasies, and all the junk you hide underneath…all of that is manure for the garden.  Those things don’t damn you, or destroy you unless you allow them to do so.  Pain and sin are necessary parts of our growth and it is through the negative effects of these actions that we understand consequence.  God wants the best for us, but that best requires that we be put to the test over and over again, to become more honed, more useful and more capable of understanding our connection with God and God’s plan for our lives.  When Jesus makes the proclamations “no man comes unto the Father except through me.” The true translation of that statement should sound more like; “No one will understand God’s plan for them unless they walk the same road I have walked.”  And that road is one of trial, sacrifice, pain and grief, but it is the only way that we truly can follow Jesus.
4.            See through the illusion – The world around you is a lie.  Your five senses tell you that it is real, you can see it, hear it, feel it, but as much as it seems real, it is not.  Jesus makes this clear by His life and the way He chose to live it.  Everything you have been told that has value, these things are only distractions, things to take your mind off of the task of following what God has for your life.  Jesus says it over and over again to a variety of souls, “Let go of your distractions and follow me.”  But as people living in a consumer society it seems impossible.  How do we let go of jobs, money, security, family, status, and other such “necessities”?  It’s not really an issue of letting them go as much as it is an issue of giving them over to God, to allow your inner journey towards spiritual truth to guide you in how much these things have a hold on your life.  If you have problems with money…give it away, and you will find that your problems will become less.  If your problem is with anger, then quit defending yourself, and let others get the better of you, and your anger will no longer be a problem.  If you fear a lack of security, then put yourself out in the open, and your need for security will diminish.  I know, sounds crazy, but it’s exactly what Jesus prescribes for us, if someone steals your shirt, give them your coat as well, and if someone punches you in the face, let them hit you in the gut as well.  The way we see the world is illusion, and it is a diabolical lie, one that is so ingrained in us that we barely can believe that there is any other way of life, but there is and Jesus and others like him have showed us that we can, and must live that lifestyle if we want to see change in the world.
5.           Love like you have never loved before – All of the above concepts add up to our final idea, that we must learn to love, not the “mamby pamby” love we think of when that word pops up, but a truly unconditional love based on grace, mercy and faith.   Jesus showed the greatest form of love that man can show, he sacrificed his entire life to better the people around himself.  It is not even the aspect of Jesus’ death that is so great, as the fact that he truly lived his life for others.  Rationally it’s easy to die for someone, you only have to do that once, but it’s much harder to live daily for others, to truly put the betterment of other people before your own.  Jesus makes this clear when he ends up talking with and ministering to people who were seen as outcasts or even less than human.  His constant work with prostitutes, murderers, adulterers, Samaritans, Greeks, and other pagans, shows that He had little or no consideration for where someone was from or what it was that they exactly believed or had done in their lives.  God’s grace was for all, mercy to all people, and true grace and love cannot be earned, they are freely given, without contract, without strings, and without payment.  As Christians it is this sort of love that we should be living, and expressing to others.  Judgment is the love killer, the grace hater, and it is judgment that scars and defiles the name of God.  We must become a people without judgment, a people so full of grace and mercy that we can love the murderer, love the thief, and love the most broken and damaged people we come across.  The love of God is for all people, in all walks of life, no matter their sins, proclamations, or ideologies.  God’s love is for every person, or it is for none, and as followers of Jesus we must live up to this concept if we want to truly say that Jesus is our mentor. 
           The evolution of the church into the future is that we who choose to follow Jesus actually start doing just that, instead of paying lip service to a religious establishment of deceit and fear.  It’s no great wonder the church has sunk to its current level of self-involvement, radical judgment and fundamental clap trap.  The obvious destructive trend of the modern church can be halted, but only when we, the multitude of worshipers see the power that we hold.  The church in its original form was simply believers gathered together to learn about and follow the teachings of Jesus, and it’s time we take that simple plan and put it back into action.  Stand up, get involved, and make enough noise that those around you will begin to see the necessary changes needed.  Take an opportunity to become a leader in your own right, and don’t allow the status quo, or the elite authorities to prey on truly vulnerable church folks.  There is no better person, and no better time than right now, if even a small portion of us will take a stand, the system will change, and the true message of Jesus can actually begin to take hold of our minds, our hearts and our lives.

