Sunday, March 27, 2011

All That Lives....Is Born to Die!

NOTE:: This weeks entry is a continuation of "One World...One God...and the Same Sheet of Music" posted on March 20,2011

Billions of people around the world identify themselves with a particular brand of religion. Some are more devout than others,and some,although they do not actively practice a religion, still relate to the brand that they were subjected to at some point in their lives. It's not uncommon to hear someone say they haven't stepped into a church,mosque,or synagogue in years but yet still consider themselves Christian,Muslim,or Jewish. I personally went through a phase in the early 2000's where I described myself as a non-practicing Christian. I still believed....I just did not go to church any longer.

Last week's "One World...One God...and the Same Sheet of Music" explained how the world's religions make completely incompatible claims about life and death, and how its actually taboo to notice these differences. I concluded the entry by offering a bottom line to why people feel the need to keep religion in their lives:

People need a mental insurance policy on what happens after death.

You don't have to be religious to fall into this category. There are presently over 6 billion people on this earth and every single one of us will one day die. Everything that is currently alive will one day die.  Trees,plants,fish,insects,birds,mammals, name it. Death is coming. You and I will one day venture into the great unknown. And with the unknowing,and uncertainty of this appointment brings fear. Mankind is so scared of the unknown (death) that he is willing to make up any feel good story he can and cling to it for dear life to help deal with this reality.

Enter, if you will, Bibles,and Korans,and Hindu texts,and Buddhists texts,and everything in between past,present and future making genuinely incompatible claims about the realities of death and even the afterlife.
Heaven,Hell,Purgatory,Limbo, or Reincarnation. It's all there for the believing. But no believer can offer any evidence to support their claims about the realities of an afterlife. Again, believers of the world will agree to disagree and play a tune looking at completely different sheet music.

   "Many religions...teach the objectively implausible but subjectively appealing doctrine that our personalities survive our bodily death. The idea of immortality itself survives and spreads because it caters to wishful thinking. And wishful thinking counts,because human psychology has a near-universal tendency to let belief be coloured by desire"
---Prof. Richard Dawkins author "The God Delusion"

Christian beliefs about  life after death are no more supported by evidence than any other religious or non religious beliefs on what happens after death. Believers in Christ have many references in their Bible concerning individuals being raised from the dead. Jesus,according to the New Testament, raised three people from the dead. The most famous of these accounts was a guy named Lazarus. In the book of John chapter 11,we read the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. Lazarus was the brother of two women named Martha and Mary of Bethany,but unlike Martha and Mary,nothing specific is known about their brother Lazarus. To keep this story short: (I suggest you read John chapter 11) Lazarus has been dead for 4 days when Jesus shows up to perform one of his greatest "miracles": Resurrection! Lets pay close attention to the very end of the story.....John 11:43 &44
      43.And when he[Jesus] thus had spoken,he cried with a loud voice, "Lazarus,come forth."
      44.And he that was dead came forth,bound hand and foot with grave clothes:and his face was bound about with a napkin.Jesus saith unto them,"Loose him,and let him go"

Now personally I don't believe this story,I consider the Bible 90% fiction but I shouldn't dwell on that too much for that's a future blog in itself. But supposed you do account for Jesus' many miracles. Millions of people do. Imagine if you would, that this story is 100% accurate. What's most troubling about this story is that not one word is ever uttered or even recorded into history from the lips of Lazarus. Only John chapter 11 and 12 even refer to Lazarus: ALL other history is silent. Not one word nor any of his post death experiences are ever recorded! Where are the scores of theologians flocking to this man that spent four days dead? Shouldn't there at least been one book written in the Bible named after Lazarus to tell of his life's story? Lazarus would have been without a doubt the best testimony ever for the sake of Christianity and the teachings of Christ,but he just simply disappeared into obscurity. Where did he go? On vacation? Perhaps fishing? Was he seen later that night in a pub drinking a cold one and telling stories of the dead? Here's the perfect opportunity to learn a little something about what happens when you die...from a man that was in fact dead....but nothing....crickets chirping! Am I the only one that finds this bizarre?

