Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Resurrection, part 3

I guess it would be irresponsible of me to give my view of Ezekiel 37 without first saying that a lot of people who are far more qualified than I am disagree with me. N.T. Wright’s view is completely different.

In verses 1-10, Ezekiel receives the vision of the valley of dry bones. Ezekiel stood in front of a valley full of bones, and they all took on flesh and came back to life. In verses 11-14, God explained the vision. He said, “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel.” Then he says, “Behold, I will open your graves and cause you to come up out of your graves, my people; and I will bring you into the land of Israel.” N.T. Wright argues that the reference to resurrection (coming out of your graves) is a metaphor indicating return from exile. The whole motif of the passage, he argues, is about eschatological restoration.

I think Wright is partially correct. The passage certainly is about eschatological restoration. In fact, it is about the complete restoration of Israel, including the return of the lost 10 tribes Israel who had not been a nation since 722 BCE when they were destroyed and dispersed by the Assyrians, and their reunion with Judah. In verses 15-22, God says the two kingdoms will become one, and there will be one king over them. In verse 24ff, it reveals that the king will be David, and that David would be their prince forever—an obvious reference to the eschatological messiah. So the whole passage is unmistakably about eschatological restoration.

But I disagree with Wright that the reference to resurrection is metaphorical. I think the eschatological restoration refers to the whole nation of Israel, both living and dead. Resurrection is part of the restoration. The reason I take resurrection literally in this passage is because there are two parts. The first part is a vision, and the second part is an interpretation of the vision. The vision included bones coming to life. The interpretation involved God opening graves and bringing people back to life. If the interpretation of the vision is itself only a metaphor, then God hasn’t really given any interpretation at all. He would only be interpreting a metaphor with another metaphor, which is really no interpretation at all. If the interpretation is really meant to signify the meaning of the vision, then the interpretation must be literal. Wright doesn’t dispute that the reunion of Judah and Israel or the return from exile is literal. Why, then, does he dispute that the resurrection is literal? The resurrection is part of the return from exile and the restoration.

Apparently, Wright isn’t alone in his interpretation. A lot of other commentators say basically the same thing. I remain unconvinced.

Tomorrow, I’m going to talk about non-canonical Jewish references to resurrection.

Part 4

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Resurrection, part 2

Not all Jews in Jesus’ day believed in the resurrection. The Sadducees rejected the resurrection on the basis that it could not be demonstrated from the Torah. It’s interesting to see how Jesus debates with the Sadducees in Matthew 22:23-32. When he makes his argument, he doesn’t appeal to explicit references to the resurrection like Daniel 12:2. Instead, he argues from a passage that is far more ambiguous. The reason is because Jesus wanted to make an argument from a passage the Sadducees would accept as authoritative. They didn't accept Daniel, but they did accept the Torah. Jesus quoted from the Torah to make his argument for resurrection.

Most ordinary Jews shared the Pharisaic understanding of resurrection. The popular Jewish understanding can be discovered by looking at both canonical and non-canonical Jewish literature because their views were shaped by and reflect in those writings. First, let’s look at canonical references, and then tomorrow we’ll look at non-canonical references.

There are only three explicit Old Testament passages about resurrection. From these three references, five things can be inferred. Resurrection was (1) a general resurrection of all the dead, (2) on the last day, (3) ushered in by the Messiah, (4) for the purpose of eschatological restoration, (5) that involved their bodies exiting their graves.

In Daniel 12, Daniel is told to “go your way to the end; then you will enter into rest and rise again for your allotted portion at the end of the age” (Daniel 12:13). His resurrection, then, would be at the end of the age. Earlier in the chapter, he was told that “many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life, but the others to disgrace and everlasting contempt” (Daniel 12:2). We can see from these passages that the resurrection is general. That means it’s a resurrection of all the dead. We can also see that it happens at the end of the age. I want to draw attention also to the fact that the object of the resurrection is “those who sleep in the dust of the ground.” It is those who are in the ground who awake to everlasting life or contempt. It’s clear, then, that it refers to a bodily resurrection. Contrary to the Jehovah’s Witness view, it does involved people exiting their graves.

In Isaiah 26, we are told about God’s final vindication of Israel and punishment of God’s enemies. In verse 19, it says, “Your dead will live; their corpses will rise. You who lie in the dust, awake and shout for joy. For your dew is as the dew of the dawn, and the earth will give birth to the departed spirits.” The references to corpses rises makes it pretty unmistakable that the author means a bodily resurrection of the same bodies that died. The earth giving birth reinforces the same point since the dead return to the earth through burial and/or decay. Not as obvious, though, is that the resurrection here appears to be general. The people of God are being addressed and told to “awake and shout for joy.” They will be raised together in one general resurrection.

The next passage is Ezekiel 37. I’m going to say a little more about this one, so I’ll save it till tomorrow.

to be continued... Part 3

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Resurrection, part 1

We’re going to start a new series today. It should be jolly good fun. Resurrection is my favourite topic alongside the Trinity. I did a two or three week Sunday school thing on it a few years ago with an outline and everything. I’m going to be using that outline to write this series.

