ANSWERS IN GENESIS: A Profile in Parasitism

Full disclosure: I am not a scientist. I am science literate. But I do not have to be a scientist to vet information given by scientists.


From Merriam Webster:

Parasitism:  an intimate association between organisms of two or more kinds; especially :  one in which a parasite obtains benefits from a host which it usually injures.

Sophistry: the use of reasoning or arguments that sound correct but are actually false.

Prosperity Theology - art source unknown

Prosperity Theology – art source unknown

Recently, I came across an article written by Dr. Danny Faulkner of Answers In Genesis (AiG), titled, A Big Belief. As most folks know, AiG is an organization, headed by Ken Ham, that advocates Young Earth Creationism (YEC), which holds that the earth was created just as the Bible says, 6,000 to 10,000 years ago. The article set me thinking about the why people follow doctrine that, by any reasonable measure, has been shown to be false. Why do people choose faith over objective facts?

I understand that most people hold their religious beliefs deep within their being. After all, for billions of people on this interstellar vehicle we call Earth, life is little more than hunger, sickness, sham, and drudgery, especially among the poor. Their religious beliefs give them some comfort and hope for a better world to come, if not on this earth, then in a wonderful life hereafter.

My heart goes out to these people of all faiths, and I do not wish to take away hope for a better life. Yet it must be pointed out that blind religious faith (believing a proposition to be true even in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary) makes one vulnerable to deception and fraud by charismatic personalities such as Ken Ham, Pat Robertson, Joel Osteen, Hal Lindsey, John Hagee, Creflo Dollar Jr., Joyce Meyer, Benny Hen–the list goes on. These are seemingly devout personalities who prey on the pious for no other reason than their own economic self interest.

But, how can one tell the impostor from the genuinely-believing minister? They both speak the same religious language, display the same piety, and point to many of the same verses in the Bible.

The face you don't see

The face you don’t see

The first clue is glaringly obvious; their wealth! These predatory charlatans often defend their wealth by what they call Prosperity Theology—the holier one is, the more God rewards him with treasures on Earth. They often put on a glittering, big-stage show, sell many books, and sometimes “lay on hands.” They might point to Job or Abraham as proof of God’s generosity to those of the deepest faith.

For the thinking Christian, this should be recognized as sophistry, and sophistry is the means by which these frauds attach themselves to the mind of the unfortunate believer, inject the poison of a misguided sense of self-worth, and then feed on his hope (sucking it out right through his wallet).

To avoid these fakes, the thinking Christian must ask himself; What is the real message from the Gospels–the message I am supposed to be following?

Matthew 6:19-21

Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal:
But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal:
For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

and,

Matthew 19:23  ¶

Then said Jesus unto his disciples, Verily I say unto you, That a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven.
Matthew 19:24

And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.

and,

Luke 18:22-23  Now when Jesus heard these things, he said unto him, Yet lackest thou one thing: sell all that thou hast, and distribute unto the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, follow me.
And when he heard this, he was very sorrowful: for he was very rich.

Now the Christian must ask himself if his minister, and/or anyone else to whom he contributes, follows the aforesaid prescription. If not, then they are frauds.

Secondly, to avoid harm, the Christian needs to understand that there are true-believing ministers who are delusional and dangerous. They seek not only your money, but your very being as well. These are folks like Jim JonesMarshall Applewhite of Heaven’s Gate, and David Koresh of the Branch Davidians. It is unfortunate, but apparently there always will be lost people vulnerable to these passionate, but insane folks, and I can see little that can be done other than through education and psychological help.


So, what does all the above have to do with Answers In Genesis, Dr. Faulkner, Ken Ham, and their Creation Museum?

Ham’s income at Answers in Genesis is a modest 150,000 per year, but added to that are speaking fees (he’s among the most sought after speakers in fundamentalist circles as well as one of the top spokes persons for the media on the subject of creationism) and book sales numbering in the millions. The man is a millionaire.

