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Did God create both men and women in "His" image? If so, does that mean that both genders exhibit Divine traits in their appearan...

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Ignorance is no excuse, except when Jesus says it is!

In suggesting that God might be willing to overlook the imperfect understanding of "His" little ones, this old legal maxim came to mind: "Ignorance of the law is no excuse." For those who view God as a harsh and uncompromising entity, this traditional attitude toward lawbreakers perfectly reflects God's attitude towards humanity with regard to our many sins.

However, when Jesus Christ was hanging on the cross, he is purported to have said: "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing." (Luke 23:34, NIV, emphasis mine) Most folks rightly focus on the amazing compassion in Christ's request that God would forgive his murderers. But how many of us have read this Scripture dozens of times and completely overlooked the justification that Christ employed (they don't know what they're doing) in making his request of God. Jesus said that they should be forgiven because of their imperfect understanding of their actions.

Don't we all recognize these almost instinctive impulses towards compassion and clemency in how we treat our own little ones? We understand that they don't yet fully understand the consequences of their actions, and we are ready to overlook a good many things because of that. Isn't it interesting that our Savior appealed to the same reasoning in what he asked of his Father?

Friday, November 28, 2014

God and "His" Little Ones

Down through the centuries, many traditional Christians have been fond of talking about "sinners in the hands of an angry God." These folks love to talk about the exquisite punishments that await those who stray from God's path. They believe that we are all disgusting to God, and that "He" stands ready to squash us like a bug when we get out of line. Moreover, many of these folks are ready with a number of scriptures to back up their image of God.

Of course, those who focus on God's anger and punishment tend to ignore the many references to God's compassion and mercy in Scripture. Even so, one has to acknowledge that the Scriptural evidence is used to justify both a harsh and loving view of God relative to "His" treatment of mankind. However, if we consider the evidence of our own lives and experience, God's modus operandi for dealing with "His" children becomes much clearer.

Over the Thanksgiving holiday, I've had the opportunity to observe my little grandchildren (age 10 months and 3 years), and the way that the adults in the household (including myself) interact with them. In this regard, it is interesting to note that Jesus Christ often told his followers to consider how they themselves would treat their own children if they truly wished to understand how their Heavenly Parent regarded them. As I watched them and their parents interact, several things about the way that God regards all of us became clearer to me.

In considering this subject, I was immediately struck by the fact that our little ones love to be the center of attention, and that we love to indulge them in this. We want to see their reactions to us and the world around them. We enjoy their happiness and wonder, and we do everything within our power to perpetuate and facilitate them. Indeed, we look for things that hold their attention and interest and are quite willing to indulge them for as long as they remain the focus of our little ones. Likewise, when those things lose their magic, I am struck by how quickly we all abandon the item and join the pursuit for something else to capture their imagination/interest.

When our little ones cry or express their displeasure with something, we are all immediately attentive to their needs. We are loathe to see them uncomfortable or hungry. We all stand ready to change a diaper, wet or soiled clothing or fix them something to eat (or give the littlest one to mom for nursing). In short, when they are in need, their parents and grandparents are ready to serve! Moreover, this desire to nurture our little ones appears to be as natural as water to all of us! Which brings to mind a question: Where did this natural tendency come from? Isn't it logical to suppose that our Heavenly Parent would at the very least have the same regard for "His" little ones? And, if God is the source of this natural tendency within us, isn't it likely that God's manifestation of the tendency would be even more intense and perfect than anything we might exhibit?

Finally, when our little ones fail to understand something or make mistakes, I noticed that none of us was desirous of punishing them for their shortcomings. Indeed, I observed an abundance of patience and loving indulgence in this regard. Why? Because we all understand that their understanding of the world around them (and their place within it) is still very imperfect and limited. In short, our reaction to these foibles was almost always one of encouraging and facilitating the learning of the right behavior and/or skill set. In fact, I noticed that it was only when we were tired and our own patience had worn thin that we expressed more interest in being stern and authoritarian. When my granddaughter failed to share a toy with her baby cousin, none of us were motivated to scold her or slap her little hands. On the contrary, everyone was desirous of encouraging her to share and praising her when she chose to share with him. Which brings another question to mind: How does our patience, mercy and compassion stack up against those displayed by our Divine Parent?

Hence, I think that if we are truly desirous of gaining some insight into how God reacts to "His" little ones, we need to take a look at the nurturing nature and skills that "He" has placed within most of us as parents and grandparents. In fact, don't we look at those among us who fail to exhibit these nurturing traits/skills as being aberrant/abnormal/deviant? Thus it seems to me that God epitomizes an attitude of nurturing, merciful and compassionate service to "His" little ones. What do you think?

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

On Being Thankful to God

As I am planning to spend the approaching holiday with my daughters and grandchildren, this will probably be my last opportunity to write before Thanksgiving. Hence, I wanted to share some thoughts about our collective and individual responsibilities to demonstrate our thankfulness to Almighty God.

It seems to me that thankfulness is intimately associated with remembering - remembering all of the blessings that have been bestowed upon us by God. One of the psalmists admonished his readers to acknowledge the role that God has played in those blessings. He wrote: "Know ye that the Lord he is God...Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name." (Psalm 100:3-4) Likewise, Paul admonished the saints at Colosse to be thankful to God. (Colossians 3:15)

Hence, to remind us of this obligation, I have read a passage from the book of Deuteronomy before every Thanksgiving Day meal that my family has participated in for the last thirty-five years plus. We read: "But thou shalt remember the Lord thy God: for it is he that giveth thee power to get wealth, that he may establish his covenant which he sware unto thy fathers, as it is this day. And it shall be, if thou do at all forget the Lord thy God, and walk after other gods, and serve them, and worship them, I testify against you this day that ye shall surely perish." (Deuteronomy 8:18-19) Just prior to this admonishment, the author had talked about our human propensity for attributing our good fortune to our own skill and hard work. (verse 17) In other words, we tend to dismiss or forget about the SOURCE.