    Chapter 11 – A final note

           I am continually astounded by the capacity of people to simply accept authority just because someone says that this or that is authoritative. Obviously some authority is necessary to maintain the peace, and support civilized living, but we seem to live in a system inundated with various and sundry minor authorities on everything from what to eat to what to believe. I think this has happened because of an increased laziness among the people, and a form of idiocy that has become rampant ever since the induction of public schooling. Since the very beginning of my familiarity with religion in college I have heard time and again the “four pillars” of authority quoted over and over.  These pillars are based on four concepts that we seem to require to validate our religious and spiritual life.  The pillars were quoted to me as such; Tradition, Scripture, Reason and Experience.  Each of these concepts lays a foundation for the entire construct of our belief system and is given immense power to sway our active belief system in one direction or another.  I have found in my own experience that these pillars are woefully misused and some are given more power than others, which in the greatest effect leads to an unbalanced view of our spiritual growth.  
           Let’s take for example the pillar of tradition.  Tradition is based on the idea that our forerunners have somehow filtered down the basic concepts of spirituality to such a condensed and useful form that we must adhere blindly to their previous choices of action to preserve the “purity” of our belief.  This is a crock of dung in its smelliest form.  I hear often of how some church or another wants to get back to the “first century” tradition, or revitalize their practice of dogma based on some ancient methodology that created a “golden age” in their religion.  If I read my history right then this concept is ridiculous at best, as historically speaking each and every stage of growth that the church and religion has gone through has been strongly affected by the current cultural and political state.  This is to say that no change in the church has happened without outside influence and that any attempt to “return” the church to some previous “beatific” state is unreasonable at best, since we are attempting to create a static state for the church within an active environment that will and must influence our systems of understanding.  All of this to say, that we must allow for growth and change within the church and within individual people and not try to force our dogma or our congregations to exist within some time warp of behavior and belief.  Tradition is useful as a guideline to how we can better understand our forward motion but it should never be used as a blueprint for our direction.           Second, we must look at the pillar of “scripture” as this is probably the most over powered and misused of the concepts.  Scripture in and of itself is a beautiful and useful tool for the believer to use, but it requires some training to properly understand and employ.  As we have discussed earlier the bible can and has been used to uphold some very dangerous and horrific actions that are by no means Christian or spiritual.  The bible as we know it has been translated through at least five different languages and by many different hands each guided by cultural and political concepts held during the time of said translation.  This causes much confusion as to what the actual translation of any particular verse is or should be.  The only way to deal with this concept properly is to train each reader to understand the bible in multiple ways.  We must consider language, Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic, are the original languages and we must become at least somewhat familiar with them and how they work so that we can better understand the text in its near original form.  Secondarily we must be able to understand the bible as a metaphorical and symbolic set of stories that can in no way be taken in a literal sense, that the bible is not “infallible, or inerrant” because if this is so then the bible becomes our god, and we lose the ability to properly understand it and use its wisdom.  The training of our congregants is of paramount importance; each and every believer should become familiar with biblical interpretation methods, and be made aware of concepts such as symbolism and metaphor, so that each believer can have a personal experience with this wonderful text.   
            The third pillar, Reason, is the one I have most been discussing in this text and it is one of the least used of the pillars. This has created an imbalance towards tradition and scripture, (as obviously these are what we can see and perceive in a much more tangible way), but it is reason that can truly give us a better understanding of God and our spiritual path.  We must learn to look at God and at spirituality with a reasonable and thoughtful aspect.  Years of being spoon-fed scripture and tradition have weakened our abilities to think and reason about our spiritual experiences.  Reason has often been seen as the enemy of religious fervor, and that concept is exactly true.  Our fervor leads us to dangerous acts of prejudice and fundamental extremism that is tearing Christianity and many other spiritual schools apart.  Our congregants must be taught to use their reason and listen for what makes sense about God and what is obviously human fear and deceit getting in our way.  This will protect us from making horrible mistakes like the crusades, and witch trials again, and help us to spread the true, graceful and loving words of Jesus of Nazareth.  
