Monday, November 17, 2014

No Stone Left Unturned - Part one

I have been watching Nazi Hunter's on Netflix, so when going to bed last night I had the Holocaust on my mind.  As the disturbing images swirled around in my head, my attitude was, how could a loving God let that horrific slaughter of a people happen, and if God would let something that awful happen, how can I suppose that God cares about my little life and insignificant problems? Why would God come to my aide and rescue and not come to theirs?  When I awoke this morning, tears filled my eyes as my attitude changed, thinking how hard it must have been for God to have watched that happen.  What was it that compelled God to do so?  What caused God to sit back and let the Holocaust happen?  What do others think about that, how do they explain it?   
So I googled, how do Christians explain the Holocaust?  Here's a sampling of the answers that I found, if you have better ones, please leave them in the comments section, because with answers like these, I'm really beginning to understand atheists better and better:

1) God allows bad things to happen, He gives us freedom, He loves and grieves with us in our pain when bad things happen.  Believe it or not, this is the best answer that I got, but it's glaringly incomplete.  Saying that "God allows bad things to happen," is not telling me why, it's just repeating my question. Try that one on a college test sometime,  just repeat the question back to the professor, that will land you an "F" every time. "He gives us freedom"...that's not a complete answer, you would have to tell me why he gives us freedom, now that would be an answer, and that freedom had better be worth dying for in a concentration camp!  Do you see that these answers are too shallow?  They lack understanding of what and who God is.  If I'm going to watch my child take his last breath in a gas chamber, I need a better answer then: "He loves and grieves with us in our pain." Again, without knowing why God is not intervening, knowing that God loves me and is grieving, doesn't help too much to ease the pain and suffering.  This answer makes a fair attempt, but comes up short.

2)  Someone said, "I'll assume you're not racing towards the Congo to help millions of innocent people from being murdered there"..."how indifferent are you to abortion? You understand your own indifference and faithlessness, right?  Look no further until your knees are grimy from kneeling, your indifference will be the answer to everything you cannot have without faith."  This person is attacking the questioner, that is just ridiculous!  The one asking the question, how could God allow such a thing, isn't God, they have no control over what's going on in the Congo, but because they haven't stopped what they have no control over, they are not allowed to ask a question about God who does have control?  That makes no sense to me.  That is really a poor answer, that's filled with accusations. 

3)  Behold the Lord's hand is not shortened that it cannot save; neither his ear heavy, that it cannot hear:  But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear.  Also, Satan is the ruler of this world and has blinded the minds of them which believe not.  Deception has caused the masses to be cut off from God.  In essence, this person is using Isaiah 59 to say that the Holocaust was the Jews fault.  They had it coming, or at least God wasn't going to do anything because of their sins.  Well, that just doesn't fly on so many levels. First, you are not supposed to judge others, so where does this person get the audacity to level such a blanket judgment against a whole group of people, which includes children?  Second, who could respect and worship such a vindictive God, that would say to a group of people who were just living their lives and worshiping God as they saw fit, that they were deserving of such an outcome?  And would that be the freedom, that was alluded to in the first answer?   That's not freedom that's coercion.  What about the second answer above, in the Congo reference, it said innocent people.  Why use that example to defend your God's actions, unless the Jews were innocent too.  Don't you need to compare apples for apples. That person allowed that murder and genocide was taking place on innocent people, how does that stack up with Isaiah 59?  According to that scripture it's because of their sins.  And the explanation of Satan ruling this world and has blinded the minds of them that believe not, and deception has caused the masses to be cut off from God.  Does not seem like a good reason to allow genocide to a reasonable mind, does it? If a people have been deceived by someone as cunning as the Devil, surely God would be compassionate wouldn't He?  If your child had been deceived by a very cunning evil person, would you take it out on your child?  If you are going to use the argument that Satan rules this world and has blinded people, that would be a better explanation for the perpetrators actions wouldn't it, then the victims?  Weren't the Nazi's the blind ones: blinded by pride, greed, fear, self-centeredness, hate and anger?  Aren't those Satan's characteristics? 

What I find interesting about all three of these answers, is a lack of compassion for the Jews and the horrific genocide they endured.  These answers were all from "loving" Christian people, who seem to be full of judgment.  A know this sampling is in no way scientific it's only anecdotal, and these people are not officially speaking for their church's, but it is interesting, the absolute lack of compassion.  I think back to the things that I have been taught about the Holocaust, and there is that same sense of judgment.  I remember, in Seminary, learning that the Jewish leaders had previous to the Holocaust signed a paper or document, claiming they were not the chosen people of God, and this was given as the justification for the Holocaust.  Maybe not in those words exactly, but I'm 56, and I can still remember being taught that when I was a teenager, so it must have lodged some where in my brain as at least a partial reason. This of course too, is anecdotal and does not speak for the Church.  But I do think there is, or at least was, a sense that the Jews were still being punished for rejecting the Messiah, and it's blatant arrogance and stupidity that allows for thoughts like that.

