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Obey No1kinobe

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Is it time to accept literal religious belief systems are intellectually bankrupt?

Is it time to accept literal religious belief systems are intellectually bankrupt given our current scientific understanding of the universe?

For thousands of years different religious belief systems have explained how the universe came into existence and appears the way it is, why we are here, how we should live, and what happens when we die.

Often these beliefs are enshrined in religious texts, from prophets, revelations, or interpreted by a priestly class. In addition to creation myths, there are laws and tribal history/mythologies, miraculous claims etc.

Today we have the benefit of being more aware of the variety of religious beliefs and science to show us that life and the universe is far more complex than most religious traditions give credit. The older religions are so often clearly products of their time and place in terms of explaining the world, what is acceptable, how we should live.

In asking this question I note at best only one of the many religious views could be literally correct and likely none are. While other foreign beliefs seem alien, strange and far fetched, if we are examine the traditions we are familiar with they too are strange. Religions are like clothes and language - artifacts of culture.

Today we laugh at the idea the world is flat, or the centre or the universe, that the sun and the moon are gods. We understand atoms and bacteria, plate tectonics and are starting to grasp the age and size of the universe, evolution and the diversity of life, the quantum.

Science better explains the universe, human behaviour. While never complete, perhaps science gives us a better basis for a rationale debate on the meaning and wonder of life and how best to live.

Do different religions support tribalism, or at least make it worse?
Are fundamental religious views holding back science and social development?
Are Deism or beliefs related to a non interventionist intelligence or creator still valid hypotheses and less damaging?

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Closing Statement from Obey No1kinobe

There was an article in the paper yesterday discussing the US Republican candidates. It mentioned that over 40% of US Americans believe in the genesis stories. In the only country to put humans on the moon and holding the most powerful and technologically advanced military in human history, nearly half the population believes the universe was created in 6 days, Eden, the tree of knowledge, god walking in the garden, Adam, Eve, Abel, Cain, people living 900+ years etc.

I note many religious folk commented below that that they believe these scriptures are not meant to be taken literally.

Perhaps some literal beliefs are easy to discount. If you believe the Earth is a flat disc sitting on the back of a giant turtle flying through space, or gods routinely walking the earth, I suggest we can file these away as myth.

Key considerations for the other literal beliefs may include (1) whether humans were created as is or evolved and (2) whether the universe is about 6,000 years old or about 13 billion years old. (3) Are the other super normal/natural claims believable?

A god could have created the universe to look much older than it is. Our genetic similarity with other living creatures may just be the way we were created. But what a tenuous connection to reality this is. I suggest this is getting as close to being intellectually unsustainable as possible if not already over the line.

A literalist believes all the other interpretations are false. I suggest they are just one away from a more intellectually sustainable position. There is no proof for even a non interventionist creator.

A big question is how these seemingly nonsense stories, some with roots in the Bronze Age, are still believed today. Perhaps a topic for another conversation?

Thank you for all the thoughtful comments.

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    Mar 8 2012: Hello Karen,

    The Levites were an aggressive group and essentially become what we would refer today as the secret service of our government officials, to serve and protect the priesthood (Numbers 1:45-54). What role they play is important to the story. They were to protect and serve the tabernacle (Numbers 8:5-22). What the tabernacle represented is the key to the story. It wasn't just a place of worship. It was a symbol of God among the people. Its whole setup is explained in Eastern philosophy; the ark of the covenant represented the dwelling place of God. It was contained in the center of the Holy of Holies, which was surrounded by four coverings. Like a mendala (as explained by Joseph Campbell) it represented the abysmal dark from which all things come and back to which they go. And when appearances emerge, they break into pairs of opposites. Those opposites were represented by the two cherubim facing each other on the top of the ark of the covenant.

    The veil that separated the Holy of Holies from the Holy place is the same veil that separates our understanding from the wisdom of God. It is the veil that we strive to see beyond that we may know the spirit of god. The four coverings represent the sheaths of the human body. The outermost covering represents the physical body. It is the coarsest of the sheaths, and is represented by badgers skins. The next sheath is the astral body. It is more refined, and is represented by rams skins dyed red. The next sheath is the mental body. It is represented by fine goats hair. the innermost sheath is the spiritual body. It is represented by fine linen.

    The people were on the outside, represented by their separation from God. The mystery was to seek your way to the place behind the veil by spiritual ascension (or inner awakening), what would later be regarded as the search for the Holy Grail. The prophet Malachi gives us a perspective (Malachi 3:1-3).
    • Mar 8 2012: Roy, I am not conversant in Biblical symbolism though I am a fan of Joseph Campbell’s work. I’m not sure how what you have written explains Exodus 32: 18-35. What I read in the passage is that God is communicating with Moses and no one else in the group. The people are a worried and restless bunch and seem to lack confidence in Moses. Moses leaves for a period to be with God and get the tablets. The people think Moses will not return and they are fearful, like children, so they ask Aaron to make a god to help them and he fashions a calf from their gold. They feel better when they have something to pray and sacrifice to. God knows this is going on and expresses his ire to Moses who asks God's forbearance to which God agrees. Moses goes down to join the people and, even though God gave him the scoop, he seems to have forgotten all about forbearance and goes ballistic. He has a “hissy fit’ and throws the tablets down and breaks them. He burns the gold, grinds it up, combines it with water and makes the people drink it. Then he gets on Aaron who does not want to take any personal responsibility for his actions and even lies by saying the calf made itself in the fire. Moses has a kind of “what will the neighbors think?” moment and decides to take punitive action. He calls out for all those that are for the Lord to come to his side. The Levites come and apparently that is all. I wonder why Moses and God were not more appealing to the group as a whole. So the Levites follow his command to take a sword and kill his brother, friend and neighbors. What happened to “Thou shall not kill”. They kill about 3000 of their (unarmed) family, friends and neighbors and Moses blesses them for their service to God. To the still living he says they are bad sinners but he will try to atone for them. He goes to God and again asks for mercy for these sinners and even steps up to say what sounds like “the buck stops here, I’ll take the punishment.”
    • Mar 8 2012: continued .” But God is not buying this and says “just get them going to Israel. I’ll punish them in my own time.” Later he sends a plague for punishment. Does that sound right to you? There is no tabernacle in this story so you lost me at the first tabernacle. Would you like to try again? I would appreciate it.
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      Mar 9 2012: Roy, your explanation quite fascinating. Thank you.

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