A scientist reviews Dr. Faulkner's work

A scientist reviews Dr. Faulkner’s work

Ham’s sophistry (the injection device): The article by Dr. Danny Faulkner is an excellent example of sophistry. Leaving out pertinent details and facts can be as deceptive as simply lying. It amounts to disinformation, or propaganda. Most Christians recognize such deceptions–when they recognize them–as “bearing false witness.”

In his article, Faulkner argues that the Big Bang–the current accepted scientific model of the beginning of the Universe, space, and time–cannot be true because, (1) it is, “fraught with problems,” (2) “different parts of the [Cosmic Microwave Background] CMB have precisely the same temperature.” and that, (3) the model does not agree with the Bible’s account of creation.

The first claim (1) amounts to misinformation, and his use of the use of the word, “fraught” is designed to cast doubt on the entire theory before any evidence is given or vetted. It is true that there are anomalies/problems within the Big Bang Theory, but problems are a normal characteristic of scientific research. Suggesting otherwise is misleading. Science is progressive. The more question solved through research, the more questions those solutions raise. Greater knowledge is gained over time, especially by the advent of better technology–new and more finely-tuned instrumentation.

This leads us to (2), the claim of temperature uniformity in the CMB. The claim was correct when the CMB was first discovered accidentally, but not now. As technology advanced and finer tuned instruments were developed, minute fluctuations in the temperature were discovered, and the explanation was given. Faulkner should have known this.

That the Big Bang theory does not agree with the Bible (3), is an astonishing statement coming from a scientist. It is an atrocity to reason. It is choosing the authority of an ancient, pre-science, unauthenticated story over modern, objective, scientific research. The statement is so far from scientific, that to be spoken by a scientist, it reaches the greatest possible height of absurdity.

Still, statement does lay bare very reason for the existence of AiG. It is the primary argument of the creationist–though often unacknowledged–and it is the very reason why creationism is not science. Faulkner should, and probably does, know this.

What was left unsaid: By far the most salient fact that Faulkner left out of his article was the primary reason for the Big Bang Theory. In my mind, the way to refute the Big Bang Theory is to show that the physics of the Red Shift, or the Doppler Effect, is false. And the likelihood of that happening is infinitesimally small–it ain’t gonna happen, folks.

One last point. Recent advances in theoretical physics are suggesting the possibility that our universe may not be the only universe in existence. Indeed, models now taking shape tend to solve some of the problems within the Big Bang Theory.


— Max T. Furr is author of The Empathy Imperative, a philosophical novel exploring the nature of biblical, Divine Justice–as opposed to humanistic justice. Was Descartes wrong and God was a deceiver, after all? What would the world be like if empathy, not self interest, were our primary motivating force?

Acts of Empathy

Handling explosive emotions demands five acts of Empathy

Excerpted and edited for ISHN by Dave Johnson

Everybody agrees that empathy is crucial to risk communication. Vincent Covello, for example, argues that caring/empathy accounts for 50 percent of trust; the other 50 percent, he says, is shared about equally by dedication/commitment, honesty/openness, and competence/expertise. He often quotes an old saying to the effect that people (especially people who are upset) don’t care what you know until they know that you care.

So if you do care, showing you care is obviously crucial. What isn’t so obvious is how to show you care, how to express your empathy.

Read more at http://www.ishn.com/articles/handling-explosive-emotions-demands-five-acts-of-empathy

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Empathy in Action – Erinn Phelan’s Selfless Act

By Arthur P. Ciaramicoli, Ed.D., Ph.D

We read about the poor character of celebrities every day but acts like Erinn Phelan’s attempt to save the life of her college roommate are buried in pages far from the headlines.

Erinn is a Brown graduate who had found her ideal job after graduation last summer working for Mayor Bloomberg in his new volunteerism initiative.

As Erinn and her college roommate Alma Guerrero crossed a street in Brooklyn this past Sunday they were hit by a car that didn’t stop. . .