Let's consider some other answers, and I'm not going to pretend to know the answer, but let's examine some answers from people who claim to know.  You can decide if you think their explanation is worth considering or not.

Howard Storm, an atheist who had a NDE, while in a hospital in Paris, says he asked God about the Holocaust. He saw the Jews being transported in the railway cars to the camps where they were killed.  He says he saw "piles of naked corpses being loaded into the ovens, and began to cry 'these are the people God loves'." Then an angel told him to look up and he saw, "rising out of the smoke of the chimneys, I saw hundreds of people, being met by thousands of angels taking them up into the sky.  There was great joy in the faces of the people, and there appeared to be no trace of a memory of the horrendous suffering they had just endured."  He asked how God could allow this to happen, he was told that "it was not God's will.  This was an abomination to God.  God wants this to never happen again.  This was the sacrifice of an innocent people to whom God had given the law to be an example, a light, to rest of the world.  This Holocaust was breaking God's heart..."  The angels told Howard that "God was very unhappy with the course of human history and was going intervene to change the world.  God had watched us sink to depths of depravity and cruelty at the very time that He was giving us the instruments to make the world a godlier world.  God had intervened in the world many times before, but his time God was going to change the course of human events."

Dr. Eban Alexander, a brain surgeon, had this to say about his NDE, "I saw the earth as a pale blue dot in the immense blackness of physical space.  I could see that earth was a place where good and evil mixed, and this constituted one of its unique features.  Even on earth there is much more good than evil, but earth is a place where evil is allowed to gain influence in a way that would be entirely impossible at higher levels of existence.  That evil could occasionally have the upper hand known and allowed by the Creator as a necessary consequence of giving the gift of free will to beings like us.  Small particles of evil were scattered through out the universe, but the sum total of all the evil was as a grain of sand on a vast beach compared to the goodness, abundance, hope, and unconditional love in which the universe was literally awash.  The very fabric of the alternate dimension is love and acceptance, and anything that does not have these qualities appears immediately and obviously out of place there."

What about the Jewish people, what do they think about God allowing the Holocaust to take place? One of their religious leaders, Rabbi Alan Lurie, has these thoughts on the subject:  ..."the very question of 'How could God allow the Holocaust?' represents a profound misunderstanding of the nature of God, creation, and the spiritual dimension, because it is based on very faulty assumptions.  It posits God as a being who is totally separate from us, who observes our behavior, preventing harm from coming to those who follow certain rules (usually written in books), and punishing those who do not.  And it sees humans as helpless children.  But God is much more than that, and we are much more than that.  This image of God and humans, frankly, is childish and primitive,...the purpose of creation is to be in a loving relationship with its Creator.  In order to have a true relationship, though, there must be absolute free will, because a programmed or coerced being cannot experience true love.  Free will, then is a universal constant, built in to the fabric of creation like gravity and the speed of light.  Free will to choose love means that there must be the possibility to choose not-love to choose indifference and hatred.  So while the world may seem unfair, it must be exactly as it is in order for consciousness to emerge, and I am in complete agreement with the 17th century philosopher Gottfried Leibniz, who wrote that this is the best of all possible worlds...God deliberately does not interfere-not out of indifference, but out of great love.  God must "watch" in pain as we commit atrocities, because to interfere would negate free will, terminating the relationship and hence the very purpose of creation...This is the great gift of creation:  We can do something God cannot; we can elevate physicality by our choice to act in love."

Wow!!  Those are powerful answers, centered in an understanding of God's love for His creation and His gift of free will to us.  So yes, my initial attitude of, how can God be loving and allow such evil as the Holocaust to happen, was a shallow attitude and understanding of God.  My second attitude of, how hard that must have been for God to watch this horrific event take place, was a more enlightened, one, and makes me realize how important this gift is, and how important it is that I use it to be loving.  And I need to understand the sacrifice that the Jewish people went through for that gift of free will.   As Dr. Alexander says " and compassion are far more than the abstractions many of us believe them to be.  They are real.  They are concrete. And they make up the very fabric of the spiritual realm.  In order to return to that realm, we must once again become like that realm, even while we are stuck in, and plodding through, this one."

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

None so blind...

