Category Archives: Spirituality

Turning Hyde back into Jekyll, permanently

Trapped in a lonely body
I’m losing control
Can’t show my emotions
And I’m losing my soul
Could it be that I’m obsessed
With feeding my disease?
I couldn’t make it known
The hidden things that no one sees

Yeah, loser
I’m a secret loser
Loser
I’m a secret loser

Seeing is not believing
It don’t mean a thing
Although it appears to be that
The loser is king
I can understand that what you see
You think is real
But underneath the surface
Is a wound that cannot heal

Those are some of the words to “Secret Loser” by Ozzy Osbourne, which is the song that came immediately to mind regarding the topic I want to discuss. Anybody feeling any sense of kinship with old Oz here? I sure am, and I’ll bet a lot of you are, too.

In the last post, I touched briefly on how my new spiritual views provided a pespective that made it easier to love other people. But what about that other side of morality, where it’s not a case of how our actions affect others, but how our actions affect ourselves. We all have our “secret sins,” things we do (or even just things we think) in private that the world doesn’t see – things that fill us with a sense of shame and guilt, and even the feeling at times that we’re living a double life. Is anyone empathising with this? I’ve had plenty of intimate conversations over the years on this topic, and I know I’m not alone. Last year, at school, I even dared to give a talk on the subject of “vice” to the eleven- and twelve-year-olds at Scripture Union. It made me nervous, because I personalised it. Especially nervous, because a couple of teachers decided to sit in during that particular session. At the end, to my surprise and delight, the teachers expressed how brilliant they thought the talk was.

What’s clear to me is that everybody’s suffering here. And if anyone has some information that can help people, it should be expressed, and not hidden out of a fear of condemnation by people you assume to be better than you. It’s a big relief when you realise we’re all swimming in the same sewer.

The Christian idea that we possess a sinful nature (or “the flesh,” as some Bible translations phrase it) is what once allowed me to put some substance around why human beings have this perverse streak. We have a predisposition towards evil, it seems. Right now, though, I find myself questioning the validity of that, for several reasons. Firstly, I asked myself, can evil behaviour be put down to a combination of free will, bad decision-making, outlook on life, upbringing, environment, education, indoctrination, etc? In other words, are your problems with sin down to a combination of things you’ve done to yourself and things that have been done to you? Does man necessarily have to be rotten at his core? Secondly, I asked myself, has the belief in a sinful nature helped or harmed my ability to better myself?

Rather than give definitive answers to those questions, I would rather let you ponder them (heh-heh, there’s a handy way to curtail another blazing argument). Instead, what I want to do is present a different way of looking at things that certainly has helped me lately.

What is it that prevents us from being as bad as we could be? I think the main motivator is the realisation of consequences. I don’t mean fear of consequences; I’m choosing my words carefully here. We restrain ourselves from doing evil to another person because we know that what we do will hurt them, and we possess empathy with the victims of ours actions. Of course, not all of us choose the path of good; I’m just illustrating how I think the anatomy of the conscience works. There’s an interesting movie called Equilibrium, starring Christian Bale, about a future society where mankind is drugged 24/7 into a condition where they can no longer feel anything, because (according to the movie) evil is caused by our ability to feel. A disturbing kind of peace reigns supreme – except when someone decides he doesn’t want to take the drug anymore. Then he is mercilessly killed by the authorities. The philosophy of the movie gets a little messed up in places, but you can make interesting observations watching it. Principally, it’s not the ability to feel that makes you evil; it’s the absense of feeling that makes you capable of doing anything to anyone! Empathy is the key.

But sometimes we are put into a moral arena where empathy towards others doesn’t even come into the picture. When you’re sitting alone in front of your computer with a box of Kleenex at hand, feeling the temptation towards wrongdoing, your actions are affecting no one but youself. It gets worse when you can’t even see any real consequences for yourself. I’m still alive, still healthy; I haven’t been struck down by God; everything’s okay, despite how often I’ve gone through the neverending cycle of guilt and repentance. What I’m saying is, it’s very hard to stop yourself from giving in to temptation when you can’t see any permanent consequences. The mere knowledge or feeling that it’s wrong doesn’t seem to be enough. Even grasping an awareness that it’s an offense to God doesn’t seem to be enough. The only consequences appear to be feelings of guilt and shame that will dissipate in a short while. If that’s what it means to possess a “sinful nature,” then I would say yes, I possess a sinful nature.

But that’s as far as it goes with me. It is too easy to let this belief in a sinful nature cloud your mind into believing that you will never overcome the vices you want to overcome. Recently, and for maybe the first time in my life, I have found that when I’ve opened my mind to some different ideas, I have changed remarkably for the better. I’ll try and communicate these ideas.

You can overcome personal evil because there actually are consequences. I just wasn’t fully clued into them until recently. Everything is consciousness. Consciousness and energy are the same thing. When you think something, you either create positive or negative energy, and that energy has a direct and immediate effect on you. This is why we can feel literally sick our stomach by something we’ve done. All negative thought creates a negative imbalance within you. The worst aspect of it is that like attracts like. This is true on the physical level with the types of people who gravitate towards us, and I suspect equally true on the spiritual level with what sort of entities gravitate into our lives. Yes, I am talking about demonic influence and oppression. What we do on the physical level has a massive impact on the hidden spiritual reality all around us. Our actions, and more importantly our very thoughts, affect our spiritual/emotional/phsyical balance – the whole of our being, because everything about us is interconnected. That imbalance can be subtle or great. The important thing to realise is that the imbalance is happening, and it doesn’t have to happen. This is the knowledge that helped me to get my feet planted firmly in the right direction and to stop playing with darkness.

For me, forgiveness from sin doesn’t really come into the equation. I’m actually concerned that the awareness of being able to claim forgiveness after I’ve committed a wrong will encourage me to get away with doing that wrong, time and time again. I’m also concerned that constantly feeling guilty before God is so detrimental to self-esteem that it often keeps me locked in a self-destructive attitude. I think I’ve fallen into these states of mind plenty of times. Now, I feel a greater ability to pursue good when I embrace the idea that it’s all up to me, and when I shun the idea that I’m being stared at with a disapproving gaze by God. Dropping all that baggage, it comes down to this: I can choose to keep harming myself and face the consequences in my life, emotionally, physically, spiritually, and in every other way, or I can get my act together.

And I have got my act together. Gone are the little voices that say things like, “I’ll never overcome this”; “I’m such a disappointment to God”; “People would hate me if they really knew what I was like.” I’ve discovered that I can, and have, overcome my personal vices. I don’t think I’m a disappointement to God because I don’t live with the reality of a God who holds everyone to account for everything they do. And some people probably would hate me if they knew what I had been like, but any lack of understanding they might have towards me is no concern of mine, because I’m overcoming my problems and forgiving myself for what I’ve done; I know what I am and I like what I am.