There is an account in the Gospel According to Luke where Jesus healed ten lepers. (Luke 17:11-19) Nevertheless, afterwards, there was only one man that took the time to be thankful to God for what had happened. (verse 15-16) Moreover, the man was a Samaritan - not a Jew. (verse 16) Continuing, we read: "And Jesus answering said, 'Were there not ten cleansed (healed)? But where are the nine? There are not found that returned to give glory to God, save this stranger.' And he said unto him, 'Arise, go thy way: thy faith hath made thee whole.'" (verses 17-19) What about you? Will you return to give glory to God for the spiritual healing which you have received as a consequence of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ for your sins?

I hope that we will all take advantage of the opportunity that this holiday affords to us and take a moment to reflect upon all of the things for which we have to be thankful. It's time to remember. May God bless all of us with a good memory at this very special time of the year!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Why I'm Not A Bible Hating Atheist

In my last post, I discussed my spiritual journey relative to waking up from the delusion of Biblical inerrancy. Unfortunately, many of the folks who have walked that same path end up rejecting both God and the Bible. So why didn't that happen to me? This post is my attempt to explain to my readers why I'm not a Bible hating atheist.

In the previous post, I explained how the evidence of my own life finally broke the spell. My life experiences simply did not comport with the belief that Scripture was error free, and that realization allowed me to look at the other available evidence with clearer eyes. Having freed myself from that delusion, it was natural for me to question whether the Bible had any value at all in the light of what I now understood about those writings. Moreover, if the basis for my previous faith could be shown to be faulty, then how could I be sure that the God who was the object of those writings even existed?

I could talk about the scientific, historical and philosophical justifications for my continued admiration and reliance on Scripture. I could also discuss the factual basis for my continued belief in God (which I have done on numerous occasions within the context of this blog), but I would still be skirting the real reasons why my spiritual faith did not disappear altogether. For me, once again, the most important evidence for a continued belief in God and the Bible was the evidence of my own life - my own experiences.

I simply could not dismiss the feeling of awe that I had always felt when I looked into the night sky, and that I had experienced every time I saw a tree or wild flower. I could not shake the feelings of inspiration and comfort that I had derived from Scripture over the years. I could not ignore the fact that I had faced an unseen, evil presence as a young man and had been so physically and emotionally shaken by the experience that I had chosen to share it with only a handful of individuals throughout the course of my entire lifetime. I could not deny that my family and I had been miraculously saved from serious injury or death when an F-3 tornado had passed within one hundred feet of the mobile home we were living in at the time (especially in light of the fact that the neighbors on all four sides of us experienced catastrophic destruction from the storm). I could not dismiss the experience of that warm, tingling, almost electrical feeling that both me and my family had experienced when our church had gathered around us, laid hands on us and asked God to protect and sustain us as I went into the Army before the First Gulf War.

Hence, just as the experience of living with my own sexual orientation had allowed me to escape from the delusion of Biblical inerrancy, my other life experiences prevented me from throwing the baby out with the bath water. In short, those experiences provided the objective background for my studies of both God and the Bible. They helped me to understand that I didn't have to accept or reject the entire package that had been presented for my consumption. Those experiences enabled me to understand that it wasn't ALL OR NOTHING when it came to God and the Bible. And it wasn't a matter of picking and choosing - It was more like: Does this or that belief comport with all of the available evidence?

Moreover, this line of reasoning/thinking has left me with a kind of peace that I never had before all of this happened. I don't feel the need to convert anyone to my way of thinking - I really don't have any evangelical zeal. I'm comfortable in my own skin. I'm no longer threatened by other people's ideas or things that seem to contradict what I believe. Indeed, I now view those things as opportunities to learn and grow as a person. Like all people, I simply want to be accepted and understood; and, if I can help others on their unique journey, I am very glad to do so (especially when I consider all of the blessings and help which I've received along the way). What do you think?

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Waking up from a delusion

Google defines a delusion as "an idiosyncratic belief or impression that is firmly maintained despite being contradicted by what is generally accepted as reality or rational argument, typically a symptom of mental disorder." It occurs to me that this is a perfect description of the notion of Biblical inerrancy. One could marshal all of the available proofs that demonstrate the falsity of this idea without so much as placing a doubt in the mind of someone who holds to this belief. And I know whereof I speak: At one time, I believed in Biblical inerrancy.

Looking back on that experience, I can discern several things that enabled me to hold on to my delusion. In fact, I can now see an elaborate network of beliefs that made it possible for me to avoid the fact that Scripture is literally full of contradictions and errors of science, history and philosophy. I have read several interesting explorations of this phenomenon over the years, but a link from a friend to a piece that I had explored several months ago (Race Hochdorf's The Tyranny of Fundamentalist Language prompted me to offer some of my own experiences with the "disorder" in the interest of helping others who may still be operating under this delusion.

First, I think that it is important to acknowledge that I had been taught to respect and revere "God's Word" all of my life. My grandmother had read the Bible to me as a young child, and I had taken up the practice as soon as I had acquired the ability to read. For me, this foundation provided a strong underpinning for everything that was to follow.

Next, through my father, I was exposed to the radio broadcasts of a charismatic Fundamentalist preacher (Garner Ted Armstrong) who underscored a literal understanding of the Biblical narrative. His church taught that the Bible was God's complete revelation of "His" will to mankind, and that everything in it should be understood to mean exactly what was written on its black and white pages (e.g. the seven days of creation mentioned in the first chapter of Genesis meant seven twenty-four hour days). Also, chief among the tenets of this group was their assertion that the Bible "interprets itself." In other words, thinking and creativity were completely unnecessary in the realm of trying to understand Scripture. Moreover, the addition of God's Holy Spirit to the human mind would enable one to clearly see this "reality."

For me and my brethren in Christ, our acceptance of the "TRUTH" that the church proclaimed from the pages of the Bible was proof that we had God's Holy Spirit. Hence, we believed that any deviation from that truth was evidence of a departure from God's Spirit or evidence that one had never truly possessed it. Talk about a self-reinforcing mental straightjacket! In short, once we accepted these premises, the church didn't have to do much to keep us in line - we policed ourselves. After all, one did not want to wander away from the precious "TRUTH" and get gobbled up by the roaring lion (Satan) that was circling the perimeter of our group!