Read more at http://www.balanceyoursuccess.com/empathy-in-action-erinn-phelan-selfless-act/

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Suffering Unleashes Goodness

By Arthur P. Ciaramicoli, Ed.D., Ph.D

A few weeks ago I was talking with one of my patients about his recent release from the hospital where he was treated for a major infection. He was telling me he had to get home to cook the turkey for Thanksgiving. He was bringing the meal to his elderly parents, his mother is recovering from her second bout of breast cancer and his dad is currently struggling with the effects of Leukemia. Joe also mentioned that he invited . . .

Read this and other articles by Dr. Ciaramicoli at http://www.balanceyoursuccess.com/author/docapc/

The ACLU on Religious Freedom: Watchdog or Attackdog?

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A child is born neither Christian, nor Jew, nor Muslim, nor atheist, nor an adherent to any other brand of religious or philosophical order. A child is born a human being with an ability to learn, and from this raw material society builds her walls of nationalism and religious certitude. (Thoughts of Professor Hale from the novel, The Empathy Imperative, by Max T. Furr)

Note: The following post concerns a highly emotional subject, the effect of which is an impediment to reason and understanding. Most of us have heard the admonition to never discuss religion and politics with family and friends. Yet, these are the very subjects that must be discussed with family, friends and strangers—with civility, empathy and an open mind—if we are serious about our desire for social harmony and, someday far in the future, world peace.

I believe that most of us can agree that the only path to social harmony is empathy with benevolent reciprocity. Real social harmony cannot happen through organized religion, as I shall explain. Social harmony begins when each individual brings about harmony within himself. This is a difficult task because it is within each individual where we find the strongest impediment to reason and understanding; our genetically based sense of insecurity—an inclination to xenophobia (mistrust or fear of strangers and foreign concepts).

So, how do we begin to remove these impediments to understanding? Each of us must come to understand that this roadblock to reason is what builds our walls of radicalism and self-righteousness in matters of politics and religion.

The first step is to realize that, for most of us, what we believe to be sacred truth was a thing taught to us as from tothood. Had I been born a Muslim, I would most likely still be a Muslim and one of radical persuasion had the environment in my formative years been so inclined. Were I born a Hindu or a Sikh, I would most likely be so today. No matter where I was born, I would have been taught the religious truths of my family and society and I would have believed those truths every bit as fervently as others believe theirs. This is the fundamental understanding we must accept for the sake of reason and empathy. Whether or not one’s religious truths are actually true is not in question here. The only appeal is to understand that they are a function of happenstance of birth.

So, what has the ACLU and other such organizations to do with helping us move beyond our impediments to understanding? The argument I pose above is not one that will meet very many eyes and likely not many open to my reasoning. The very existence of organized religion is to placate our genetically based insecurity. Thus it is most difficult for us to move out of that comfort zone and view other beliefs with objective and empathetic eyes.

It is unfortunate that social harmony—such as it is today—must be imposed by law in every nation on earth. The reason is because of our impediments to understanding and empathy. We do not see eye to eye and often passionately so. This is why we must have laws and organizations that help us move beyond our natural, social and political prejudices.

In the United States, it was the brilliance of our founders that provided our nation the necessary Constitutional tool—a means to help us remove the barriers to understanding. That tool is the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

Strong resistance to overcoming our walls of self righteousness is to be expected, but those who understand the intent of the clause must continue to use reason and civil debate in its defense. Even in the face of radical Islam we must not let go the means, but embrace it all the more.

It is common for a great many Christians to voice their believe that First Amendment watchdog groups like the ACLU and Americans United for the Separation of Church and State are all about destroying or at least suppressing Christianity. Yet these organizations are the protectors of the means—the tool that protects each religion from the overreach of others by providing a peaceful environment conducive to learning and, hopefully, understanding why others believe differently.

Since Christianity is the predominant religion in the United States, I want to point out some facts, some necessarily approximated, that demonstrate what the Establishment Clause has brought about and what the Constitutional watchdog groups protect.