The key to overcoming evil (overcoming moral imbalance, which is what it really is) is to promote balance within yourself, in every way you can. Learn to see this as the most vital thing you can do. Start disciplining your own thoughts. Take your mind away from negative thoughts and intentions as soon as they occur. I think we’ve been conditioned to think that it’s normal to have good and bad days – days when you’re on a bit of a downer for no good reason. Total nonsense. There’s no reason at all why we can’t live lives that are characterised by emotional, spiritual, physical and moral balance. We just haven’t prioritised it. Realise that there is much that you can do to maintain balance within yourself. Part of that means embracing a healthy lifestyle, choosing not to eat all the crap we’ve been led to believe is a normal diet. Health on the physical level and health on the spiritual and emotional levels are all connected; feel unhealthy and you will feel emotionally imbalanced. Everybody has experienced that, right? When you feel sick, it’s a short step to feeling depressed. Sometimes promoting balance in your life can be as simple as going for a walk to clear your head. What I’m saying is, start to see the importance of these things and how they relate to all parts of you, including your morality. A person with a balanced life feels no inclincation to give in to negative impulses. In short, if you’re a mess in other areas of your life, don’t expect to be healthy morally.

I don’t know if anyone feels any kind of resonance with what I’m saying. All I know is, this way of looking at life feels real to me, and the actual benefits it has brought to my life are very real. Aspects of what I’ve said are certainly compatible with Christianity, and possibly I should have been able to implement them into my life effectively as a Christian. All I know is that I couldn’t, not for all the years I’ve been a Christian. According to a poll conducted by ChristiaNet.com, 50% of Christian men are addicted to pornography. I say that without any condemnation, only with empathy. I feel that I’ve now found a greater measure of understanding that I only possessed in a half measure as a Christian. I feel like I’ve found the truth that really has set me free.

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Salvation, damnation, and alternative information – the rewrite

The pen is mightier than the sword, they say. Words certainly do have power. And that power has to be wielded carefully. I discovered that when my original version of this post (and to some extent the whole direction of my blog over the past few months) cost me the friendship of someone I’ve been close to for about fifteen years. With that in mind, let me attempt a more personal and respectful rewrite of some of what I was trying to convey …

When you’re in a situation like I’ve been in for the past few months, where you sense your Christian faith changing into something else, there’s a certain degree of nervousness about the experience, because part of you is wondering if you’re damning your soul to hell. The Christian message is pretty clear. Entrance to heaven requires faith in Jesus. Ultimately, though, I feel I need to take a deep breath and remember that fear is not a particularly healthy motivator. When I first became a Christian, aged seventeen, there was a certain amount of fear that spurred me into the necessity of taking action, but in fairness my decision to become a Christian was really grounded in the idea that God is all wise and his way is therefore the right way, regardless of what I might want to do with my life. I have to say, to the credit of my Christian friends who are debating with me out of great concern at the moment, none of them have tried to scare me back into believing with a “big stick.” Instead, they have sought to reason with me. Jesus, too, when he was on earth, did not use a kind of all-encompassing fear-mongering; if you read the Gospels carefully, you will see a great variety of actions that Jesus used, depending on whom he was talking to.

So, taking all this into account, I think it’s important for me not to give into fear. If I should return to Christianity in time, it should be because I have become convinced of its validity, and for that reason alone. So, my reaction to my current situation is: take a deep breath, don’t be scared, be wary of those who would control by fear, and above all keep thinking.

One reason why it’s very difficult for me to believe in hell is because my parents aren’t/weren’t Christians. I lost my mother to cancer three years ago. She made no claim to being a Christian during her life, and I only worked up the courage to talk to her about it when she was on her death-bed, drifting in and out of consciousness on morphine. I only got a couple of minutes of lucidity from her while I was talking and she gave me a vaguely positive reaction, but nothing that I could hang my hat on and say, “My mother is saved.” You would think this uncertainty would have played on my mind. It didn’t – at all. The bottom line in all this is that I am psychologically incapable of believing my mother is in hell. That is evidenced by how easily I can talk about it. The idea of hell just doesn’t compute – that this precious person who loved me so completely throughout her life is now suffering in eternal torment. We are connected to people we love in ways that make facing a reality like this so utterly horrible that it becomes simply unreal. And I will face the same thing again with my dad in the not too distant future.

I have to admit to feeling a certain amount of relief that, with my current mindset, I don’t feel I need to warn my dad about that he is (hypothetically) facing fire and brimstone. I’ve always been uncomfortable, as a Christian, with the idea that I should impose the way I see life upon others, with warnings of a dire future, when I’ve never really been one hundred percent certain that Christianity is the true way and that any such grim reality truly insists. I have memories of taking part in missionary activities and feeling uncomfortable about what I was doing in a way that I think goes beyond mere nerves.

Let me be clear about what I’m not saying. I haven’t stepped back from Christianity because I don’t like the idea of hell. I’ve stepped back from it because I see major problems with it. Letting go of the belief in hell is just a major plus for me emotionally, as a result.

In the absense of Christianity, I’ve been looking to a different view of life; considering evil not as a thing to be punished but as an imbalance to be balanced; seeing forgiveness not as something which we should withhold until certain conditions are met, but something which can be given freely by just letting go of any requirement to make the offender pay, whether that requirement is as simple as “Say you’re sorry!” or as drastic as “You should be made the pay for what you did! They should lock you up and throw away the key!” It’s a breath of fresh air for me to realise that I don’t have to embrace the vengeful negativity that I’ve been conditioned to think is normal.

I believe we are all aspects of infinite consciousness. We are all connected to each other, part of the whole that is Creation or God. And the only motivation that makes any sense at all in this view of life is love.

Let’s use a radical example. Someone murders your brother. You feel that he should pay. The police catch him and he is convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment. You’re satisfied that he got what he deserved. This is the view that is typical of us when we see ourselves as disconnected from each other. But if you can believe that we’re not disconnected from each other, that we are all unique parts of the same whole, the situation looks radically different. When you understand that from a wider perspective he is you and you are him, the only reaction that makes any sense is love.

Am I saying that all criminals should be let out of the prisons to run amok? Of course not. What I’m saying is that it’s one thing to incarcerate a person for the protection of society and it’s another thing to do it to punish him. Ideas like punishment and retribution make no sense when you are motivated by the desire to help everybody. Yes, even the scum of the earth. The Christian ideal also agrees with the sentiment I’m proposing: “Love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you.” But what I’m suggesting is that I’ve found an underlying understanding that makes this kind of love possible.

I don’t believe I need to find salvation. I don’t think there is anything to be saved from. I believe the answer is to transform our understanding, then we’ll start realising our potential for goodness and love. For instance, the person who understands that he is infinite consciousness won’t be trapped in materialism, will not be greedy for wealth, and is very unlikely to end up a thief. This life is just a tiny little ride on the vast plain of eternity. When you understand that, so many negative motivations lose their hold over you. On the flipside, a person who lives with the understanding that death is the end is so much more susceptible to this negativity. I don’t think evil is caused by a sinful nature; I think how we choose behave is a direct reflection of our view of life. And I’ve found that the answer to my own personal evil inclinations and urges is the transformation of my understanding.