There’s only two problems with it. First, I have read N.T. Wright’s book, The Resurrection of the Son of God, and it has caused me to want to update my study. I’m too lazy to go back through it, though. Second, it’s been a long time since I studied up on this subject, and I’m a bit rusty. But you’ll bear with me, right?

There are really two main points I meant to make in this study. The study is meant to explain the meaning and nature of the general resurrection of the dead and its significance for Christianity, and it is meant to defend the bodily resurrection of Jesus. I did this study with Jehovah’s Witnesses in mind. In another study on another day, I may defend the historicity of the resurrection, but not in this study.

First, I want to say a little something about various views of “resurrection.” First, I want to talk about ancient non-Jewish religions. In the original outline, I wrote, “Ancient religions (e.g. Egyptian, Syrian, Babylonian, Greek, mystery cults, etc.): Resurrections were novel events that happened to individuals (usually gods) with no particular religious significance. Resurrections usually became symbols of the crop cycle (dying in winter, and rising or being reborn in the spring).” In light of N.T. Wright’s book, that seriously needs revising. I’m not going to go through the details, but I want to give Wright’s conclusion. Wright showed that everybody, whether Jew or not, all meant the same thing by “resurrection.” They took it to refer to a physical body coming back to life. Also, the only time most of these other people talked about resurrection was to deny it. Nobody other than Jews actually believed resurrections happened. The resurrection stories were strictly symbolic. You have to keep in mind, though, that I read Wright’s book when it first came out a couple of years ago, so don’t quote me or anything.

Next, there’s the liberal Christian understanding. I’m painting liberals with a broad brush here, you understand. Some people (e.g. Marcus Borg) think that Jesus did not literally rise from the dead. “Resurrection” is a metaphor indicating Jesus’ continued presence or indicating that “Jesus is Lord,” (whatever that means). In their view, there is no continuity between the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith. The Jesus of history is the real guy who walked the earth and was crucified. The Christ of faith is the myth developed by the church later on.

Jehovah’s Witnesses do not believe Jesus rose bodily from the dead. In their view, he was recreated as a spirit creature (Michael the Archangel), and Jehovah disposed of the body somehow. Each appearance of the risen Jesus involved a temporarily manifested body for the sake of display which was then destroyed when the appearance was over. They divide the general resurrection into two categories—the heavenly class and the earthly class. The resurrection of the heavenly class began in 1914. Since that time, whenever a member of the heavenly class dies, they are immediately transformed into spirits. This view differs from survival of the soul after death. Jehovah’s Witnesses do not believe we have an immaterial soul that survives the death of the body. The heavenly class are transformed into spirits after they die, and this transformation is what they call “resurrection.” The earthly class will receive a physical resurrection when Jesus begins his 1000 year rule on earth. The body they receive at the resurrection is not the same body they had when they died, so resurrection has nothing to do with anybody’s grave. A completely new body is constructed leaving the old body alone.

Tomorrow, I’m going to talk about the Jewish understanding of resurrection in and around the time of Jesus.

to be continued... Part 2

Thursday, November 24, 2005


Happy thanksgiving!

On Monday, I'll be starting a new series on resurrection.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Is self-interest incompatible with Christianity?

Today, I want to talk about three points of view that I disagree with.

First, I want to talk about my philosophy teacher. Back when I was taking philosophy classes, my teacher always made this dichotomy between self-interested morality (egoism) and other-focused morality. He thought other-focused morality was part of the whole western philosophical point of view, especially Judeo-Christian morality. He was, after all, a big fan of Nietzsche who heavily criticized Christian morality. He was both a philosophical and a psychological egoist. He thought that in Christian morality, self-interest was a sin.

Second, I want to talk about something Steve made me think of. A lot of people criticize Christianity, because it seems to advocate self-interest. Specifically, it tries to get people into the kingdom by either promising them bliss or threatening them with punishment.

Third, I want to talk about the fact that a lot of Christians think there’s something wrong with converting out of fear of hell or desire for bliss. They agree with the first group above that Christianity should be only focused on others, and they also agree with the second group above that we shouldn’t embrace the gospel just to save ourselves from hell or to ensure our eternal happiness.

I find myself disagreeing with all three groups. First, I deny the dichotomy of the first group. While it is true that Christian morality is other-focused it is not only other-focused. And self-interest is not a sin in Christianity. Christian morality is concerned with the interests of both the self and of others. For example, Paul said, “Do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:4). In discussing Christ’s love for the church, his body, he says, “no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it” (Ephesians 5:29).

There is nothing wrong with being motivated to repentance by self-interest either. Throughout the New Testament, the writers are constantly appealing to self-interest as a motivator. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus uses the promise of rewards, punishments, and consequences to motivate moral behavior. For example, Jesus said, “Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 6:1). Many of Jesus’ parables also appeal to self-interest (e.g. the parable of the 10 virgins).