Yesterday the NY Times ran an article about the Church's essay on Joseph Smith and his plural wives.  The essay has been out for a few weeks, but most members were entirely unaware of it.  Why, because the Church didn't announce the publishing of the essay or any of their essays, they just quietly put them buried on their website, but everyone knows about them now, thanks to the NY Times.  So what's the reaction?  Varied of course, for some it will be so shocking they will reject the church, for others it will be disturbing, but something they can live with, at least for the moment.  My guess is that for the vast majority of members, they will just shrug it off, they will tell themselves they already knew that, and many did know about his polygamy.  I did, but it's never mentioned, and I mean never mentioned, in lessons, in Conference talks, in the manuals, so you mostly forget.  But what I'm sure the vast majority didn't know before, was the polyandry, the fourteen year old girl, and the number of women he married.  So what's the reaction to this new information?  Blindness.  And I don't mean that in a negative way, but it is blindness.  You can't jump out and scare someone, and not expect them to scream and run, and that's exactly what happened.  The NY Times jumped out and scared Mormon's, figuratively speaking, and they will scream and run. They may not scream, well... maybe they will scream at you if you try to talk to them about it, but they will run.  But can you blame them?  They weren't looking to have their beloved prophet exposed on the front page of the NY times.  They weren't even aware of most of the issues that were plastered there, how can they defend them, when they weren't aware of them, and it's not really logical of anyone to expect them to, is it? 

I knew Joseph Smith was a polygamist.  I knew that.  But like I said, it's never talked about: polygamy really isn't talked about much.  All you ever see are pictures of Joseph with Emma, and the portrait that the Church paints of him, as a kind, obedient, humble servant of the Lord, and devoted husband to Emma.  That's all you ever hear and see, period! We sing, Praise to the Man, we praise that man, that prophet of God, that gave his life to bring forth the gospel of Christ, to bring forth the blessings of heaven.  "None did more for the salvation of man, save Jesus Christ, then him," our leaders tell us.  God anointed that prophet and seerer. This is the story that's taught in General Conference, in the manuals, and in our scripture.  So can you blame someone for being blind?  The only defensive move is to shrug it off.  It's just another attack on the Church, another test of faith, to which you have covenanted to be true to, Mormon's will tell themselves.  If there's one thing that Mormonism does better than most religions, is it ties everything in one package: your family, your social world, your God, your faith, your reason for existing, your future, the truth, your value system, your view of life, your view of others, did I mention family?  It's all tied up together.  Do I need to reemphasize the magnitude of all that?  Your family, your view of the world, your God, your salvation, your truth, EVERYTHING is tied up together.  What incentive could a person possible have in wanting to unravel that?  Do you even understand what it takes to unravel that?  You would put everything at risk, your family relationships, your friendships, your security system, your reputation, and possibly your salvation.  And  what if you're wrong?  Everyone will tell you you're wrong.  They will tell you how concerned they are for you, as they shut the door to your relationship with them.  Your opinion about anything will now be tainted with apostasy.  Your opinion will not matter in anyway, it won't even be allowed to be expressed for the most part, and you will be shut out.  So given all of that, blindness is a quick easy answer.  It's not even a conscious decision, it just kicks in automatically.  It takes an incredible amount of time, energy, determination to know the truth, and integrity to put all of the things mentioned above on the chopping block, and say "go at it, I can take it."  The truth is, most of us can't take it.  And I don't blame anyone that falls into that category.  But it would be nice, although not likely, if the blind ones could show a little respect for those who do ask the hard questions, to allow them the right to pursue truth as they see it.  To give everyone the free agency that this Church so loudly touts, to make their own decisions without judgment from those who are supposed to be full of charity, to not be so "concerned" about those who have chosen a harder path, who seek truth no matter the cost. 
Respect from both sides of the isle should be the goal.  People have to live together in this big beautiful world.  God wants us to love each other, more than anything else, and he puts us in these difficult situations to learn just that... love. If you think there is something bigger and better to learn in life, you may not know God as well as you think you do.  Do you really think God's main objective is to just see if you can blindly hold on to what you perceive as the truth or have been taught as the truth, or do you think Gd's bigger goal is for you to learn to love others who think and do differently then you think they should.  One beautiful thing about discovering that the Mormon church does not hold all the truth, and is in fact not all what it claims to be, is the ability to reject all your preconceived notions, and with this new discerning eye, look objectively at everything, no rock or stone is left unturned.  And what you discover is that there are no belief systems or religions that don't have their dark side, unbelievable truth claims, and/or problems with their history.  But, this gives you a never ending gift of compassion and tolerance and love for others in their life's journey.  You don't hold the key to the universe and you know that other's don't either.  But, you can certainly respect their life experiences and views, and faith that they hold, and if you're wise you will learn from them.  I think God likes that.  I think God planned it that way.  But if you don't believe in God and think he has a plan like that, hey I respect that too, and I understand where you're coming from.  I believe it's integrity that took you to that life view, and I know that you have not lost any of your morals as a result, and maybe have gained some, which that too, I can learn from.