I have attended many funerals over the years. Grandparents,aunts,uncles,friends and coworkers. I have never really completely focused on the words being used during those eulogies until a couple years ago. A coworker of mine died while he was on vacation in Asia. When I attended his funeral the pastor of his church so confidently declared "Today my friends,Danny is dancing on the streets of gold." That's all I remember him saying. My mind went into a severe deep thought after he uttered those words. What an absolute bold and confident claim to make. The trouble is, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence to back the claims. This business of streets of gold,and walls made of jasper,and mansions a glistening,and pearly gates will not be at my funeral. Nor will any claim that is not reality based as far as human understanding is concerned. Danny dancing the streets of gold?! Hmmmm How does preacher man know this? It could have easily been cocktail hour in Heaven....

My brother,Lee Weaver, has been in the funeral business for 15 years.He hears a wide variety of funeral sermons and bold claims of the afterlife. I recently asked him a few questions concerning being in the business of grief,including the big questions concerning what happens when you die.

"Well you dummy,you quit breathing and your heart stops!" Ah, the brotherly love...All jokes aside Lee informs that funeral directors are discouraged to say things like "It will be OK" or "He's in a much better place"

"When someone dies.a lot of emotions overtake families. Sadness,anger,fear,and sometimes relief believe it or not"

"We are in the business of grief. We handle it our own way and the best we can. We can not assure them their loved one has gone to a better place. Yet, We can cater to their belief system,whether we agree with it or not. Simply because its makes the funeral experience a better one"

Funerals are never easy to experience on any level. When emotions overrun a grieving family it becomes plain to see why bold claims such as streets of gold,chatting with Jesus,seeing others gone on before them,or no desire to return to earth are very comforting. I however, feel it just masks reality and it becomes awfully hard to admit in our most hour of need and grief that we are simply left with one of life's biggest mysteries in dealing with what happens when we die. So we seek anything and everything that will comfort us,whether its reality based or not.

Matt Dillahunty,host of "The Atheist Experience" in Austin,Texas gives his take on the mysteries of God and death after he experienced a Catholic themed funeral.
    "If you're Catholic, I have a special task for you. Count the number times that the word mystery is used. Just do it. Because that to me was overwhelming.-----Oh the great mystery of this,and the great mystery of this,and God and your infinite mystery,and your mystery and your mystery and you're sooooooo mysterious!------Well, Congratulations! You basically just said....We don't have a clue what's going on!"
He adds "You can't solve a mystery with a mystery"

The truth is no one knows what happens when you die. No one! Not the Pope,Mother Teresa,the Dalai Lama,Billy Graham,your youth minister,or any scientist(yet). One scene from the movie "Religulous" with Bill Maher sums it up nicely:

       "And anyone who tells you they know,they just know what happens when you die....I promise you they don't.How can I be so sure? Because I don't know and you do not process mental powers that I do not. The only appropriate attitude for man to have about the big questions, Is not the arrogant certitude that is the hallmark of religion,but doubt! Doubt is humble, and that's what man needs to be considering that human history is just a litany of getting shit DEAD WRONG!"---Bill Maher

In a recent debate over what happens when we die that aired on the Jewish TV Network,best selling author Sam Harris pointed out a very startling statistic: 9 million children,every year,die before they reach the age of 5. Year after year after year. That's like an Asian style tsunami of 2004 every ten days.
In the past ten years this world has lost 90 million children 5 and under. The world in which we live is cruel,vicious and uncaring when it comes to respect of death. It becomes pretty obvious to why the belief in the afterlife is so strong. It just simply helps us deal with the stark realities of life and natural selection. Every generation dies at the same rate. Some die at the age of 90...some at the age of 3.

This conclusion is my personal view of what happens when we die. I do not subscribe to any religious beliefs or to any gods on offer. I do not believe in heavens,hells,purgatory,or reincarnations. Once we die, we will simply go right back into a state of nothingness as it were before we were ever born. One day I will go into a state of non existence. It's not easy to imagine is it?

Consider the deer. The next time you are driving down the highway and notice a deer lying on the side of the road;Consider his/her fate. That deer was hit by a vehicle causing it to die. Once struck,the heart will stop beating,the blood stops flowing through the body,lungs stop functioning,the brain will shut down and the conscience will cease and the poor deer will simply fade away. No one ever considers all the other living organisms on earth that die. I've never heard of an afterlife for the chicken that I ate last week. The pet goldfish you lost recently isn't swimming in a lake in heaven. The plant that withered due to lack of water is not being ushered off by angels into the great garden in the sky.
So why are we,the human race, any different from the natural laws of the world?