            Finally we come to the concept of experience, because this particular pillar is truly the most maligned and weakened.  Our personal experience of God in our lives is the most important contact we have with our spiritual path.  We have not been trained or even encouraged to perceive our own connection with God, because it takes away the power of the priest, the power of the authority and puts that power in the hand of the congregant.  Jesus spread the message that each and every person is connected to God, and that each person can access that connection, without the help of a priest, a temple, a book, or any other mediator.  It is this concept that the current church fears the most because it leaves the authorities powerless to effect the congregants’ behavior and understanding.  Our congregants must be encouraged, to use all four pillars, to grow themselves and become personally responsible for their own beliefs and actions.  We are given authority by Jesus to teach these things, and to bring others into this teaching.  Each and every person is ultimately responsible for his or her own spiritual growth and connection to God, and this gives the individual power to listen, to grow and to be guided in his or her particular purpose by God.  
              The current generations that live on this planet have already been fouled by the current system of control and deceit, but our children can be taught more readily to embrace these concepts of self-responsibility and carry them forward into successive generations.  It is our responsibility as congregants and church leaders to begin teaching our children about a God who loves them, who loves all people, who sees no race, no creed, no sin as some reason to separate and persecute mankind.  If our children could grasp such a God, and we could teach them how to reason, how to experience and thus better understand tradition and scripture, our world would change for the better, and the true message and love of Jesus of Nazareth and the God he follows would finally ring true in the hearts and minds of humankind.  The final analysis of all of this is that we must begin anew, to try and understand where we have gone wrong as believers, and how we can re-educate ourselves and future generations to put our feet on a new path to peace, forgiveness, unity and love.  This will take time, and much effort to accomplish.  Our current generations are too deeply affected by these damaged teachings to make for a quick change, but if we begin now in teaching these concepts of reason, questioning, open discussion, and de-centralizing the authority of the church, we can begin to make steps towards that change.  In a generation or two our children may be ready to make large steps towards creating a world that is similar to the one Jesus of Nazareth envisioned.  The effort comes in this generation though, an effort that will cause much discomfort for those involved.  If you take what I have written to heart, and begin to practice such concepts, do not be surprised when you find yourself ostracized, oppressed or even openly hated.  The system will not fall easily, and it will be to each of us to stand our ground, to make many false starts and to feel the sting of the great beast long before it begins to weaken.  So we are left with a final question: who will it be?  Will you be the one to stand, to forward the cause of love, reason, peace and truth? If not you, then who?  

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Chapter 8 – be practical 
If religion were true, its followers would not try to bludgeon their young into an artificial conformity; but would merely insist on their unbending quest for truth, irrespective of artificial backgrounds or practical consequences. ~H. P. Lovecraft

     At this point I have spent a good amount of time and text to decry the problems of the modern church, but pointing out problems and accepting them as “reasons for change” are only half the issue.  As concerned Christians we must not only see and admit the problems but we must begin to take steps to change the systems within the church so that these problems can be solved.  Unfortunately the church did not become damaged in a single day and so it won’t be fixed in a single day, but by beginning to take small consistent steps we can begin to heal wounds and lift the church to what it can become; a place of practical learning, caring and giving, where all are welcome and ministry, not business, is the order of the day.  