There is nothing wrong with self-interest. Self-interest is not the same as selfishness. Self-interest is a concern about the self. Selfishness is a concern about the self at the expense of others. Christians are supposed to be concerned about both themselves and about others. Self-interest is a necessary part of life. We eat so we won’t get hungry. We put on clothes so we won’t be cold. We get jobs so we’ll have money and can support ourselves. Most of what we do is out of self-interest. If self-interest were a sin, then we’d be in an impossible situation. We couldn’t breathe without sinning. It cannot be wrong, then, to embrace the gospel out of self-interest. That is not selfish.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Epistemological and ontological assurance of salvation

I just finished Jonathan Edwards: A New Biography by Iain H. Murray. Edwards got booted out of his church in Northampton over the issue of the Lord ’s Supper. He thought there ought to be good evidence of a person’s conversion and regeneration before they should be allowed to participate. His congregation apparently disagreed, and he was voted out.

The whole thing got me to thinking about a related issue. How can we be sure that another person is truly converted? Or even more interesting, how can we be sure that we are converted?

I think the fifth point of Calvinism (preservation of the saints) is sometimes misunderstood. The misunderstanding usually comes in confusing ontology and epistemology. Ontology has to do with being and what is. Epistemology has to do with our state of knowledge or beliefs. The fifth point of Calvinism does not address the epistemological issue of salvation; rather, it addresses the ontological issue of salvation. In Calvinism, God ultimate decides who will be saved. Since the decision is up to him, our salvation is assured. God cannot fail. He saves whoever he intends to save. If somebody is elected to salvation by God, then that person will be saved.

But how do we know whether we or somebody else is one of the elect? That’s the epistemological question, and the fifth point doesn’t address that. According to Jesus, nobody can come to him unless the Father draws him (John 6:44). So you might say that anybody who comes to Jesus was drawn by the Father, and if they were drawn by the Father, then they must be one of the elect. Anybody, then, who really professes to be a Christian, really believes it and all, is one of the elect.

But there are a couple of problems with that. First, there’s the parable of the farmer who sews seeds on different kinds of ground. Some people embraced the gospel with enthusiasm at first, but they later fall away. Obviously, those people were never elect or they wouldn’t have fallen away. We see this in our own experience, too. Some people can profess to be Christians for many years before later rejecting it. What are we to make of that? If they eventually reject Christianity, then they could never have been elect in the first place.

Second, Jesus said that not everybody who calls him Lord will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. These people will be surprised on the judgment day when Jesus says, “I never knew you” (Matthew 7:21-23). So there are a lot of people who think they are elect, but they really aren’t. How do you know you’re not one of them?

Is it even possible to know? I think it is. 1 John 5:13 says, “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.” It must be possible, then, to have epistemological assurance of our salvation. How is it possible, though?

If John wrote to them so that they might know, then we can look at what he wrote. Let’s just look at a few things he says:
1 John 1:6 If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.

1 John 2:3 By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments.

1 John 3:10 By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother.

1 John 4:20 If someone says, "I love God," and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen.
And the rest of the book just elaborates on these same points. Basically, we can know we are God’s children by whether we truly love God or not, and John says, “This is love for God, that we keep his commands” (1 John 5:3). Keeping his commandments, then, is how we know we are his children.

The rest of the New Testament seems to agree with this point. In the Matthew passage I mentioned earlier, Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter” (Matthew 7:21).

And this is another point of confusion between epistemology and ontology. These passages about the necessity of holy living for salvation are not ontological; they are epistemological. That is, doing good isn’t what causes us to be saved. Rather, it’s how we know we are saved.

Take, for example, Peter says, “Be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure. For if you do these things, you will never fall” (2 Peter 1:10). The “things” he’s talking about are mentioned in the previous verses. He’s talking about having goodness, kindness, brotherly love, godliness, etc. Practicing those things is how we become sure of our election.

Likewise, Paul said, “So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12-13). God works in his elect to cause them to want to do his will. The fact that we have this desire to please him shows that we are his elect. That’s why we should work out or live out our salvation, not just sit back and assume we’re good to go.

Friday, November 18, 2005

How to make a flemish bowstring

Have you ever wondered how people make flemish twist strings for bows? I started making bows in May of 2004, and at first I always had to order bow strings from other people. I found a guy on ebay who would make them for $5. But I really wanted to learn how to make them myself. I read about a dozen tutorials on the internet and still couldn't get a clear understanding of it. Finally, I just decided to try it, even though it wasn't entirely clear to me. Once I tried it, it all started to make more sense. It seems completely easy to me now, and I wonder how it could've ever seemed so complicated.

Having had such a difficult time finding a tutorial that was idiot-proof, I decided recently to make a tutorial of my own. I wanted to make a tutorial that I wish I could've found when I was trying to learn how to make Flemish strings.

If you find yourself wanting to make a Flemish bowstring, check out my tutorial. I'd like to know if you find it easy to understand.