When I imagine my death,sometimes I will literally stop what I'm doing and take a long pause. It can be scary. The great unknown can be a fearful proposition. It's human nature to fear the unknowing.But life is too short to dwell on the depressing. I am extremely lucky to ever been born at all. I love life and try to live it to the fullest. I would even challenge the believer and suggest I love life more than them. This is the only life I get and Ive been very lucky to be healthy and to be in the best possible position to make the best of it.

The human species is the most intelligent species living on this planet,but it comes with a great and fearful reality:

We know we are going to die.....

A special "Thank You" to Lee Weaver for the many suggestions and thoughts during the research and writng of this entry. Good luck with the "Day in the Life of Death!"

Liberty Study Bible (KJV)
"The God Delusion" by Prof. Richard Dawkins
Matt Dillahunty; host of the Atheist Experience
"Religulous" starring Bill Maher

Sunday, March 20, 2011

One World...One God....and the Same Sheet of Music.

Note: The introduction of this blog lists statistics for Christianity. I simply do not have the desire or time to list all stats for the world's major religions. Please consider the vastness and sheer size this would entail. However this blog is dedicated to ALL the world's major religions. For all intents and purposes I shall be mainly blogging about Christian beliefs. It is what I know best and assume the reader can most relate.

"In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth" Genesis 1:1 (KJV)

OK,Lets STOP! ...and press pause!

Ladies and Gentlemen,citizens of the world,
Choose your weapon:
1.New International Version c.2011
2.New American Standard Bible
3.The Message
4.Amplified Bible
5.New Living Translation
6.King James Version
7.English Standard Version
8.Contemporary English Version
9.New King James Version

10.New Century Version
11.GOD'S WORD Translation
12.Common English Bible
13.21st Century King James Version
14.American Standard Version
15.Young's Literal Translation
16.Darby Translation
17.Holman Christian Standard Bible
18.New International Reader's Version
19.Wycliffe New Testament
20.Worldwide English (New Testament)

....and many more! These are just the English versions of our sheet music.(Holy books)

Now pick your poison:
 I wish I had time to list the 33,000+ different Christian denominations to choose from,but according to the 2001 World Christian Encyclopedia by Barrett, Kurian,and Johnson there are 10,000 distinct religions,of which 150 of them have 1 million or more followers.
The rest of the world's religions and their different sects,denominations,and holy texts are very much a part of the story I'm about to tell,but for the sake of not boring the reader I shall hereby keep these stats at bay.

Here now is a list of the world's major religions and the approximate number of subscribers:
1.Christianity:  2.1 billion
2.Islam:  1.5 billion
3.Secular/Nonreligious/Agnostic/Atheist:  1.1 billion
4.Hinduism: 900 million
5.Chinese traditional religion: 394 million
6.Buddhism: 376 million
7. primal-indigenous: 300 million
8.African Traditional &Diasporic: 100 million
9.Sikhism:  23 million
10.Juche:  19 million
11.Spiritism: 15 million
12.Judaism:  14 million
13.Baha'i:  7 million
14.Jainism: 4.2 million
15.Shinto:  4 million
16.Cao Dai:  4 million
17.Zoroastrianism:  2.6 million
18. Tenrikyo:  2 million
19.Neo-Paganism: 1 million
20. Unitarian-Universalism:  800K
21.Rastafarianism: 600K
22.Scientology: 500K

Sizes shown are approximate estimates,and are here mainly for the purpose of ordering the groups,not providing a definitive number. The secular/non-religious crowd are not really considered a religion by any means but considering they rank #3 behind the Christians and Muslims in population, you would want to include their considerations in the following ideas.

OK,Lets press PLAY:

"In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth" Genesis 1:1 (KJV)

It does not matter whether you interpret your version of the bible literally or metaphorically. The fact remains the same: Every member of the human species lives or has lived on this planet we call Earth. There is no place else in the universe (as far as our sciences can tell) that is able to support life. Consider the sheer size of this universe we live. The countless galaxies,stars,and planets. How puny the Earth must seem from afar.
   "The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena....Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark."----Carl Sagan

Dear Christians,Muslims,and Jews...etc..
If you are under the impression that God is CEO of this universe and that he is responsible for managing a simple speck of dust and all its inhabitants therein, please explain to me why all his "creation" is not on the same sheet of music!?! Why are there tens of thousands of different religious beliefs to choose from? How did all these"false gods" creep into the picture? It seems to me that someone is not minding the store. A complete and utter mismanagement of a little experiment called Earth.