Not counting all other faiths, we have 350,000 Christian churches/congregations in the United States and thousands more in private homes, old business buildings and defunct shopping centers. By comparison, there are 98,706 primary and secondary public schools. There are, therefore, about 3.55 times as many Christian churches as there are public schools in the United States. The congregations worship in peace and no one is denying them that right.

Five hundred-forty dedicated Christian radio stations fire up daily in the U.S. Thousands of others become religious broadcasters on Sunday mornings. There are 49 dedicated Christian television networks broadcasting the messages of  about 55 televangelists. And, the Internet is replete with thousands of religious websites and blogs. No one has ever suggested that any of these be shut down.

We find a Gideon Bible in virtually every hotel/motel room. In secular bookstores, whole sections are dedicated to religion. Drug stores and truck stops have dedicated Christian book racks. Additionally, there are about 8,000 full-blown Christian bookstores. No one is trying to shut these down or force them to add books on science.

The Campus Crusade for Christ flourishes on our college campuses across the nation. Hospitals and some large corporations have chaplains and rooms dedicated to religious worship. No one as far as I know objects to any of this.

Further, religious organizations, including Christian organizations, enjoy tax and zoning exemptions. It is the general public—whether or not they all agree with the various doctrines—who make up the lost tax revenue.

Some religious organizations are even exempt from health and child protection laws (sometimes resulting in child abuse).

As well, students may carry their Bibles to school and/or pray silently most any time (especially before a math test). Students may gather around the flag pole before or after school and pray. Bible clubs are allowed.

Check your local newspaper daily for religious news, messages and service announcements.

So why do First Amendment watchdog groups oppose prayer and proselytizing in public schools and on other public property? Because few student bodies, especially large ones, are religiously homogeneous—not all students were taught the same religion. It is the right of every parent to teach their children the religious beliefs they, themselves, were taught and which they believe to be correct. It is the duty neither of the state, nor any teacher working for the state, nor any elected official to promote a particular religion.

A public school or any other government agency, therefore, may promote neither Christianity, nor Hindu, nor Islam, nor Catholicism, nor Protestantism. The Establishment clause, then, demands government neutrality in matters of religion.

First Amendment watchdog groups, then, are mainly responsible for protecting and promoting, not destroying, the religious freedom of every individual. Such protections promote the peaceful environment necessary for introspection and understanding—a chance for each individual to remove his impediments to personal and social harmony.

sources:

The Virginia Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_religious_radio_stations#United_States

AmericanChurchList, Inc.

Digest of Educational Statistics, 1999

Religious Broadcasters on the Internet

Scientology & Dianetics

http://www.edreform.com/2012/04/k-12-facts/

Note: I am open to corrections on any data in this post.

My Journey From Religious Exclusivity: The Birth of “The Empathy Imperative”

Until now, I was not going to post about my novel because I felt it would sound too much like self-serving promotion for monetary gain. Yet, after reading an impressive post by another blogger concerning a similar journey, I’ve decided to post the preface of my novel, The Empathy Imperative.

The preface elucidates not only the reasons I left Christianity behind, but clarifies how I believe all people of faith should view the world around them. It is an appeal to reason—an appeal to look beyond the walls of exclusivity and sectarianism and understand what it would take to make this vehicle we call Earth a much better place to live for everyone.

I am not so naive as to think I could make a dent in the established citadels of theology especially given the deep emotional attachment of billions of people. I only invite the curious minded reader to understand my social philosophy and, perhaps, I can move just a few to begin their journey.

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Preface to The Empathy Imperative

In 2008, the Public Broadcasting System (PBS) aired the BBC/WGBH Boston production, God On Trial. It is a play, written by Frank Cottrell Boyce, based on an event told by Elie Wiesel in his book, The Trial of God. It is a story about a group of Jews, imprisoned at Auschwitz, a Nazi death camp, holding court and trying God in absentia.

