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Saturday, March 15, 2008

Oprah at the Gym

I work out three or so times a week, at a small gym where we all know each other. It's fun :-) but that's a different story.

Yesterday on the circuit a woman (I'll call her Stacy) was raving about Oprah's spirituality, and how it so unifies people. I think she was excited by reading one of Oprah's new book club books, The Power of One by Eckhart Tolle. Stacy explained that we need to live each day in the moment (very wise), with the knowledge that God is within. Furthermore, the wisdom of many religions demonstrates that they all show different aspects of the same Truth-with-a-capital-"T".

Wow, this was heavy, especially coming in the middle of my leg presses!

I love philosophical issues, though. What fun to ponder these abstract concepts, and so my thoughts ran as I listened to this woman go on. I had a few questions for her. I asked if she could summarize the book's concepts for me since I hadn't read it. Hmm.

The ideas that Stacy was espousing sounded to me like Classical Pantheism: the belief that "God" is in everything, and that religions are essentially the same. It's certainly appealing to think that we all carry the Light within us, we are good, we make our own reality etc. etc. This seems to be a common message of many "spiritual" people who I talk with: that we can somehow tap into this god-power, live successfully and prosperously by "drawing" good things to ourselves, and help ourselves by helping others. We all must work out "God" our own way, and follow what we believe. No one's belief is wrong; all roads eventually lead to "God" (or whatever we wish to name it), that free-flowing energy force of light and love that permeates all things.

But...what if this is wrong? For example, as a scientist I was immersed in a different view: there is nothing but evolution and chance, and therefore what we do doesn't matter anyway since there is no God.

Alternatively, what if "God" does indeed exist but he is separate, a Super-Being who has already revealed himself? Surely the monotheistic religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam) say as much, and for anyone who thinks otherwise I challenge you to actually read their writings (Old Testament, New Testament, Koran) rather than cherry-pick verses. Jesus, especially, is misquoted. He claimed to be God, yes, but the Holy, separate "I AM" omnipotent God. He did NOT believe others were God, and he was railroaded by the Jewish leaders to execution because of his claims to deity. Read the book of John.

Can all of these beliefs (God is a force, God doesn't exist, God is a separate Super-Being) all be true?

Religion is a notoriously "squishy" topic: after all, if we can't see God (Higher Power, Life Force, whatever), how can we know what the truth is? Even so, people often have very strong opinions about God. Many times these opinions stem from the person's upbringing, but not always. As I've studied religious systems, I've found that Christianity stands out for two reasons.

First is Christianity's notion of "grace." All other religious systems seem to say that you must do X, and/or avoid Y, in order to be acceptable to God (monotheistic) or to understand and join with the life force (pantheistic). Christianity is the only belief system that says we humans CANNOT become good enough to be united with God: God himself must build the bridge (Jesus) that allows us to cross over to Him.

Second, the historical evidence seems to document the existence of a real live miracle, the resurrection of Jesus. I took a year studying the circumstances surrounding Jesus' death with the goal of destroying the claims of Christianity. I was shocked at what I found. At the end, I reluctantly admitted defeat and became a Christian. I was very angry at first :-)

I don't watch Oprah's shows, but I have a great respect for her. I believe she is a genuinely good and kind person, and that if more people were like her, this world would surely be a better place. She has overcome great personal odds to become a successful and remarkable woman; more power to her. Still, I am uncomfortable with her pantheistic ideals. There is much room for respectful debate and the give and take of ideas over this issue. Truly, this question of "Who is God?" must be the most important one that anyone could ask.


These are issues that are challenging to address in just a few paragraphs. Wow, how did I dig myself in this deep starting from a visit to the gym? Oh well. As they say, "Fools rush in where angels fear to tread," so here am I my dear friends, foolishly yours.

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