God Is Unconvincing To Smart Folks? – Part 1

The title of this article, minus the question mark, is the title of an article posted recently (December 1, 2016) on the Huffington Post Blog. Its author is J. H. McKenna, Ph.D., Senior Lecturer on the History of Religious Ideas at the University of California, Irvine. Here is the article’s introductory line:

As far as I can discover from interviews and from books, there are at least 21 reasons smart people find God unconvincing. Here are the 21 reasons, explained.

This multi-part article here on Spiritual Insights for Everyday Life is my response to Dr. McKenna’s 21 collected reasons, from the perspective of a perhaps moderately smart theist of the Swedenborgian Christian variety.

The “About” page at Dr. McKenna’s website, “Upon Religion,” ends with these words:

Dr. McKenna often views religious ideas through the lens of benign humor.

Fascinating! As it turns out, I often view atheist ideas through the lens of benign humor! I’m sure Dr. McKenna won’t mind.

Speaking of which, before getting to my point-by-point response to Dr. McKenna’s article let’s take a look at that title.

For more on God and Smart Folks, please click here to read on.

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Posted in All About God, Science Philosophy and History

Is the God of the Qur’an the Same God as the God of the Bible?

Christianity and Islam

Christianity and Islam

Here is a question that was recently asked on Islam StackExchange:

What is the difference between the Christian God and the Muslim God? Is the God of the Qur’an the same god as the God of the Bible?

You can see the original question here, and my original answer here. This is a slightly edited version of the answer I posted there:

In order to properly answer this question, it is necessary to understand that it is actually two distinct questions:

  1. What is the difference between the Christian God and the Muslim God?
  2. Is the God of the Qur’an the same God as the God of the Bible?

For more on the God of Christianity and Islam, please click here to read on.

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Posted in All About God

1,000,000 Hits!

Dear Readers,

Today Spiritual Insights for Everyday Life reached a milestone. We have now received over one million total hits since we first started four years ago on September 17, 2012!

During the four months our modest little blog was online in 2012, it received just over 3,000 hits, averaging 30 hits per day. It has greatly increased in traffic every year since.

Spiritual Insights for Everyday Life currently offers well over 250 articles providing insight and inspiration on a wide variety of subjects, practical, biblical, and spiritual. It seems that you, our readers, are finding this material helpful: we are now averaging nearly 2,000 hits per day!

We would like to thank all of our readers and followers, and everyone who has linked to us and recommended us to family members, friends, and acquaintances. We would also like to thank all of the people who have posted comments and questions here, making this blog into a living—and lively!—spiritual community. And of course, we would like to thank the people who have submitted Spiritual Conundrums that prompted many of the more popular (and sometimes controversial!) articles on this website.

It is truly our joy to offer spiritual insights for everyday life to a growing number of spiritual seekers and fellow travelers.

Godspeed on your spiritual journey!

—Lee & Annette Woofenden

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Posted in Current Events

Doesn’t Ephesians 2:8-9 Teach Faith Alone?

Ephesians 2:8-9

Ephesians 2:8-9

When you’ve been raised to believe something so fundamentally that it forms the basis of your spirituality, it can be quite difficult and disorienting to learn that your belief isn’t supported by the Scriptures or by the facts.

This is especially the case with Protestants who have had the doctrine of salvation by faith alone taught to them since they were children in Sunday School, and preached to them every week from the pulpit at church.

But the fact of the matter is that the doctrine of salvation, or justification, by faith alone simply isn’t taught in the Bible. It originated 1,500 years after the last books of the Bible were written, at the time of the Protestant Reformation. Specifically, the doctrine of justification by faith alone was first formulated and promulgated by Martin Luther (1483–1546) as part of his doctrinal and ecclesiastical break from the Roman Catholic Church.

Yes, Luther had good reason to reject many of the faulty doctrines and corrupt practices of the Catholic Church in which he had been an ordained priest. But when he set up justification by faith alone as the centerpiece of his new branch of Christianity, he jumped out of the frying pan and into the fire doctrinally.

Ever since then, salvation by faith alone has been ardently preached and taught in Protestant churches around the world. And because Protestants hear it preached and taught so often and so forcefully as God’s own unvarnished truth straight from the Bible, whenever they read the Bible, everything in it screams “faith alone” to their minds.