The charge was that God broke His covenant in allowing Hitler to commit genocide against them. In testimony, they deal with questions of justice and purpose (e.g., if God is just, then why does He allow, not just suffering, but also suffering on a scale such as the inhuman savagery of the Holocaust?).

It is a powerful and riveting play so well written and with such passionate acting, one hardly notices nearly the entire story takes place within one room.

I began writing The Empathy Imperative long before this play aired and found, once having seen it, that many of the questions raised in the film I had included in the pages of this novel, although in greater depth and with a different verdict. They are profound questions that test the parameters of our view of God’s justice, mercy and benevolence, in contrast with our own. What is justice? Is our sense of justice good, such that God, Himself, approves? Is divine justice something other than what we believe to be just?

The Empathy Imperative, like God on Trial, is a theological and philosophical exploration, but goes further in suggesting what would be necessary, theologically or through secular philosophy, to move our world into a future where empathy, not personal gain, is our primary motivating force.

The questions addressed in the following pages are a source of consternation in the minds of many, often exposing popular but strongly held contradictory views. It is no easy matter for one to examine, with objectivity, the religious “truth” he or she was taught as a child, especially those propositions deeply believed by the society in which one lives. Nevertheless, it is something that I feel must be done if we are to move beyond the walls of sectarianism, and view the world with understanding, compassion, and reason.

My journey beyond those walls began during my high school years when Bible class was offered as an elective and I, desirous to be counted among the faithful, faithfully elected to attend. Having been raised a Bible believing, saved-by-perseverance Methodist, I had no doubt that God was in His heaven, that Adam was the first human being, that one of his ribs was appropriated to fashion his helpmate, Eve, and that humankind came by its various languages in one fell swoop at the Tower of Babel. I believed, as well, that two representatives of every species of animal on earth held first class tickets to a cruise aboard the good ship, Noah’s Ark.

For me, there was no alternative but to believe such propositions because the fundamentals of the Judeo-Christian faith were what I was taught from my diaper days. By the time I reached high school, I was vaguely aware of other religions by way of various derogatory comments I heard and condescending movies I saw, but that was about as far as it went.

Perhaps, had an objective, world religions course been offered in my high school my natural curiosity would have spurred my interest, but I will never know because there was no such course. As for human evolution, it wasn’t so much as mentioned in biology or earth science.

It was with poetic irony, then, that my first serious doubt emerged from reading the Bible and thinking about what I was reading.

Late one night after a hearty round of supplications, I was repeatedly opening the Revised Standard Version at random, expecting God to give me a message by way of the first verse on which my eyes fell. I did indeed get a message, but, apparently, it was not from God. The verse that captured my attention was Revelation 13:8;

And all the inhabitants of the earth shall worship [the beast], every one whose name was not written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the lamb that was slaughtered.

It was my first bout with an apparent conflict in my theology. There I was, a teen taught from tothood that I had a choice whether to follow the ways of righteousness and be rewarded with an eternity of blissful paradise, or to follow the ways of wickedness and reap an eternity of unrelenting torture.

Yet, try as I might to rationalize otherwise, the only interpretation I could deduce from the verse was that of predestination. If that were so, I reasoned, then God knew before the existence of humans, that most of them would be destined to eternal agony, no matter how good they may strive to be.

“Why would God,” I asked myself, “condemn souls to Hell before they were born?”

The next day, I prodded the teacher for a different interpretation. After a thoughtful pause she replied, “We’re not supposed to know everything.” I was taken aback as I had expected a bit more than a dodge, but I accepted it. Her answer, however, gave birth to another question. I wondered why a perfect god would not be perfectly clear in words He inspired someone to write and for us to read.

I suppose the verse could have been interpreted as meaning the Book of Life was begun with the first human, and then each name was added as each person came into existence and demonstrated he was worthy of salvation. However, that would be salvation through works, not through grace, and it would cause a problem with the King James Version of the same verse, which states:

And all that dwell upon the earth shall worship him, whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.