If we happened to see any error or contradiction, the fault was obviously in our own reasoning. The principle that was more important than any other was that "the Bible NEVER contradicted itself." The church employed a technique known as proof-texting to underpin its understanding of the Bible. It was "line upon line, here a little, and there a little." If a verse appeared to be wrong or contradictory, it was only because you had not interpreted the verse in connection with all of the other verses of Scripture that addressed the same subject. In other words, "You're not really seeing what you're seeing - the error and contradiction are in your own mind - YOU simply need to study harder."

Of course, on the rare occasion when all of these self-policing techniques failed, the ministry of the church was always ready to step in and "help" you see the truth. And, if after their assistance you were still unable to see the truth, there was always the possibility of being disfellowshipped (excommunicated) from the church. After all, God's people had to be protected from the spread of false ideas (heresy), and maybe the offending person would see the light when faced with the prospect of losing his/her salvation (the Lake of Fire yawning before you was a powerful incentive to get your errant butt back into line).

So what finally broke this delusion's stranglehold on my thinking? You might say that it was the Divine intervention of self-interest. Scripture clearly stated that homosexuals were an abomination to God, and they would not gain entrance to the Kingdom of God. As someone who had struggled against his sexual orientation for my entire life, I came to the conclusion that something must be wrong with my belief system. How could God condemn me for something which I had no control over? Oh yes, I could control the behavior (and I did); but how could I change the reality of my own nature? And why would God want me to change that nature if "He" was the one who placed it there in the first place?

I had done everything that the Bible said that I should do. I had married, had children, studied the Bible, prayed every day and attended church. What had I missed? Why was my life falling apart? I had the truth, and I was sincerely attempting to live my life in accordance with everything that I read in Scripture - What was the problem? My own life contradicted what I had been taught about the Bible. This launched the most intensive study of the Bible that I had ever undertaken in my entire life. And, it was about this time that I read Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism: A Bishop Rethinks the Meaning of Scripture by John Shelby Spong. It was like an epiphany to me - it confirmed for me what I had begun to suspect for sometime prior to reading it: I had been in the grips of a mental disorder - a delusion known as Biblical inerrancy. It was literally like waking up from a bad dream!

Friday, November 14, 2014

God and the Greeks

Although the Hebrews introduced YHWH and His message to the world, it has often been overlooked that it was the Greeks who made Him and His message accessible to the rest of the world. Moreover, the Greek people's introduction to the story of YHWH does not begin in the New Testament. On the contrary, it is an integral part of the story told in the Old Testament.

It has been widely recognized by Biblical scholars that the highly symbolic prophecies recorded in the book of Daniel contain extensive references to the Greek people and their rulers, empire and influence on the rest of the world. In his famous interpretation of King Nebuchadnezzar's dream of the great image, Daniel informed the king that the statue represented four successive kingdoms. (Daniel 2) It has generally been understood that the third kingdom of brass which would "bear rule over all the earth" represented the Greeks. (Daniel 2:39) Later, Daniel also had a vision of four beasts that were said to correspond to the four successive empires portrayed in the king's dream. (Daniel 7) Notice that the third kingdom is described as being "like a leopard, which had upon the back of it four wings of a fowl; the beast had also four heads; and dominion was given to it." (Daniel 7:6)

Then in the eighth chapter of the book of Daniel, we are given a more extensive treatment of the prophecies relative to the Greeks. The chapter begins with a portrayal of Alexander the Great's (the he goat) victory over the Medo-Persian Empire (the ram with two horns). (Daniel 8:1-7) Continuing, we read: "Therefore the he goat waxed very great: and when he was strong, the great horn was broken (Alexander died at the height of his power); and for it came up four notable ones toward the four winds of heaven (his empire was divided among his generals)." (verse 8) The meaning of this symbolism is confirmed later in the same chapter when the angel Gabriel tells Daniel: "The ram which thou sawest having two horns are the kings of Media and Persia. And the rough goat is the king of Grecia: and the great horn that is between his eyes is the first king. Now that being broken, whereas four stood up for it, four kingdoms shall stand up out of the nation, but not in his power." (verses 20-22)

After Alexander's death, history tells us that his generals (Cassander, Lysimachus, Antigonus, Seleucus, Ptolemy, etc.) fought for control of his realm. Ptolemy founded the Ptolemaic dynasty of pharaohs that ruled over Egypt until Roman times. Likewise, Seleucus founded the Seleucid dynasty of kings that ruled over Syria during the same period. In the eleventh chapter of Daniel, these are referred to as the kings of north (Ptolemies) and south (Seleucids). In fact, after a brief summary of the fall of Persia and rise of Greece (Daniel 11:1-4), the remainder of the chapter is devoted to the rivalry that existed between the kings of the north and south for hegemony in that part of the world. (verses 5-45)

Before leaving the book of Daniel, it is also interesting to note that the story of the Seleucid King Antiochus Epiphanes is told in some detail. Prominent among these details was his antipathy for the holy covenant (Daniel 11:28), collusion with Jewish collaborators (verse 30) and pollution of the sanctuary (Temple) with the "abomination that maketh desolate." (verse 31)

The story of how the Maccabees defeated Antiochus, cleansed the Temple, reasserted Jewish independence and instituted the Feast of the Dedication (Hanukkah) is told in the non canonical books of I and II Maccabees. Nevertheless, the period of Greek dominance over the Holy Land by both the Ptolemaic and Seleucid Greeks had a profound effect upon Jewish religious and political thought. Indeed, the Jewish state that the Romans later conquered had been thoroughly Hellenized. Hence, Jesus Christ was born into a very Greek world (Greek was the language of the intellectual elite).

One of the most powerful influences of Greek culture came in the arena of religion. The concept of an immortal soul within the Jewish and Christian traditions originated in Greek philosophy. Likewise, the association of Hades (or Hell) with the Underworld and the realm of the dead was a thoroughly Greek concept.

The author of the book of Acts informs us that the Apostle Paul spent a great deal of time among the Greeks during his missionary journeys. We are told that he visited the Greek cities of Neapolis, Philippi, Amphipolis, Apollonia, Thessalonica, Berea, Athens and Corinth. (Acts 16 and 17) And take a second look at that list - Notice that many of his epistles were directed to Greek audiences. Finally, we must not forget that the New Testament was written and preserved in the Greek language - not Hebrew!

