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crankingclimber


Nov 29, 2006, 3:32 PM
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Inherent paradox in God...
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So, I'm wondering who, if anyone, out there can explain what seems to me to be an inherent paradox with the standard Christian notion of an all powerful, all good, God.

I've wondered about this question forever, but recent events have made me ponder even more. So, without further ado, here's the scenario:

I know a couple, who are quite possibly the two nicest human beings on the planet. I mean they really are two cool human beings. When I first moved here I was a complete stranger to them, yet they went out of their way to get me hooked up with the climbing community, got me on rock, didn't charge gas (I was a broke high schooler) etc. etc. etc. And this is just the beginning - so, basically I'm trying to paint the picture of two plain old good as can be people. We all know someone like them - a person/people who don't have a mean bone in them, and always do right by others, and it doesn't even seem like an inconvenience to them or like they're putting effort into being that type of person: it's just them. It's who they are.

Anyway, this couple tried to have a child, but about 6 months in their became life threatening complications to mother and child. The mother was put into the intensive care unit, somewhat stabilized, but then started to crash again. They had to do a C section, and take the baby out 3 months premature. After battling for several days, the child died.

This was of course stressful right up until the tragedy, and downright terrible afterwards. And this at a time which should have been hope filled and joyful.

Next, the couple eventually tried again. This time there was smooth sailing, right up until the baby was actually born, wherein the mother had complications but pulled through, although much worse for the wear. To make matters worse, the baby started having trouble breathing, was put in the ICU, put on oxygen etc. Thankfully both eventually stabilized and are now OK, although the whole ordeal was just plain sickening, apart from the joyful outcome.

So, my thoughts run like this. If there is a God, and it's the type of God my grandmother believes in, the one which 'works in mysterious ways' and is above us to comprehend, I'm not buying it. Or, it's a God which has no hand in such things, but rather created the world, took his hands off and let it go to take its own path.

In other words, a God who PLANNED it to happen, or a God who LET it happen. Either version, to me, is completely incompatible with any Christian version of a God I've ever heard of.

If your answer to this paradox is the standard, "God has a plan which we cannot understand" my brain (perhaps being naive, but it's what is correct to me nonetheless) doesn't even want to understand: it is absolutely inconceivable to me that a God who PLANNED this, no matter the good which could come of it because of some greater scheme, could possibly be a good God. That God I don't even want to believe in. Furthermore, I can't even begin to think of what greater scheme there could be: could not that same greater scheme be achieved by not torturing 4 innocent people???

And if your answer is the second option, that God doesn't make any of this happen, he just created Earth and let it go, that doesn't jive with me either: that God isn't a good God because he (she, it, whatever) is letting innocent people be tortured.

Next, extrapolate this scenario to include every completely innocent kid who had to starve to death, get killed by a drunk driver, soldiers fighting wars they don't care about, people who were tortured etc. etc. etc. and what do you have? An incredible amount of evil in the world that this supposed God either planned to happen, or let happen. That doesn't sit right with me.

That's not to say there's no God. There could well be, but in my mind, I can't see how this God could possibly be everything I've traditionally heard ascribed to God.

Just interested in your thoughts. I have a bunch of other reasons I don't believe in a Christian God (I actually don't know what to believe) but this is the one which I wonder about the most. I've asked religious people, priests, parents, non-religious etc. and my point of view on the scenario hasn't changed yet, but it doesn't mean I don't want to explore it. So, if you have an opinion and feel like quoting it from our little virtual soapbox, it would be cool to hear.

Will


cintune


Nov 29, 2006, 4:40 PM
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Re: [crankingclimber] Inherent paradox in God... [In reply to]
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You've already come to the most reasonable conclusion. John Lennon said it best: "God is a concept by which we measure our pain."


petsfed


Nov 29, 2006, 5:30 PM
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Ok, bear in mind that I don't believe in the Christian conception of God either, so this is going to be less theology and more hard metaphysics.