Too simple? Too idealistic? But I see evidence of it all the time in the school where I work. The kids who struggle the most with bad behaviour are those who have the hardest things to put up with at home. They grow up in a destructive home environment, imbibe an imbalanced outlook on life where they see a bleak future for themselves, and they become “bad.” The answer to these kids is not punishment for bad behaviour; it’s love and compassion. They are no more outside “the grace of God” than more fortunate kids who grow up in a loving Christian home and to whom becoming a Christian is as easy and expected as putting on your seatbelt. The idea of evil coming from a sinful nature is too simplistic to me, and is not a true reflection of what you see in the world.

This alternative view is there for the taking or leaving. If you ask me to prove it, I can’t. All I can say is I am a more loving person for having embraced it. It is simply the intuitive knowledge that everything is consciousness and you and I are aspects of that consciousness. And we are all one.

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From Christianity to … spirituality?

For those of you who have been following this spiritual transformation of mine, it’s about time I told you the specifics of what I’ve now come to believe.

I suppose it started off with me reading about “chakras,” energy vortices that are beyond the physical realm and aligned with the body – seven of them, from the crown of the head to the base of the spine, each with its own function. Whether this is your soul, part of your soul, or whatever, I’m not sure, but it’s seen in terms of energy, rather than something far out that can never be understood.

This gelled with me, because of an experience that I had when I was twenty-four, when I was praying with my girlfriend. She prayed that God would touch me, and I experienced an intense vibration in the stomach area for several minutes (skip the dietary, jokes, please; I’ve heard them all). Very pleasant, very exciting, and very real. Also documented by other Christians. Touched by the Holy Spirit? I thought so initially, but the conservative Evangelical in me soon dismissed the whole thing as purely physiological. Over a decade later, now reading about chakras, I couldn’t help but wonder, did I experience energetic activity in my solar plexus chakra?

The trouble is, rationality is king with me. I needed to bring this knowledge down to a level where I could hang it on something rational. And so, I decided to experiment with something I remembered from my teenage years: I saw a friend perform telekinesis (more correctly called psychokinesis), the moving of an object with the mind. So I tried to do it myself, and as you’ve seen lately, I got some excellent results. Whilst this doesn’t prove anything specifically about chakras, it does bring the view that we are beings of energy a little closer to credibility than the laughability that many people attach to it.

There are other reasons for believing in chakras, too. For instance, the heart chakra, in the centre of the chest, is our emotional centre. We don’t feel emotions with our brains. Our souls experience them in the chest area. Anyone who has felt deep emotional distress knows the crushing pain in this location. It’s where we get the expression “broken heart.” It’s certainly not the organ that pumps blood around the body that is suffering. It is the energy centre that occupies that physical space. The throat chakra is said to be responsible for matters of the will. Think about some of the contexts in which our throat becomes uncomfortable, or dry, and makes us gulp.

Okay, so I can connect some of the dots to things we know from this physical world. It isn’t proof; it’s just a way of looking at things. Here, briefly, are more ways in which we can look at reality. I’m going to use some terms that I will be hard pressed to define accurately, because I don’t fully understand the concepts myself, and it’s going to sound like I’ve jumped off the deep end.

Everything that exists is consciousness. All matter is consciousness. Yes, that means that every blade of grass, every rock, every piece of matter in the universe, is in some sense conscious. Everything is in a state of vibration, and matter is consciousness condensed to a slow vibration. What we see as the physical realm is only a fraction of what really exists.

Our own consciousness is tuned into this “frequency” – one of a great many frequencies. Our birth in this life was not our beginning. We didn’t have a beginning because we are each an aspect of the infinite consiousness that is everything – God, if you like. It is very likely that our consciousness experienced other incarnations before the one we are currently in. Being born is not the beginning of your life. It is like your consciousness chose to incarnate, to condense itself into this body, thus shutting off a great deal of its “higher self” including all the memories of every life it has lived. After the experiences of this life, your consciousness with leave the body and reconnect with its higher self and you will move on to whatever’s next, whether that is another incarnate life or something different.

On a more down to earth level, we perceive the physical world in a certain way, and we think that’s the way it really is; we say that a blade of grass is green or the sky is blue, or whatever. What we should realise is that that’s not strictly true. Other creatures are perceiving this world in different ways. The cat or the lizard see the world differently, with their slit-like pupils. Flies, with their compound eyes, have a vastly different means of processing visual reality that our eyes do. Bats are near blind and rely on a form of radar. Birds migrate by sensing something we don’t. Dogs experience a world of smells that we know little about. My point is the world isn’t actually as humans see it. The physical world is just an energetic frequency, and the body is just a computer that interpets the physical world in a certain way to the brain. The old philosopher, I think it was Rene Descarte, who said, “I think, therefore I am,” was onto something: the view that you can’t really prove that anything exists beyond your own consciousness, because everything that you gather through your five senses is transformed into impulses in the brain that your consciousness interfaces with and experiences. Your brain is between you and the world.

There’s a book called The Holographic Universe by Michael Talbot that I’m dying to read on this theme. If you have the time, here’s a good video that explains the idea behind it. Be warned, it’s 20 minutes long:

So, try to stretch your mind to conceive that we may all experiencing a collective “illusion.” Something like Neo in The Matrix. When you rap your knuckles on the desk, it feels solid, but it’s actually the illusion of solidity created in your consciousness by the “computer” that holds all this together. Not even your body or brain is real. It’s all part of the program. A screwball idea? Remember, the illusion of solidity is something that even we mere humans have made great strides in. We invented the hologram. Look at the incredibly detailed worlds that you can interact with in today’s videogames, a three dimensional illusion behind a flat TV screen. I’m suggesting that physical reality may be the same thing on a vastly more spectacular scale. And behind it all is not Neo sitting asleep in a vat of smelly gunk in a human battery farm. Behind it is infinite consciousness, of which you are a tiny and unique aspect undergoing an experience in your evolution. You, and everyone else, and everything else that has conscious reality are one.

Oh boy. I really did jump off the deep end, didn’t I? Do I really believe this stuff? I’m afraid I do. But who’s to say it isn’t just the biggest load of poppycock? Nobody. I can’t prove this stuff. These are hard admissions for me because I’ve started believing certain things without knowing quite why I believe them. That’s a strange thing for me to say because anyone who knows me knows I prize rationality above anything. While these beliefs aren’t irrational, they are unprovable. The only thing I can attach these beliefs to is “intuition.” And that’s another weird thing for me to say, because I’ve never thought much about intuition until now, and I’ve certainly never lived by it.

