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"I would rather live my life as if there is a God and die to find out there isn't, than live my life as if there isn't and die to find out there is." -Albert Camus The question is not whether God is but what God is? There is no concept that is as differently defined, evokes as many different reactions and is yet as powerful as the concept of God. Since childhood all of us are told by our parents and others about the greatness, power and glory of the lord. But the concept is generally told at a superficial level without being clearly or deeply explained or understood. The tests of rigorous logic and the new knowledge revealed by science are often not applied to this concept of god. The concept of god probably had its origins in man's search for answers about his environment and about his own purpose in life. The concept is older than most of the organized religions that exist today. Most likely the concept developed with the development of language and human thought. The concept is not static; it has changed over time and will change in the future. Primitive man feared, worshiped and was in awe of the forces of nature like the sun, clouds, rain, thunder etc and also personified them. He also worshiped inanimate objects like stones and mountains. But as human knowledge progressed, man came to know that these things were not God but mere creations of god. In the past there were a number of mythological gods as well like the Roman and Greek gods who are no longer worshiped. In present times the most popular view about god considers him to be Transcendent (beyond the world) as well as Immanent (present within the world). The first attribute emphasizes his independence from and power over the world and the second one emphasizes his hold over and participation in the world process. He is also visualized in a personal way i.e. he is supposed to have a direct relationship with the individual; he listens to the individual's prayers, helps him in distress and rewards or punishes him according to his actions. God is also believed to be omnipotent (all powerful), omniscient (all knowing), omnipresent (present everywhere), infinite and eternal having no beginning or end in either space or time. God is also associated with certain human characteristics or emotions like love, goodness, mercy, forgiveness etc. It is interesting to note the similarities about the concept of god in various religions. The attributes of a transcendent and an immanent god that are expressed in Gita find a resemblance to those in the Bible, the Koran and some other religious texts. There are other similarities as well in these texts. For eg. the rules of conduct of a yogi (Hindu ascetic) and the Ten Commandments have much in common. Now some people may think that these are a result of similar divine revelations or of borrowings from each other. But I believe that this is a case of parallel development of thought. As man is searching for a higher reality above him, so its characteristics must be far greater than those of man. As man is not omnipotent, god must be. As man cannot be
omnipresent, god must be. As man is not omniscient, god must be. As man has a beginning and an end, god must be infinite. I suggest that if there are intelligent living beings on other planets, and I believe there are, then their concept of god will also be similar to ours, at least at some point of time in their existence. This will be because those living beings will share some characteristics with us humans. They will be born and will die. Like us they will not be omnipotent, omnipresent or omniscient. But like our god, there god will be. I also suggest that if intelligent living beings on another planet are involved in a struggle for existence as beings on earth are, then their concept of a personal god will also be similar to our concept. Their god will also be loving, caring, helpful, merciful and forgiving because in a situation of struggle for survival, qualities like non injury, love, mercy, forgiveness etc. will be virtues anywhere, everywhere. However, if we examine the most popular concept and attributes of god, we will find that there are some inconsistencies. These inconsistencies surface on applying new scientific knowledge or tricky but logical questions. I read one such question which challenges God's omnipotence in Stephen Hawking's "A Brief History of Time". Can god make a stone which he cannot lift? If he can but cannot lift it then he has limits and if he cannot make it, then it is also a limit to his powers. Another question challenges god's omniscience. Does god know his limits? If he does, he has a limit and if he does not then also his knowledge is limited. It is within a man's reach to give up his powers, position and even his life. But can god do that? Can god commit suicide? We often read or hear about the concept of predestination. It means that whatever happens, happens according to the will of god. Nothing is beyond his will. If a person does something good, it is because of god's will and if he does something bad, it is also due to god's will. Even the fact that a person is a believer or an atheist is the will of god. But if every act is willed by god, so why does he apply the measures of right or wrong to human actions? Why does he reward or punish? Even if a person kills, it is the will of god. So why should he go to hell? For obeying god? In fact by the above logic, everybody should go to heaven. So even Chengiz Khan and Hitler should go to heaven. There is no need for hell. If a person dies a natural death, we say that god took him away, that his time had come. But when somebody dies in an accident or is murdered, we bay for the culprits blood. Is it not contradictory? Some people do not believe in predestination but believe that god has given man free will. But if man has free will, it means that god does not know beforehand what is going on in this world. He is not aware of what you or I are going to do in the next moment. This puts a limit to his omniscience. The concept of free will is also qualified by the concepts of heaven and hell. If god gives us a free will then why does he reward or punish us for using it as we like? If after giving us a free will, he expects us to use it according to his wish as revealed through divine revelations, then what type of a free will is this? Is not god being whimsical? Then are we a result of god's whims rather than his glory? In the later part of this book, we will go a bit deeper into this concept of the free will. When I was in school, we were told in our moral science book that if two enemy soldiers fight, kill and die in battle, both will go to heaven. If that is true, then the perpetrators of 9/11 should also go to heaven as many radical Muslims think. After all they gave up their lives for their people and their faith. They believed as sincerely in their cause as a soldier who is ready to lay down his life for his people. The Nazis also believed in the justness of their cause. Their soldiers also fought WW II for their people and their country.