This verse seemed to say the “Lamb”—taken to mean “Jesus”—was destined to be slain from the creation of the world. Thus, although the wording was different, predestination was still painfully clear.

For some time thereafter, I pondered and prayed, reread the chapter, and pondered some more. In time, I moved on, but the questions remained resident in my mind.

Not long after high school graduation, I found myself in Army Basic Training. One afternoon on a weekend as I lay on my bunk reading, some friends who knew me to be a devout Christian came in and asked me to assist them in a debate they were having with a professed atheist.

Never one to miss an opportunity to proselytize, I donned my godly armor of faith and sallied into battle. With my friends gathered around, I dodged and ducked every salvo of my foe’s arguments and responded with my own volleys of piety and scripture. The end of the battle came with a total rout—mine.

Thoroughly shaken, I laid out a smokescreen prophesying divine retribution for my faithless adversary and withdrew from the battle. Hastily applying a sturdy brain-splint of seasoned prayer, I retreated for weeks into mental convalescence.

It had been my first contact with the enemy and he had come to the field of battle with an awesome weapon entirely new to me—well reasoned, evidence-based arguments.

His knowledge of the Bible was greater than my own, his knowledge of other religions was far beyond mine and his knowledge of evolution caught my ship-of-ignorance broadside.

Bertrand Russell wrote of Pierre Bayle, French philosopher and critic in the late 17th century, that Bayle would compose lengthy arguments on the strength of reason over orthodox belief, but conclude, “So much the greater is the triumph of faith in nevertheless believing.”

Perhaps such sentiments are necessary to placate the troubled minds of a great many people, but for me, there was something deeply repugnant about willful self-deception.

It was this abhorrence for intellectual dishonesty that seriously weakened the walls of my theology and set me up for the final blow—my own, reasoned argument.

An acquaintance of mine, having noted my air of piety, invited me off post to dinner and conversation at his home. That evening, seated in his living room, he and two others engaged in a concerted effort to convert me to Mormonism. Among other arguments, they contended that baptism into the Mormon faith was necessary to achieve salvation.

Marveling at their confident posture, I asked, “How do you know you are right?”

“We know in our hearts we are right,” they replied.

“Yes,” I responded, “but so do the Jews, the Hindu, the Buddhists, the Muslims, and the Catholics. They all know in their hearts that they are right. Every person of every religion believes himself to be right.”

After dinner, having made no commitment, I thanked them for their hospitality and took my leave. Returning to the base that night, something was bothering me, the cause of which I could not ferret out.

When I awoke the next morning, the insight came in a flash. The rebuttal I had made in reply to their heartfelt belief that they were right, applied to me as well.

The logic was clear; I had no more reason to believe I possessed the sacred truth than did anyone else. I had grasped the indisputable fact that one’s religious beliefs have more to do with happenstance of birth than with truth. A person is most likely to believe the theology taught by his parents, which is most often the predominant religion of the society into which he is born and that belief is often unshakable for the rest of his life.

A cascade of questions followed, the foremost of which was: Could there be a good and compassionate god who condemns billions of souls to eternal torture for having been taught to believe the wrong religion? Since adherents to other faiths believe their “truths” every bit as passionately as the Christian believes his, how do I know I was taught the right one?

I decided, therefore, to place my faith in abeyance and view my beliefs with an objective eye. I would return to school and acquire a much wider breadth of knowledge so vital for sound reasoning.

I vowed to study with an open mind and follow the arguments to their logical conclusion. I promised myself that I would accept the conclusion no matter how uncomfortable it might make me feel, for if I refused to do so, I would live a life of intellectual dishonesty.

Throughout the ensuing years I applied a strong dose of reason to each of my attempts to fashion a new theology.

In pursuit of truth I opened my mind to philosophy, world religions and evolution. I read and contemplated the arguments of current and past theologians, scholarly evolutionists and philosophers.