And don't forget that Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire comes out today. Wahoo! I hope to see it tomorrow.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

David, Jonathan, Churchill, and Roosevelt

I've been taking "Historical Methods and Research" this semester. The whole class basically centers around this big paper we each have to write. Each week, we review two students' rough drafts. Each of us gives a formal review of two other students' papers. Doing my paper is what has kept me from writing anything fresh for a while. I'm done with my paper now, so not only can I write a few fresh things, but I can also engage in my bow-making obsession.

Today, we reviewed a guy who wrote his paper on how Winston Churchill agressively courted the friendship of Franklin Roosevelt. There was something in his paper that reminded me of the friendship between David and Jonathan. There's a lot of people who think the relationship between David and Jonathan was homosexual. One proof text that always comes up is when David said to Jonathan, "Your love for me was wonderful, more wonderful than that of women."

In the paper we read today, the guy quoted Churchill who said, "No lover ever studied every whim of his mistress as I did those of President Roosevelt." I wonder if, 3000 years from now, some people will begin to argue that the relationship between Churchill and Roosevelt was also homosexual.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Conversations with God, part 18

What is Love?

Here in the "world of the relative," there's only one way for love to exist, and that's for it to exist in relation to its opposite, which is fear. Walsch writes, "For love to exist and experience itself, God had to create its opposite—fear." You'd think, then, that both love and fear exist in this world. It gets interesting on page 56 when Walsch writes that "Love is all there is" (p.56). What's interesting about that is that if love is all there is, and if fear exists, then fear must be part of love, since if love is all there is, then anything at all that exists must be part of love. Such a conclusion is confirmed later on when Walsch writes, "So, too, is love not the absence of an emotion (hatred, anger, lust, jealousy, covetousness), but the summation of all feeling. It is the sum total. The aggregate amount. The everything. Thus, for the soul to experience perfect love, it must experience every human feeling" (p.83). The problem is that Walsch has already said that fear is the opposite of love, which must mean that fear is everything love is not. Here we have a contradiction. Fear is love, and fear is not love.


There is far more nonsense in Conversations with God then I can go into without writing a review just as long as the book. I hope that what I've written will be enough to convince the critical thinker that his money is best spent elsewhere than on more books and news letters by Neale Donald Walsch. I would not have written this review at all if there weren't people in this world who actually take him seriously.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Conversations with God, part 17


Among the several criticisms of Christianity in this book, God takes a few pot shots at those who accept the Bible as the authoritative word of God. She writes that, "By listening to what other people think they heard Me say, you don't have to think at all" (p.6). The uncritical reader, already hostile to Christianity, will find himself laughing right along with God at all the mindless fundamentalists, but they will be completely oblivious to how Walsch is poking fun at his own readers. Those who continue to buy Walsch's sequels to Conversations With God and pay $25/year for his news letters are, themselves, "listening to what other people think they heard Me say," and about those people, God says they "don't have to think at all." I could not miss the humour in thinking that Walsch was poking fun at the very people who are supporting him financially.

Another criticism Walsch has of Christianity is the belief that God punishes people and that there's such a thing as original sin. Pay careful attention to how God suggests that we get rid of those erroneous views. She says, "You can undo the teaching by reading and re-reading this book. Over and over again, read it. Until you understand every passage. Until you're familiar with every word. When you can quote its passages to others, when you can bring its phrases to mind in the midst of the darkest hour, then you will have ‘undone the teaching’'' (p.120). So apparently, the way to get rid of the beliefs in original sin and a punitive God is not by thinking and reasoning, but by brainwashing yourself with what somebody else claims that God said to them—the very thing that supposedly removes the need to think.

If, in the end, you decide you want to deprogram yourself from all that Walsch has brainwashed you into believing, I recommend getting a basic book on logic and reading it over and over again until you understand every passage and are familiar with every word so that you can quote it to other people. Once you understand logic, you will have undone what Walsch has taught you.

to be continued...

Part 18

Monday, November 14, 2005

Conversations with God, part 16

Family and relationships, part 2

This view that we are all one in the literal sense is extremely counter-intuitive. Nothing could be more obvious than that I'm me and you're you, and I'm not you, and you're not me. I have a first person perspective about myself and a third person perspective about everybody else. I have direct and immediate access to my own mental states, and I have no access to other people's mental states. I own my own body, but not the body of another person, and when I walk into a room full of other people, I'm never confused about which body is my own. My body is the one that moves when I will it to move. I am aware of my own experiences in a private and incorrigible way, and nobody is aware of my experiences in that same way. They are only aware of their own experiences in that way.

Our cognitive faculties automatically tell us certain things about the world. We all perceive that we are distinct individuals. If the problem is ignorance, then we can't trust our cognitive faculties. If we can't trust our cognitive faculties, then we can't distinguish between what is real and what isn't. If we can't distinguish between what is real and what isn't, then we're in no position to call ordinary experience "ignorance" and the New Age experience "enlightenment," rather than vice versa. But if we can trust our cognitive faculties, then "enlightenment" is really just another word for "self-delusion" because it forces us to reject what our cognitive faculties are telling us. People are not born "enlightened." "Enlightenment" is something they achieve through mental gymnastics.