In this connection, I think that the archeological dig at the large tomb near Amphipolis should be of great interest to Christians all over the world. The tomb dates from the time of Alexander and is the largest, most elaborate and most expensive edifice of its kind to ever have been discovered in Greece. What if the tomb contains the remains of Alexander the Great (a man mentioned in the Judeo-Christian Scriptures)? And what does it say about God that he used a homosexual man to accomplish "His" will (or one who was at least bi-sexual)? Much has been made about God's connection to the Hebrews, but we should all stop for just a moment to consider what a profound role the Greeks have played in God's plans for (and message to) humanity.



Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Does God Need Our Help?

On Monday, a friend sent me two articles dealing with scientific efforts to help women whose eggs carry genetic disorders to have healthy children. The first one was entitled "Combining the DNA of Three People Raises Ethical Questions" by Rob Stein and can be viewed at http://www.npr.org/blogs/health/2014/11/10/360342623/combining-the-dna-of-three-people-raises-ethical-questions. The second article was entitled "The girl with three biological parents" by Charlotte Pritchard and can be viewed at http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-28986843.

The NPR article discusses the devastating effects of mitochondrial disease on the parents and children of those afflicted with these disorders. Defective mitochondrial DNA causes the cells to not work properly - to "run out of energy." As a consequence, children can die shortly after birth or suffer for years only to die as they reach adulthood. Because the problem is genetic, there isn't any effective way to treat or help these children. To address the root cause of the problem, scientists have replaced the damaged mitochondrial DNA from an embryo with the healthy DNA of another embryo. The nuclear DNA of the couple with the problem remains intact. This is the source of the controversy: Although the nuclear DNA makes up the overwhelming majority of the new baby's DNA, he/she will also have a small portion of the DNA of a third person (technically one could say that the baby would have three biological parents instead of two). Could this technology be applied to make designer babies? What does the procedure portend for future generations?

The BBC article points out that there are already somewhere between thirty to fifty people alive in the world who have DNA from a third person. The article profiles a young girl that is the product of a procedure called cytoplasmic transfer. In this procedure, some mitochondrial DNA from a healthy woman's egg was injected into the woman's egg with the defective DNA prior to fertilization. The result: A woman who had been unable to have a baby for ten years was finally able to produce a healthy daughter. Nevertheless, in twelve other attempts at the same procedure, two fetuses were missing an X chromosome. Another child that resulted from the procedure was later found to have developmental problems. The article also points out that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration put an end to the procedure in 2002 "due to safety and ethical concerns."

I have to admit that I was perplexed and troubled after reading these articles. Although I am not opposed to the principle of scientific research to help with these types of issues, I am worried about manipulating a human germline without a full understanding of how it will impact future generations and the health of our species as a whole. In short, it seems to me that scientists simply don't know enough yet to start manipulating the human genetic code. Although it is certainly a noble and good thing to want to help parents with these issues, I am reminded of the old saying that "The road to hell is paved with good intentions."

I was also reminded of the story of another person who decided that God needed some help in producing a child. We read in the fifteenth chapter of Genesis that God had promised Abram a son who "shall come forth out of thine own bowels" to be his heir. (Genesis 15:4) Nevertheless, his wife Sarai thought that God needed her help. Notice: "And Sarai said unto Abram, Behold now, the Lord hath restrained me from bearing: I pray thee, go in unto my maid; it may be that I may obtain children by her. And Abram hearkened to the voice of Sarai." (Genesis 16:2) We all know the rest of the story. Sarai grew to resent her maid and the child that was born through her. Eventually, Abram had to put the maid and the child whom he loved out of his house - causing great heartache and suffering for all concerned. (Genesis 21) In short, Sarai and Abram had to learn the hard way that God didn't need any help in producing a child for them.

To be sure, it is heartbreaking when anyone who wants a child is unable to have one; and that's why I hope that scientists will continue to research ways to help them. However, in our desire to help them, we don't want to do something that we may regret a hundred years from now. Perhaps a little humility is needed. Maybe we should be asking ourselves: Does God really need my help in this instance? What do you think?

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

God and Old Soldiers

On this Veteran's Day, I thought that it would be appropriate to examine God's attitude towards soldiers. How does YHWH regard these warriors? What does "He" think of the men and women who have served in the armed forces of the world?

When the children of Israel asked God to appoint a king for them, Samuel warned them that a king would "take your sons, and appoint them for himself, for his chariots, and to be his horsemen; and some shall run before his chariots." (I Samuel 8:11) In other words, this king will take your sons and make soldiers out of them - he will use them to fight his battles. Moreover, Scripture tells us that this is precisely what happened.

In fact, David was so preoccupied with warfare that we are told God would not allow him to build "His" temple. In the First Book of the Chronicles of the Kings, we read: "And David said to Solomon, 'My son, as for me, it was in my mind to build an house unto the name of the Lord my God: But the word of the Lord came to me, saying, Thou hast shed blood abundantly, and hast made great wars: thou shalt not build an house unto my name, because thou has shed much blood upon the earth in my sight." (I Chronicles 22:7-8) Hence, we may deduce from this scripture that YHWH did not consider warfare to be a good preparation for "His" service, and yet YHWH referred to David as "a man after his own heart." (I Samuel 13:14)

However, it should also be noted that YHWH is referred to as the "Lord of Hosts" two hundred and thirty-five times in the King James Version of the Bible (http://www.blueletterbible.org). Although the original Hebrew word suggests a large number of something that "goes forth" (same source), there is also clearly a sense in which the word "army" would fit (as in the commander of the angelic host). In other words, God's realm is organized in a fashion similar to that of an army (this understanding will be made even plainer when we examine an incident from the life of Jesus Christ).

Nevertheless, the prophets make very clear that there won't be any need for soldiers in God's Kingdom. We read: "And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more." (Isaiah 2:4 - See also Micah 4:3) Moreover, John's statement that he heard a voice from heaven declaring that God would "wipe all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away" (Revelation 21:4) is inconsistent with the continuation of warfare in any form.