It was during this process that I came across a famous statement by the German philosopher Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646-1716). In an attempt to reconcile the existence of evil with the idea that God is omnibenevolent (all loving), omnipotent (all powerful), and omniscient (all knowing), he suggested that God gave this world the best balance of all possibilities, good and evil. So that humans might act as free agents (possessors of free will), He gave us the ability to choose between the two. Therefore, Leibniz concluded, it must be that God blessed us with “the best of all possible worlds.”

Leibniz’s proposition that this is the best world possible stuck in my mental craw where it festered. I recall thinking about the world; its wars, its hungry masses, its disease-infested children (what is more innocent than a child?), the horrors humans inflict on their fellow humans and concluding that Leibniz’s best possible world conjecture was demonstrably false.

It was the age-old philosophical conundrum: If God is omniscient, then He knows of the intolerable suffering of billions of people through no fault of their own. If He is omnibenevolent, then it is reasonable to suppose that He would want to alleviate at least the depth of suffering. If He is omnipotent, then He could act on His desire. He does not alleviate the depth of suffering. Therefore, either He is not omnipotent and can do nothing about suffering, or He is not omniscient and does not know humans suffer, or He is not omnibenevolent as most of the world, astonishingly, thinks Him to be.

It was against this best-world proposition that I debated through my college years, but my post-college profession in quality management occupied so much of my time and raised my level of stress to such a degree that little time or inclination was left to ponder this primary interest.

In time, out of concerns for my health, I resigned from that profession and eventually became a long haul, professional driver. This occupation appreciably lowered my level of stress and allowed me the time I needed to read and ponder my philosophical and theological interests.

It was early in this new career, while again considering the best-world proposition, that I realized neither I, nor anyone with whom I had debated, thought to ask the obvious questions: If this is not the best of all possible worlds, then could it be that we do not have the best of all possible gods? In addition, if this isn’t the best world possible, then what would a better world look like and how could we get there?

These are the questions about which I began to research and write, and which The Empathy Imperative attempts to answer.

I do not presume to believe this book constructs the best of all possible worlds or gods and indeed, I am sure it does not. But I do not need to construct the best of either. I just need to demonstrate that, theologically, better gods and better worlds are possible.

Since any such qualitative construct necessarily deals with ethics and justice, I must deal with questions relevant to the omniperfection of God and it is with this discussion that I feel a word to the wise reader is necessary.

For the purpose of this exploration, I began by assuming the King James Authorized Version (AV) of the Bible was literally true—both the Old and New Testaments.

Obviously, I had to deal with some misinterpretations and inconsistencies in the scriptures, while at the same time trying to remain true to the fundamentalists’ view that the entire Bible is the infallible word of an infallible god. This struggle becomes evident in the progression of the narrative.

I am well aware of considerable controversy in matters of scripture analysis and translation, but my thrust is not to make arguments of interpretation. It is rather to demonstrate that, again theologically speaking, a better world could have been created, and if a better world could have been created, then it follows that the god of the Bible, Yahweh, was not the best of all possible gods.

Therefore, in order for the astute student of theology to appreciate the point of the book, he will need to suspend his urge to fractious debate over scriptural interpretation and tentatively accept my general premise that this is not the best of all possible worlds.

As for the version of the Bible, I chose the King James because it was the one believed and preached by the lead character’s father and because it was the version with which most Christians were familiar, at least during my early years of study.

Another note of interest for the Christian true believer—when the Time of Sorrows begins, the lead character, Mark Jefferson Hale (Jeff), is a politically aware, evolutionary biologist, and a causal determinist.

Jeff’s view of strict, causal determinism (cause and effect) is explained in the second chapter of part 1 as he attempts to avoid dealing with a culmination of unsavory events—the foremost being the death of his estranged, fundamentalist father.

To the Jewish reader, you are already aware that I spell out sacred words. I do this because I feel it is necessary for the integrity and flow of the narrative.