If we deny the obvious fact that we are not all the same person, then we cut off the branch we're sitting on by doing away with the necessary preconditions for being able to make a determination about whether or not we are individuals. Plainly put, it is irrational to deny that we are individuals. And since we are individuals, we sometimes have conflicting self-interests. Enlightened self-interest, then, is nothing more than delusion.

to be continued...

Part 17

Friday, November 11, 2005

Conversations with God, part 15

Family and relationships, part 1

God's egoism comes out most strongly in her statements about family and relationships. We've all been terribly wrong on our views of morality because we've been under the mistaken impression that we should concern ourselves with the well-being of other people. "For centuries you have been taught that love-sponsored action arises out of the choice to be, do, and have whatever produces the highest good for another. Yet I tell you this: the highest choice is that which produces the highest good for you" (p.130). God says, "Let each person in relationship worry not about the other, but only, only, only about Self," because "The most loving person is the person who is self-centered"(p.124). The same principle applies to raising children. "Even the physical comfort of members of your family will no longer be a concern for you—for once you rise to a level of God consciousness you will understand that you are not responsible for any other human soul, and that while it is commendable to wish every soul to live in comfort, each soul must choose—-is choosing-—its destiny this instant" (p.114). Walsch, just wanting to make sure, asked, "Then, pray God, tell me—what promises should I make in relationship; what agreements must I keep? What obligations do relationships carry? What guidelines should I seek?" God reassured him, saying, "The answer is the answer you cannot hear—for it leaves you without guidelines and renders null and void every agreement in the moment you make it. The answer is: you have no obligation. Neither in relationship, nor in all of life" (p.135). We are under no obligation to feed our children, although it's commendable for us to wish that they be fed, whatever "commendable" means. Pretty scary thought, huh?

But it's not as scary as it might seem. Remember that we are all part of God, and we're just trying to re-member Who We Really Are. And who we really are is God. We are all God. And there's only one of us. So in practice, there's really no difference between egoism and ordinary other-focused morality. In God's words, "What you do for your Self, you do for another. What you do for another, you do for the Self. This is because you and the other are one. And this is because...[ellipses in original] There is naught but You" (p.131). So you are the only person who exists. Consequently, "the highest good for you becomes the highest good for another" (p.131). These "others" that we perceive around us aren't really "other" at all since we are all one. So being self-interested means being interested in "others". That's why I say Walsch's egoism isn't as scary as it might seem. We might imagine parents who neglect their children on the basis that they have no obligations to them, but if "you have caught yourself in an unGodly act as a result of doing what is best for you, the confusion is not in having put yourself first, but rather in misunderstanding what is best for you" (p.132). It is best for you to feed your children because you are your children.

to be continued...

Part 16

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Conversations with God, part 14

Morality, part 4

On the one hand, God tells us, "The first thing to understand about the universe is that no condition is 'good' or 'bad.' It just is. So stop making value judgments" (p.79). Okay, I suppose that God is not commanding us to stop making value judgments. Maybe she's just making a recommendation, saying that it's rationally incorrect to make value judgments, since nothing is good or bad. But then later, she changes her mind. She says, "In truth, there is nothing evil, only objective phenomena and experience." Okay, so far, so good. She goes on: "Yet your very purpose in life requires you to select from the growing collection of endless phenomena a scattered few which you call evil—for unless you do, you cannot call yourself, nor anything else, good—and thus cannot know, or create, your Self." So now she's saying that we have to make value judgments even though she told us before not to do it. But it gets worse. She goes on to say, "By that which you call evil do you define yourself—and by that which you call good." And then she says, "The biggest evil would therefore be to declare nothing evil at all" (p.133). That is a glaring contradiction. First, God has already declared that there is "nothing evil at all," in previous statements, which means that she herself is committing what she considers to be "the biggest evil." If it's true that there is nothing evil at all, then it can't be "the biggest evil" to declare nothing evil at all. And if it were evil, and if we should declare some things evil, then God has contradicted what she said before about there being no should or shouldn't, and about not making value judgments.

Even after completing his conversation with God, Walsch still did not seem to understand that there is no right or wrong. In the introduction, he wrote that his own life "has been marked by continued mistakes and misdeeds, some very shameful behaviors." If there is no right or wrong, then there is no room for praise or blame. Consequently, there can be no such thing as shameful behavior.

More examples could be cited. Perhaps my point would've been made with even fewer examples, but I wanted to show how frequently God makes moral assertions in this book to demonstrate how deeply engrained morality is. Even among those who are the most vocal in their rejection of morality, they cannot help themselves. We all believe so deeply in morality that we can't stop make moral claims even while denying that they refer to anything real. Many of us are trying desperately to pretend that we don't know right from wrong, because we care so much about our personal autonomy, but we are failing miserably in our efforts to delude ourselves. The reason we're failing so miserably is because morality is just as real and obvious as the external world. In the author's own words, "That's the problem with truth. The truth is relentless. It won't leave you alone. It keeps creeping up on you from every side, showing you what's really so. That can be annoying" (p.140).

to be continued...