Ever look at a map that details the world's religions? They are very geographical. Certain parts of the world have unique religions and this is no accident. Ancient cultures invented their gods in their parts of the world long before other cultures had a chance to invade. And thus their gods were invading as well. Culture clashes and god wars and may the best religion win. (please see link provided below for a 90 second look at the history of the worlds religions)

Believers of all faiths fail to openly acknowledge and completely turn a blind eye to all the other competing religious ideals. These competing faiths are genuinely making incompatible claims about life and death and and every believer simply ignores and avoids the conflicts between these competitions of religions and of course their respective gods. Your religion is either true...or its not. Author Sam Harris (End of Faith,and Letter to a Christian Nation) offers some interesting views on this subject in a speech he gave on "Faith vs. Reason in the Modern World"

"They can't all be true[religion]...given the sheer diversity of  religions on offer. Even if we knew that one of them was absolutely true.Even if we knew this was God's multiple choice exam...Is it A) Judaism B)Christianity C)Islam...even if we knew we were in this situation,every believer should expect to wind up in Hell purely as a matter of probability. It seems to me that this should give religious people pause before the espouse their religious certainties. It never does but it should"

Try this experiment. Give me a representative of ten different denominations just in the Christian faith alone. I'll take a Baptist,Catholic,Methodist,Pentecostal Holiness,Morman,Jehovah's Witness,Luthern,Amish,Presbyterian,and a Nazerine.
Put them in a the same room and watch how divided they become on almost any biblical topic.
- Is the Bible literal...or metaphorical?
-Which bible translation is more accurate?
-Is sickness caused by sin?
-Are Christian's allowed to prosper?
-Can you lose your salvation?
-Will we ascend to an actual Heaven or will the Earth one day become heaven?
-Is Hell a fiery pit...or just separation from God?
-Will Hell last forever or just temporary?

Lets break it down further. How much division do you think there is between the Baptists? Southern Baptists,Independent Baptists,Free Will Baptists,Full Gospel Baptists, Evangelical Free Baptists,Reformed Baptists, Seventh Day Baptists, United Baptists...and many more...

Dear God in Heaven, you are conducting the biggest Earthly orchestra imaginable and not a damn one of us is on the same sheet of music. Who's to blame?

This conclusion will actually serve as next weeks introduction. I was chatting with a friend of mine last week and he says "The most fascinating thing about religion is that the majority of people on Earth need something to tell them how to think and to live their lives." And then it occurred to me as I replied:

"I think people's personal beliefs on God and their religion boils down to one thing: People need a mental insurance policy on what happens after death."
And next week...we shall venture to the unknown....

To Be Continued......

2001 World Christian Encyclopedia by Barrett,Kurian,Johnson.(Oxford Univ.Press,2nd edition,2001)

King James Bible (Liberty Study Bible)

youtube videos: "Sam Harris: Faith vs. Reason in the modern world" and "A House Divided"

Sunday, March 13, 2011

400 Years From Now....People Will Be Eating Lunch!

400 years from now people on earth,or even Mars for that matter,will still be eating lunch! That's just how easy it is to predict natural disasters as well. From the very beginnings of the formation of our Earth there have been what we would call in modern times:Natural Disasters. Earthquakes,tsunamis,hurricanes,typhoons,avalanches,tornado's,wild name it!

As I'm writing this blog the story of a major earthquake and tsunami have struck Japan and no sooner than this headline broke did China suffer an earthquake as well. In the coming hours more and more horrible footage of  human carnage will surface to remind the world yet again that we are simply at the mercy of Mother Nature and Mother Earth. We,the human race, are bi-products of all things natural that the Earth has ever produced. As we have evolved over a few million years into the very intelligent spices we now know.

I do question the fully evolved status of some of my fellow humans when a disaster like this strikes. I'm left wondering whether their brains made it to the finish line in terms of the evolutionary process (those are snide jokes). When something like this happens in our world,some people simply wander back into a stone age way of thinking. Lets explain:

The earthquake/tsunami in Japan followed by an earthquake in China in as many hours were NOT signs of a pissed off God. This is not punishment from "God" for having mankind turn his back on Him. The "People do not fear God"crowd and the "God is trying to tell us something" crowd are simply just reverting back to a stone age way of thinking...Its baffling.