We have either two options for the nature of the universe: one in which everything is predetermined or one in which chance plays a considerable role in the functioning of the universe. The first suggests that if we had a very large computer and absolute knowledge of the initial conditions of the universe, we could calculate and predict every single event in the entire universe from beginning to end. The second means that we cannot predict everything. The first precludes independent thought and action, the second does not.

[edit] I didn't really support that last statement, so let me elaborate. One can imagine a world that functions exclusively according to natural laws as one that runs on rails. Things do not disobey these laws because such an act would be impossible, by definition. Its like trying play a cd in a frying pan. The materials at hand simply do not support that operation. Where then, in that universe, is there room for things that do not function in a way that is strictly defined by physical laws? Note that I do not mean simply the physical laws that we are aware of, but rather an absolute and complete set of laws that govern every single action in the universe. In such a universe, every event is predetermined from the very beginning. It is inevitible and unchangeable.[/edit]

So now we ask the theological question: which would god prefer? A perfect swiss watch of a universe where everything goes exactly as planned and god's presence is unneccesary past the initial winding? Or a universe where god can watch how things play out and revel in the (sometimes) unexpected glory of its work?

Now, to be certain, the overwhelming dogma suggests the former, but the debate rages even today how we can still have free will in such a situation? The eventual conclusion is mostly tied with the double problem of god's omniscience despite our (presumed) free-will. That conclusion is that we presume that God can know what will happen in consequence of our choices (a much more powerful computer than can exist in our universe, since the one mentioned above would be, by neccessity, the size of the universe) but does not know until we choose how it will actually play out.

So how does that mesh with the problem of bad things happening to good people (and vice versa) and the problem brought on by "god's plan"?

The answer seems to be that god, for the most part, sits back and watches and when it thinks we're really making a mess of things, it comes in and does something big and random to make us change.

However, one couple's sufferings are not big enough to justify that intervention.

Another explanation often used is to compare god to a loving (but responsible) parent who lets their kid go skateboarding, but still puts bandaids on their knees if they scrape themselves whilst skateboarding. That is, god does not try to teach us by telling us directly (unless the message is very important, very complicated, or just not reaching us), but rather by letting us learn from experience.

The real meat of your confusion stems from this naive expectation that our gods should be all-knowing, all-loving, and all-powerful. The greek gods were two out of the three, and so had no deep seated contradictions to their existence. The simple fact about higher powers is that when we ask even a little of them, we diminish ourselves.

That fact is at the core of the religion that calls itself the Church of Satan, although it is unfortunate sensationalism that spiritual humanism decided to name itself after the traditional adversary of all that is right and good in the world. Rather like if the March of Dimes elected to call itself the Fuckface brigade.


(This post was edited by petsfed on Nov 29, 2006, 5:37 PM)


veganboyjosh


Nov 29, 2006, 6:32 PM
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when my dog gets a thorn in it's paw, i have to grab onto her leg, and immobilize her, while i work to pull the thorn out. to her, i'm just trying to cause her pain by holding her leg, not letting her move, etc.
in my mind, i'm causing her a bit of discomfort now so that i can get the thorn out, and make her be pain free later. wouldn't you agree that to her, i'm working in mysterious ways?

(not that i'm trying to compare losing a child/spouse/self to getting a thorn in a paw, but it's the first example i could think of.)

i'm no christian, either. if i was gonna label myself, i'd choose atheist. maybe maybe maybe agnostic.

i actually had an interesting discussion this weekend with some friends regarding free will/determinism/etc.

think, for a second, to a rat in a maze. you can make the maze such that you can direct the rat, without the rat realizing it. it thinks it's making achoice, but the two choices were picked by you, and you knew/thought beyond a shadow of a doubt, whether the rat would go right or left.

now. imagine a race of creatures so intelligent, so advanced, that the abilities and knowledge they possess is far beyond anything we humans can imagine. i'm talking super advanced. faster than light speed is one example, but not even breaking the surface of what these dudes can do.

they could--in this fictional setup i've created--set in motion a series of events/environments which would ultimately lead to a planet with things like baseball, cyndi lauper, mp3 players, etc.

they are so advanced, that they were/are capable of predicting within a shadow of a doubt how this planet would develop and evolve.

now, just substitute some sort of higher power/supreme being/god/whatever, and there you have it.


i'm not saying i believe in this, but when i head it laid out this way, it made for interesting road trip thinking.