Even so, we find that Christ was not hostile to soldiers. In the Gospel According to Matthew, we read: "And when Jesus was entered into Capernaum, there came unto him a centurion (Roman soldier), beseeching him, and saying, 'Lord, my servant lieth at home sick of the palsy, grievously tormented.' And Jesus saith unto him, 'I will come and heal him.' The centurion answered and said, 'Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldest come under my roof: but speak the word only, and my servant shall be healed. For I am a man under authority, having soldiers under me: and I say to this man, Go, and he goeth; and to another, Come, and he cometh; and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it.' When Jesus heard it, he marveled, and said to them that followed, 'Verily I say unto you, That many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven...And Jesus said unto the centurion, 'Go thy way; and as thou hast believed, so be it done unto thee.' And his servant was healed in the selfsame hour." (Matthew 8:5-13) Being a soldier, helped the man to understand the nature of Christ's authority to heal and to do good; and that understanding allowed Christ to grant the request of this Gentile soldier. Later, we find that it was another Roman centurion named Cornelius who became the first Gentile convert to Christianity. (Acts 10)

We also know that Paul compared the Christian life to warfare. He told the saints at Ephesus to "put on the whole armor of God." (Ephesians 6:11) "For," he continued, "we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but...against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places (places of authority) Wherefore take unto you the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand." (verses 12-13) Likewise, he encouraged Timothy to "endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ." (II Timothy 2:3) He continued: "No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life; that he may please him who hath chosen him to be a soldier." (verse 4)

Hence, from God's perspective, it is clear that soldiers have great potential for understanding both the nature and purposes of God. And who has felt the sting of death, and the pain and sorrow of warfare, more deeply than a soldier? Who is better able to appreciate the vision of peace and happiness that God has offered for the future? For me, it is very clear from what is revealed in Scripture that God has a special place in "His" heart for old soldiers. What do you think?

Monday, November 10, 2014

God and Marriage Equality

Benjamin Corey has just penned an excellent post on his Formerly Fundie blog entitled "Why Non-Affirming Evangelicals Can Still Support Marriage Equality (And Should). The post can be viewed at the following address: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/formerlyfundie/why-nonaffirming-evangelicals-can-still-support-marriage-equality-and-should/ I encourage all of my readers to check it out. He makes an excellent argument for the acceptance of marriage equality by all Christians who also happen to be citizens of the United States of America.

Corey makes the point that the U.S. is not a theocracy - that separation of church and state is mandated by the Constitution. Hence, the government (which is theoretically underpinned by "We the people") cannot enforce any one set of religious beliefs on its citizens. Indeed, the Constitution ensures that each and every one of us has the right to believe and practice whatever faith (or absence of faith) we choose. He points out that many of us may believe that adultery is the only legitimate grounds for divorce in God's eyes, but we do not impose that belief on our fellow citizens.

He goes on to point out that "there is a difference between religious marriage and civil marriage." Under our Constitution, the state doesn't have any right to stipulate the form and practice of a religious marriage (and marriage equality would not change this). However, the state decided long ago that it had an interest in promoting marriage as a civil institution; and this option should be open to all of its citizens. Moreover, he points out that there are certain benefits relative to things like inheritance, insurance and hospital visitation that are only available to folks who participate in civil marriages. Thus, he argues that equal access to these benefits becomes a matter of fairness and justice (which almost all versions of God heartily endorse).

Corey also points out the benefits that have accrued to society as a whole because of the institutionalization of marriage. It encourages citizens to live in monogamous and faithful commitments to each other. This, in turn, promotes "stability" within the culture and a "healthier" populace (less opportunities for the spread of sexually transmitted diseases). Finally, he points out that the institution of marriage can be an ideal vehicle for providing a home "to millions of children who are without one."

Many Fundamentalist American Christians do not support abortion, yet the right of those who do support it to seek a safe and legal abortion has been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court. Many Christians feel that it is wrong to own a gun, but that right is also guaranteed in our Constitution. Many Christians feel that the consumption of alcoholic beverages is sinful, but the rights of those who drink them have generally been upheld (except for the brief period of Prohibition). Likewise, the rights of Jehovah's Witnesses to exempt their children from participation in Christmas activities has generally been respected within our society. In short, we do not enforce a set of state religious beliefs or preferences on our populace (although there has always been a vocal minority who has sought to do just that). Most of us understand that if we impose our religion on our fellow man that someone would be able to do the same thing to us - Hence, we avoid the dilemma by mandating that no one can impose their beliefs on anyone else.

Jesus Christ and his apostles encouraged their followers to submit to the civil authorities who ruled over them. Christians were encouraged to respect the laws and institutions of the places where they resided. Aren't modern Christians subject to the same expectations? Moreover, I think that one could make the case that Christianity has flourished under this religiously neutral republic. What other nation has printed more Bibles or sent more missionaries around the world?

I think that Mr. Corey got this one right. In the United States, you are still free to believe that homosexuality is a sin, and that a God-sanctioned marriage consists of one man and one woman. However, as someone who is also obligated by your faith to submit to the government that has jurisdiction over you, you do not have the right to impose those beliefs on others who do not share them! What do you think?

Sunday, November 9, 2014

God and Evolution

Why does life evolve? Doesn't it evolve to adapt to the environment that hosts it? After all, if life failed to adapt to its environment, it would cease to exist. Darwin and his fellow scientists have observed that all of the organisms on this planet are engaged in a process aimed at the perpetuation of life here. In other words, life is preoccupied with the perpetuation of itself. Why? What is the impetus behind the adaptation of species to their environment and the survival of the fittest?

Many Theists have focused on the circumstances that have made life possible on this planet and have pointed at how they favor the existence of life here. I think that it is much more interesting and remarkable to consider how that life has evolved to fit the circumstances in which it finds itself.

At first glance, natural selection appears to be a completely random device - until we consider the fact that its objective is always the perpetuation of the organism. We have tended to ignore the significance of the fact that the environment "chooses" those characteristics within an organism that best suit its survival (e.g. fat, hairy, white bears have a better chance of surviving in artic climates than small, balding, black bears do). Take just a moment to consider all of the physical adaptations that have been necessary over vast expanses of time to arrive at where we're at today (e.g. the differentiation and specialization of organs within both plants and animals to perform certain functions to facilitate the survival of the organism as a whole). Think too about how behavioral instincts have developed within certain animal species that have made significant contributions to their survival (e.g. nest building, feeding and reproductive rituals). Consider how humans have used artificial selection to produce desirable traits in plants and animals to help perpetuate humankind (e.g. docility, productive capacity, disease and pest resistance, beauty, etc.). Nature, however, has always "selected" those traits which are best suited for the survival of the succeeding generations of a species (or life in general).