I think it works like this. Once you let go of the mind prison that says “this world is all there is” and the other mind prison of religious belief systems that restrict you to a strict set of beliefs – once you open your mind to all possibility – then you connect to your higher self and to knowledge you had before you were even born. People live lives shut off from this knowledge because they are disconnected, at a mental level, from their higher selves.

Of course, it’s very convenient for me to believe something and then to say I don’t have to prove it because it’s intuition. And I know someone will accuse me of just believing what I want to believe. But for me, the strength of conviction I feel goes beyond wishful thinking. That’s why I’ve been reluctant to really let fly and talk about this stuff. I also want to be careful to say that this isn’t something I want to impose on you. It’s just another way of looking at life. Take it or leave it, it’s up to you.

For me, I can’t understand rationally why I believe so strongly in this stuff – so stongly that it has transformed my life. Did I merely read some good material by David Icke and decide to take the rest on faith? Come on, I’m smarter than that. Something else is going on here, and I don’t know what to call it except intuition. For me, the proof of the pudding has been in the eating. And next time I’ll talk about some of the ways this new understanding has benefitted my life.

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The light side of Christianity

So I have abandoned my Christian faith. But to what extent? Was it so bad that I would spit upon the Bible? Am I looking forward to returning to the pleasures of sin without a guilty conscience? Do I feel as if I have been wasting my life on a pipedream up to now? No on all counts.

I’ve been speaking quite negatively about Christianity recently because it was necessary in explaining the changes I’m going though, first in the reasons why I felt I had to abandon organised religion, then ultimately why I abandoned my Christian faith. But the truth is, it wasn’t all bad. Far from it. And this post is to reclaim that balance, lest I be viewed as someone who abandoned his faith out of bitterness for past experience.

The Bible is full of excellent standards to live by. A couple of weeks ago I accompanied a young Christian friend of mine to a church quite far away where he had been invited to preach. I went purely to give a friend a little support. But you know what? It was a pretty good sermon overall, even though I was listening as someone who had abandoned his faith. He preached from the Book of Daniel about Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, and how they refused to submit to the Babylonian king’s laws because they conflicted with standards of their own. My friend talked about how we can choose to do what we believe is right, regardless of circumstances, or be as changeable as the wind when it starts to cost us. Great stuff.

And the Bible is full of great stuff. I’m a wiser man from having studied so much of it. I am free from the mindless pursuit of material wealth because of the Bible. I am aware of the meaningless of life without an eternal aspect. I prize honesty. I believe in sexual purity. I could go on. The Bible is responsible for many good things in my outlook on life.

On the athiestic flipside, which I fell into at times, there was merely a brief respite from some psychological problems that had crept into my life as a result of a distorted church experience, followed by a depressing reality that death is the end. I won’t elaborate. I’ve discussed this in depth in previous posts. Suffice it to say, you can tell that, even having abandoned my faith, I feel a lot more positive about Christianity than I do about athiesm.

Possibly a slightly wrong impression is given when I talk about abandoning Christianity. It’s closer to the truth to say that I discovered something that was a few steps closer to the truth that what I had been believing as a Christian. I did not leave Christianity because I was looking for a way out. The new information that led me in this direction came upon me unexpectedly. In fact, I felt quite disturbed by it initially, because it made sense to me and challenged my beliefs. It became a choice of whether to bury my head in the sand or rise to the challenge of contemplating what I was reading. I chose the latter, and this is where I ended up. Not a pissed off ex-Christian fuelled by bitterness. Not somebody who’s been dying for the chance to do the bad things he misses, without having to feel guilty anymore. I haven’t changed one iota morally, except for the better (and I’m looking forward to discussing the specifics of that when I can work up the courage to be open about it).

I suppose it has to be asked, then: why did I stop being a Christian? Because I don’t see the Bible as the infallible word of God. Because the problems are there, not only in the Bible, but in the church, and in the church’s chequered history. And in some of the concepts the Bible demands that you believe (I will elaborate, in time). For the past seven years, I think I felt that Christianity had to be true because the polar alternative to religion, athiesm, is was so obviously untrue to me. Lately, I started to see that there was an alternative to both athiesm and religion. And when you consider that I’ve always had problems with both of those (I’ve done a lot of hoppng between them in my life), it’s maybe not so surprising that I would choose this new avenue of thought.

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I am the one and only

“Eek! Has Darryl Sloan got a messiah complex?” you cry. Nope. “I aaaam the one and onlyyyy … Nobody I’d rather be!” Good ol’ Chesney Hawkes, eh? You can’t beat ‘im. I’m serious, actually. I love that song. If you can get around the 80s cheese factor and listen to the lyrics, it’s actually carrying a really positive message championing individuality.

Individuality is claiming the freedom to think for yourself, to form and hold your own opinions. And the enemy of individuality is anything which denies you that freedom.

In the previous post I stated that our freedom to think for ourselves is “taken away by Popes, pastors, and every other religious authority that insists it has a right to your mind.” Let me clarify and expand on what I mean by that.

Our freedom to think for ourselves is only taken away because we give it away willingly, and are encouraged to do so. This is illustrated by the way that most Catholics don’t become Protestants; most Protestants don’t become Catholics; the majority of adult Christians are those brought up in Christian homes, rather than people who converted to it from here, there and everywhere. Churchgoers generally aren’t moving towards greater awareness of “the truth,” despite listening to countless sermons week after week. They are buzzing around merrily in their own cliques. That is not my opinion; it is observable reality in all the countless church factions. In my personal case, it is illustrated by the imbalanced state of mind I went through in my earlier years as a Christian – the days when I took at face value what I was told about what it is to be a good Christian. Only by taking back my freedom to think, by slowly realising that I was being fed error on some levels, was I able to say, “No. The way you people want me to think is not right.” And to step away. It was very hard to do, and took a long time. The scope of the problem is illustrated by how many people choose to blindly tow the line of whatever their individual church scene says is right. Churches are not teeming with people who embrace their individuality, nor are they encouraged to be individuals. Paradoxically, all the factions in the church were no doubt created by certain people expressing their individuality and rebelling, but this does not negate the point that the only way to escape the prison of a particular church faction that is in error is to start thinking for yourself and to stop giving up that responsibility to your minister.

The Bible itself, as an authority, is also a problem because when you become a Christian you have to accept all its precepts en masse. If your own intelligence leads you in a different direction on some points, you have to agree with what the Bible says regardless of what you think, because it’s the word of God. Take homosexuality for instance. I believe it’s not natural, okay? I did as a Christian; I still do. But if I allow myself the luxury of disregarding that the Bible calls it an “abomination,” I suddenly find myself able to empathise with other Christians who have been dealing with homosexual urges all their lives, with no evil intent (two of whom I’ve known as close friends, incidentally, and one of whom was responsible for leading me to Christ). And yet, typically, if I’m sitting with another Christian and a homosexual comes on TV, the Christian will happily pass a remark about “that queer.” There is the general feeling among Christians that homosexuality is a great evil, with Bible verses to back that up. My personal individual view is that there’s something very unbalanced about that attitude. So, do I believe what the Bible says, or do I believe what my experience of knowing homosexual Christians tells me? When your indivuality conflicts with a belief system, you’re in trouble. And that’s the problem with belief systems. For me right now, rejecting the belief system and embracing my right to have my own view, it is so refreshing to be able to look at somebody and say, “It doesn’t matter to me what you are,” instead of regarding them with suspicion as if they must be some kind of deviant. If I’m honest, I haven’t looked upon homosexuality as “evil” in a long time; “not normal” is as far as I can reasonably go. So, I’m guilty perhaps of covertly reclaiming a little of my individuality that was not strictly permitted for me.