     To make this concise I’m going to break this down into three basic areas of concern: teaching, caring and giving.  These three concepts are what I believe our churches should be founded on, as they are exemplified in the life of Jesus of Nazareth.  Teaching is foundational to all other functions within the church; if we are not teaching the correct concepts then we cannot expect the appropriate behaviors.  So, what should we be teaching?  When we look at the aspects of the life of Jesus as we know it, we can see that his teachings covered very practical areas of concern.  The life of the individual and that individual’s growth spiritually is foremost in importance.  Each person is important, no matter their status, wealth, color, creed or affiliation.  The single most important lesson we can learn from Jesus is to completely cease to judge others.  To realize that each and every human being is part of a greater whole, and that each of us shares the same internal and external struggles.  Not everyone is plagued the same way, but we face the same basic concerns.  Humans struggle with self-worth, with shame and guilt and with the need for acceptance and purpose in life.  Jesus makes it a point to motivate people that he meets to deal directly with these spiritual issues in their lives.  The aspect of forgiveness is a consistent cornerstone of Jesus’ ministry, and that forgiveness is without strings, without measure.  In every instance Jesus forgives someone in the stories we hear, he forgives them before he instructs them on how to fix the problem.  He doesn't demand that they change and then acquire forgiveness, which is sadly the state of Christianity today.  People must learn to be “un-burdened” before they can truly begin to fix the issues they are dealing with.  The church needs to teach forgiveness up front, no strings, no salvation, no hoops to jump through.  We need to focus on the acts of encouraging curiosity about spiritual growth, and give people the tools necessary to seek out that growth.  Our churches have become assembly lines of “new” Christians, “save’em and set’em in a pew” and that really is often the end of it.  Truly understanding and delving into the mystery of the teaching of Jesus is a lifelong endeavor, and it is often hard to do.  Much of what Jesus speaks of is esoteric, symbolic and metaphorical, and without guidance in understanding these mysteries, folks just tend to give up and listen to whatever rhetoric happens to pour out of the mouths of those they believe to have some kind of authority.  Instead the practical aspect is that we need to teach people to accept the responsibility and the authority for themselves, that it is they who can study, understand and validate their own lives.  This takes power away from the center, takes the danger out of centralized authority and gives the church members the responsibility of ministry as a team.  This book cannot fully go into the necessary specifics so that will have to wait for further writing, but for now, it’s enough to understand that we must teach what will move us towards creating a loving, accepting, forgiving and unified church team. 
     Once we have begun to teach folks how to understand their own authority and potential, we then must give examples in how we use these teachings to care for our communities.  The church should not be a social club for those who fit in, or know the “secret” handshake.  Churches have become hotbeds of social institution, back slapping good ol’ boys, and fashion shows for the ne’er do well.  It’s this sort of business that puts a bad taste in the mouth of anyone not fortunate enough to fit in to such a fool’s paradise.  The church should be carried on the concepts of unity, openness, and true care for each and every person in one’s community.  This means stepping across many boundaries that the church has erected over the years.  Who should be accepted?  Everyone, including single mothers, gays, Jews, African Americans, Muslims, junkies, poor folks, prostitutes, and even the wealthy and elite.  Church should be the one place that you go and set aside your differences, and rub shoulders with folks you might not normally ever speak to.  Look at the disciples that followed Jesus, fishermen, tax collectors, militant resistance fighters, women of ill repute, doubters, fighters, some rich, some poor, but all brought together by the teachings of love and acceptance.  Our churches need to be out in the community, not protesting abortion clinics, but asking those mothers what kind of help they might need.  We need to be motivated to attend gay rallies and let folks know that God loves them, walk down the street and meet your local prostitutes and instead of handing them a tract, hand them some money, so that they can buy the things they need.  The care that the church gives out needs to be practical, not lifting up cop out prayers or handing out propaganda, but actually getting your hands dirty practical work.  Instead of meeting in a pent up building every week, meet at John Doe’s house and help fix his roof, that’s ministry.  Take your church to the hurting people in your community, not to impress or get anything in return, but to show that you really do follow the teachings of Jesus.  Again, there are 1001 things that we can do and not enough space in this book to speak of them all, but we must get out there and actually live the life that Jesus exemplified, without that all we are saying are words without meaning. 
     Finally we come to giving, but not giving in the sense of a tithe, although that is included, but giving in the sense of truly living out the life that we have been taught by Jesus.  Over and over again in the Gospels we see Jesus being approached by one person or another and these people always ask the same basic question; how do I get to heaven?  Now, we need a quick interpretation here, because they are not asking what you think they are asking.  The aspects of heaven as Jesus speaks of it are not some "pie in the sky by and by" sort of place somewhere up above our heads.  In Judaic concept there is no place but this place, God is interwoven in everything around us, and through us.  God is not somewhere else, not on a high mountain, or on a cloud throne, but actually woven into the very fabric of our existence.  When Jesus speaks of heaven he is speaking of a change in our physical, mental and spiritual world.  Heaven is not a reward for after death, but a place that can exist right here and now, if only we could grasp how to bring it about. So, how do we get to heaven?  Jesus answers this question in the same way every time, you get to heaven by giving up everything that is holding you back, whether that is riches, regret, doubt, fear, or whatever, unless you can truly let it go and give away those things that distract you from following his teachings, you will not create heaven in your life.  When I speak of giving this is what I mean, we are asked to give everything we are to live the life that God has promised to us.  But our lives have so much distraction, so many things, ideas, and feelings get in our way and we cannot seem to let them go long enough to move past them.  If we are going to be followers of Jesus, we must take this last step in order to truly call ourselves his disciples.  
