And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent. -John 17:3
The following is an excerpt from a letter that Thomas Jefferson wrote to his nephew on August 10th, 1787 from Paris. I found it quite interesting and I like the unbiased approach to religion that he suggests. But I still wonder if there is such a thing as a truly unbiased approach? Either way I think he gives good advice here without ever really disclosing his own opinion and worldview of the matter.
Religion. Your reason is now mature enough to examine this object. In the first place, divest yourself of all bias in favor of novelty & singularity of opinion. Indulge them in any other subject rather than that of religion. It is too important, and the consequences of error may be too serious. On the other hand, shake off all the fears & servile prejudices, under which weak minds are servilely crouched. Fix reason firmly in her seat, and call to her tribunal every fact, every opinion. Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blindfolded fear. You will naturally examine first, the religion of your own country. Read the Bible, then as you would read Livy or Tacitus. The facts which are within the ordinary course of nature, you will believe on the authority of the writer, as you do those of the same kind in Livy & Tacitus. The testimony of the writer weighs in their favor, in one scale, and their not being against the laws of nature, does not weigh against them. But those facts in the Bible which contradict the laws of nature, must be examined with more care, and under a variety of faces. Here you must recur to the pretensions of the writer to inspiration from God. Examine upon what evidence his pretensions are founded, and whether that evidence is so strong, as that its falsehood would be more improbable than a change in the laws of nature, in the case he relates. For example, in the book of Joshua, we are told, the sun stood still several hours. Were we to read that fact in Livy or Tacitus, we should class it with their showers of blood, speaking of statues, beasts, &c. But it is said, that the writer of that book was inspired. Examine, therefore, candidly, what evidence there is of his having been inspired. The pretension is entitled to your inquiry, because millions believe it. On the other hand, you are astronomer enough to know how contrary it is to the law of nature that a body revolving on its axis, as the earth does, should have stopped, should not, by that sudden stoppage, have prostrated animals, trees, buildings, and should after a certain time gave resumed its revolution, & that without a second general prostration. Is this arrest of the earth’s motion, or the evidence which affirms it, most within the law of probabilities? You will next read the New Testament. It is the history of a personage called Jesus. Keep in your eye the opposite pretensions: 1, of those who say he was begotten by God, born of a virgin, suspended & reversed the laws of nature at will, & ascended bodily into heaven; and 2, of those who say he was a man of illegitimate birth, of a benevolent heart, enthusiastic mind, who set out without pretensions to divinity, ended in believing them, and was punished capitally for sedition, by being gibbeted, according to the Roman law, which punished the first commission of that offence by whipping, & the second by exile, or death in fureâ. See this law in the Digest Lib. 48. tit. 19. §. 28. 3. & Lipsius Lib 2. de cruce. cap. 2. These questions are examined in the books I have mentioned under the head of religion, & several others. They will assist you in your inquiries, but keep your reason firmly on the watch in reading them all.
Do not be frightened from this inquiry by any fear of its consequences. If it ends in a belief that there is no God, you will find incitements to virtue in the comfort and pleasantness you feel in its exercise, and the love of others which it will procure you. If you find reason to believe there is a God, a consciousness that you are acting under his eye, & that he approves you, will be a vast additional incitement; if that there be a future state, the hope of a happy existence in that increases the appetite to deserve it; if that Jesus was also a God, you will be comforted by a belief of his aid and love. In fine, I repeat, you must lay aside all prejudice on both sides, and neither believe nor reject anything, because any other persons, or description of persons, have rejected or believed it. Your own reason is the only oracle given you by heaven, and you are answerable, not for the rightness, but uprightness of the decision. I forgot to observe, when speaking of the New Testament, that you should read all the histories of Christ, as well of those whom a council of ecclesiastics have decided for us, to be Pseudo-evangelists, as those they named Evangelists. Because these Pseudo-evangelists pretended to inspiration, as much as the others, and you are to judge their pretensions by your own reason, and not by the reason of those ecclesiastics. Most of these are lost. There are some, however, still extant, collected by Fabricius, which I will endeavor to get & send you.
Now when He was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, He answered them and said, “The kingdom of God does not come with observation; nor will they say, ‘See here!’ or ‘See there!’ For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you.”