The inability of an organism to adapt produces extinction. Nevertheless, through all of the catastrophic events that have occurred on this planet (volcanic eruptions, asteroid and meteor impacts, atmospheric and climactic changes, etc.), life has continued to exist and adapt to its new circumstances. Thus, when we look at this from a macro perspective, it appears that individual species are much less important in the grander scheme of things than the perpetuation of life in general. In other words, whatever species (or group of species) best accomplishes that goal/objective/purpose (however you choose to describe it), those are the one(s) that survive and thrive.

Hence, for me, evolution suggests God. For me, the available evidence points to the existence of someone or something that provided a mechanism for life to perpetuate itself here (and very likely in other places too)! It should also be noted that evolution explains the continued existence of life on this planet - it does not truly explain the origin of life here. Moreover, whether one chooses to explain the origin of life as someone (God) or something (a "random" mix of molecules in a primordial soup), it seems to me that both the origin of that life and the mechanism for its perpetuation (evolution) demand an intelligent source. And who needs gaps? For me, the more evidence that Science discovers about the origins and perpetuation of life on this planet, the more evidence we have for the existence of a Creator. What do you think?

Friday, November 7, 2014

Hug 'em or tear 'em to shreds?

The contrast between the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament is nowhere more apparent than in the Divine attitude toward children. The Old Testament portrays a God that is unyielding and harsh where children are concerned, but the New Testament portrays Christ as being interested in children and naturally affectionate with them. Are these very different images of God's attitude toward children compatible? Is God a stern parent who stands ready to punish "His" rebellious children? Or is God a compassionate parent who is always ready to embrace "His" little ones? Which image of the Divine Parent is most compatible with the overall image we have of God's Character?

In the book of Second Kings, we have an interesting account of an incident involving the prophet Elisha and a large group of children from Bethel. We read: "Elisha left Jericho and went up to Bethel. As he was walking along the road, a group of boys from the town began mocking and making fun of him. 'Go away, baldy!' they chanted. 'Go away, baldy!' Elisha turned around and looked at them, and he cursed them in the name of the Lord. Then two bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of them." (II Kings 2:23-24)

In reviewing this story, I couldn't decide which was more disturbing: The story itself or the writings of Christian apologists seeking to justify it. In an article entitled Elisha and the Lads of Bethel (https://www.christiancourier.com/articles/134-elisha-and-the-lads-of-bethel), Wayne Jackson says that the Hebrew words translated as "little children" in the King James Version of the Bible are "an unfortunate rendition." Mr. Jackson then proceeds to remind us that the "young men" of Bethel did mock Elisha (a very serious offense in his opinion). And, since Elisha's curse was pronounced in the Lord's name, he suggests that God was ultimately responsible for what happened to the "young men."

According to Blue Letter Bible (http://www.blueletterbible.org), the Hebrew word qatan indicates someone who is young, small, insignificant or unimportant. In the King James Version, it is translated: thirty-three times as small, nineteen times as little, fifteen times as youngest, fourteen times as younger, ten times as least and a few times as other words reflecting similar senses. The Hebrew word na'ar is said to indicate a boy, lad, servant, youth or retainer (same source). In the King James Version, it is translated: seventy-six times as young man, fifty-four times as servant, forty-four times as child, thirty-three times as lad, fifteen times as young, seven times as children and a few times as other words reflecting similar senses. Hence, we can see that the two words used in conjunction with each other would seem to leave little doubt that the author was talking about young boys.

Having established that the folks making fun of the prophet's bald head were immature children, I find it hard to believe that God would have regarded this incident as described with anything other than amusement. Moreover, a good many things have been done in the Lord's name which I'm quite confident that God wouldn't have touched with a ten foot pole! Finally, we have to ask ourselves: Is the God portrayed as a party to Elisha's curse consistent with the image that John painted in his writings of a God who was/is the epitome of love? (I John 4:8, 16)

Now contrast this story with one that is recounted in three of the four gospel accounts of Christ's life. In the Gospel According to Mark, we read: "One day some parents brought their children to Jesus so he could touch and bless them. But the disciples scolded the parents for bothering him. When Jesus saw what was happening, he was angry with his disciples. He said to them, 'Let the children come to me. Don't stop them! For the Kingdom of God belongs to those who are like these children. I tell you the truth, anyone who doesn't receive the Kingdom of God like a child will never enter it.' Then he took the children in his arms and placed his hands on their heads and blessed them." (Mark 10:13-16)

If Christ was the most perfect representation of the Divine parent that this world has ever seen (Hebrews 1:3), then God must really love and accept children. Think about it, Christ said that only those individuals who exhibited the qualities of a child would be allowed entrance to the Kingdom! Christ was angry with his disciples (the adults). He was dismayed by their dismissive attitude toward the children. He scooped the little ones up into his arms and blessed them. That is a picture of complete acceptance and LOVE.

What kind of a parent is God? It is evident to me that Christ portrayed God's real attitude toward children. Thus, if the Elisha story really happened, I have to conclude that he was acting on his own initiative on that occasion. I can imagine the God of Jesus Christ saying something like this: "Lighten up Elisha! You are kinda shiny on top, and they're just kids!" What do you think?

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Is it possible to find God without human assistance?

Most priests/pastors/ministers would probably answer that question with an emphatic NO! After all, if they answered yes, they would run the risk of making themselves irrelevant. Many of them would tell you that the average man/woman/child needs guidance and help to properly understand/interpret Scripture. Which brings another question to mind: Is it possible to find God without the Bible? "OF COURSE NOT!" the majority of the priests/pastors/ministers would shout. Nevertheless, it may surprise some students of Scripture that the Biblical answer to both questions is a resounding YES!

In the post preceding this one, I referenced Paul's sermon to the Athenians at the Areopagus. In that sermon, Paul mentioned that he had observed an altar dedicated "To the Unknown God." (Acts 17:23) He told his audience that they had been worshiping this God in ignorance. (same verse) He then proceeded to tell them that this God doesn't live in manmade temples and is the author of all of the life on this planet. (verses 24-25) Continuing, we read: "And hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation; That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us..." (verses26-27) Is Paul suggesting that God has instilled a desire within all humans to seek the Lord? It sounds like that's what he's saying to me.