Part 15

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Conversations with God, part 13

Morality, part 3

I said before that there are no ten commandments, but I should add at this point that there are ten commitments which God gave to Moses. Here is the 5th commitment:
You know you have found God when you observe that you will not murder (that is, willfully kill, without cause). For while you will understand that you cannot end another's life in any event (all life is eternal), you will not choose to terminate any particular incarnation, nor change any life energy from one form to another, without the most sacred justification. Your new reverence for life will cause you to honor all life forms—including plants, trees and animal—and to impact them only when it is for the highest good (p.96-7).
In a world without objective moral values, how can anything be "just" or "unjust'? What does "justification" mean in a world like that? And in a world where nothing is good or bad, how can there be such a thing as "the highest good"? Clearly, this God has a strong sense of morality, and that sense of morality is very clear to this God as is evident in the next quote.
Clearly it is not the highest action to deliberately abuse or destroy another. Clearly, it is equally inappropriate to neglect the needs of those you have caused to be dependent on you. Your job is to render them independent; to teach them as quickly and completely as possible how to get along without you (p.114).
Things like "highest action" and "inappropriate" are meaningless if there are no objective moral values. And how can it be anybody's job to do anything if nothing is required of us? God contradicts herself over and over in this book.
By the highest standards I have observed humans devise, killing can never be justified as a means of expressing anger, releasing hostility, 'righting a wrong,' or punishing an offender (p.151).
Here we are again with "highest standards" in a world where there are no standards, and "justified" when there's no such thing as moral justification.
You have a right under highest moral law—indeed, you have an obligation under that law—to stop aggression on the person of another, or yourself. This does not mean that killing as a punishment is appropriate, nor as retribution, nor as a means of settling petty differences (p.151).
What does it mean to "have a right" in a nihilistic universe? And how can there be such a things as "highest moral law" when there is no moral law at all? And if there are no moral obligations, then how can we have an "obligation under that law"? Can it be more clear? This God obviously thinks it's morally wrong to kill as a means of settling petty differences, and she thinks it's morally right to stop aggression on another person.
Life should be a joy, a celebration, and it has become an experience of fear, anxiety, 'not enough-ness,' envy, rage, and tragedy (p.207).
But God said before that there is no should or shouldn't, so how is it that life should be a joy? If there is no should or shouldn't, then it doesn't matter what life is. Life is completely meaningless.

to be continued...

Part 14

Monday, November 07, 2005

Conversations with God, part 12

Morality, part 2

God says that she has "never set down a 'right' or 'wrong,' a 'do' or a 'don't.' To do so would be to strip you completely of your greatest gift—the opportunity to do as you please, and experience the result of that" (p.39). Also, "there are no 'shoulds' or shouldn'ts' in God's world. Do what you want to do" (p.38). To Walsch's amazement, God even said, "There are no such things as the Ten Commandments" (p.95). Walsch, apparently shocked at what God was saying to him, replied, "But I have been raised to believe that good and bad do exist; that right and wrong are opposed; that some things are not okay, not alright, not acceptable in the sight of God." To which, God said, "Everything is 'acceptable' in the sight of God, for how can God not accept that which is?" (p.61). If these things be so, there is no right or wrong, good or bad, should or shouldn't. We have no rules or obligations to do or not do anything. And God is quite explicit about this. She says, "you have no obligation. Neither in relationship, nor in all of life." Surprised, Walsch asked, "No obligation?" and God replied, "No obligation. Nor any restrictions or limitations, nor any guidelines or rules. Nor are you bound by any circumstances or situations, nor constrained by any code or law. Nor are you punishable for any offense, nor capable of any—for there is no such thing as being 'offensive' in the eyes of God" (p.135). We are completely autonomous. But watch, now, how God's deepest moral intuitions rise to the surface as she contradicts herself.
He [Jesus] did not perform a random healing. To have done so would have been to violate a sacred Law of the Universe: allow each soul to walk its path (p.47).
This "sacred Law of the Universe" sure sounds like a moral law to me. It sounds distinctly like something we are being commanded to do. And incidentally, it contradicts what God said elsewhere. She said, "Therefore, treating others with love does not necessarily mean allowing others to do as they wish." (p.132). So, on the one hand, there's this law telling us to allow each soul to walk its path, but then on the other hand, love doesn't mean allowing others to do as they wish.
It is not appropriate to interfere with choice, nor to question it. It is particularly inappropriate to condemn it (p.47).
What does "appropriate" mean if there's no such thing as right and wrong? God cannot help but make moral assertions even when denying them.

to be continued...

Part 13

Conversations with God, part 11

Morality, part 1

Nowhere in the book does Walsch's God contradict herself more than in her statements about morality. God's position on morality is a combination of nihilism, relativism, and egoism. Nihilism is the view that there's no such thing as right and wrong, good and bad, should and shouldn't. There are no obligations or objective values in the world. Relativism is the view that moral values depend on each individual. If I think something is right, then it's right for me, and it may be wrong for somebody else who thinks it's wrong. Egoism is the view that we ought to always act in self-interest. These views are not necessarily inconsistent with each other, depending on whether you take egoism to be a moral obligation or just a good idea for practical reasons. If it's just a good idea for practical reasons, then egoism is not inconsistent with relativism and nihilism. These are all forms of moral non-realism. That is, morals are not objective features of the world. They don't exist in reality. They are only the subjective preferences of individuals.