Partner rrrADAM


Nov 29, 2006, 6:54 PM
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Re: [cintune] Inherent paradox in God... [In reply to]
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One's belief in God helps one endure these types of situations, and to some extent makes it sensible to them.

Without that belief, it wpould be harder to endure, and it would be sensless.


Note that, generally speaking, the more devoutly religious (of all faiths) tend to be:
-less educated
-less economically well off
-endure more hardships
-have less options in life (PERCIEVED or REAL)


Their belief allows them to endure, in the hopes that they will be rewarded with a better 'after life' than their 'present life', and all of the 'hardships' are viewed as tests they have to pass to get the reward.


fracture


Nov 29, 2006, 7:37 PM
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Re: [petsfed] Inherent paradox in God... [In reply to]
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petsfed wrote:
We have either two options for the nature of the universe: one in which everything is predetermined or one in which chance plays a considerable role in the functioning of the universe.

Chance can play a role in the functioning of the first universe when you look at it on higher levels, as well.

In reply to:
The first suggests that if we had a very large computer and absolute knowledge of the initial conditions of the universe, we could calculate and predict every single event in the entire universe from beginning to end.

No. Not unless that computer was entirely outside of the universe.

In reply to:
The second means that we cannot predict everything.

Actually we cannot predict everything in either case. (We'd have to be able to step outside the universe to do so.)

In reply to:
The first precludes independent thought and action, the second does not.

Many (such as me) would disagree with that. (Your suggested "support" is a confused mess that pretends determinism, actualism, and fatalism are all the same thing, and only pays any attention to the behavior at the smallest level (or smallist level) in the universe.)

In reply to:
The real meat of your confusion stems from this naive expectation that our gods should be all-knowing, all-loving, and all-powerful.

The OP did specify that he was talking specifically about the traditional Christian conception of God. (Though I don't mean to imply that said conception is not naive.)


unabonger


Nov 30, 2006, 5:12 AM
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This was the reason the book of Job was written. Basically to say, hey, this is god, he does what he wants, sometimes just to fuck with you. And don't ask why, its not your business what god does.

Basically, god is like my boss, just a real ahole.


Partner tradman


Nov 30, 2006, 5:51 AM
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Free will and God's omniscience aren't actually exclusive.

God's omnipresent: he exists not only everything, but at all points in time. That's how he knows what will happen to you; he's not predicting the future because he's already in the future as well as the present.

But we ourselves live past, present, future, right? God doesn't intervene directly in what we do, he just knows what our decision will be before we make it.

So it's relative: from our point of view, we have free will. From God's point of view we don't.


I appreciate your difficulty with these ideas, they're very difficult and there are often no easy answers. There are paradoxes everywhere in them. For example: how could God be proved not to exist by something God does?

Wink


vivalargo


Nov 30, 2006, 8:48 AM
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tradman wrote:
So it's relative: from our point of view, we have free will. From God's point of view we don't.Wink

What actual experiences have you had that led you to this conclusion?

JL


Partner tradman


Nov 30, 2006, 8:56 AM
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In reply to:
What actual experiences have you had that led you to this conclusion?

You'll appreciate that it's easy to demonstrate that I appear, to myself at least, to have free will.

My understanding of God's point of view is just theoretical: if what the bible says about God is correct then it leads me to believe what I've said about how he exists.


cintune


Nov 30, 2006, 9:08 AM
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"An imaginary friend is an invented person, animal or character that is created especially by children, but sometimes by adults. The inventor will act as if the imaginary being is physically present by talking to it, playing with it, or even attempting to feed it. If told that the friend is non-existent, the inventor will often retaliate in a defensive manner by stating that the imaginary friend is invisible."


vivalargo


Nov 30, 2006, 11:00 AM
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cintune wrote:
"An imaginary friend is an invented person, animal or character that is created especially by children, but sometimes by adults. The inventor will act as if the imaginary being is physically present by talking to it, playing with it, or even attempting to feed it. If told that the friend is non-existent, the inventor will often retaliate in a defensive manner by stating that the imaginary friend is invisible."