Paul wrote to the saints at Rome about Gentiles who had never heard about YHWH: "that which may be known of God is manifest in them, for God hath shewed it unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse..." (Romans 1:19-20) A little later in the same letter, he wrote: "For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these having not the law, are a law unto themselves: Which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another..." (Romans 2:14-15) In both of these passages, Paul is clearly talking about Gentiles who were not Jews or Christians, and who had never been exposed to the Torah!

In the Gospel According to John, we read that Jesus Christ said that God was the source of the impulse that motivated people to come to him. (John 6:44) In other words, the Christian calling is of Divine origin - It does not depend on any human (apostle, prophet, priest, pastor, minister or elder). You don't need a sermon, magazine, book, booklet or Bible study to draw you to Christ. In that same Gospel (John), we read that Jesus later proclaimed that "if I be lifted up from the earth, [I] will draw all men unto me." (John 12:32) Indeed, one only has to consider how Paul was converted to Christianity on the road to Damascus to see the absolute truth of this principle (that human intermediaries are not essential to the process). (Acts 9:1-6)

Is it possible to find God without human assistance? I think that we just demonstrated from Scripture that other humans (or their writings) are not necessary to find God.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

What God's Ideas Tell us About "His" Nature

A little over three hundred years ago, an Anglo-Irish philosopher named George Berkeley proposed a radical reevaluation of the nature of reality in his A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge. In that work, he wrote: "Some truths there are so near and obvious to the mind, that a man need only open his eyes to see them. Such I take this important one to be, to wit, that all the choir of heaven and furniture of the earth, in a word all those bodies which compose the mighty frame of the world, have not any subsistence without a mind, that their being is to be perceived or known; that consequently so long as they are not actually perceived by me, or do not exist in my mind or that of any other created spirit, they must either have no existence at all, or else subsist in the mind of some eternal spirit." In other words, everything in the material world (our reality) exists because they are perceived by some mind; and without a mind to perceive them, they would not exist! For Berkeley, the material world began as a series of ideas formed first in the mind of God and later shared with humanity through the mechanism of our minds interpreting the information that we receive via our five senses. Thus we have the idea of a star, mountain, tree or a chair.

Naturally, this quickly brought to mind a challenge to Berkeley's thesis: Does the star, mountain, tree or chair cease to exist when we are not there to perceive them? To which Berkeley replied: "For though we hold indeed the objects of sense to be nothing else but ideas which cannot exist unperceived; yet we may not hence conclude they have no existence except only while they are perceived by us, since there may be some other spirit that perceives them, though we do not. Wherever bodies are said to have no existence without the mind, I would not be understood to mean this or that particular mind, but all minds whatsoever. It does not therefore follow from the foregoing principles, that bodies are annihilated and created every moment, or exist not at all during the intervals between our perception of them." Of course, Berkeley (and his Christian followers) would say that everything within the material world exists (and its existence is sustained) by the mind of the Great Spirit, the one we call God.

It is interesting to note that the notion that our reality is intimately associated with our observation/perception of it has been adopted by most of the leading scientific minds of our own age (although most of them would probably deny any association with Berkeley's views). Indeed, one of the central problems of our modern quantum mechanics has to do with this issue of observation/measurement/perception. A Twentieth Century physicist named Erwin Schrodinger rejected the notion that subatomic particles can be defined by position and velocity. Instead, he proposed that these particles exhibit a "wavefunction" which puts them in different places at the same time. Scientists, however, were perplexed by the fact that they were unable to observe the particles behaving in this fashion. To solve this dilemma, the "Copenhagen Interpretation" was born (which represents the current majority view). The thesis of this interpretation is that the Schrodinger Equation only operates when the particle is not being observed by someone. In other words, the wavefunction collapses when someone is attempting to observe it! (citation follows)

In Our Mathematical Universe: My Quest for the Ultimate Nature of Reality (Alfred A. Knopf, 2014), physicist Max Tegmark argues for the acceptance of an alternative view proposed by Hugh Everett's 1957 doctoral thesis. Everett rejected the Copenhagen Interpretation by simply stating that "The wavefunction never collapses" (pages 176-187 of Our Mathematical Universe). This view implies that the reason that scientists are unable to observe the particle being in two places at once is that the places exist in parallel universes. In other words, the scientist in one universe observes the particle in one place while the same scientist observes the particle in another place in a parallel universe. Too weird? Suffice it to say that both views could be said to make observation the key component/feature of the reality of where the particle ends up. Hence, one could say that quantum mechanics has confirmed some of Berkeley's notions about the ultimate nature of reality. Indeed, Tegmark goes on to suggest that everything in the material universe can be reduced to a mathematical equation. For Christians (not for Tegmark), this demands a Master Mathematician.

Is there any support for Berkeley's thesis about the material world in Scripture? And, if so, what does all of this suggest about the nature of God?

In terms of Scripture, Berkeley was especially fond of a passage from Paul's address to the Athenians. Paul is purported to have said: "God that made the world and all things therein...seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things; and hath made of one blood all nations of men...that they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us: For in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring." (Acts 17:24-28) In other words, the entirety of our existence is contained and sustained within God. This certainly seems to fit with Berkeley's notion that the material world is made up of ideas that exist within the mind of God.

That is, however, only one Scripture. And, if we accept this thesis, what would that suggest for the different ideas about God's nature (One God, the Divinity of Jesus Christ, the Trinity, the Godhead, the Family of God)? Let's look at some other scriptures in this connection and see where we come out!