The problem with Walsch and just about everybody else who claims that there's no such thing as right and wrong, good and evil, ought and ought not, is that they seem to find it impossible to be consistent. I believe this is owing to the fact that morality presses itself on the human psyche in much the same way as the external world does. There may be people who claim the external world doesn't exist, but the external world continues to impress itself on those same people in a way which seems very real to them. People may deny and try to ignore their moral compass, but they can never rid themselves of it entirely. I'll go through some examples of how God says one thing and then another, showing that God may deny the reality of objective moral values all she wants, but she still believes in them.

to be continued...

Part 12

Friday, November 04, 2005

Conversations with God, part 10


Since our thoughts and our words are creative, we have to be careful what we think and say. That includes what we think and say in our prayer lives. "You should never ask God for anything because when you ask, you acknowledge lack, and that acknowledgement produces lack in your reality. Instead, you should just thank God for already having it" (p.11). Call it a contradiction or a cruel irony, but later in the book, God says, "My promise to you is to always give you what you ask" (p.73). God will give you what you ask, but you better not ask for anything or you will create lack in your reality. But how can that be? If asking for something creates the reality of not having it, then we will fail to have whatever we ask for. But if God promises to give us whatever we ask for, then asking for something will create the reality of us having it. So if we ask God for anything, we will have it, and we also won't have it. That, to me, seems like a clear case example of a contradiction.

Part 11

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Conversations with God, part 9

Can we create our own reality? part 2

Since "all you see in your world is the outcome of your idea about it" (p.75), we are creating reality even when we don't intend to. Even major natural disasters like hurricanes are created by the collective consciousness of the world (p.106). Also, "all illness is self-created" (p.187). The reason the world is in the bad shape it's in is because we've created this reality for ourselves by our choices. All suffering, including that which is caused by natural disasters, is the result of choice. By itself, nature wouldn't hurt anything because "Nothing, nothing is more gentle than Nature" (p.50).

The solution to the problem of evil and suffering is that we simply choose a different reality. "If there is some aspect of creation you find you do not enjoy, bless it and simply change it. Choose again. Call forth a new reality. Think a new thought. Say a new word. Do a new thing. Do this magnificently and the rest of the world will follow you. Ask it to. Call for it to. Say, 'I am the Life and the Way, follow me'" (p.92). To take control of reality, we have to take control of our thoughts, because although we all create reality, "some of you are using it unconsciously, without even knowing what you are doing" (p.92). We must stop thinking negatively. To create something you want, think only that one thought, rejecting all others. "When your thoughts are clear and steadfast, begin to speak them as truths. Say them out loud. Use the great command that calls forth creative power: I am. Make I-am statements to others" (p.92-3).

I wonder if anybody actually believes any of this. It seems like such utter nonsense that to refute it would be to give it more credibility than it deserves. There isn't a person in the world who can walk outside, say, "I am an eagle," and then begin to fly, and it isn't for lack of want. There are plenty of people in mental institutions who are quite convinced that they can fly. In fact, that's why they're in mental institutions. They're a danger to themselves. People who think they can fly have a tendency to jump off of tall buildings and get hurt. But if, as God says, "life can show up no other way for you than that way in which you think it will," then we really ought to let these people out of the mental hospital so they can fly. That is, if we actually take Walsch seriously.

But I'm not sure if Walsch even takes himself seriously. The reason I say that is because on the one hand, he recommends that if we want to change something in reality, the first thing we need to do is think only that one thought, and "When your thoughts are clear and steadfast," the second thing we need to do is "begin to speak them as truths. Say them out loud." So if I want to change the fact that I'm poor, I need to create the reality of me being rich by thinking really hard about being rich and start saying things like, "I am rich." (It's important to say "I am" since the universe responds to "I am" like a genie in a bottle.) But on the other hand, he says, "If you're broke, you're broke. It's pointless to lie about it, and actually debilitating to try to manufacture a story about it so as not to admit it" (p.79). It's as if there's a glimmer of sanity in the book. It's as if Walsch took his views to their logical conclusion and realized they were absurd. But he left the contradiction unresolved.

I wonder if the makers of that movie, Bruce Almighty, were familiar with this book. In Walsch's book, God says that he gave each of us "the same power to create which I have as a whole," so that we can "create physical reality out of thin air." We've all got God's powers, just like Jim Carry in Bruce Almighty. Good grief!

to be continued...