     We must teach the truth that Jesus gave example of, and we must care enough in practical ways to live out that teaching, and finally we must give up all distraction in order to bring about heaven for ourselves, our children and our communities.  If we plan to be Christians, we must truly follow that man from Nazareth, even if it’s hard, even if it seems impossible, because giving up everything allows us to truly, finally, do anything.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Chapter seven – Be open

People are very open-minded about new things - as long as they're exactly like the old ones.
~Charles Kettering

     New wine doesn't go well in old wine skins.  Meaning that; new ideas are not always easily accepted, especially by those already established in age and power.  The Christian church has adopted particular behaviors that have been passed on as tradition down through the ages.  Tradition itself is not wrong or bad in any way, but the ideas and behaviors that pass down might be.  Time for another history lesson; let’s begin with the early church.  Well actually, there wasn't an “early” church, at least, not really.  You hear a lot of church folks talking about wanting to “worship” like they did in the first century church, but the problem is, no one really knows how that might have looked.  We can conjecture based on some historical records and archaeological findings, but that seems to paint a very different picture of what the church was in those days.  
     First of all, there was no bible, no amalgamation of books designed to teach from, there was some small access to the Hebrew Scriptures, but even that was limited.  There were also no church buildings per se, just small groups of Christians meeting in the homes or public spaces around their towns.  There was also little or no structure to speak of, sure there were guys like Peter and Paul who were there to give some guidance, but in a world with no access to long distance communication other than letters or messenger, it was almost impossible to keep any sort of structure afloat.  Rules are a big thing in today’s churches, rules about music, dress, what it means to be “saved”, and so on and so forth, but in those days without some integral structure, there really wasn't a framework to hang such rules on.  So, in a nutshell, the early church was actually regularly disorganized, guided by the whims of those in control in whatever town the church had grown in, and each group was for the most part autonomous, and without any distinct guide towards some sort of structure.  
     Now about 350 years into the new millennium  Rome decides to adopt Christianity as its state religion.  It’s only at this point that we actually begin to see some kind of structure develop.  The bible is brought together; some books or letters are approved while others are thrown out.  A structure of leaders and rules are then applied to make the new religion digestible for the largest part of the citizens.  The “new” Christianity does not make everyone happy, many Christian sects rail against this new concept and get exiled or killed for speaking out.  Many of these groups fall under the term “Gnostics”, and Gnosticism becomes the hated enemy of the Roman church.   Any books not approved for use in the newly formed bible now get the label “Gnostic text” and are destroyed.  The Roman church becomes a juggernaut of power and control and then it becomes apparent why all of these changes were made.  Rome needed something to bring together the varied and often warring groups of pagans within its citizenry.  A single religion, with a set system of behaviors, and built in controls would give them exactly the kind of organization and power that they needed.  These “traditions” of control have been passed down within the organized church for over two thousand years now, and it is these traditions that I find despicable and deadly to the faith of the common people.  Every step we take, every new challenge within spirituality is meant to grow and eventually free us from the bondage of fear, doubt and suffering.  But the traditions that have been passed down by the ancient church do exactly the opposite, they incite fear, doubt and suffering on a global scale.  