I’m not just Bible-blasting here. This giving away of one’s freedom to think is equally true of people who vegetate in front of soap operas, and base their moral outlook on the behaviour of what they see there. On the topic of homosexuality, it’s interesting to note how society’s view of it has become gradually more tolerant over the past couple of decades. Is this because people have suddenly become more enlightened? Could be, but (the rights and wrongs of homosexuality aside) I’m more inclined to think the change came about by the bombardment of the population by positive depictions of homosexuality on TV dramas and movies. It’s covert manipulation, folks, made possible only by our willingness to accept what we’re told without thinking for ourselves. True, attitudes to homosexuality really were in the dark ages a couple of decades ago, and social consciousness has probably been moved to a better place, where we’re less likely to kick the crap out of a couple of “queers” in a dark alley, but that doesn’t negate the fact that the means of delivering this better understanding was a manipulative one. I mean, these days a guy like me can hardly raise a single objection to homosexuality on purely rational grounds without being immediately branded homophobic.

The big problem is that we can so easily sacrifice our ability to think for ourselves without realising we’ve done it. Another manipulation I fell prey to at a point in my life is the idea that the scientific view of reality is the only one that holds any water. You get an impression from society – and that’s all it is, just an impression, with no actual substance – that scientists are the truly smart people. Before you know it, you’re beleiving in an axiom like “Nothing is true until I can smell it, taste it, touch it, measure it, or quantify its substance by some means or other.” A man who opens his mind to the possibilty that there may be a God, and who chooses to pray to this God, is seen as backward by comparison. But the wider possibility that science won’t acknowledge is that a whole lot of stuff might be true that we just haven’t discovered with our microscopes and telecopes, etc. It’s no surprise, really, that a great many scientists have an athiestic perspective. They have decided that if they can’t find it, it mustn’t be real. To only have room in your heart for scientific thinking is a great pity. Once you ackowledge that it’s possible to discover truth beyond the narrow constraints of scientific investigation, you realise that the scientific mindset is a prison for your mind – useful within its own capacity, but inadequte as an exclusive principle to live by. The problem is, the wool is pulled over our eyes without us realising it.

Yet another aspect of this lack of freedom to think is what goes on with friendships during our school days. The more I look back on my youth, the more grateful I am to have been a geek – an outcast from the popular crowd. It was painful at times, sure, but the most beautiful gift of this is that peer pressure has absolutely no power over you. Since the popular crowd have already made you an outcast, there is absolutely no benefit to you in doing anything that would please them. You grow into a true individual, making your own decisions, and thinking your own thoughts, without any great feeling that you ought to conform. It’s no surprise that I finished school having never smoked a cigarette or consumed any alcohol.

The ultimate expression of indivuality is when you just don’t give a damn what anybody else thinks of you. That’s largely what’s motivating the direction of many of my posts in recent months. It’s easily mistaken for arrogance, but it’s really just the detemination to live up to a standard that I’ve set for myself: to speak out about what I care about, to be unafraid of rebuttal or ridicule.

It’s an interesting experiment to observe others, keeping your ears peeled for evidence of the fear of what others think – various expressions of the old “What would the neighbours think?” attitude. Even more challenging to look for it in yourself. As ol’ Chesney says, “You are the one and only you.”

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I am no longer a Christian

Before admitting this to myself and others, I thought it was best to let the dust settle – to make sure I’m not now embarking on some whimsical spiritual detour. But, after several months, it seems less and less likely that I will be returning to the fold of Christianity. So, how did this happen? I’ll do my best to explain.

You could say it began with reading something inspiring by David Icke on the topic of open-mindedness, from his book I Am Me, I Am Free (see my review), but the real origins of this change go back much further. I’ll get to that in a minute.

First, what exactly is the nature of this open-mindedness? I’ve blogged about it at length over the past couple of months (see Truth seeking vs. emotional attachment). In summary, it’s an attitude of mind that says “Go where the information takes you, not where you want it to go because of a pre-defined set of personal beliefs that will cause you to edit the information to your own ends.” Sorry that’s a bit of a mouthful. Even now, after much discussion with blog commenters, some are still insisting that this kind of open-mindedness is impossible. Of course it isn’t. All you have to do is make the choice to distance your emotional attachment to a set of beliefs, at least on a temporary basis – to take those beliefs away and see whether the same beliefs occur when you reconstruct what you think.

I found that they didn’t. In doing what I did, the dust was being blown off many problems that I had allowed to stay on the shelf for so long that the shelf was pretty much forgotten. These problems related to the Bible itself, to Christian history, and to my life’s experience as a Christian. The latter is what I mean when I say the origins of this change in me go back much further than reading David Icke. This wouldn’t be the first time I’ve stepped away from Christianity (see My 13-year war with doubt and What I learned from being an agnostic. I’ve hopped from Christianity to agnosticism and back again many times. In summary, what would happen is that Christianity would fail to work on a practical level, so I would seek solace in escaping to greener pastures. And it’s not hard to make the jump on a rational level, because you can always go grab some things from that dusty old shelf and give yourself a reason not to believe.

But things have been different for the past seven years. The fallacy of agnosticism & athiesm has been so consistently clear to me that there was no going back to it. And Christianity was much more tolerable because I had also learned to see through some of the BS that made it so difficult, BS that is largely inflicted upon you by erroneous church teachings and attitudes. I remember going through a period where I would feel I was committing a sin just by allowing my attention to drift during the singing of a hymn in church. For a time, church became an activity where we all got together to tell God how much we’ve let him down during the week. I would hear the most depressing prayers, and something in me would be screaming, “It’s not supposed to be like this!” For this reason and others, I don’t relate to church people and church life. I don’t go because it can so easily be an uninspiring and depressing and destructive influence on my life. My previous pastor has such a narrow view of me that he views my lack of church attendence as lack of discipline and he sees me as having lost my way as a Christian. He looks back on the good old days when I was coming every week and participating, and he recently referred to this period as my spiritual peak. He has no idea how I have progressed over the years, and how the memories of those good old days look from inside my head. He has no idea how manipulated I feel. And it’s not as if he’s the manipulator. He’s as much a victim as I was, his own mind shaped by the theologies that he has absorbed through incessant study in a single direction. I hope some of this illustrates reasonably why I abandoned church life and also why I viewed a lot of Christian literature as dangerous (see The Christian book minefield).

