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A Contrarian Spirit

Seeking truth means questioning authority.

by James Leroy Wilson
June 15, 2005

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A Contrarian Spirit

In Memoirs of a Superfluous Man, Albert Jay Nock recalls reading in a primer as a small boy that "In Adam's fall, we sinned all." Nock claims that even at such a young age, his thought was, how can anybody possibly know that?

Indeed.

Here's a little exercise. Begin reading the book of Genesis, with two caveats. Pretend that you know nothing - absolutely nothing - about the contents of the Bible or of religion. Also, that you do not know the definition of the word "god." Read it as if you were reading a story, and the names given are just characters. To help in this exercise, wherever "God" appears, read "Smith." And wherever "the LORD" appears, read "Bob."

What will you discover? That "Smith,: whoever or whatever he/they are (Smith speaks in first person plural, like saying "our" instead of "my") created the heavens and the earth, the plants and animals. And created man, male and female, in Smith's image, and that Smith - as Young's Literal Translation puts it - "ceased" work on the seventh day.

But then, beginning with 2:4, we are introduced to "Bob Smith." This "Bob Smith" also somehow created the heavens and the earth - or at least some portion of which, and created a man named Adam, and from Adam a woman named Eve. This Bob Smith, who later on usually just goes by Bob, seems to be a physical person, walking around, talking with Adam and his descendants. We learn in Genesis 5 that Smith named man Man, but it is unclear if Bob Smith, or Adam himself, named Adam.

Bob deals with Cain, but it doesn't say that Enoch walked with Bob; Enoch walked with Smith. The sons of Smith mated with the daughters of men, but it is Bob that places a limit on man's age. Smith saw the wickedness on the earth, but Bob is the one who repents of making man. One striking piece of information: Smith commands Noah to bring one pair of every sort of animal onto the ark, but Bob wants seven pairs of each kind of bird and "clean" beast. Bob shuts the ark. Smith ends the flood. Smith tells Noah to leave the ark with his family and animals and multiply the earth, but Noah builds an altar to Bob, and apparently makes animal sacrifices of clean animals and birds from the surplus pairs that Bob, not Smith, commanded.

Bob resolves to no more curse the ground for man's sake; Smith sends the rainbow.

And unless I am mistaken, Bob, not Smith, is the chief character in the rest of the Old Testament. It is not to be doubted that Bob is a Smith, or "part" of whatever it is Smith is; it is by no means clear that the opposite is true. "Bob" and "Smith" (that is, "the LORD" and "God") may be interchangeable names, but it is far from obvious. The Town Car is a Lincoln, but not every Lincoln is a Town Car. I can be called James or Jim, and I am also Wilson, but not every Wilson is James.

Cursory looks at passages from the New Testament indicate that Jesus is son of Smith. The name "Bob" rarely appears in the New Testament gospels. That is, while "lord" appears many times, "The LORD" does not. But according to the Gospel of John, Mary Magdalene and the Twelve seem to believe that Jesus was "Bob," the exact same guy who was buddies with Noah, Abraham, Moses, and the prophets:

John 20:2 - Then she runneth, and cometh to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple, whom Jesus loved, and saith unto them, They have taken away the LORD out of the sepulchre, and we know not where they have laid him.

John 20:13 - And they say unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? She saith unto them, Because they have taken away my LORD, and I know not where they have laid him.

John 20:18 - Mary Magdalene came and told the disciples that she had seen the LORD, and that he had spoken these things unto her.

John 20:20 - And when he had so said, he shewed unto them his hands and his side. Then were the disciples glad, when they saw the LORD.

John 20:25 - The other disciples therefore said unto him, We have seen the LORD. But he said unto them, Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe.

John 20:28 - And Thomas answered and said unto him, My LORD and my God. (KJV)

What are the implications? This question came to me quite late, as deadline approaches. This is not a theological study, just musings and speculations. Such as, that "God" is a universal being/consciousness, of which the LORD/Jesus is one with and emerges from. But the LORD/Jesus also has specific jurisdiction over the material world on earth. Jesus may also be, in a relational and metaphorical sense, the "Son" - or first-born - of God, but not the only son of God - could those "sons of God" who mated with human females have been space aliens? It may imply that there Man, created by God, was on the earth before Adam, created by the LORD.