     I remember when I was about seven years old; I had gone to spend some time with my brother who is much older than me.  He took his family to a new church the first Sunday that I was staying with them.  I won’t mention the denomination, but the church was a well-established group in the small town we were living in.  Upon arriving I met the preacher, and although he was a bit old and seemed somewhat distant, he won me over with a piece of candy from his jacket pocket.  As we sat through the service I hung on every word, as I had been informed by my brother that this man spoke with the authority of God.  At first his words seemed gentle, but as the sermon drew on he began to increase his volume and his aggression.  Soon he was slamming his fist onto the pulpit, and vehemently decrying the sins of mankind.  As his fervor increased, I began to sweat, and shift uncomfortably in my pew.  Soon he was rattling off lists of sins, and talking about the awful punishments that would be doled out by God on the poor souls who dared commit them.  Several of the sins on that list I was pretty sure I had already committed, and I was frightened beyond belief.  As soon as the invitation was given I knew I had to be first in line, so I ran up the aisle as fast as I could, weeping tears of fright, and knelt before this man of god, and confessed my sins asking for forgiveness.  I was told I had done the right thing, and that I must be baptized and must choose to sin no more.  Thus began a lifelong struggle with my own sense of value as a human being.  That preacher did not just implant fear into a child’s mind that day, he implanted that fear into my heart and I continue to struggle with it to this very day.  Was this preacher a bad man?  No, not really, he was simply regurgitating what had been forced on him by his mentors, and this lineage follows all the way back to those men in Rome.  We have passed down the instruction of fear and self-loathing as a tradition in our churches.  No one is good enough, no one is without sin, and all of us are condemned because God seeks perfection. It is for this reason that Jesus came and died and that we all must be saved, we all must fall in line, act according to the rules and regulations and do as we are told, so that our vile nasty self won’t get the better of us.  
      Complete and total rubbish…to assume that the race of mankind is flawed is to assume that our creator made a mistake, or at least was set upon by unforeseen happenstance, either way that god is apparently not very powerful or wise.  We were not “born in sin” we were in fact conceived in love and compassion, children to be grown, taught and encouraged.  Do we make bad decisions?  Sure we do, and we probably always will, but the issue is that we must realize that we are not flawed at our center.  We are flawed by our teachers, parents, relatives, and the society we grow up in.  Flaws come from outside of us, not inside, and as children we are blank slates ready to adapt ourselves to whatever our authorities want to teach us.  If we are broken, sinful, and misguided it is the fault of those in authority over us, not to relinquish us from responsibility, but to say these things have a reasonable and obvious starting point.  The church’s implementation of deceit and fear as tools to control the populace has done more harm to mankind than a thousand wars.  The very way we see and understand our own value has been tainted and distorted.  The reasonable God that we have spoken of made no mistakes, we are each created perfectly, full of potential and open mindedness, and it is the venom injected by our authorities and society that damn us.  
     As Christians our first and foremost teaching should be that God loves everyone, no matter what, no matter who they are or what they have done or will do.  I see it much like the relationship I have with my own children.  As a father I often get disappointed with my kids.  They don’t always listen, and they often have a mind of their own to do things that I know and have taught them are not beneficial to themselves or others.  Yet time and again they make the wrong decisions and reap the consequences.  Now, in the mindset of the old “god”…I would need to dig a pit in the back yard and fill it with burning sulfur and brimstone, and throw my kids in there after they had disappointed me too many times, or at least admonish them to the point where I have stripped them of all dignity and self-will and made them into my own little automatons, to be used or abused at will.  All of that is nonsense of course, because the truth is, no matter what they do, or how many times they miss the mark, I will always love them.  They are my children, and although I may at times be disappointed in their behaviors, I always hold out hope that they will grow and learn, and eventually just that happens.  Now, I know I am by far not the best father in the world, but if I love my own children that much, how much more does God love us?  Again, it only makes sense, if God is a god of love and compassion, there really is no other option, He loves us all, or He is not the god He claims to be.  
     It’s time we opened our minds to some greater possibilities…what if God is really on our side?  What if God doesn't hate anyone?  What if we truly are loved no matter what our mistakes? What if Jesus didn't come to die for our sins, but died because of our sins?  It changes the playing field to think this way.  It changes what we should be about, what our teachings should carry to others.  It changes everything, and that change is good.  Don’t be afraid to be open to change, our openness to a realization that God truly is on our side, that He truly does care about each one of us, and that we are precious in His sight, makes all the difference in what the church is, and what the church could be.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Chapter six – be angry

Anybody can become angry - that is easy, but to be angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose, and in the right way - that is not within everybody's power and is not easy. ~Aristotle

     Why should we be angry?  We should be angry because for nearly two thousand years the beautiful teachings and good deeds of Jesus of Nazareth have been twisted into a flail of fear and deceit with which to keep the people in line. In the last chapter I talked of the need for being aware and using our capacity to reason to make sense of who God is and what God wants for us. As modern Christians one of the things we don’t get is that our spiritual path is a beautiful and compassionate tool that can be used to aid people in many and diverse ways.  The God that we have been introduced to is a God who seeks relationship with us, not because we have earned it, but because God has chosen it. 