What are you thinking? Hmmmm... God lounging around on his heavenly sofa,perhaps bored, and decides that its been awhile since he made the earth's crust move?! And what better way to punish a group of people in the part of the world where they don't even bother to worship Him.

"I'll show those Buddhists who's boss!", "Shinto!? I don't think so...." says God

The "End of Times" crowd need to understand something. Natural disasters have been occurring on this Earth from the very beginning of its formation. Long before a religion was so shamelessly invented by people that had no clue how nature worked...Earthquakes,tsunamis,volcanic eruptions were around billions of years before mankind ever had a chance to define how and why they happen. So you are not allowed to label them as "Holy terrifying" or "Jesus is coming soon" events.

Let's go grab a virgin girl and toss her into a volcano so that the gods will allow our crops to grow this year. Outdated I know, but was once a popular belief by the ancients. It is the equivilent of believing that God dictates natural disasters and weather patterns around our world to punish mankind and so we better fear this God so he will show mercy on us when its time to move the earth's crust.

So when your holy texts suggest that natural disasters are signs of the end times...Please keep in mind that they were happening long before the holy text were written (and edited). They have been happening since the holy books have been published,and they will continue to happen as long as mankind is here to witness them....Even 400 years from someone is having their lunch.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Showing Some Skin and Bringing It!

The first entry I wrote in this blog was concerning meeting my New Year's Resolution for 2011. I prefer to call resolutions in the new year goals as to strive to reach them and not just make a list of maybes that I will get around to perhaps accomplishing. 2011's goal was of course  to write an entry in this blog for the next fifty-two weeks and so far so good. Even though I was late in publishing one week (Sorry Z). 2010's goal was to commit to a 90-day workout program known as P90x. Mission accomplished! I'm proud to say that after the program I felt like a million bucks. It was a big boost in energy and confidence as I sported around South Beach,Miami in my new speedo. 
 This past week I started pressing play once again. Its round two of P90x 2011. Between this and the blog and work and tennis I'm not sure where I will find the time to do anything else. So I thought I would at least reflect on my experiences with this program in my blog and combine both goals at once.

Personally speaking, there were four factors that I needed to consider before embarking on such a workout program: Discipline,motivation,patience and time. The only one of these factors that comes naturally to me is patience. The number one reason for picking a 90-day workout program for my new year's goal was for practicing discipline.

Discipline is something that I lack in life and I think the reason thats so is that I am my on  boss. I sleep when I want...I eat when I want...I set my on personal schedule to my liking. I do not really like to cater to anyone else...I like doing whatever I want...whenever I feel.Oh no! Now I have an appointment with Tony Horton (host of P90x) at least six times a week.

Motivation is important as well. I used to belong to a gym for two years prior to P90x. I joined it...and in two years...I went to that gym once! Twenty bucks a month for two years meant that one trip cost me 480.00! That should give you some idea of the motivation I had in working out in public gyms. The equipment that was required for P90x cost me just 275.00. This is excluding the cost of the program. I got lucky, a coworker let me borrow her copy (in which I still haven't returned. Sorry Carolyn!!). The cost and benefits of this program far supersede the price of a gym membership. Consider P90x.

Patience was the easiest of them all. This is a word used when looking for the desired results and goals while using the program. I am six feet tall and weigh 150 pounds. Slim, lean and unable to gain weight,it did not take me long to start seeing results. If you are not at your ideal weight then you will need patience to not only complete this workout program,but also to see results. It will happen over time and as Tony likes to say "Keep pressing play"

Time is of the utmost importance as well. You simply have to take the time to workout.Clear your schedule for ninety minutes a day. From prepping for workout to tucking away your equipment post workout, you will need just an hour and a half. The actual workouts are just a mere 45 minutes or so not counting the pre and post workout stretches. Piece of cake. Eliminate some TV,computer,and other time consuming activities from your life and you have the time. Of course to do this....You'll need discipline,patience,and motivation. So we have come full circle.

The only regimen I elected not to follow was the diet plan. However I exercised my four above mentioned factors once again and cut out a lot of junk in my diet. For 90 days I avoided potato chips,ice cream,pizza,sodas,candy,and alcohol just to name a few. OK...well...hmmm...I allowed myself one mountain dew a day :) Can't live without that sweet nectar. And perhaps an adult beverage on the weekends...Hey! I like to be my on boss!

The following photos were before/after shots of my 2010 P90x adventure...Go for it people!