Well, I didn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. I held fast to my Bible – a lonely pilgrim without a home. Hang on, that’s not accurate. Yes, some years ago, I managed to be one of those rare Christians who actually read the whole Bible in its entirety. But in the last couple of years it’s only fair to say that it’s a struggle to pick it up and read it. The struggle has been prevalent for most of my Christian life. And this apathy can only be a reflection of the lack of inspiration I’ve felt. And I don’t think I’m alone. It has to be asked why so few Christians actually read the Bible regularly. And I would hazard a guess that it’s because their experience of their religion is as uninspiring as mine was. For the most part, I was addicted to wasting my life on pointless entertainment. I’ve known there was something wrong with this, that it was a form of escapism in an unsatisfying life, but I’ve felt powerless to counter it, despite my Christian faith (see Altuism and Altruism – Part II). Now, with my new outlook, I appear to have countered it with the greatest of ease, but that’s a larger topic for another day.

What I began to suspect a few months ago was that the leap I made from agnosticism to Christianity seven years ago may have been too great a leap – one that I made because I only saw two options: there is no God (and therefore no religion), or there is a God (with all the trappings of religion by default). No sooner had I accepted the reality of God than I accepted Christianity. There were understandable reasons to do so. It is the big world religion (strength in numbers, so to speak), with a massive history dating back to the ancient world, and the Bible does contain some inspirational material – the Book of Proverbs being a prime example, which I recall reading at the time of my “re-conversion.” What I didn’t see at the time was that there is an alternative to religion, one that does not involve turning to an athiestic view of life and the depression it causes.

When you know, from a rational basis, that athiesm is in error (see The lie of the joyful athiest) and you then learn that there are major problems with your religion that give you good cause to abandon it, this alternative then becomes the only option for you. (I will go into more detail later on the specifics of my problems with Christianity – not here, because numerous heated discussions are likely to ensue.) The alternative is simply to seek the truth without sacrificing your freedom to think for yourself. That freedom is taken away on the one side by the Bible, and by Popes, pastors, and every other religious authority that insists it has a right to your mind. On the other side, that freedom is taken away by the mind-prison where science is seen, not as a tool to help us understand the universe, but as a God-like authority where “this world is all there is” is the unproven principle under which it operates and which many people hang their entire concept of reality. Openness to possibility is where the real answer lies. Freedom to investigate without being forced into an “ism.”

You might think that this alternative view leaves me in a bit of a vague conundrum of not knowing what to believe, since I’m not allowing myself to be tied down to the specifics of a particular school of thought. Not at all. I think intuition has a lot to do with it. But boy, oh boy, that’s a real can of worms for another day. I have so much more to say, on so many things. This post is merely a summary of why I’ve changed.

Briefly, in closing, some of the positive changes in my life: more courage in speaking out; no fear of what others think; massively increased sense of emotional balance in my day to day life; vastly increased resistance to personal vices; most importantly a much greater capacity to love others, along with empathy and tolerance. In short, the past couple of months have felt like one massive great sigh of relief that the spiritual side of me has been longing for but until now unable to make.

Am I merely in the “honeymoon period” of a new belief that will, in time, fall flat on its face? Time will tell. But I figured enough time had gone by for me to start talking about it with some confidence.

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Clues about what we are, from a girl with half a brain

One of the major themes of my recent posts has been “What is consciousness?” or “Are we just a brain inside a body, or does our consciousness transcend the physical?” Well, it doesn’t get much plainer than lopping off fifty percent of a person’s brain and discovering that the whole person is still there.

There was an incredible documentary on telly last night about a little girl called Cameron Mott. When only three years old, she started displaying the symptoms of Rasmussen’s Encephalitis, the only cure for which is a hemispherectomy, the removal or disconnection of one entire half of the brain. After the operation, Cameron suffered (as predicted) paralysis along one side of her body, but she was young enough that, after a few days, she was already training the remaining side of her brain to take over, and she regained much of the use of her immobilised limbs.

The most incredible thing to me, and the thing which was beyond the theme of the documentary, was that that Cameron came out of the operation mentally and emotionally intact. She was still the same little girl. Surely this begs the question: if we can lose half of our brain, and still be “all there,” what on earth are we? I think this points very strongly to the idea that the brain is not the person; that consciousness (the core of ourselves), including our self-awareness and possibly our memories, lies somewhere beyond physical matter; that the brain is simply a machine that serves the consciousness and helps us interact with and function in this five-sense reality.

And then there’s my favourite question in all this: If consciousness is non-physical, what happens to it when the body dies? Does it necessarily die, too? Why should it, when it isn’t physical matter?

If I can make any valid point, it’s this: A view of reality that rests strictly on scientific principles involving the denial of anything beyond the physical, just because it is untestable, strikes me as wholely inadequate. When you’ve got scientists running around insisting there is no soul and that we’re just a brain, and then I’m seeing with my own eyes that somebody can lose half of their brain and still be fully compus mentus, well, excuse me for believing in a “soul.”

The full documentary Living with Half a Brain can be watched online via this YouTube playlist.

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Truth-seeking versus emotional attachment

If you haven’t already noticed, I’ve been going through a sort of mental transformation lately. “Or maybe you’ve just gone mental,” says you. The best way I can summarise it is this: I stopped caring about being right and started caring about becoming right.

Okay, I wasn’t a stubborn bigot to begin with, but what I did was take a reasonably functional pencil and sharpen it to a point (all the better to stab you with). I took a step back from everything I held sacred, and I willingly allowed the whole construct of my beliefs to come under threat. And you know what? That seems to me like the most objective thing I could ever do.

My Christian faith is right now more in jeopardy than it has been in many years. Good! It’s a chance to look at the cracks properly instead of always trying to paper over them. If Christianity is the truth, well then, it will reveal itself to be so, when investigated. If it’s not, then it’s not. I refuse to care, either way. All I want to do is move closer to the truth, whatever the truth may be.

You know, if I’m honest, I’ve always believed in Christianity because it seemed “most likely to be true,” not because of some eureka experience where it blew the top of my head off. And this is what prompted the great war of my past between Christianty and athiesm. At various points in my life I wanted to escape Christianity, because it had become torturous, and I always had the emotional escape hatch that said, “You’ve never known for sure that this is all true.”

Emotions are such a problem when it comes to truth-seeking. We get emotionally attached to beliefs and it clouds our thinking, provokes us into knee-jerk reactions against opposing beliefs instead of careful consideration, where we attack a perceived threat, rarely asking ourselves if we could be the ones who are wrong.

Let information and evidence lead me wherever they want to lead me. I’m learning, as much as I’m able, to stop caring about where they lead or where I want them to lead.