Jesus Christ is purported to have told the Jews attending the Feast of the Dedication in Jerusalem that he and his Father were ONE (John 10:30). What did he mean by that? A little later in the Gospel According to John, we read about how Christ told his disciples that there were "many mansions" in his Father's household; and that he was going there to "prepare a place" for them (John 14:1-3). Then Jesus told them that they knew where he was going and how to get there (verse 4). Thomas, however, said that they didn't know where he was going and consequently didn't know how to get there (verse 5). Christ responded: "I am the way, the truth and the life...If ye had known me, ye should have known my Father also: and from henceforth ye know him, and have seen him." (verses 6-7) Continuing: "Philip saith unto him, Lord, shew us the Father, and it sufficeth us. Jesus saith unto him, 'Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me Philip? He that hath seen me hath seen the Father; and how sayest thou then, Shew us the Father? Believest thou not that I am in the Father, and the Father in me? the words that I speak unto you I speak not of myself: but the Father that dwelleth in me, he doeth the works. Believe me that I am in the Father, and the Father in me: or else believe me for the very works' sake.'" (verses 8-11) Was Christ saying that he existed as part of (an idea within) the mind of God? After going on to discuss the "Comforter" (Holy Spirit), he tells them that the world will soon be unable to see him anymore (verse 19). Then he says: "At that day ye shall know that I am in my Father, and ye in me, and I in you." (verse 20)

If Jesus Christ existed within the mind of God before he came to this earth, and we are all the product of Christ's mind, wouldn't that make all of us the ideas of both God the Father and Jesus Christ? And doesn't that fit with New Testament doctrines outlining the Divinity of Jesus Christ? "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made." (John 1:1-3) Didn't Paul say that God "created all things by Jesus Christ" (Ephesians 3:9)? The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews wrote: "God who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds; Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the hand of the Majesty on high..." (Hebrews 1:1-3). Moreover, although Berkeley saw our existence within the mind of God as proof of our immortal soul, couldn't his thesis also be interpreted to support those who reject the notion of humans possessing an immortal soul? After all, if we exist as an idea within the mind of God, why would "He" need a "soul" to resurrect us? Wouldn't God simply have to recall us to "His" mind?

Isn't this thesis also able to accommodate the Jewish and Muslim notions of ONE God? After all, doesn't this view also make Christ part of the mind of God? And as a part (or an idea) wouldn't that make Christ inferior to the whole? Hence, one could still say with a straight face that there was/is only ONE God! In similar fashion, we can see how Berkeley's thesis could also accommodate a notion of God as a family - once again all of his children existing within the mind of God.

Thus, in conclusion, it seems to me that Berkeley's thesis is flexible enough to accommodate all of the different notions that have arisen within the Abrahamic faiths about the nature of God. Nevertheless, I'm not going to get my hopes up that everyone will embrace these notions and break out into a chorus of "Kumbaya, my Lord." After all, everyone derives much too much enjoyment from feeling superior to each other because of their particular understanding of the TRUE nature of God! What do you think?

Saturday, November 1, 2014

God and the Gay Agenda

In an article entitled "Government and the Gay Agenda" appearing in the current issue of the United Church of God's Good News magazine, Tom Robinson decries the growing acceptance/tolerance of homosexuality within the United States and Britain. He opens the article by reminding us that "sin is sin." He then proceeds to catalog a long list of examples of just how depraved the two societies have become within the last couple of years (Gay pride parades, stories that portray Gay people in a positive light by the Good Morning America and Today television programs, an openly Gay professional football player - Michael Sam, court decisions ruling against people and businesses who discriminate against Gay people, U.S. Department of Justice measures promulgated to promote a culture of tolerance toward Gay people within the department, U.S. State Department's decision to allow its embassy in Tel Aviv to fly a Gay Pride flag next to the American flag to honor that city's celebration of LGBT Pride Week and British Prime Minister Cameron's insistence that the legalization of Gay marriage within the United Kingdom was a positive development that should be exported to the rest of the world).

Robinson pines for the days when all of this abominable behavior was not a part of the public discourse and openly celebrated on Main Street. He asks, "Does anyone care how God views this?"

Well, yes, Mr. Robinson, I care about how God views all of this; but "He" hasn't shared his opinion with me about the Good Morning America story or David Cameron's comments. You are quite correct to point out that sin is sin. However, as long as we are being intellectually profound, I would also like to point out that hate is hate and intolerance is intolerance!

It seems to me that the entirety of the Law (which you would say defines sin) is based on the principle of LOVE. I also think that you would agree that the Ten Commandments are supposed to represent the most fundamental expression of that principle for humans. Indeed, Christ further summarized the Ten as being an expression of love toward God and our fellow man. In other words, does the behavior in question harm, hurt or disrespect God or our neighbor in any way? I think that we can all readily see how that principle could be applied to things like rape, incest, pedophilia, bestiality and prostitution. Nevertheless, I think that you would have a hard time demonstrating how a sexual relationship between two consenting adults who are following the inclinations of their own nature could/would violate this principle. If we are going to use the Ten Commandments as our guide, it seems to me that the fundamental principle vis-à-vis sex is fidelity. And if that's correct, how could you be against a formal commitment between two individuals to be faithful to each other?

Mr. Robinson concludes his article by warning his readers that "No society that has seen widespread acceptance of homosexual activity has endured for long." He points to the example of ancient Israel (I was under the impression that their national sin was idolatry), the Greeks and the Romans. I have to admit that I was a bit chagrined by the historical revisionism that Mr. Robinson practiced in this article. To even hint that the widespread acceptance of homosexuality by the Greeks and Romans was one of the primary factors in contributing to their decline and downfall is preposterous!

Alexander the Great conquered most of the world known to him and his associates and then promptly died. Most historians attribute the disintegration of his empire to the fact that he did not have the time to consolidate his gains or institute an effective system to administer his far-flung and diverse realms, and that he failed to designate a successor to carry on his work. As a consequence, his generals divided up his empire and quickly began to fight among themselves.

As for the Roman Empire, most historians agree that Rome overextended itself - that the territory it controlled was once again too far-flung and diverse to be effectively administered by a central government given the limits of transportation and communication in that day and age. Many historians have also pointed out that the Barbarian invasions of the empire did not help the situation, and that government corruption and political instability severely hampered efforts to face these challenges. Others have pointed out the growing disparity between rich and poor within the empire (that may be one we'd like to take a look at in assessing our own future). Finally, some historians have had the audacity to suggest that the rise of Christianity itself made a significant contribution to the decline and fall of the Roman Empire (by undermining respect for the emperor and the state). So I don't think that we can say that homosexuality played any significant role in the decline of any of these states.

Based on all of the available evidence (Scripture, reason and the world around us), I would have to say that God is probably on the side of love and tolerance. Indeed, although "He" hasn't shared "His" opinion on the matter with me, I can't imagine "Him" taking any other view of the subject! Can you?