Sunday, June 26, 2005

Bible Series: Eve confronts the world's first shysters

The first real myth in the Bible that contains human elements is that of Adam and Eve. In this myth, God creates Man, and then he creates Woman out of part of Man. The man and woman then live in a place called the Garden of Eden. There they have a good life, although not too exciting. They have most of what they want. They then confront two beings who want to distract them and get them to do their bidding.

The first was God. He threatened Adam and Eve. He said that you can partake of any of the food in the garden, but you may not partake of the Tree of Knowledge, as if you do so then you will die. The fruit there did look tempting. I don't know whether they were apples or not. Somehow the idea has gotten to be that if a tree bears fruit, then that fruit must be apples. But for the sake of argument, let's call them apples. Naturally Adam and Eve were fearful of God because he made the threat and because he was the one who created them.

Shortly after this, Adam and Eve encountered the other shyster, the Serpent. The Serpent made the grandiose claim that if you eat the fruit, you will attain knowledge of the world, and will therefore be like gods. Now that really seemed appealing. But they remembered that God warned them not to do that or they will die. For some reason, they never confronted the Serpent with God's word.

So what were Adam and Eve to do? Eve must have thought that the main effect of eating the fruit is gaining knowledge of the world. She was leading a comfortable life, but she did not really understand it at all. She felt she needed the understanding to be able to lead a decent life. She knew that God threatened her with death, but that really did not matter much to her. She was going to die, anyway, being a mortal human, although not right away. As far as the Serpent's claim was concerned, she felt that there was no way she could be God of a realm that she really did not understand now. She felt that both God and the Serpent were a pair of conniving shysters. So which should she select?

Neither. She made up her own mind. She felt that she needed to know about this world in order to live in it. So she ignored what God said, ignored what the Serpent said, made her own decision, and partook of the fruit. And so did Adam, but it was Eve who did so first, and feminists can use this as an argument that the myth suggests that female is the superior sex. God retaliated by throwing her and Adam out of Eden, but there wasn't much more that he could do, outside of destroying what he created.

Since then humans have used the knowledge to their advantage, according to the myth and future Bible stories.

There are other shyster myths in world culture. One of these is the Quileute myth about Tuscobuk, a medicine man who was the youngest of six brothers. One day the other five brothers went up a stream to catch elk. They ran into a smooth-talking man who said that he would scare up an elk for them to shoot. But first he looked at the brothers' arrows. He said they were no good and that his arrows were better, knowing fully well that they were made of flexible salal, and so were worthless. But the brothers believed him. So they traded arrows. The man disappeared into the woods. Shortly after that, an elk came out of the woods. The brothers began shooting away at the elk, but the arrows bounced off. The elk charged them all and killed them.

After a while, Tuscobuk got worried about his brothers. So he went upstream, and met the same shyster. Again he wanted Tuscobuk to trade arrows, but he knoew fully well, with tehe knowledge of a medicine man, that the man's arrows were worthless. He said that he would stick with his arrows. After a while, the man left, and once again the elk appeared. Tuscobuk shot four arrows at him and injured him severely. The elk charged, resulting in a ferocious wrestling match in which Tuscobuk eventually killed the elk. He then put the elk's skin in the sky, in a place which the Greeks and Romans call Cassiopeia.

The tales of Adam and Eve, and of Tuscobuk, and also of the Lorelei and Sirens, remind us of the people in the world who lie to us to get what they want from us. They are all over the place. There are not that many Gods. You don't get far by threatening people. But there are some who do that, saying that, for example, if you have an unregistered gun, you get five years. Most of the shysters we meet in our society are Serpents. They are all over the place, these positive inducers. There are spammers, telemarketers, government spokespeople who tell only what the people want to hear, political candidates who do the same thing, car salesmen and repair people, and so forth. The prevalence of these Serpents are one reason why people, including myself, have lost trust in institutions in our society.

Another way of reading the myth is to say that it represented a golden age - that of Eden. A similar golden age appears in Greek and Roman myth as the Age of the Titans. But to me we need to live our lives the best we can, instead of searching for an age that has long gone.

Instead, to me, this myth reminds us of the flim-flam artists in our life and remind us to be vigilant of their enticements and remind us to make our own decisions no matter what any God or Serpent may say.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Bible Series: Creation

Today, by happenstance, the minister at my Unitarian-Universalist church gave a sermon on Creation, the subject of the beginning of the Bible in Genesis 1. She told the original Hebrew version of the creation, and remarked that there are two versions of creation in Genesis. The one she wrote gave a six-part synopsis of how the world came to be. The six parts are:

1. Separate light from the darkness.
2. Form the sky.
3. Form the oceans.
4. Form the Sun and the Moon
5. Bring about birds, fish, and other lower creatures
6. Form mammals and humans.

And then the seventh part, or day, was one of rest. Our minister pointed out that at each step of the way, God saw that it was Good.