Here’s an example of how difficult it is to be objective. Back in junior high school, I witnessed someone doing psychokinesis – moving an object with his mind. At the time, with the wonderful open-mindedness of youth (and I don’t mean that sarcastically; it’s a shame we often lose it), witnessing this thing blew me away. But years later I developed a more scientific mindset and I came to view the event as trickery. I even tried reproducing the “trick” and had partial success (I stress partial). So I took the view that true psychokinesis was very likely not real. It was the view that my scientific mindset wanted, to keep things neat and tidy.

More recently, I’ve been back in contact with this same guy and I learned to my amazement that his psychokinesis was the tip of the iceberg. Suffice it to say, he had been experimenting with far more esoteric knowledge and had ended up paying a price for it. Over twenty years later, the guy has no reason to feed me a load of BS, and I certainly didn’t prompt him to say the things he said. Now, with a more open mind, I have no doubt that I witnessed true psychokinesis back in junior high. If I wanted to cling to that strict scientific mindset right now, I would have to view my friend as a liar of staggering proportions.

You see, it’s not as simple as someone saying, “Here is the truth.” The “truth” meant one thing, when seen through the filter of a rigid belief system that insists on a certain view of the world. It meant something completely different, when interpreted through a mind open to possibility.

Here’s a better example (better because you’re a part of it; you heard it on the news, and now you can examine your own memories of how you reacted to it when it when it all came out): the whole paedophile priest scandal in the Catholic Church. If you were interested in defending Protestantism or athiesm, you might have thought, “Here’s the awful results of all the sexual repression of the Catholic Church.” On the other hand, if you are a Catholic, you may have seen it differently: “Jobs involving children attract sexual predators. This is true of schools, Protestant churches. And the Catholic Priesthood is no exception.” Which side has made the right deduction? Ultimately, you don’t know without further investigation, but you’ll get people on both sides who will cling to their own theories as fact. I think this illustrates our tendency to leap to conclusions based on what we want to believe, rather than what the actual truth might be.

There was an amusing moment on a recent episode of Doctor Who when the Doctor and several others were trapped aboard a passenger craft that was travelling over the surface of a planet where it was said that no life could exist. Except someone outside started tapping on the door, repeatedly – even going as far as mimicking the exact number of taps the Doctor did in reponse. The passengers got scared. The scientist on board kept saying things like, “There’s no one out there! It’s impossible!” Whereas the Doctor said, “I’m so glad you’ve obtained the absolute knowledge of everything, but would you mind moving? Because someone’s trying to get in.”

It’s lamentable when our personal views become so sacred that they are put beyond the realm of ever being re-examined. We can be so stubborn that we won’t consciously admit to being wrong in the face of contrary evidence. Or we can be afraid to to change a belief, because there is a cost involved.

I actually find it difficult to write this stuff, because I sense that there may be some Christians who know me wincing and thinking I’ve gone too far. But if you’re not permitted to step outside of your beliefs and look in at them from an open perspective, how can you expect someone else who’s starting off from outside to ever make his way in?

It’s unavoidable that we’ll individually build up a belief system of one kind or another. And it’s unavoidable that we’ll develop an emotional attachment to it. I intend to keep that attachment as flexible as I can.

Bible (mis)interpretation and personal agenda

[Appended 4 July 2008: Since writing the article below, I have changed my thinking on certain aspects of it. Please read the associated comments for a fuller picture.]

I used to believe in the six-day creation account, in the Garden of Eden, in Adam and Eve, the serpent, the eating of fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Having read the Bible carefully, I was pretty sure that the original writer of Genesis intended the work to understood in a literal, historical fashion. That much is clear by the manner in which it’s written. Genesis is, after all, the history of man, and it starts with the first man, Adam, who I’m clearly supposed to believe was a real person. This view is further supported by the fact that the rest of the Bible puts on display several genealogies that go right back to Adam.

But I had a problem. And that problem was the pressure of scientific thought. The Bible says man wasn’t subject to death until after the Fall. Can you imagine what would have happened if man hadn’t fallen. Can you imagine man, an immortal being, making babies (who make further babies) ad infinitum, in the confined space of the Earth? And that’s just problem 1. The concept of death hasn’t been invented, but you have physical beings dependent on air to breathe, so what happens if you hold your head under the lake? Why does a lion have such big claws, if not to tear up his prey? Why does a hedgehog possess the ability to curl into a ball and project protective spines? Why does a sporpion have a sting? What would happen if a scorpion stung an immortal human? Christian scientists have made attempts to marry the first chapters of Genesis with what we know to be true from science, but the results aren’t convincing.

So, as a Christian, what did I do? I compromised. I said, “I know it couldn’t really have happened like this, so I’ll say it’s some kind of allegory. Something (I don’t know exactly what) happened. Mankind fell from grace. Death and sin resulted. The world is the way it is today because of that.” At the time, this seemed like an honest reasoning process. But is it? No! It’s a prime example of exactly the kind of attitude that I’ve been arguing against in all my recent posts.

Here’s the underlying truth of what really went on in my mind: I read the creation account and I interpreted it in a way that seemed correct (that I was reading historical narrative). I then came to a scientific understanding of the matter, and I found the two “realities” to be incongruous. I then said, “The literal interpretation must be wrong, so I’ll change it to allegory.”

Do you see what I did? I did exactly what I cautioned myself against doing in the previous post (regarding the interpretation of the “sons of God”). I applied a rigid set of existing beliefs (scientific ones this time) to the interpretation of Genesis and I allowed those beliefs to change the meaning of something that was perfectly clear and plain. I’m only now starting to see the intellectual dishonesty of this kind of thinking.

We all have beliefs of one kind or another. And when we encounter new information that conflicts with those beliefs, the solution is not to twist the new information into submission. The solution is to examine both the new information and the existing beliefs and determine which needs to change. The big problem arises when a belief becomes more than a belief – when it becomes an unshakeable treasured possession that must never be tampered with. This is especially true of religious thinking (what with the importance of dogma), but is also true of the scientifically motivated (as has been evidenced by recent comments).

I now have a new-found respect for those Christians who doggedly hang onto the literal creation account, despite the pressure of scientific evidence. At least they’ve chosen their side. What I’m losing my respect for is the mentality (in myself) that is prepared to hang on to some watered-down version that tries to join two sides of an argument into an ill-fitting monstrosity. It’s like saying Frankenstein was handsome.

Now that I’m refusing to come at things with a personal agenda, I can see the matter more clearly. Genesis 1-3 says one thing, science is saying another, and ne’re the twain shall meet. Answer: Pick the one you think is true.

Now that leaves me in one hell of a predicament. Easier said than done. Because I do have a rigid belief system. And the side of the argument that is calling out to me is the side that threatens to put a major crack right up through the centre of those beliefs. This is where I reveal a little of the cowardice of “Reaction 2” from the previous post: “Maybe something’s missing from the way I’m looking at this. Why don’t I just shelve it for now. Good idea. Whew!” One thing’s for sure: a decision will not be put off indefinitely.