And yet, there is not a single verse in the Bible that says that we are justified, or saved, by faith alone. In fact, the Bible specifically and clearly denies it!

This is very hard—even impossible—for the vast bulk of Protestants to accept. No matter how clearly this fact is pointed out to them, they still continue to maintain that that’s what the Bible really means, even if it doesn’t say it in so many words, and that we really are justified by faith alone, just as Martin Luther taught. It is so deeply ingrained in their minds by continuous teaching and preaching over many years that most Protestants simply cannot see that the key doctrine on which their spiritual life is founded is not supported by the Scriptures or by the facts.

And that is a pity. Because what the Bible actually does teach is far greater and more beautiful than the doctrine of justification by faith alone that Martin Luther set up as the distinguishing feature and foundation stone of Protestantism.

For more on faith alone and Ephesians 2:8-9, please click here to read on.

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Posted in The Bible Re-Viewed

The Myth of Ownership: A Thanksgiving Reflection

Title Deed

Title Deed

One of the most powerful and enduring fictions of human society is the idea that we can own things. A large part of our legal, civil, and social system is based on property ownership and the right to possess what is “ours.”

Further, in much of present-day society our sense of self-worth is heavily bound up in how much money we make, and what we can afford to buy and own. What sort of a house (or apartment) do we live in? Do we own it or rent it? What kind of car do we drive? How nice are the clothes we wear? We even speak of our “net worth,” which is the dollar value of everything we own minus the dollar value of everything we owe.

How much are you worth? Can it be counted in dollars? And more fundamentally, do any of us really own anything?

For more on the myth of ownership, please click here to read on.

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Posted in All About God, Spiritual Growth

Dani Mathers, Body-Shaming, and How to Develop Beauty

Dani Mathers Snapchat photo

Dani Mathers Snapchat photo

Dani Mathers, the 2015 Playboy Playmate of the Year, is in trouble. She is facing possible jail time.

In July, 2016, she accidentally posted publicly on Snapchat a selfie in which she feigns shock next to a surreptitiously taken photo of a nude elderly woman showering in the locker room of an LA Fitness exercise center. “If I can’t unsee this then you can’t either,” she posted.

The public reaction was swift and brutal. About the nicest thing said was, “Shame on you for body-shaming a woman who should be applauded for caring about her physical health!”

Mathers quickly deleted the photo, and issued several apologies:

In those apologies she said, among other things:

“That is not the type of person I am.”

When Annette and I saw the story, our reaction was:

Well yes, Ms. Mathers, that is exactly the type of person you are. It was a rude and shameful thing to do, regardless of whether you sent the photo and message publicly or only as “part of a personal conversation with a girlfriend,” as you originally intended.

The good news, however, is that you don’t have to keep being that type of person.

For more on developing real beauty, please click here to read on.

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Posted in Current Events, Spiritual Growth

The Evangelicals are Right: The World IS Coming to an End!

The end of this world

The end of this world

Ever since the time of Jesus, Christians (not to mention various other groups) have been predicting the end of the world.

The Essenes believed that the Jewish revolt against the Romans in 66–70 AD was the end-time battle. And as this list shows, there have been end-of-the-world predictions in almost every century since then.

In recent centuries, these end-time predictions have been coming thick and fast. And these days, there is always someone shouting that the end of the world is nigh!

It should come as no surprise, then, that the recent surprise election of Donald Trump as the 45th President of the United States has caused conspiracy theorists to suddenly “discover” that over 400 years ago, Nostradamus predicted Trump’s rise to power and the resulting end of the world.

Then again, as Alyssa Wilkinson points out in her article, “It’s the end of the world as we know it, again,” apocalyptic predictions about what will happen if the opposing candidate is elected are nothing new in American politics. The same was said about Barack Obama, Barry Goldwater, and many other presidential candidates. Some of them went on to get elected—and then abysmally failed to bring about the promised apocalypse.

So it’s easy for thinking, rational people to laugh off all the latest prophecies and prognostications made by evangelical Christians that this time the sky really is going to come crashing down!

And yet, the Evangelicals are right. Their world is coming to an end.

For more the end of this world, please click here to read on.