We generally think of god in terms of his relationship with man. But it is also pertinent to ask what is god's relationship with the grass which always gets eaten or trampled or with the deer or sheep which becomes the victim of the lion. Is god closer to the lion than to the sheep? Does he favour the strong and not the meek? Or does he not care at all about lower beings? The concept of an immanent and personal god has also come under threat with the growth of science. That is why religious leaders are generally critical about scientific discoveries and inventions. We once believed that god created man as he is. We believed that god created the earth. We believed that the earth was flat. We also believed that the earth was stationary and that the sun revolved around the earth. But new discoveries in biology, geography, geology and space science have proved these concepts wrong. So if god did not create the earth or man, would he still care to have a direct personal relation with man, would he still observe each human activity and then judge him? We now know that the universe is much larger than what we imagined before. Our earth is just on of the nine planets of a medium sized star which is one of the billions and billions of stars in our galaxy the milky way. And the milky way is just one of the billions and billions of galaxies in the visible part of the universe. So in a universe which is so large that the earth is just like a speck of dust, would god give so much importance to man? It is indeed flattering to think that. Some people say that our conscience is the voice of god. It tells us what is good or bad. When I was in school my moral science book told me something similar. But this view is absolutely incorrect. In fact our conscience is shaped largely by our socio cultural environment. It is based on the beliefs, customs, traditions, sense of right and wrong within our social group. For a Muslim, eating meat would not bother his conscience but for a Jain who is brought up on the idea of non violence, it might prick his conscience. If a vegetarian or even a non vegetarian Hindu eats beef, his conscience will be pricked because beef eating is taboo in Hinduism. In societies that allow cross cousin marriages, you can think about your cousin as a prospective spouse but in societies that do not allow such marriages, such thoughts might make you feel guilty. I have heard, read and seen on television about people claiming to have come in contact with god through meditation or intuition or revelation. But this is actually no more than a psychological state. Considering the orderliness of this universe, it seems strange that god reveals himself to ordinary people like you and me in such a random manner. And is it not hard to believe that a person who comes in contact with god, the ultimate reality, continues to live like other human beings, he eats and sleeps like us and even needs the same air we breathe? Neurological researches by doctors and scientists have revealed that people who take psychotropic drugs also have such strange experiences. I have also read about and watched people on TV who claim to have died and to have had a glimpse of the other world. But doctors explain these experiences as merely psychological. They tell us that these could be a way in which the human brain tries to get away from excessive pain. I have also noted in my readings that near death experiences are often culture dependent. Some Christians claim to have reached a garden with angels in it (the story of Adam and Eve?). Some Hindus on the other hand claim to have been taken to heaven by yamdoots i.e. the messengers of yamraj the Hindu god of death. If anybody says that if he comes in contact with god after drinking whisky or while intercourse, can we prove him wrong? Infact there were cults in ancient and medieval India (like the tantric cult) which claimed that the path to god lay through 5 Ms namely Madira (alcohol), Maansa (meat), Matsya(fish), Maithun(intercourse) and Mudra(dance). Similar is the case of people who claim to have met god. Difficult to believe but equally difficult to prove wrong.