I’ve seen many example of personal agenda being brought to bear on Bible interpretation. More than I can remember. The one example that sticks out in my mind is when I heard someone preach on Genesis 1:16. In context:

[14] Then God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night, and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years;
[15] and let them be for lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth”; and it was so.
[16] God made the two great lights, the greater light to govern the day, and the lesser light to govern the night; He made the stars also.

I’ve heard the words “He made the stars also” interpreted to mean that the creation of the whole universe beyond Earth was like a mere afterthought in the mind of God. The intent is for us to marvel that God would do something so big and complex as a mere afterthought. But an additional side-effect of this interpretation is that we create the mindset that those 200 billion stars in each of those 200 billion galaxies are unimportant and irrelevant. A convenient way to unwittingly encourage the view of reality that says there is no life out there. When, oh when, will preachers stop inventing their own flowery interpretations of Scripture and actually start communicating what the Bible is saying instead of what they want it to say. Look out for this tendency to over-interpret next time you’re in church, because it’s everywhere. And it’s one of the main reasons I can’t stomach church anymore. It’s the subtle difference between “Look what I can make it say” and “Here is what it says.”

In your own quest for truth, learn to drop your personal agendas and let a thing say what it’s trying to say.

The Nephilim: A challenge to the closed mind

The theme of my last few posts has been on achieving clear, open-minded thinking and freedom from conditioning. On that note, let’s do an interesting experiment. Let’s take a controversial Bible passage and try to interpret it in its proper context, on its own terms, without bringing along all the baggage of a pre-defined theology. The passage I have in mind is … cue drum roll … Genesis 6:1-4.

[1] Now it came about, when men began to multiply on the face of the land, and daughters were born to them,
[2] that the sons of God saw that the daughters of men were beautiful; and they took wives for themselves, whomever they chose.
[3] Then the LORD said, “My Spirit shall not strive with man forever, because he also is flesh; nevertheless his days shall be one hundred and twenty years.”
[4] The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of men, and they bore children to them. Those were the mighty men who were of old, men of renown.

Getting the right meaning out of this should be pretty straightforward: Find out what happened before these verses. Find out the meaning of any ambiguous or difficult words. And then just let it say what it’s saying.

We’re pretty close to the beginning of the Bible, and this first book of the Bible, Genesis, tells of man’s origins from the Garden of Eden right through to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph – the beginnings of the nation of Israel. From the beginning up to chapter 6, in summary: the world is created, man falls from grace by disobeying God, Cain murders Abel, various other sons and daughters are born, industries begin. Several generations (and little detail) later, we read this strange little account. Okay, it’s clear to me we’re reading Bible history at this point. Not some methphor or vision or whatever. This is an event in our history that the author expects the reader to interpret literally.

What are the problem words? “Sons of God” and “Nephilim” jump out. Let’s tackle them. “Sons of God” first. I’m no scholar, but a little research shows me that there are only a couple of other references to the terms in the Old Testament, in the books of Job and Daniel.

Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came among them. (Job 1:6; see also 2:1 and and 38:7)

He [King Nebucadnezzar] said, “Look! I see four men loosed and walking about in the midst of the fire without harm, and the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods!” (Daniel 3:25)

Technically, the Daniel reference is a slightly different expression, but we’re splitting hairs. These references are clearly to otherworldly beings. I see no reason to interpret the Genesis 6 passage differently. In fact, the view is strengthened by the “of God” (the sons) being place in direct contrast to the “of men” (the daughters). I’m happy that we’re clearly dealing with angelic beings of one kind or another. (For those still on the fence, a study of 1 Peter 3:18-22, 2 Peter 2:4-5, and Jude 6-7, lends further confirmation of this interpretation.) If you read the New International Version, you’ll notice “sons of God” is confidently translated as “angels,” although that’s actually a little disappointing, as you lose the richness of meaning in the original term.

Moving on. Now what does “Nephilim” mean? It’s tricky. There’s seems to be no clear opinion on the origin of the word, only several suggestions. But speculation doesn’t count. Helpfully, the word is used later in the Bible (as well as qualified), in Numbers 13:33:

We saw the Nephilim there (the descendants of Anak come from the Nephilim). We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them.”

Giants.

So, with the difficult words now understood, what is Genesis 6:1-4 saying to us. Simple. A non-human species bred with mankind, creating a hybrid species with giant characteristics. Yes, whatever the Sons of God were, we are talking about actual physical, biological creatures with DNA – with sperm, for goodness sake. There’s just no getting around that.

“Stop, Sloan!” says a little voice in my head. “That’s crazy! Take it back now, before you get laughed at. Angels don’t breed, even evil ones. They’re spirit beings. Man is made in the image of God. It’s monstrous! Impossible!”

Okay, the way I see it, you can do one of several things when you encounter a passage like this (i.e. a passage that has a clear, obvious meaning, but it’s one you don’t like).

Reaction 1: “I’m scared. Don’t make me think about it, and certainly don’t expect me to talk about it.”
Reaction 2: “Maybe something’s missing from the way I’m looking at this. Why don’t I just shelve it for now. Good idea. Phew!”
Reaction 3: “This just doesn’t fit with my existing set-in-stone beliefs. Perhaps there’s another interpretation? No? Well, can I make one up? And can I make this word mean this. Ah-ha! I’m happy now.”
Reaction 4: “Wow. I am learning bizarre and wonderful things here. I don’t know exactly what to do with this info, but it’s exciting.”

Reaction 1 is outright cowardice, from the sort of person who worries about what other people think of him. 2 demonstrates a slightly dishonest attitude to truth-seeking. 3 is the guy who says, “‘Sons of god’ means descendents of Seth. Yes, I know the term isn’t used that way in any other Bible verse, but I need to pull that explanation out of my arse, because the alternative is something insane … What about the giants? Oh, yes, well if we forget about what it says in Numbers and view Nephilim as ‘fallen ones’ instead of ‘giants’ …” Oh boy. Even if I conceded to this mishandling of the words, when you re-read the passage, watch the mental gymnastics your brain has to perform in order to make any kind of proper sense of it.

Yes, I know that the New Testament states that angels neither marry nor are given in marriage. But let’s not forget, we’ve heard about Seraphim and Cherubim, but who knows how many kinds of “angels” there are. And who knows what other business God gets up to in this vast universe, that we are not privy to.

If you want some interesting reading, Google the term “Nephilim” and read through the mix of good and bad interpretations of the passage. With the bad ones, you can almost sense how the writer’s brain is ticking. They aren’t the words of someone whose thinking, “This is mind-blowing stuff!” He’s thinking, “I don’t like this. How can I force it to fit what I already believe?”

Whether Christian or athiest, let’s be aware of cowardly and deceitful tendenies in our own minds, reject the rigidity of our existing beliefs, and be open to all possibility, regardless of where it may take us. I think it’s the only truly honest way to reason.

(Further study: For several in-depth and scholarly treatments of Genesis 6:1-4, follow this link.)

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