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Was the Concept of God an Error in Translation?

“The concept of ‘god’ was originally an error in translation committed when some ancient sage tried to reduce the mystical experience to words.”

Or, alternatively…

“The concept of ‘god’ was originally an error in translation committed when some ancient sage tried to reduce an experience of the weirdness to words.”

Paul Sunstone

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How Mom Raised Me to Think For Myself About Religion

(About a 9 minute read)

We used gold star stickers in Sunday School. You licked them and stuck them to you. I always wanted my teacher to lick them — because I would over-lick them — and I always wanted her to stick them to my forehead.

It was almost the only good and decent thing I could fathom came of attending Sunday School.

When we three sons would ask Mom why we could not stay home to play on Sunday mornings, she would tell us that “Christianity is your cultural heritage and you should be exposed to it.”

That was mildly confusing because not only did I fail to fully understand what “culture” and “heritage” were, but it also seemed to contradict Mom’s almost scandalously old fashion notion that we were not to make up our minds about religion until we had “reached the age of understanding”.  That is, until we were at least 18 and “preferably 21”.

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About Your “God”, Jeff…

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Paul discusses how the concept of “god” varies from one religion to another with the focus on Christianity, Judaism, and Taoism.

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THE CRITICS EXCLAIM! “It is absolutely certain that Paul Sunstone will someday come to a rich and full understanding of God.  That is sure to be the day Our Altogether Righteous and Just Lord mercifully condemns Paul Sunstone to being eternally chained to Justin Bieber’s buttocks in the hottest regions of hell. Until that day, his opinions and views of deity cannot possibly rise above the ignorant, thoughtless slime that is his post, ‘About Your Gods’.”  —  Merriweather Sterling, Blogs of the Day, “The Daily Burtie”, Berwick-Upon-Tweed, England, UK.

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Is Abolishing the Ego a Bad Idea?

(About a 2 minute read)

Quite often, people tell me they want to attain nirvana, mosksha, kenshō, or enlightenment by abolishing their ego or “lower self”.  But I’m not sure that’s such a good idea.  At least not on the face of it.

I think I can see where they are coming from though.  In popular speech, the “ego” is synonymous with our pride.  Pride is quite often a source of foolishness, and can easily enough be seen as wholly unnecessary.  After all, pride isn’t exactly the same thing as self-esteem.  To many people “pride” is excessive or unjustified self-esteem.

But I see the ego as much bigger than pride — and much more important, too.  To me, the ego is the psychological self.  The self we think of as “me” or “I”.  In other words, I use the word in it’s original Latin sense.  Moreover, I do not believe pride can be abolished without abolishing the ego.

As I understand things, it is impossible to wholly abolish the ego.  I profoundly agree with Joseph Campbell that the powers within us we deny or repress do not wither and die.  Instead, they become our demons.

So, I think efforts to abolish the ego end up creating monsters.

Beyond that, the ego — or psychological self — strikes me as quite useful to us.  In fact, I can’t see anyone surviving for long without it.  Near as I can figure it, the ego is key to at least a dozen functions that are themselves both useful and vitally important to our survival.

I won’t go into them here other than to mention those functions include foresight, planning, self-defense, and many forms of motivation.  In sum, I do not believe it wise or beneficial to abolish the ego.  Or even try.  Instead, one’s objective should be to tame it through wisdom and/or love.

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What Do Mystics Mean by “God”?

“Theologians may quarrel, but the mystics of the world speak the same language.” ― Meister Eckhart

SUMMARY:  Mystics naturally speak of the experience that distinguishes them from other folks using words and terms derived from their individual cultures.  Hence, they typically speak of having experienced “god”, but upon examination, their notions of god often tend to have more in common with other mystics than they do with common cultural notions of god.  Central to virtually all theistic mysticism is the notion that god — or ultimate reality — is an all-encompassing oneness or One, despite any appearances to the contrary.

(About a 10 minute read)

I first became interested in mysticism about 40 years ago.  I was a sophomore at university and seriously concerned with finding an objective basis for values.

At the time, I believed — like many people still do — that unless an objective basis for values could be found, “anything was permissible”.  No evil, however great, could be objectively opposed.  And that frightened me.

Unfortunately, the more I learned, the less there seemed to be any possibility of an objective basis.  But then I came across the writings of various mystics.

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“Help! She’s Going About It All Wrong!”

SUMMARY:  The importance of having the right beliefs in order to attain spiritual enlightenment is grossly over-emphasized both in Western and Middle Eastern cultures.

(About a 5 minute read)

I have a friend who, in my esteemed opinion (esteemed by me, at least), is going about it all wrong.  By “it”, I mean spiritual enlightenment, of course.  She’s going about it all wrong.

Not that I myself am an authority on spiritual enlightenment.  The closest I ever came to it was that time I saw Terri’s breasts in the moonlight.  My friend — who is not Terri — has never shown me her breasts despite incessant hours of begging on my part and hence, I don’t know yet if she’s a reincarnation of the Chinese Goddess of Mercy, Guan Yin, or not. But even if she is, she’s going about it all wrong.

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New Eyes

SUMMARY:  A look at maximizing our freedom by freeing us from our cultural assumptions so that we might pick and choose which aspects of our culture are of value to us and which aspects are not.  Life experiences (including travel), education, love, and mystical experiences are all considered as means of freeing us.

(About a 6 minute read)

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” ― Marcel Proust

My first wife, Jana, was born in Bohemia, Czechoslovakia under the Soviet occupation.  At age 9, she escaped with her family to West Germany.  Two years later, they immigrated to the US.

Her mother and father, both being doctors, were able to send her back to Europe to attend a private Swiss boarding school for her high school education.  After high school, she lived in England for awhile, before returning to the US to attend university, where I met her.

By the time I met her, she was a confirmed traveler.  But travel was much more to her than an exciting adventure.  It was a way of learning new things, new ways of doing and thinking.  Or, as Proust might have it, travel was Jana’s way of gaining “new eyes”.

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