     So what is it that makes this God so different from any other concept of god?  Well, the biggest difference is that God seeks to aid us, not take from us, not demand from us, but simply to enrich our lives and grow us into the people we have the potential to be. The problem is that a good deal of this understanding has been lost because of foolish people using religion as a control on the populace and not seeing it for what it really is, a way to free us from needing that control.  How does this work?   First we need a bit of a history lesson.  In very ancient times, pre-Judaism, we see that people were practicing at various forms of animism and polytheism, and everything was very supernatural and there was a good deal of fighting over who’s god was stronger.  Judaism enters the scene and the idea of monotheism is brought about, this idea changes a good deal of the commonly held thoughts at the time.  
     Before Judaism gods weren't something you wanted to be involved with, gods were dangerous, finicky and bad tempered.  Village priests spent most of their time using concepts like sacrifice to avoid the attention of these deities and keep them happy.  So long as the local deity was happy, crops would grow, people would eat, and life was good.  If for any reason, the local deity got upset, then you could bet life was going to get hard, with floods, disease and famine, it paid to keep these beastly gods happy.  With the coming of the Judaic god, that concept began to change.  Suddenly there was a deity who wanted to help man.  Look at the promises that God makes to Abraham, to grow him, prosper him, and give him children and a land to have for his own.  That same God makes an appearance to Moses in Egypt and aids the Hebrew people in escaping their captivity and finding a homeland.  So why does it seem at this point that God seems to change? He suddenly goes from a God willing to help the people to a God of rules, regulations and often times a murderous temper.  Let’s use some of that reason again; what we have here is a change in the story of the people of Israel.  Before they were in captivity, or homeless in the case of Abraham, they needed help; they were looking for a reason to believe in themselves.  God provides that for both Abraham and for Moses, but then seems to change.  The change comes about when the Jews gain their own turf.  Now, it’s not about needing a helping hand up, now it’s about conquering and maintaining a land.  God didn't change, the thoughts and behaviors of the people did.  If God had helped them this far, then surely it was okay to slaughter and kill their perceived enemies.  This was the thinking of the pre-Judaic mindset coming back to haunt mankind. Haven’t you ever wondered why God’s temperament seems to change so drastically from time to time?  You see it all through the Old Testament, one second God seems to be on man’s side, trying to help and guide him, and then the next second God seems to turn hateful and vindictive, usually ending in a large number of people being massacred.  It’s all there, go read your Old Testament, you will find time after time that this cycle happens…God’s good, then God’s anything but good.  How do we reasonably explain this in Christianity?  
     Truth is, we don’t, or at least no particularly good explanation.  You usually get the old standby explanation of God being sovereign and so He can do as He pleases, or if the person you ask is a Theologian, they will trail off about God’s ethical identity, or the need to understand the unredeemable qualities of some ancient cultures or some other such rot, or if you’re really unlucky you’ll just get the most common answer, “because the bible says so.”  You know, I never liked that answer from my parents and I sure don’t want that answer from my church.  Nothing is ever because “someone says so”…there is always a reason that such decisions are made.  So why are these contradictory stories of God in the bible?  If you begin to understand that at various times, different authors were involved in creating, retelling, and eventually writing down the stories that make up the bible you being to understand why the variance is there.  You see the same technique used to write about today’s wars.  When the writer is in favor of peace and love and unity, that’s the kind of perception they are going to have of God and so that’s the flavor their writing is going to have.  If the writer sees God as giving the Hebrews the right to commit genocide on other cultures, he is naturally going to assume that God sees things his way and write accordingly.  When we go to war with anyone, the very first step we have to take is to dehumanize that group of people, so that we can have clear consciences about killing them.  So surely if God is on our side we can kill at will because God will surely forgive us, or maybe even reward us for taking care of this business. If you don’t believe it, just look at any war propaganda, from any country, during any war, the same tale is told over and over again.  