It may also imply that this LORD does not have the characteristics of "immutability" and "omniscience" that philosophers would ascribe to God. The same violent, intolerant LORD who often changes his mind in the Old Testament, and good ol' J.C. of "turn the other cheek" ethics of the New Testament may well indeed be the same person.

You speculate too much, you approach things in a different way, and you run the risk of promoting ideas that contradict the ancient creeds of the Church. Which is to say, most of us learn the Bible through the lens of the creeds, as if that is a sufficient or complete description of what really went on. Yet many are of the opinion that those who may believe the Bible, but not according to the creedal interpretations, are doomed to an eternal torture. "Don't go there. You will be deceived." "Other ancient texts are wrong; only the Bible has the truth."

Now, I have no problem with the right and freedom of churches to organize themselves, declare their beliefs, and defend those beliefs. I have no respect for outsiders (and insiders) who tirelessly work to dilute or undermine orthodox teachings within a church. I can't rant against, say, the teachings of the Catholic Church, and then insist on a right to be a communicant at Mass. That makes me, not the Church, the intolerant, close-minded one - because I insist that it conforms exactly to my beliefs.

That said, there is a very big problem with religious authority. Borrowing from Nock, "How can anyone possibly know" if Christian doctrine that has developed over the ages is true? You don't know; you must have faith. But if you don't have that faith, you're assumed to be damned.

And it isn't found just in organized religion. The best argument against Darwinian evolution is that it is taught in the public schools, and that evidence which contradicts it and supports other theories is dismissed as unscientific. Darwinism's own lack of supporting evidence is ignored and excused. The pretense is that only a certain set of presuppositions and methods which are considered "scientific" is the only legitimate path to truth.

In either case, fear seems to reign supreme. Truth must come through an exclusive pathway - my pathway. I just happen to be a winner in life's lottery to be born in the right place and to have the right religion or ideology. Let's close the mind, suppress our curiosity, eliminate (or confine) our spirituality - we already know the truth or at least how to discern the truth. New information and new experience upsets that equilibrium.

The 19th century philosopher and scientist Charles S. Peirce once recalled a time when a friend tried to dissuade him from going to a speech by a free-trade advocate. He was warned that he didn't know enough about economics, and could be easily deceived into supporting the wrong policy. But this friend wasn't really afraid that Peirce would be misled; his real fear was of being wrong.

Two decades ago Allan Bloom published The Closing of the American Mind. I never read it, but I would question the premise of the title. It appears that for most of our history, the American mind has always been closed. In any given situation, all possibilities seemed to narrow to two. Democrat or Republican. Liberal or conservative. Permissiveness or prohibition. Red state or blue. Progressive or fundamentalist. We are a nation of absolutes: what is good in some places, must be imposed everywhere. What is bad for some, must be banned everywhere. We crave ideals, not truth. We strive for moral perfection, not liberty. For only closed minds can conclude that because recreational drug use is considered dangerous and immoral, cancer patients should not be allowed to consume marijuana to control their nausea and boost their appetites.

The "Establishment" encourages this absolute, either/or thinking. You see it in the pulpit, in the classroom, in the Oval Office. Never question the "established facts." Never doubt mainstream press, no matter how many scandals they refuse to report, or how many lies they unwittingly propagate. Raise questions about the implausibility of nearly everything that happened on 9-11, and you‘ll automatically be dismissed as a conspiracy nut. Never believe any reports of ghost or UFO sightings. Admit that physics is exploring the probability of a multi-dimensional universe, but let's not pretend that this has any implications for the paranormal or religion.

I have found that the more I've questioned the established dogma of economics and history, the more I've come to question the establish dogma of everything else. It seems that there are forces that want to keep our minds closed and our options limited. Over the past few years, the phrase "thinking outside the box" has become a cliché in the business world. But it seems that in things that matter most of all, such as the pursuit of truth, we really do not do very much of it.

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