You've basically implied that only that which is accessible to sense data has any "real" existence, all else being imaginary. Did you arrive at this belief via sense data? Was it based on an idea? An experience?

Funny thing is that in developmental psychology, one of the "early" stages involves a mindset where if the infant can't see something, it doesn't exist, meaning existence is itself qualified by being able to touch and feel some "thing."

JL


cintune


Nov 30, 2006, 11:31 AM
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vivalargo wrote:
You've basically implied that only that which is accessible to sense data has any "real" existence, all else being imaginary. Did you arrive at this belief via sense data? Was it based on an idea? An experience?

Funny thing is that in developmental psychology, one of the "early" stages involves a mindset where if the infant can't see something, it doesn't exist, meaning existence is itself qualified by being able to touch and feel some "thing."

JL

Well, yeah. Until there's empirical evidence to support the idea that something exists, it's not known, and no amount of supposition will prove it to be real. It may or may not exist, but having faith that it does, plus two quarters, will buy you a newspaper.


vivalargo


Nov 30, 2006, 12:34 PM
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cintune wrote:
vivalargo wrote:
You've basically implied that only that which is accessible to sense data has any "real" existence, all else being imaginary. Did you arrive at this belief via sense data? Was it based on an idea? An experience?

Funny thing is that in developmental psychology, one of the "early" stages involves a mindset where if the infant can't see something, it doesn't exist, meaning existence is itself qualified by being able to touch and feel some "thing."

JL

Well, yeah. Until there's empirical evidence to support the idea that something exists, it's not known, and no amount of supposition will prove it to be real. It may or may not exist, but having faith that it does, plus two quarters, will buy you a newspaper.

If you've ever read my other posts on this kind of subject you'd know I agree totally with what you've just said. What's often misunderstood or not even known is that spiritual paths are all geared to find that empirical, direct experience, and that no beliefs or faith are needed. For those on the outside, however, empirical evidence really means something you can measure using sense data, what's called absolute materialism. Is it any wonder that those in this camp are, to a man, atheists?

JL


cintune


Nov 30, 2006, 12:47 PM
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vivalargo wrote:
If you've ever read my other posts on this kind of subject you'd know I agree totally with what you've just said. What's often misunderstood or not even known is that spiritual paths are all geared to find that empirical, direct experience, and that no beliefs or faith are needed. For those on the outside, however, empirical evidence really means something you can measure using sense data, what's called absolute materialism. Is it any wonder that those in this camp are, to a man, atheists?

JL

Obviously that's my take on it, too, which makes easy work of the "paradox" referenced by the OP. Faith is simply a matter of the will to believe, a la the X-files. If you look at the Old Testament, there are many examples of events that are presented as empirical proof of Yahweh's existence. Biblical literalists like to pretend that these stories are worthy of the same kind of credence that we would give to a laboratory experiment today, but remain oblivious to the fact that it's just wishful thinking on their part. If we beleive in Bibilical miracles, there's no reason we shouldn't also believe in every other mythological event that has come down the pike over the ages. "Because the Gods willed it" has always been a cop-out for admitting that we just don't know Why some things happen. All we can really know is How.


(This post was edited by cintune on Nov 30, 2006, 12:58 PM)


vivalargo


Nov 30, 2006, 1:53 PM
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"Because the Gods willed it" has always been a cop-out for admitting that we just don't know Why some things happen."

Or HOW. There's also the interesting and confounding issue of how spiritual realities influence the material world. It doesn't matter to me that sensational things are claimed in the Bible, like Jonah bivvying inside a whale's tripe and the parting of the seas and resurrections and all the rest. It doesn't matter because none of these things are part of my experience, or anyone's experience I have ever seen or known, so for even the most devout of us they exist only as ideas, not empirical realities, even less so as facts.