It is said that worship helps because god listens to your prayers and answers them. No doubt worship relaxes your mind and gives you a positive psychology. Science agrees that worship and meditation have a good effect on the brain and the body. It has been observed in experiments that meditation is linked to the release of useful chemicals in the brain. But it does not mean that god is listening to your prayers and sending his blessings to you. By that logic, Jains who do not believe in a personal god should get no benefit at all from worship. Followers of primitive religions who worship trees, animals, stones and mountains should also not benefit. But they do. Their prayers also get answered. Because worship is a psychological exercise. There is a science behind worship. It releases the stress on your mind and body and keeps you in better shape. When Pope John Paul II was bedridden, millions of people all round the world prayed for his recovery. John Paul was not only the head of the Roman Catholic Church, he was also a very wonderful person. But still god took him away and the prayers of the people went unanswered. On the other hand, Terry Schiavo an ordinary and till recently unknown woman was kept alive by the feeding tube for 15 long years. No doubt science was not developed enough to make her normal but it nevertheless kept her alive. So who proved more powerful, the prayers or the feeding tube? When I discussed these things with my friends and colleagues, some of them said that the pope died because the time of death is fixed, it comes when it has to. Alright, if death must come at the fixed hour, then why do we punish murderers? They should rather be respected for being instrumental in the execution of god's will. If god listens to our prayers, whom will he treat better, a person who is an atheist but a good human being or a believer who is otherwise a criminal. If in a 100 metres race, there are 8 contestants and only one can win, who will win, one who worships regularly or who works the hardest but is an atheist. If the atheist wins, does it mean that deed is greater than prayer? Some people may say that god helps those who help themselves. But those who help themselves may not need god for help. Lord Byron, Voltaire, Mark Twain, Karl Marx, Charles Darwin, Albert Einstein, Bertrand Russel, Sigmund Freud and Stephen Hawking were either atheists or did not believe in a personal god. But they did help themselves and their achievements helped the entire mankind. I have accepted above that worship is a useful tool even if it does not involve god. But I have met people who are so over zealous about the concept of worship that they assign miracles to it. This is the reason I want to suggest a simple experiment to verify this claim. I admit it sounds a little unethical but to a believer, it should not cause any worries. I recommend that we select a good ordinary God fearing person about whom there is a consensus amongst religious leaders of various faiths. Scientists should inoculate him with a common but serious disease about which science is sure that it cannot be treated except by medicine and that if untreated, it will only get worse with time. We shall confine our friend to a house in hygienic environment and provide him hygienic food. Then all the believers of the world including our friend himself shall pray for his recovery. As our friend is himself religious and as he believes that prayers reach God and as he knows that people around the world are praying for him, his frame of mind will also be positive. We should observe our friend for a sufficiently long time say a few months. If in that period, he recovers then it will prove that God answers our prayers. But if his health deteriorates to the point of no return, then it would be obvious that God does not answer our prayers. Then it will prove that worship is a mere psychological phenomenon not a divine one. This experiment will also tell us something about the relationship of God with man and about the existence of a personal God.
I would also say that our concept of God may be limited by the boundaries of human knowledge, thought and language. God may possess dimensions and attributes about which we are unaware, which we do not know or can not feel. Animals do not think about God because they have limited mental facilities. But are our mental facilities developed enough to know God? Also I would want to know as to why God is always regarded as male and never as female. Is it because our society has been traditionally male dominated? Here I would like to quote the great Greek philosopher Epicurus who did not think much about the concepts of god and afterlifeIs 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? Even though I do not believe in the concept of an immanent personal God, I do not denigrate it as Proudhon did. On the other hand I think that it is a beautiful concept and is of much use. The concept of God in fact performs the very important task of helping in survival of mankind. When man did not have many answers about his surroundings or about his own purpose in life, the concept of God provided an answer. (Before Darwin we did not know that all life exists to survive and reproduce). The concept also provided sanction to religion, the force that guided human affairs for thousands of years. God's sanction makes a religion infallible and unquestionable. From the general behavior of people, we can make out that the most common reasons for worshiping God are fear, anxiety, helplessness and powerlessness. The greater the fear, the uncertainty, the helplessness, the greater is the need of God. When you get a simple headache, you do not pray to God because you know that a simple tablet will take care of that but when you get a deadly disease, you ask God for help. Have you observed how students suddenly become religious during examination days? Because there is pressure, fear and uncertainty. When we are in difficulty, we pray to God, beg his forgiveness and even make promises to him. If somebody close to you does not return home tonight, you will start by searching for him yourself. Then