      The pre-Judaic thinking about gods keeps coming back on us.  We start beating our religious chests and trying to proclaim our god as bigger and meaner. This is why the bible seems to constantly argue with itself about rules, regulations, and the status of various tribes and sins.   Its all “old” thought that is still hanging around even though the God who comes to Abraham and Moses really kind of did away with all that rhetoric. It comes down to this, God needs to make sense, and anything we do or say in the name of God should fall in line with who God is and what God expects from us.  So how do we make something that we can’t see, touch or manipulate in any real way, make sense? Can we ever really make sense of God, or is God so far removed from us that His ways really are beyond our understanding?  It is through sense and reason that we humans know anything and it is through those same tools that we are able to become civil and understand concepts like love and compassion, forgiveness and empathy.  So if it is through the senses that I can make the leap from barbarian to civilized human, then it seems logical that God makes sense and is reasonable.  
     We must ask questions; does God want peace on Earth, love among all people, compassion for the sick and weak?  If the answer to these questions is yes, then the answer is yes in all instances.  We can’t pick and choose when to be compassionate, we can’t manipulate these concepts to fit our daily whims, but in fact, we Christians have spent two thousand years doing just that.  Whether it was the persecution of pagans during the middle Ages, or the snubbing of the poor in our modern church, we are making the same mistakes over and over again. And these mistakes are unreasonable, without thought or logic, simply because someone says that this or that is right doesn't make it so.  The bible can be made to say just about anything you want, taken out of context; it literally is a smorgasbord of potentialities.  The bible has been used to uphold the concepts of slavery, murder, genocide, rape and child abuse, just to name a few.  The things we understand about God must make sense, and that sense must jive with the message that God has been trying to pass on to us ever since He called out Abraham.  “I am your God; I want the best for you. I want you to have peace, to love one another, respect one another and learn to get along.  I have tried to make it clear that I love you, no matter what, no matter who you are, what you have done, or what you believe and I want you to treat one another with consideration and compassion.”  Of course this is my own paraphrase, and you don’t have to believe it, but consider what you are left with if you don’t.  God is either a God of love, compassion, kindness and hope, or he truly is a god of hatefulness, murder and bigotry.  
     We either believe these things about God or we must see that it was man who made the changes, not God. It is our responsibility as Christians to live up to the example given by Jesus, and to understand and reason about who God is and what He expects of us.  The world needs to see that God isn't the bigoted, hateful, genocidal, and despotic, judge that Christianity has for too long portrayed Him as.  The only way that anyone can see who and what God is, is by watching what his followers do.  
     We are responsible for God’s negative propaganda, and we have allowed it to go on for way too long, it’s time for a change.  Urge your congregations to quit picketing abortion clinics, supporting anti-gay agendas, and doing anything that might even be construed as projecting the image of an angry, hateful God.  People inherently know good from bad, they don’t need someone wagging fingers in their direction if they are making mistakes, what they really need is someone there to pick up the pieces, and assure them that they are still loved.  The battle for whether or not the church will survive much into the 21st century rides almost entirely on whether or not we can begin to truly live the love and forgiveness of Jesus and open our arms and congregations to hurting and broken people, no matter who they are or what they profess.  It’s time to get angry, but not at people who are hurting and broken, no its time to get angry at the childish leaders of our churches who carry on their own wars of bigotry and hatred through their own ignorance and pass on that venom to their congregations.  Don’t willingly play a role in this sort of behavior, step up, get angry and put your foot down.  Since it’s your money going in the offering, and each and every church functions at the will of its congregants, take a stand.  If enough of us stand up and get angry about this sort of infantile nonsense, our churches just might have a chance to reform and ask forgiveness for a few thousand years of hate mongering.  It’s time for a change of face, and that change depends on you, the congregant, and whether or not you want to serve a God of love, compassion, and forgiveness, or be trampled under by hate and bigotry.