Part 10

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Conversations with God, part 8

Can we create reality? part 1

The most predominant theme in this book is the notion that we create our own reality. This notion could be taken in one of two ways. On the one hand, it could mean simply that our actions have consequences. For example, if I get a high paying job, I create the reality of me making a lot of money. On the other hand, it could mean much more than that. It could mean that we create reality in the sense that God creates reality. For example, we could speak things into existence. It is in this second sense that Walsch thinks we create reality. God says, "And so I gave to each of the countless parts of me (to all of My spirit children) the same power to create which I have as a whole" (p.25). We are God's spirit children created in her image. To be created in the image of God means "that our essence is the same. We are composed of the same stuff. We ARE the 'same stuff'! With all the same properties and abilities--including the ability to create physical reality out of thin air" (p.25-6). Recall earlier in this review that God created the universe out of nothing in the big bang. If we each have the same ability to "create physical reality out of thin air," then we ought to be able to create universes out of nothing as well. This being the case, there is nothing in physical reality that we should not be able to create. And in fact God says, "There is nothing you cannot be, there is nothing you cannot do. There is nothing you cannot have" (p.44). There are no limits.

There are three ways in which we create reality, and there is a hierarchy between them. The first way is through thought, the second way is through word, and the third way is through deed (p.91).

Although words and deeds are more powerful in creation than thoughts, thoughts are extremely powerful by themselves. "For you are the creator of your reality, and life can show up no other way for you than that way in which you think it will. You think it into being. This is the first step in creation. God the Father is thought. Your thought is the parent which gives birth to all things" (p.52). "I tell you this: all you see in your world is the outcome of your idea about it" (p.75).

The second way to create is by speaking words. "Next comes the word. Everything you say is a thought expressed. It is creative and sends forth creative energy into the universe. Words are more dynamic (thus, some might say more creative) than thought, because words are a different level of vibration from thought. They disrupt (change, alter, affect) the universe with greater impact. Words are the second level of creation" (p.74). A statement that begins with "'I am' is the strongest creative statement in the universe" (p.93). That's why Jesus was so successful. He said things like, "I am the way," and, "I am the resurrection and the life," which gave birth to his actual resurrection (p.196). "There is no other way the universe knows how to work. There is no other route it knows to take. The universe responds to 'I am' like a genie in a bottle" (p.93).

to be continued...

Part 9

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Conversations with God, part 7

Words and epistemology

One of the most ironic aspects of this book is its take on the power of words to convey thoughts. God communicates with all of us, but her "most common form of communication is through feeling. Feeling is the language of the soul. If you want to know what's true for you about something, look to how you're feeling about it" (p.3). Feelings are much more effective than words when God wants to communicate with us. In fact, "Words are really the least effective communicator" (p.3). It isn't just for God that words are ineffective, though. Words themselves are ineffective, regardless of who is using them. "Words are the least reliable purveyor of Truth" (p.8).

The irony is in the fact that God chose to communicate to us all through the words of Walsch's book. If God communicates to us all through feeling, why is it that we need Walsch's book before we can get the message? Why is it that God has commissioned Walsch to spread the message? God chose Walsch to be his messenger because Walsch has "the ability to communicate complex concepts in ways that can and will be understood by the masses" (p.143). But if God communicates to everybody through feeling, and feeling is a more effective communicator than words, then why did God need to choose Walsch to communicate to the masses using words so that they would be able to understand it? If they can understand the message easier by reading Walsch's words than they can by receiving God's feelings, then clearly words are more effective than feelings in communicating truth.

After reading about how God views words, I was particularly surprised by the urgency with which Walsch wanted me to read his book (p.2, see "How this book came to be written" above). But what was even more surprising was at the end when Walsch tried to sell his monthly news letter for $25/year. That's twelve letters written in words for a little over $2 each. Why would a person spend $25 a year for the least reliable purveyor of truth to read about what God is saying to Walsch when supposedly God speaks to all of us through feeling, and feeling is more reliable than words to convey truths? If feelings are so much more reliable than words for God to speak to us, it doesn't make sense for us to spend $25 a year for words when we can get the feelings for free.

As ineffective as words might be to communicate to sentient beings, they are apparently very useful in communicating to the non-sentient universe. There are three levels of creation. All creation begins with thought, but "Words are more dynamic (thus, some might say more creative) than thought....Words are the second level of creation" (p.74). So to create something we want, we have only to think that one thought, rejecting all others and then begin to speak it as true. Statements that begin with "I am" are especially creative. "The universe responds to 'I am' as would a genie in a bottle" (p.92-3). In fact, Jesus actually did rise from the dead because he said, "I am the resurrection and the life" (p.196). He spoke his reality into being.

It is amazing how powerfully creative words can be considering the fact that they are the least reliable purveyor of truth. It seems like if feelings are a more reliable purveyor of truths, then our thoughts ought to be more creative than our words because we ought to be able to convey our thoughts and feelings more accurately to the universe than with our words. That’s assuming, of course, that Walsch's book is consistent, which it isn't.

In fact, this is all just backwards. The primary purpose of words is communication. We use words to convey information to other people. But in Walsch's world, words are not very useful in doing what they are intended for, but they're quite useful for what they were not intended for.

to be continued...

Part 8