This fifth letter was the second in a correspondence which began with a comment on one of my survey forms.

  I have reprinted his letter here as a starting point.  From this page, you can read the entire letter, and click on any star to reach the page on which that material is repeated and answered.

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Here, then, is his letter:


  Thank you again for your thoughtful and detailed response.  I will tackle your points one at a time.

  "It is not so clear that Jesus' teachings 'fundamentally differentiated Christianity from Judaism'.  There are several historic points which would stand against that interpretation . . . but Christ is more than just a founder of religion:  He is an object of faith.  Yet the argument fails nonetheless, and for several reasons."

  To quickly recap, you gave a brief overview of the history of Judaism's sects and their similarity to Christianity. Furthermore, you pointed out that Jesus' teachings were (a) a continuum of the Jewish faith and (b) were never meant (by Jesus) to break with Judaism.

  I understand your point, so let me try to refine what I was attempting to say. Although Christ may have had one thing in mind when he was preaching what would later become the New Testament, later thinkers certainly had something different in mind. Although intellectuals such as yourself clearly see the continuation of Christianity from Judaism, most Christians (in my experience) have quite a negative, if not openly hostile view against Jews. Hitler's persecution of the Jews and the strong anti-Semitism in America during the mid 20th century are some examples of this.

  But I digress . . . let me try and put it this way. Jesus was absolutely required for the formation of what Christianity is today. In other words, no other person could have substituted for him. This is not the case with Buddhism or Hinduism. In the latter case, I have often heard it said that if the Mahabaratha and Ramayana (two classic works of Indian religious literature) were proved to be historically wrong, then Hinduism would stand. The reason for this is that Hinduism is based on universal truths which (a) do not require an individual founder [Hinduism is the only major world religion without a 'Prophet'] and (b) are seen as transcending space and time.

  In the case of Christianity, if the Bible were somehow proven to be historically completely incorrect, then Christianity would collapse.  This is because Christianity is tied to Jesus, just like Islam is tied to Mohammed.  In both cases, two prophets (the first divine, the second mortal) were absolutely integral in communicating religious doctrine from God to man.  If this link is severed, the religion is invalidated.  For this reason, I chose to believe in gnosticism as far as Christianity is concerned (such a situation certainly exists in Hinduism and arguably in Buddhism).  As is my understanding, Christ's main points centered around (1) accepting God as the Supreme Goal, (2) humility, and (3) renunciation.  To me, Christ, although divine, is the ultimate embodiment of what mortals should strive for.  To emulate Christ seems, to me, to be the true goal of Christians.  In my experience, the best Christians that I have seen have embodied the aforementioned qualities.  The TV evangelists and religious right who embody greed, intolerance, and political meddling are the complete opposite of this.

  "The problem of evil is a difficult question.  My view of the problem of evil, shared by many Christian theologians in the late 20th century, sees evil as a necessary possibility for the existence of good. It is clear that we have free moral choice."

  When Adam and Eve were created, I think it was fairly clear that they had absolutely no knowledge of evil.  It is equally clear that God could have intervened to prevent the entire apple/serpent debacle, thereby preventing mankind's downfall.

  Also, your point about the necessity of duality in order for meaningful living is popular concept in Western Philosophy.  However, the concept of absolute non-dualism as advocated by the Hindu saint Adi Shankracharya provides an alternative explanation.  According to him, different schools of religion exemplify an evolution in thinking.  All of these stages are valid and none can be decried as 'false.'  It is a bit like looking at the sun from different distances, it simply grows larger as you approach it.  The first level of thought was dualism, a state where the mind could not see God and man as the same, therefore we have expressions like "Father in heaven" and such.  Hinduism expresses this through polytheism as well as various monotheistic schools of thinking.  In the second stage, Shankara thought that men used qualified non-dualism.  In this case, while they thought that man and God were one, they also felt that individuals souls "made up" God.  Finally, absolute non-dualism states that God is a single, indivisible entity, he is the Knower and that which is Known.  Any perceived differences are illusory and a product of impure thinking.  This state of thinking is termed samadhi in Sanskrit and nirvana in Pali.

  In Hinduism, both evil and good are caused by God, a Satan-like entity is not included.  A popular verse in the Bhagavad Gita is, "He who rooted in Wisdom casts of the shackles of both good and evil deeds in this very life."  So you see, the existence of evil can be seen as a function of the mind rather than an absolute.  Clearly what is 'evil' for one culture may be 'good' for another and vice versa.

  In response to your comment that evil must co-exist with good, consider NREM ('deep') sleep.  In such a state, men are in a perfect state of peace, they forget all of their sorrows and have (temporarily) gone beyond passion, fear, and anger.  Such a condition could be termed completely good, where evil is absent.

  "On the next point, you suggest, 'if God is omniscient, it must follow that free will cannot exist.'  You have also challenged whether He can be omnipotent.

  "However, I do not see how the free will of man and presence of evil in the world in any way opposes the omniscience of God.  It is still entirely possible for God to know everything that ever was or now is."

  I think I may have misstated my position here.  I meant to say that if God is omniscient, then free will cannot exist.  Again, if God knows what we are going to do, then we MUST do that thing.  From the 'absolute' standpoint, free will cannot exist.  You mentioned a teleological scenario, where God may have simply created the universe, knowing full well what developmental course it would take, only to return on Judgement Day.  My point is that from the absolute perspective, humans are just automatons, destined by physical law to do what God has foreseen.  Even though humans 'think' they have free will, they clearly do not from the standpoint of God -- that was my core point.

  Another monkey wrench is thrown into the equation when you consider Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle.  Because of this theory, even if humans are someday able to visualize movement of objects at a near quantum resolution, they will never be able to make predictions.  If God knows the entire universe at quantum resolution (which He clearly must), then he will have total omniscience and free will (as I have stated) cannot exist.  So free will, in my view, is a pragmatic construct utilized by society, which could clearly not function without it.

  "You suggest that the accounts of Jesus' life are inaccurate.  You say that 'there is by no means a consensus on his teachings.'"  (Copious evidence shredding my feeble argument.)

  Mark, I'll have to agree with you on this one.  I am not nearly as well-versed in Christian theology as you nor do I read Hebrew.  My assertion was mostly from hearsay and limited reading on the subject.

  Once again, I thank you for taking the time and effort in formulating such clear and thoughtful responses to my comments.  I have certainly enjoyed reading them.

- G

Well, that's it.  Read the answers, too--they're the part I wrote.

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