you will report to police, and then you will turn to God for help. If the search goes on a little longer, you may even go to a place of worship. If things do not improve even then, you will go to places of worship with greater fame, or will make bigger promises to God. Some people may even visit religious places connected with other faiths to get their wish fulfilled. As the situation becomes more uncertain, you try harder to get more divine help. Have you ever wondered why people who believe in God never search for him. Have you thought how little time people devote to God. If God is the ultimate reality, the highest truth, then should not people do much more to know about him? But they do not, because to the majority of believers, it actually does not matter whether God exists or not. People do not care much about God. They give more importance to making their lives comfortable, to their careers to looking after
their families or to attracting the opposite sex. It is sufficient for most people that he exists to solve their problems, to help them in distress, to take care of them. That is why most of our prayers involve either seeking favours from him or thanking him for what he has given to us. When we are kids, we think that our parents can solve all our problems. So whenever we need help or assurance, we run to our parents. But as we grow up, our problems get bigger and our parents seem helpless. So we need God. As we grow older, our problems become even bigger. We ourselves become physically weak. Disease and pain increase and our hold over our surroundings starts to loosen. We become more powerless. And so our faith in God increases all the more. A survey of the religious places in free liberal societies all over the world will show that the greatest frequency of visits to these places is that of middle and old age people or of those caught in mundane problems of life. In the final analysis, for the vast majority of the people, the concept of God proves to be most useful as a means to the Darwinian goal of survival and perhaps that is what it is. Perhaps God exists because man needs him to exist. That is why I said earlier that it is a beautiful concept. In my discussions with people, I have found that it is a common view that absence of faith in God will lead to chaos, confusion, greed, violence and immorality. But I do not agree with this view. Has faith in God made people moral? Has it made people upright? Has it prevented people from exploiting other people? Did it prevent slavery and slave trade? Did it prevent people from fighting catastrophic wars or from killing others in riots? The people who dropped the nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were believers. Those who exterminated Jews in Europe were not atheists either. On the other hand there are religious like Jainism and Buddhism which have no place for an immanent personal God but which lay as much stress on love, compassion, upright living, morality, non injury etc as any other religion. In fact the history of their origin, growth and spread is much less violent than those of many other believing, theistic religions. In Hinduism, two of the six schools of philosophy namely Samkhya and Vaisheshika explicitly do not believe in the concept of God. But they do not preach violence, hatred or greed. What I want to say is that absence of belief in God will not lead to disorder, violence and immorality per se. Infact it might make people more responsible about the consequences of their actions. There are people who are pantheists. They believe that the cosmic order is God. This view was prevalent amongst ancient Indian philosophers and Greek thinkers. Some people even believe that Einstein's formula E=mc2 (Energy=mass of an object multiplied by the square of the speed of light i.e. 1.6 lakh miles per second) is in fact the formula of God. It supports the pantheistic view that this cosmic order is God. Because whatever exists in the universe is either mass or energy. Both are interchangeable and the law of conservation of energy tells us that the total energy in the universe can neither be created nor destroyed, neither the increased nor decreased. So, if pure energy is God, and it can be converted to matter, then it is omnipresent and omnipotent. Everything that exists is part of god or in fact God itself. It has been said in Hindu philosophy 'Kan kan mein Bhagwan hai' God is present in every grain. But can we say by virtue of Einstein's theorem that 'Kan kan Bhagwan hain' - every grain is god? But people will not easily accept the concept of the cosmic order as God because it will be of no use in their matters of day to day survival. In ancient Europe, disputes were often decided by making the people involved to fight between themselves. It was believed that God would help the right person to win. But today we do not solve our disputes like that. We do not think that in case of a fight between two people there is much scope for God's intervention. Similarly if we closely observe many other day to day affairs of the
world, we will find that there is not much scope for God in them as well. To conclude, I would say that in context of our present knowledge and under application of rigorous logic, the concept of an immanent, personal God does not stand much of chance. But whether God exists in some transcendent form or not can not be said with certainty. The concept of God is linked with the creation of the universe which is the ultimate and the biggest mystery. I believe that only after all lesser mysteries of the world have been solved and all knowledge has been gained, might we be in a position to know whether God actually exists or not. Till then, anything that is said about God will be pure speculation. Till then, it will be as true to say that God exists, as to say that God does not exist or that this cosmic order is God in itself. So, was Buddha right in refusing to speculate about the existence or absence of God? Is the search for God an exercise in futility after all? Perhaps we will know one day or we will never know.
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