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Posted in Science Philosophy and History, The Bible Re-Viewed

What is the Source of the Belief that the Deceased become Angels?

(Note: This post is a slightly edited version of an answer I originally wrote and posted on Christianity StackExchange. You can see the original question on StackExchange here, and the StackExchange version of my answer here.)

Heaven: A History, by Colleen McDannell and Bernhard Lang

Heaven: A History, by Colleen McDannell and Bernhard Lang

In Heaven: A History (1995: Yale University Press) the authors, Drs. Colleen McDannell and Bernhard Lang, state that Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772) had a pivotal role in bringing about a changed view of heaven, including the idea that angels are humans who have died and gone on to heaven, rather than a separate race of pre-created beings as mainstream Christianity had held for many centuries previously. See especially Chapter 7: “Swedenborg and the Emergence of a Modern Heaven.”

For more on humans becoming angels, please click here to read on.

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Posted in The Afterlife

What is the Difference between Justification and Salvation in Swedenborg’s Theology?

(Note: This post is a slightly edited version of an answer I recently wrote and posted on Christianity StackExchange. You can see the original question on StackExchange here, and the StackExchange version of my answer here.)

In the theology of Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772), as in other Christian theologies, justification is seen as part of a process that results in our salvation. In a nod to the traditional Christian concept of the ordo salutis (“order of salvation”), Swedenborg lists justification as one among many elements of the process of salvation. For example, he writes:

The Divine power and activity meant by the Holy Spirit are, generally speaking, reformation and regeneration, which lead to renewal, quickening, sanctification and justification; and these lead to purification from evils and the forgiveness of sins, and ultimately to salvation. (True Christianity #138)

However, his view of justification, in particular, is significantly different from the Roman Catholic and Orthodox perspectives, and radically different from the Reformed Protestant perspective.

For more on justification and salvation in Swedenborg’s theology, please click here to read on.

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Posted in The Bible Re-Viewed

Can we Keep our Friends in the Afterlife?

Here is a Spiritual Conundrum submitted to Spiritual Insights for Everyday Life by a reader named Maria:

Ever since I encountered Swedenborg, I’ve struggled with the mechanics of the afterlife: it sounds both beautiful and terrible. I’ve been told we forget much of our life on Earth and can’t remember the people we’ve loved. When I’ve expressed disturbance at the idea, the answer tends to be “you won’t care, you’ll find better people and will feel like you always had them, etc.” I’m sick to tears of the “it’s like growing apart from dear friends as you mature” simile, because it isn’t the same thing at all.

Say we’ve been open and genuine and generally dedicated to being who we are truly in life. Say we’ve built real and healthy relationships, loving and warm. Will it still be “bye, I’m off on my own way and I’ll forget you!” after passing the stage of the spirit world? Even if our loves are different, will we simply never see or know these people again?

With all due respect to my fellow Swedenborgians, some of them have not quite gotten the message about what the afterlife is really like. Many of them are still affected by the old, outdated view of heaven as a totally alien world where we have some sort of wispy, ethereal existence that is completely different from anything we’ve ever experienced here on earth.

But that’s not how Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772) describes the afterlife at all. Instead, he describes it as a seamless continuation of our life here on earth. We take with us everything that makes us the unique person we are. And we live a life very much like the one we had lived here on earth, only better (assuming we have chosen heaven over hell).

Old friends

Old friends

Although Herbert Hoover’s ideal of “rugged individualism” has taken on almost mythic meaning in much of today’s society, the reality is that we humans are not islands unto ourselves. We are community beings. Our loves, ideals, beliefs, identity, and character have no meaning or reality on their own, but only in the context of our complex web of relationships with family, friends, co-workers, and other people in our community.

This means that we take with us into the afterlife not only our individual character, but also the many and varied relationships in which that character exists and is formed. So it should be no surprise that Swedenborg describes heaven as an intensely human community. And the relationships we leave behind are not the ones we love, but the ones that don’t feed our soul, or that turn out not to be what we thought they were.

Let’s take a closer look. Along the way we’ll explode a few common Swedenborgian myths about the afterlife.

For more on our friends in the afterlife, please click here to read on.

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Posted in Sex Marriage Relationships, The Afterlife
Lee & Annette Woofenden

Lee & Annette Woofenden

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