For the politically inclined reader, chapters three and four set up the political condition of Jeff’s time, suggesting what might happen if the political pendulum did not swing back, but became immobile far to the right, caught up in an entanglement of corporate greed and religious fervor, triggered by the beginning of the Tribulation—the Time of Sorrows. This political theme mingles with theology throughout part 1.

Part 2 begins an exploration into our view of the nature of justice in relation to events described in the Old Testament and in relation to the culmination of events described in prophesies.

I am sure many will say that I cannot judge the acts of God described in the Old Testament by modern, ethical standards, but they will be wrong.

I am exploring Christian theology and embracing the popular notion that the god of the Old Testament is the same god of the New Testament whose being and temperament does not change.

I am proceeding with the idea that we believe our sense of morality and justice is good and that it is God sanctioned. Therefore, in order to conduct this theological exploration honestly, I must view events in the Old Testament through the moral lens of modernity.

–Max T. Furr

The Price of Insecurity: Opulence and Power vs. Empathy

By M. Jefferson Hale*

A recent article on the internet, “Inside Castel Gandolfo, Pope Benedict’s spectacular temporary retirement home,” written by M. Alex Johnson of NBC News, could not be a better exposé of insecurity on the part of the masses and insensitivity on the part of the Church. In the comments section of the site, one contributor opined, “. . . religion helps more people than any other institutions [sic] in the world.”

Many religious organizations, including the Catholic Church, do indeed help with disaster aid, building and staffing sectarian schools, building hospitals, managing soup kitchens and nursing homes. Nevertheless, at least for wealthy religious institutions, how many schools (in poor neighborhoods, free of tuition, and with well-paid, qualified teachers), hospitals (with free services in poor neighborhoods), and nursing homes (free of fees and open to the poor), could they build and staff with the money that goes into maintaining the opulence surrounding the Church hierarchy? Is this empathy or just good, sound business practice? When the average person visits those monuments of human insecurity such as a grand cathedral or the Sistine Chapel, what does she think? Is she awed with God’s apparent splendor? Does it strengthen her faith? Should the Church spend billions for the psychological effect that bends one’s mind to impotence and piety when those dollars could do much more for the masses in the way of health aid and education?

“But,” one might argue, “many of these institutions do not charge for some of their services.” This is true, but who is it that would not gladly spend a billion dollars of other people’s money to help the less fortunate in return for living a worry-free life of power, splendor, and comfort? The difference between aid given and rewards reaped constitutes a cost-to-benefit ratio that must be the envy of many a Wall Street CEO.

Nevertheless, would it be right to call the benefits offered to the masses, “empathy?” Whoever wrote the Gospel of Matthew attributed to Jesus the words; “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me,” and; “If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.”

How many who preach those words actually follow them? It matters not who “owns” the sumptuousness in which one lives so long as one is guaranteed to reap its benefits for life, and pay no taxes. Didn’t the Pope, past and present, take a vow of poverty? Is he living in a state of true poverty?

But this isn’t only about the Catholic church, although they are the wealthiest in the God business. Protestant ministers who preach Jesus’ words of empathy from the pulpits of their grand megachurches and their luxurious television settings promote the concept of “prosperity theology,” to justify their wealth. “God rewards those who give,” they often say. “God will bless you in this life or in heaven if you give this church what you have.”

For all those who preach the empathetic side of the philosophy of Jesus, should not empathy be their primary motivating force instead of a carefree life of luxury and power? Is it empathetic to live worry-free in so much opulence at the expense of those who have little or nothing? Whatever happened to, “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”—Matthew 6:19-21

True empathy would never gather and possess “treasures on earth.” True empathy would be about dividing all the wealth they’ve gathered among those in need. The hierarchy of all faiths would don the clothing of ordinary people, leave their cathedrals to be museums of a misguided past, establish a simple headquarters, and then proceed with the business of gathering converts and improving the lives of the least among us. Heck, were they to do so, I might even consider joining them.

* M. Jefferson Hale is the lead character in the novel, The Empathy Imperative, by Max T. Furr

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