However spiritual effects on matter -- or at any rate, on the psychology of those with a material body -- can sometimes be profound, none moreso than what goes on in AA. As I understand it, the crux of the AA program depends on the drunk abaodoning his addiction to will power and handing his life over to a "higher power." The AA doods leave this higher power totally undefined, as well they should have. The spiritual awakening is the one thing that seems to get people off the sauce and restores sanity. I've always been amazed with exactly how this works as it does, but it certainly does work. It seems that when people give themselves over to a higher power they don't understand and many times don't even believe in, shit happens. It's easy to explain away this Higher Power in psychological terms, as folks accessing their inner guide, or some such thing provided by our DNA, but that's not how people in AA seem to experience it. In fact, the more that mysterious force is seen as originating inside of them, the more they are easing back into the trap of will power and the less effective the thing seems to work.

Who knows how . . .

JL


hugepedro


Nov 30, 2006, 2:01 PM
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Why does the Pope ride around in a bullet proof "Popemobile"?


atpeaceinbozeman


Nov 30, 2006, 3:40 PM
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Could Jesus microwave a burrito so hot, that he himself could not eat it?


cintune


Nov 30, 2006, 3:42 PM
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vivalargo wrote:
Or HOW. There's also the interesting and confounding issue of how spiritual realities influence the material world.

But those are psychological realities, really. WE really do know a lot about the Hows than we used to. In the old days when someone got sick, it was interpreted as the result of supernatural influences; a curse, a demon inside, God's displeasure, whatever. Medicine stands out as probably the single best example of the triumph of materialism over mysticism. As for AA and other addiction programs that invoke an unspecified "higher power," that's no different from the psychological power of suggestion, or self-hypnosis, which don't require any "real" supernatural entity to work. Voodoo is yet another example; when someone who believes in it learns that there's a "curse" on them, they can wither away and die--but only if they know about it. It's just a matter of Wanting to Believe. Ever since William James started the ball rolling, neuropsychology has pretty well overturned all of the alleged bases of "spirituality."


vivalargo


Nov 30, 2006, 3:57 PM
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"As for AA and other addiction programs that invoke an unspecified "higher power," that's no different from the psychological power of suggestion, or self-hypnosis, which don't require any "real" supernatural entity to work."

Not so. These things you suggest are self-generated, much as the will is self-generated. They are also conscious efforts to orchestrate the recovery. AA seems to work by going in the exact opposite direction--by eliminating all "effort" in that regards, and letting an undefined "higher power" to take over.

I'm not suggesting this is any kind of "proof" of supernatural powers, only that your explanation is not in keeping with how any of the AA stuff actually plays out. As they say, people's best efforts got them dead drunk.

JL


cintune


Nov 30, 2006, 4:15 PM
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Well, I wouldn't know, it must have something to do with addictive personalities. There's also a sort of zenlike "doing by not doing" vibe there. Like when climbing, you see a hold that looks just out of reach and impossible to stick, but sometimes if you just don't think and go for it, amazingly you make it. I just think of it as a psychological trick, letting the nervous system do the work without interference from the conscious self. The Hail-Mary pass syndrome, in other words.


rasta_on_rock


Nov 30, 2006, 5:31 PM
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I really appreciate this conversation and hope that my input here is productive. Just so that my biases are clear, I would describe myself as a conservative liberal academic Christian.

Our dependence upon empiricism is a cultural response to the European renaissance and birth of the scientific method. Suddenly western society had its paradigm "rocked" and existence become infused with words like repeatable, demonstrated, and sensory. One no longer looked to theology (known then as the "mother of all sciences") for answers to physical questions. Of course, with this shift in world view came a scrutiny of the Bible under this newly discovered empirical doctrine. "Truth" became only that which is experimentally verifiable. Western Christian hermeneutics, understandably, adopted these new pretexts and brings us back to our current discussion.