Why is this at the beginning of the Bible? It is because people the world over have wondered where they come from. There are creation stories from all of the cultures of the world. Here are some samples of creation, in my paraphrasing:

In the beginning there was Chaos. And then Gaia, the Mother Earth, came into being. She soon bore a son, Father Sky, also known as Uranus (pronounced your Anne Us). And then Gaia and Uranus came together to form the Titans: Cronus, Rhea, Tethys, Atlas and a few others. The Titans soon took over the world, but then their ruler, Cronus, soon ate his children by himself and Rhea, except for Zeus, brought up by two baby-sitters. When Zeus grew, he forced his father to regurgitate his children, resulting in a war between the Titans and the Olympians. Zeus and the Olympians defeated the Titans and threw them into Tartarus. (Greek myth)

In the beginning the earth and sky were dark, but they were connected. The gods formed the earth and sky and put light into it, and placed creatures of all sorts and humans in the Lower Existence. Black God set forth to create the Upper existence. With a pouch of stars, he carefully put on the Upper Existence the Star that Never Moves, The Man and Woman who revolved around the Star that Never Moves in their hogan, and several other constellations. All the Gods congratulated him for this work except Coyote. Coyote was determined to show the others how to create the night sky. Coyote took all the remaining stars and scattered them throughout the heavens, and then he took one last bright one and made the South Coyote Star out of it. Earth and sky then separated. And that is why there are a few well-ordered constellations and a chaos of scattered stars in our night sky. (Navajo Creation)

In the beginning, the gods got together and agreed to form an Earth with people. Bright Star, a lovely princess with the weather and the animals as her allies, did not want to do this, as it would involve mating with Great Star. But nevertheless Great Star chased her across the sky and created a child with her, which they then placed on the earth, a girl who met a boy, the son of Sun and Moon. And that is how humans originated. (Skidi Pawnee myth)

As you can see, ancient cultures tend to anthropomorphize the Creation, and Christianity and Judaism even say that humans were created to look like God. With rational analysis, the scientific story was brought out. This is just as much a myth or metaphor as any of the other stories, but there is evidence to back at least some of it:

In the beginning - well, we don't know about that exact moment. A fraction of a second later, an incredibly hot fireball of high mass expanded with extraordinary speed. The white hot universe cooled to red-hot and then went dark as hydrogen and helium were created. Then hundreds of millions of years later, the material coagulated to form hot stars and the Universe saw Second Light. The stars formed into galaxies and started to expand. A supernova exploded in a galaxy, causing a mass to coagulate into stars. One of these became the Sun, and blobs nearby became the planets, including Earth. Early volcanism helped form the oceans. Collision with another planet formed the Moon. Life came into being on the Earth, and it developed more and more complex forms, including invertebrates, fish, amphibians, reptiles, dinosaurs (including birds), and mammals (including humans). Mammals developed intelligence and dominated the planet.

There is some similarity to other stories, especially the Genesis one. The Genesis story seems like a good metaphor of the creation and development of our world, although it does not reflect the light-dark-light cycle that we know from science took place. However, it cannot be said to have literally taken place. Those who support such theories as intelligent design and creation are supposing that events of incredibly low probability took place, such as the creation of an intelligent designer. Evolution is what actually happened, and the Biblical creation, and to a lesser extent the other creation stories, can be thought of as a metaphor for the evolutionary processes that shaped this world.

Next: Adam and Eve: Female Intelligence Confronts Two Shysters.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

The Beyond Philosophy

I have decided to expand my blog collection, so that I have one for each day of the week. The other blogs I have are Blogtrek, which shall be my Friday blog, and Beyond Opinion, which shall be my Saturday blog. This blog, Beyond God, will highlight religious-related items.

In this particular blog, I shall explain my philosophy of life and the ultimate. Briefly, there isn't an ultimate. No matter where you go, or what you do, or what kind of ultimate entity you can construct, one can always go beyond it. I get this philosophy from my main interest and expertise, mathematics, where one sees beyond all the time. For example, there is no greatest integer; given a number, I can always add one to it. This is true even of infinite numbers, the ones Georg Cantor defined over a century ago. The set of all finite numbers is infinite, the set of all countable ordinal numbers is uncountable, and the set of all cardinal numbers accessible through limits and taking the set of the previous cardinal is inaccessible, and so forth.

I apply this in other realms as well. For example, there is an afterlife, for death can't end everything; there is something beyond death, but we have absolutely no idea what's there. There is a supernatural but there is no way we can access it. If a medium at a seance were to actually bring up the voice of a long dead person, that voice would be natural, not supernatural.

And there is no God, or at least no God we can access. For if there were, we could go beyond it; for example, we could inquire who or what created God. Maybe it was Supergod. But then we would have to ask about who created Supergod, and so forth to infinity, and more than that, up through Cantor's ordinal numbers as well. This is what the Taoist saying was all about: the Tao that can be accessed is not the real Tao. For once you mention God, you have taken it down to your level, and you have something less than God.

So no matter what you think or come up with, we can always go beyond. And that is why I name this blog Beyond God.