LETTER FROM A SKEPTIC TO A BELIEVER
I have received your letter with the lyricisms about your gardening activities and the progress of your garden to date. I could with the same lyrical enthusiasm relate pretty much what you have with regard to gardening, germination of seeds, planting, and composting. And I agree that it is the love of nature that draws us to gardening. It does because the love of nature comes from genetropism, to coin a word. That is, we love nature because we are an offspring of nature, which has written in our genes a love of the earth and a love of cultivation of life, particularly of life that sustains our lives. We lean to nature like a flower to the sun.
You ask in what manner and how long do I keep tomatoes seeds. I store them in an envelope and I keep them indefinitely. I have seeds that are twenty years old that if planted would, experience tells me, germinate. Can I explain to you how that life in that seed came to be? No better than you can explain to me how it came to be. As you know there is a theory and there is a theology. The former is evolution and the latter is Creation. I subscribe to the former; for evolution is more credible and reasonable to me than Creation.
In response to my pantheism, you ask how can beings with a personality be derived from an impersonal God. Nature is not impersonal. Every aspect of nature can be found in the personality of man and in all other life. Trees will to live, adapt to environment, hunker down in winter, grow old and die and return to the earth. Man is born, he lives and dies. He is driven by the will to survive and the will to sacrifice. He experiences stress, erupts in tantrums, and quiets down just as the sun’s heat generates thunderstorms, which rage, dissipate and evaporate. Man courts and procreates in a manner not unlike potato beetles and he nurtures his young in the natural state with the fidelity of a wren. Nothing in nature is alien to man and nothing in man is alien to nature. The impersonal is the personal.
What you call the spirit of God is to me that aspect of man that nature created by natural selection for the purpose of giving Homo sapiens a better chance at survival. Man is a gregarious species. He cannot survive except as a family, tribe, state or nation. Altruism and empathy in man were created in the same way and for the same purpose that faithfulness and fidelity in birds were created. Mohandas Gandhi’s disciplined sacrifice for the sake of peaceful change is awe-inspiring to one who reads of his life and death, and the dedication and fidelity of a mother bird in the care of her young captures the admiration of anyone who is spectator to it.
You disagree with my assertion that the church is a man-made organization and assert that it is a God-ordained, Jesus-sanctioned one. And you cite scripture in support thereof. I have read the citations. Matthew 16: 13-18 is very interesting but not convincing to me. In it, Jesus praises Peter for recognizing him as Christ , the son of the living God, and for his perception Jesus says unto Peter that he is the rock upon which he will build his church. Christ then makes a very puzzling statement: “And I will give thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”
I cannot believe that Christ would say to a man who denied him thrice, or to any man, that he was building his church upon him and that whatsoever the church forbid on earth would be forbidden in heaven and whatsoever the church would permit on earth would be permitted in heaven. If Christ was God and had the omniscience of God, he would never — considering what the church has permitted on earth or what it has done on earth — have given the church free rein to decide what to forbid and what to permit. Further, it is totally out of character for Jesus to have requested his disciples not to repeat Peter’s discovery of his origin. Why would he make such a request?
You cite Acts 20:28. Paul is saying to the elders of a church that they should feed the church of God, which God hath purchased with his own blood, presumably, the blood of Jesus, his son. First, this is Paul speaking, a man who had a personal interest in propagating that the church was God-ordained. Secondly, he presumes that there is a God, that that God is the father of Jesus and that Jesus bled in order to establish a church. Upon what evidence does he make such presumptions?
In response to my surmise that Jesus was a teacher who taught us how to live and was not a divine that came to die for our sins, you say: “If Jesus simply had to provide us with the correct doctrine and teaching and example, then why did he die on the cross?”
What choice did he have, except to recant all that he had taught? Not even Giordano Bruno, who was burned at the stake for not recanting his belief that the earth circled the sun, would do that; and no one says that he was God’s son or a saint. Christ went to the cross because he believed in himself and what he found in himself, just as any man of integrity finds it difficult or impossible to be untrue to himself. If you mean by the question that, since Jesus was God, he could have escaped the Cross by his supernatural power, my answer is that he did not have supernatural power. His cry on the Cross that God had forsaken him does not support his having a supernatural nature. Nor does the controversy that raged for centuries as to whether he was God incarnate or just God-like tend to corroborate it. On the contrary.
You cite Matthew 26:28, in which Christ is alleged to have said that the wine was his blood, which is shed for many for the remission of sins. I say alleged to have said, because I take note that in the Jefferson Bible this scripture is omitted. It is omitted for the same reason that Jefferson omitted a great deal of the Gospels and that reason is that he knew — and Leo Tolstoy knew and many others knew and know –that the Bible was tampered with in order to give support to a worldly organization, namely, the church.
In fact, of all the citations of scripture from the Gospels in your letter, and there are eight of them, only one is included in the Jefferson Bible. The others were excised by Jefferson as being interpolations resulting from either ignorance or personal interest of the authors.
The one citation in your letter that was included in Jefferson Bible is Matthew 7:13-14, in which Jesus says that the path of righteousness is narrow and few find it. You cite this scripture in support of your view that Jesus did not believe that man had the ability to live in accordance with his message and thus only a few would, so Jesus died so that those who couldn’t would have their sins remitted or forgiven.
It does not seem reasonable to me that Jesus, believing that only a few could live up to his message, would go to such lengths to teach men a new ethic–an ethic that contradicted the ethic of the Jews and presented men with an unprecedented moral challenge–and would then lay the ground work whereby they could ignore the ethic and still reach heaven. How should one interpret Jesus’ injunction that men should be perfect just as their Father in heaven is perfect?
On these questions, Jefferson speaks for me: “Among the saying and discourses imputed to Him by His biographers, I find many passages of fine imagination, correct morality, and the most lovely benevolence; and others again, of so much ignorance, so much absurdity, so much untruth, charlatanism and imposture, as to pronounce it impossible that such contradictions should have proceeded from the same Being.”
Further, I confess to be a Christian as Jefferson describes himself: “I am a Christian, in the only sense he wished any one to be; sincerely attached to his doctrines, in preference to all others; ascribing to himself every human excellence; and believing he never claimed any other.”
I have read and considered what you have cited. Now, I ask that you read John 16: 15-18 and tell me that, in your considered judgment, the Jesus of the Sermon on the Mount is one and the same as the person who allegedly speaks these scriptures.