What is often glossed over is that the Bible was not written by a people heralding empiricism as there doctrine. Rather they were a people surrounded by chaos and needing to make sense of there world. Thus a pantheon of gods are created who embody geological, atmospheric, and astronomical occurrences. This was a world craving stability as the yield of ones crops from year to year meant life and death. The Old Testament, and Genesis in particular, is an anomaly among ancient creation myths as it esteemed only one God who settles the chaos at the dawn of time into the ordered world in which we live. Not only that, but this god, YHWH, was predictable rather than malevolent! The scribes who faithfully passed down the scriptures which eventually became the Old Testament did not pretend to be historians in the sense we understand history today. The history found in the pages of the Bible is interpreted history written in a way such that a theological truth about God was expressed. It was not an effort to accurately record transpired events!

Unfortunately we did not heed St. Augustine's advice:

"Reckless and incompetent expounders of Holy Scripture bring untold trouble and sorrow on their wiser brethren when they are caught in one of their mischievous false opinions and are taken to task by those who are not bound by the authority of our sacred books. For then, to defend their utterly foolish and obviously untrue statements, they will try to call upon Holy Scripture for proof and even recite from memory many passages which they think support their position, although they understand neither what they say nor the things about which they make assertion. [1 Timothy 1.7]"

But what does all this say about God's existence? To be honest not much. To prove God's existence is to foolishly attempt to answer the question "can God make a rock too big for Him/Herself to lift?" I myself am struggling to reconcile many paradoxes found in scripture. So why do I continue to believe in a God I cannot prove to exist...I'll have to get back to you on that one.

Peace and Hope,

Steven


vivalargo


Nov 30, 2006, 6:35 PM
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Great post. However, even in the Christian mystical tradition, there were some not content to abide with faith-based, or doctrine-based religious life. Not that they entirely chucked these aspects from their theology--after all, we never "achieve" a connection with the divine, it happens through the process of eliminating blocks combined with grace, at least that's my experience. Anyhow, for those not content with second-hand info (skeptics, and/or those with little capacity for faith, like me), certain techniques were developed and practiced in order to have direct, empiracle experiences. These traditions go way back (check out the Cloud of Unknowing), and are still part of the Catholic monastic tradition. For example, Merton introduced Zazen meditation to the Trappists in the 50s, I think, and there are presently more than a few Zen masters who are also priests. This is all experientially-based spirituality, and for my money, it packs a punch that cannot be denied, even by a cynic like myself.

Even after all of these years, I still feel like I've barely touched the edges the thing . . .

JL


getsomeethics


Nov 30, 2006, 7:12 PM
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to begin i am agnostic. my opinion on the creation of religion on a general level is that it was created out of fear. the fear of the unknown as mentioned in other posts. it would seem that early people(s) felt comfort in everything having an explanation; an illness, thunder, the moon, floods etc etc. each religion has it's rules, guidleines, scriptures, commandmants etc that followers abide by to please their god(s) and ensure a place in heaven, an after-life or what have you. maybe death itself is the greatest fear that motivates belief?

for me life is too short to worry about what happens when we die, is there a god, how was the world created, why are we here? at some point something may happen in my life to change my view, but for now, why worry? at the same time there have been times in the past while standing waist-deep in charred muskeg in northern canada thinking the fact that mosquitos exist is proof enough for me there is no god!


unabonger


Nov 30, 2006, 7:14 PM
Post #25 of 154 (2624 views)
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Registered: Aug 8, 2003
Posts: 2688

Re: [vivalargo] Inherent paradox in God... [In reply to]
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vivalargo wrote:

Even after all of these years, I still feel like I've barely touched the edges the thing . . .

JL

All these years, eh? LOL. You've spent a grand total of what? a decade thinking on this? We all know you spent your formative years playing coed grab-ass, not sitting in a hindu cave doing pranayama. Noob! You'll find the inner circle soon, though, maybe when you stop trying. Then it will disappear from your grasp, like the smoke from a stick of incense, leaving only the sweet ghost of enlightenment behind.

Don't get me wrong though, I'm still playing coed grabass myself, I just do it from krishna's cave.

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