Sometimes the only way we can learn is the hard way. I think we tend to avoid these lessons or even run from them when they confront us, but there comes a point where no more progression can be made until the hard lesson is faced. There’s an old Zen saying that says, “Lean into the sharp points.” I think we can learn from this. We often run from the valley of death without realizing the treasure that awaits us on the other side. Pain is a part of life and without it everything would be so dull. Pain is necessary, but nonetheless very unpleasant. I’ve been mad at God for creating a world with so much pain but I have gotten over it. I have to, otherwise I’m just prolonging my own suffering. It’s been a hard lesson to learn but so necessary. I can finally see Him again through the smoke.
The Lord is my shepherd;
I shall not want.
He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters.
He restores my soul;
He leads me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil;
For You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
My cup runs over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life;
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord
Aesop’s Fable – The Man, the Boy, and the Donkey
A MAN and his son were once going with their Donkey to market. As they were walking along by its side a countryman passed them and said: “You fools, what is a Donkey for but to ride upon?”
So the Man put the Boy on the Donkey and they went on their way. But soon they passed a group of men, one of whom said: “See that lazy youngster, he lets his father walk while he rides.”
So the Man ordered his Boy to get off, and got on himself. But they hadn’t gone far when they passed two women, one of whom said to the other: “Shame on that lazy lout to let his poor little son trudge along.”
Well, the Man didn’t know what to do, but at last he took his Boy up before him on the Donkey. By this time they had come to the town, and the passers-by began to jeer and point at them. The Man stopped and asked what they were scoffing at. The men said: “Aren’t you ashamed of yourself for overloading that poor Donkey of yours—you and your hulking son?”
The Man and Boy got off and tried to think what to do. They thought and they thought, till at last they cut down a pole, tied the Donkey’s feet to it, and raised the pole and the Donkey to their shoulders. They went along amid the laughter of all who met them till they came to Market Bridge, when the Donkey, getting one of his feet loose, kicked out and caused the Boy to drop his end of the pole. In the struggle the Donkey fell over the bridge, and his fore-feet being tied together he was drowned.
“That will teach you,” said an old man who had followed them.
This fable was recently brought to my attention and I find it so fascinating and profound in the sense that we are all influenced by other people. I would go even further and say that our worldviews are very heavily influenced by the interpretation of the experiences we have with other people.
I wonder if I had been born alone on an island and managed to survive to the age of 33, being completely alone the entire time, what would my view of the world look like? Would my thoughts have even evolved to the point of trying to find meaning in my life? Or would the meaning in my life simply be to find food and survive another day, living more of a “one day at a time” motto? Or… would I have had some sort of profound mystical experience leading me to be spiritual and worship a Higher Power (as AA so diplomatically rephrases the term “God”)?
This is of course just a hypothetical situation that I’ll never have the answer to, but I can’t help but wonder, “Do any of us actually think purely?” I don’t believe our thoughts are nearly as controlled by ourselves as we would like to think they are. We are all a result of our life’s experiences and we shape our worldview uncontrollably off of these experiences. Our worldview is a result of our interpretation of life. But who’s to say that anyone has the correct interpretation?
If I say, “I don’t know” and go to a Pentecostal Christian they’ll say, “Oh but I know, you must go this way.” Then I could go to a Cessationist Baptist and they would say, “No, no. That’s not the correct way. You must go this way.” Then I could cross paths with a Hindu and they could tell me, “There are multiple ways, but all ways lead to Brahman.” Then I could meet a Buddhist and he might tell me, “Form is emptiness and emptiness is form. In trying to find a way, you have lost your way.” Then finally I might cross paths with an atheist who could say, “This is all there is and you’re wasting your time looking for a way.”
And then at the end of the day I am left sitting, scratching my head, just like the boy and his father in the fable. The problem though is that the boy and the father rather than trying to figure out for themselves what they really think, they have already been influenced by the opinion of others and are now trying to think of how they can please them all, instead of actually just going with their own intuition. They have lost their intuition and been left in a state of confusion, which ultimately leads them to make the most foolish decision yet—to carry the donkey!
The fable ends with them losing the donkey entirely and being laughed and scoffed at by all those around them—the exact thing they were probably trying to avoid by listening to the opinion of others in the first place. So, what was the right choice for the boy and the father to make? Where did they first go wrong?